Zoe Wil­liams,

In our post-Brexit land­scape, the for­mer chan­cel­lor will be a voice speak­ing up for the scorned 48%

The Guardian - - NEWS -

They ar­rived like The Ex­pend­ables, strolling out of the still-lu­cra­tive wreck­age of their ca­reers to do one last job. Tony Blair un­leashed a bar­rage of sense that left the BBC’s An­drew Marr grop­ing blindly for the na­tion’s out­rage. He had it one sec­ond ago; it must be here some­where. Hang on, here it is: this cen­tre ground you want to re­build, Mr Blair: wasn’t it you who de­stroyed it? This lib­eral con­sen­sus you mourn – didn’t you bury it?

Never mind all that, said Tony’s shiny eyes, we don’t have time. Ne­olib­er­al­ism, glob­al­i­sa­tion, how left is the cen­tre-left: these are rather ab­struse con­ver­sa­tions, set against the press­ing busi­ness of a na­tional dis­as­ter. He crescen­doed, in an accent that has gone from his 90s ev­ery­man to a zeit­geisty, un­place­able Mr Mid-At­lantic, with three sharp blows about Brexit: the gains are il­lu­sory; the pain will be sub­stan­tial; and while it’s oc­cu­py­ing all the gov­ern­ment’s time, as it must, given its gar­gan­tuan com­pli­ca­tion, no­body is do­ing any ac­tual gov­ern­ing.

It was Blair’s encore – the bit in the con­cert where, hav­ing sat through an age of new ma­te­rial, you re­mem­ber what an ef­fort­less hit-maker he once was. Sim­ple, inar­guable, suc­cinct: how­ever much one wres­tles to un­der­stand the mo­tives of the leave voter, how­ever close one gets to com­pre­hend­ing left-Brexit, eco-Brexit, left-be­hind-Brexit, poke-the-elites-in-the-eye-Brexit, one al­ways ar­rives back at this dog’s Brexit.

At their very best, their most hon­est and lucid – which, for the pur­poses of this week’s ar­gu­ment, was David Davis ad­dress­ing a com­mit­tee of MPs – those in charge will ad­mit to not hav­ing a clue. No clue how much a deal will cost, less clue how much no deal will cost, no clue what tar­iffs will hit Bri­tish farm­ing, less clue what will hap­pen to the open skies agree­ment.

At their worst, their most pompous and bom­bas­tic – which for the pur­poses of ev­ery week’s ar­gu­ment is Boris John­son, ad­dress­ing any­one – those in charge pledge to re­place decades of care­fully wrought deals and laws with hot air and boos­t­erisms dreamed up in a bar. It is all pain, no gain, and leaves us with lead­er­ship so in­com­pe­tent that crises bub­ble up at a rolling boil. Would it be prefer­able to hear it from the leader of the op­po­si­tion rather than a man with 10 mil­lion quid in the bank and a toxic legacy? Sure. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

John Ma­jor, mean­while, gave both bar­rels to the read­ers of the Mail on Sun­day. In an ar­ti­cle as fer­vent as this for­mer prime min­is­ter’s sober fa­cade has ever al­lowed, he fore­cast – no, promised – dis­as­ter if the “ul­tra-Brex­i­teers” weren’t reigned in. Again the man and his words left us on the horns of a dilemma: do we want to throw our­selves be­hind a soft Tory who gave us the cones hot­line, and who never looked hap­pier than on the day the elec­torate freed him from pol­i­tics? Not es­pe­cially. But he’s not wrong.

Com­plet­ing the lineup, with bor­der­line com­i­cal ul­tra-men­ace, is Ge­orge Os­borne, the group’s Dolph Lund­gren, the man you want with you only be­cause you wouldn’t want to see him against you. He steps for­ward not to re­turn to the po­lit­i­cal front­line, but with an at­tack plan from a tan­gent, as the ed­i­tor of the Lon­don Evening Stan­dard.

To make a full list of his var­i­ous work com­mit­ments and the salaries at­tached sounds rather petty and re­sent­ful – let it suf­fice to say that he prob­a­bly won’t be a very hands-on ed­i­tor. His staff will be un­likely to find in him a Daily Mail Paul Dacre fig­ure, read­ing ev­ery page proof and mak­ing the floor shake as he thun­ders from one desk to an­other vent­ing his dis­plea­sure.

I re­alise this is a niche view, but I see the real in­sult of Os­borne’s ca­reer choice as not to his con­stituents – to have voted for him more than once, they must take a masochis­tic plea­sure in how low on his to-do list they are – but to the Evening Stan­dard and its read­ers.

Edit­ing a news­pa­per isn’t the same as con­sult­ing for a pri­vate equity firm – shad­owy, made-up work you can do in an hour a week by sur­vey­ing a suite of op­tions and choos­ing the most das­tardly. And the Stan­dard isn’t the same as the Daily Mail, a by-num­bers world­view pro­mul­ga­tor that could be pro­duced by an al­go­rithm. It takes a lot of leg­work to care about cy­cling in­fra­struc­ture while dis­cov­er­ing what hot Lon­don­ers feel about brunch.

It is plain, how­ever, that Os­borne did not take this job in order to get closer to the cap­i­tal’s cul­tural blood­stream. He has taken it as a fight­back for the metropoli­tan elite. Ever since last June, the news has been march­ing to the tabloids’ pound­ing drum­beat that smart, smug Lon­don­ers have been call­ing the shots for long enough and it’s time for them to start lis­ten­ing to the anger of the real Bri­tain.

In the lan­guage of post-ref­er­en­dum “au­then­tic­ity”, real vot­ers howl while met­ro­pol­i­tans chat­ter; real vot­ers have right­eous anger while the fake ones moan and whine. The re­sponse, in me­dia terms, has so far been rather timid: we’re happy to chew the fat of the Brexit plan – though “plan” is of course a strong word – but there has been no full-throated, clam­orous, in­sis­tent, quo­tid­ian de­fence of the 48%, this scorned elite that is ac­tu­ally far too size­able and di­verse to war­rant the term.

At their very best, their most hon­est and most lucid, those in charge will ad­mit to not hav­ing a clue

For the ex­perts, for the en­trepreneurs, for the young, for the in­ter­na­tion­al­ists, for the op­ti­mists, for the peo­ple who have con­cerns about the fu­ture but don’t think re­turn­ing to the 1950s is the best way to ad­dress them, there has been no­body con­sis­tently speak­ing up. And this is quite a la­cuna, given what we have in the place of that voice: a news agenda ef­fec­tively set by Nigel Farage.

For my money, Os­borne is the worst of all these mes­sen­gers by some mar­gin. But if the mes­sage is what it looks like – that we can­not live in a head­line cul­ture that is all im­mi­grant scroungers, ben­e­fit cheats, statins and Princess Diana – I have to agree with it.

It was plainly a co­or­di­nated strike. In years to come we’ll find out which restau­rant Blair, Os­borne and Ma­jor met in to cook it all up, what they had for pud­ding, who else was there. Sprin­kle in a bit of Michael He­sel­tine if you want your de­monic flavours more in­tense.

But if you are stunned to find your­self on the same side as these peo­ple, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong, or you are: it is mere tes­ta­ment to how bizarre and ur­gent the bat­tle of Brexit has be­come.

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