In this political soap opera, it’s time for Emmerdale-plus-plus
How are you enjoying your 12 days of Brexit Christmas? Every 24-hour cycle forces a re-evaluation of which logical possibility is nesting inside which parliamentary impossibility. It’s like waking up with a hangover each morning,
then having John Bercow explain Inception to you. Forever.
Yesterday’s temporary lightbulb moment was the Times story explaining that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, ministers will have the power to overrule GP prescriptions to prevent shortages. Well. I haven’t consulted the spiderweb of yarn and mugshots that now covers all my walls, but I’m pretty sure Jacob Rees-Mogg will be rations secretary in the event of no deal. Ah … but of course – how could I have been so naive? THIS was what was meant by “taking back control”: Jacob ReesMogg taking back your birth-control pills. It was him all along – the Gilead Keyser Söze.
Then again, it could be any number of the other horrors. Also yesterday, leaked papers showed how crippling no-deal could be to Ireland’s supply lines – meaning Brexiteers seized on them as the perfect way to put pressure on Ireland to drop the backstop. As Priti Patel, the idiot’s idiot, put it: “Why hasn’t this point been pressed home during the negotiations?” I mean … who can say? Maybe it was felt that attempting to subjugate Ireland with food shortages had been done before?
Still, there are lighter moments. In a bizarre break with convention, the government whips this week invited
ITV News cameras into their world, for a sort of Behind the Music special in the run-up to the big vote. We saw these titanic figures sitting round a conference table deciding where to move the deckchairs, and then chief whip Julian Smith himself sitting down for a nice chat to rebel-without-a-clue Philip Davies. I loved the hilarious pretence that the Tory whipping operation has always been about reasonable chaps in green armchairs trying to charm recalcitrant backbenchers, as opposed to 3am texts reading: “I know u fucked the nanny M8 – is ur wife’s number same as it was for Syrian airstrikes????”
Not to be outdone in the batshit stakes, Channel 4 News had a hyper-surreal film of Alastair Campbell and Jacob Rees-Mogg, sitting together in a cafe, while a doctor told them at some length that his German wife had left him because he voted leave, having thought it would help the NHS. On the off-chance Britain isn’t actually living in a simulation, all of this needs to go in the time capsule.
Speaking of time, what a shame to see Nigel Farage forced to quit Ukip over the current leader’s decision to appoint Tommy Robinson as his spad. “My heart sinks,” wrote Nigel, “as I reflect on the idea that they may be seen by some as representative of the cause for which I have campaigned for so much of my adult life.” Evidently, Nigel’s been
watching his own career on tape delay, so please don’t spoil it for him by telling him how he turns out.
In the meantime, he’s been followed down the
Ukip laundry chute by fantasy’s Paul Nuttall, and its Scottish leader David Coburn. Sad news. I spent the best day of the EU referendum campaign (tough field) aboard the Thames flotilla flagship with Coburn. One of many abiding memories of the voyage is him waving a glass of sauvignon blanc at a remain vessel apparently captained by Bob Geldof, while screaming: “This is what real fishermen look like!”
Other lowlights this week? Boris Johnson being so busy incubating his second referendum campaign for a poverty-inducing no deal that he forgot to declare £52,000 of royalties. And a comment article by Jeremy Corbyn, who has come up with – and do forgive yet more Brexit technicalese – some complete handwavy bollocks of an alternative position.
As for Theresa May herself, she is robotically refusing to countenance any material change to her deal. Sadly, Dominic Grieve’s dramatically won amendment has transformed parliament into Optimus Prime. Or Megatron, if you’re Liam Fox, who claims parliament is trying to “steal” Brexit. Oh dear. Dr Leave is the spoilt child who demanded parliamentary sovereignty, then unwraps it and doesn’t want it any more.
It’s fair to say the characters in the Brexit soap opera are almost universally awful. In Emmerdale, the scriptwriters once dealt with a similar problem by crashing a plane on Beckindale. Regrettably, no one has yet touted “Emmerdale-plus-plus” as an option to break the Brexit deadlock. Still, give it a fortnight.
Either way, the level of parliamentary esoterica is now set to critical. All news out of Westminster sounds like in-game banter from a political version of Dungeons & Dragons. I’m playing my Delay Gambit and there’s nothing you can do about it! OH MY GOD HE’S COUNTERED WITH A HUMBLE ADDRESS. Ooh, Backstop Hex! See ya! For some, Brexit is so unwatchable that it has passed through the looking glass and is now obsessively watchable. There is a definite strand in the British temperament that does enjoy a good constitutional crisis. In a 1936 diary entry, Evelyn Waugh wrote of the abdication drama: “The Simpson crisis has been a great delight to everyone. At Maidie’s nursing home they report a pronounced turn for the better in all adult patients. There can seldom have been an event that has caused so much general delight and so little pain.” If only the Brexit crisis were as victimless an event. The Wallis Simpson affair was clearly a net benefit for the nation (plus a good 25% on the share price for Cartier).
Instead, all the timelines fanning out from Tuesday’s vote are pretty awful. It’s just that some are more awful than others. After the Technicolor dramas of the past two-and-a-half years, some of those calling for a second referendum still believe we could wake up in Kansas in black and white, and it would all have been a bad dream. This feels optimistic.
Even in the event of remain winning a second vote, another story trope feels much more analogous: the scene where someone wakes up and realises it was all a dream. But then they open their hand and find a tiny keepsake from the experience that says, OR WAS IT? That’s going to be us. And we’re going to unfurl our fingers and find a small broken country, as if to say: Hey! That shit was real. Enjoy your cold civil war!
In the end, the deeper into the Brexit mire we get, the clearer its similarities with the Iraq war. That adventure, too, was sold on a false prospectus, and achieved the exact opposite of what it set out to do. There wasn’t any al-Qaida in Iraq when George W Bush and Tony
Blair invaded it, but there sure as hell was by the time they’d finished. And so with David Cameron’s plan for “settling the issue of Europe once and for all”, which seems to have pulled off the polar opposite. Very few people could look at the state of UK politics and think it isn’t worse than it’s been in generations, and with strong prospects of getting even worse.
In this political soap opera, it’s time for Emmerdale-plus-plus Marina Hyde