I have tried to avoid writing too much about politics this past year. Mainly because it seems so pointless – and because all that happens is that I end up ranting away. But I cannot note the final rupture with Europe with anything other than real sadness. The cold weather this morning matched my mood.
For virtually my entire adult life we have been in and of Europe. The history I studied and I (still) read is clear that our fortunes are and have been inextricably linked with those of our European neighbours. Despite our many episodes of English (for it was invariably English) exceptionalism, our relationship with the continent, one way or another, has, sometimes of necessity but more often by choice, been close.
But I woke up this morning to a new world where, apparently, we have regained our sovereignty (had we ever lost it?) and are finally free (really?).
As the world moves into a new era of great power competition, the UK can only project its soft power and liberal democratic values in partnership with other like-minded countries.
One of the principal consequences of Brexit has been the steady erosion of the UK’s soft power and in pursuing Brexit in the way that it has, our government has quite deliberately undermined our liberal democratic values. There will be a lot to do.
But enough of this.
I was immensely cheered this morning by John Naughton’s Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news – Ode to Joy Flashmobbed – although the rest of his post in Memex 1.1 was a little less encouraging.
So I thought I would also share this with you – link
Instead, I want to look at the thread that Boris Johnson posted on Twitter earlier today, and in particular the first two tweets.
In the thread he argues that we cannot now try to edit or censor our past, he deplores the risk of damage to the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, and, having at least in his own mind placed himself on the right side of history, goes on to claim that the recent protests have been hijacked by extremists intent on violence.
It is all very much aimed at his base (and perhaps not surprisingly it has attracted a considerable number of likes and retweets).
And it is all remarkably disingenuous.
There is certainly a lot going on in the thread as a whole but what about those first two tweets?
As I read them my immediate thought was just how much Johnson wants us to see him as our latter-day Churchill – the hero leader, saving this country from . . .
Well, from what?
It was going to be the tyranny of those ungrateful Europeans. Wasn’t that what Brexit was all about? But it is now, like it or not, the Covid-19 pandemic.
And heroes, Johnson implies, should be forgiven their failings – for no better reason it seems than they are heroes.
Johnson firmly places Churchill against racism (and in doing so he very definitely edits history) and he allows him those unacceptable opinions. And in so doing, Johnson seems to be suggesting that we too should allow Johnson his unacceptable opinions.
It was Mario Cuomo, three term Governor of New York State, who liked to repeat, “You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose”. Writing in The New Yorker the day of Cuomo’s death, Elizabeth Kolbert noted that “His great gift—and it was an important one at the time—was to make listeners feel that politics was a serious business and that civic life matters.”
If only that were true today.
The present government in Westminster appears simply to rely on slogans. There is not much governing going on. This undoubtedly is a hangover from their successful Brexit campaign. But quite what the new slogan – “Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives” – is meant to mean, is anyone’s guess. They clearly are as baffled as the rest of us, as having leaked the slogan, they then felt obliged to issue a 137 word statement to explain it.
The pandemic is serious, for each and every one of us. Civic life matters and civic responsibility is paramount. But you wouldn’t know it from our lords and masters. The overwhelming feeling is that we, the public, aren’t to be trusted with truth.
It is little surprise that our trust in government is ebbing fast.
I am on my way to Paddington. Travelling this way on a Saturday seems strange. I only got back to the west country on Thursday. But I will be on Park Lane at midday, as we gather for the People’s Vote March. If all goes well, it will be the largest public demonstration in the capital for more than a decade. Somehow I shall find my son, and we will march together.
I am not a natural marcher. This is only the third time in my life I will have turned out to demonstrate. The first was exactly 50 years ago, in Oxford, protesting about the Vietnam War. More recently I stood outside the Old Bailey, to protest the cuts to Legal Aid. And today it is the folly that is Brexit that saw me up shortly after 6:00.
Much is written about the anger of those who voted leave – their anger at elites, at the politicians they believe have ignored them, at metropolitan liberals in the south east, at being left behind, at losing their identity – and their anger that many of us who voted remain refuse to accept the result of the referendum.
We are told that in holding to our conviction – that Brexit has to be fought – we are disrespecting democracy and thus disrespecting those who, for whatever reason, voted to leave.
So be it.
I feel a corresponding anger. Not at those who voted leave but at those who manipulated the truth for their own ideological ends, and at those politicians (and they are not all in the Conservative Party) who continue to put personal ambition and party before country.
I have no idea how this will all end, except my money is on it ending badly.
But when my grandchildren ask me what I did, I want to be able to say that I marched – and that I marched for them, for Lewis and Max, Otti, and Amelie.