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The Brexit bloodbath – cometh the hour, cometh the mediocre?

June 30, 2016

Laurence Olivier as Richard III – “My Kingdom for a horse!”

The referendum is over. Brexit has yet to begin. Yet Britain feels like an entirely different country this week. It’s as if a good proportion of us have taken a large swig of Trump kool-aid. The Labour Party is eating itself. Nigel Farage is hurling bar-room insults at fellow members of the European Parliament. And racists are placing poisonous literature in the hands of innocents.

How many of those who voted for Leave would happily turn back the clock to Wednesday so that they could place their mark elsewhere? A good few, I suspect. How many of the EU politicians and functionaries who so contemptuously brushed David Cameron aside in February are now regretting not being more accommodating? More than a few, even if they might not care to admit it.

As to the future, very few questions posed before the vote have so far been answered. The uneasy coalitions on both sides have disbanded, and it’s back to politics as usual, but with a nasty, vindictive edge.

Sitting in my comfortable suburban perch – my area voted 60-40 in favour of Remain, by the way – I feel like a vulture, waiting to pick at the broken dreams of the brave new Brexit world. But that would hardly be a satisfying meal. What matters now is where we go from here.

In the couple of days since I got home from France (see my previous post), I’ve talked to quite a few people, read plenty in the online and print media and thought of little else. For me, the near-term future boils down to the resolution of a few six key issues that I intend to discuss over the next few posts.

The first issue is the leadership gap.

David Cameron is on his way. Jeremy Corbyn, whether he stays or goes, is an electoral liability. Where are the big beasts waiting to step into the breach? I don’t see any beasts out there. A few dogs maybe. Boris Johnson – lovable, sly, unprincipled. Theresa May – icy, Margaret Thatcher’s mini-me. George Osborne, he of the killer smirk – damaged goods, even if history proves him right in his dire predictions. As for the rest of the senior Tories, none of them have the stature or the credibility of the Clarkes, Heseltines and Macleods of yesteryear.

On the Labour side, there’s no Gordon Brown, brooding in the shadows. The other big boys have gone – Blunkett, Milburn, Miliband the First. Of the current crop, Hilary Benn and the current front-runner, Angela Eagle, are probably the most electorally viable. Then there’s John MacDonnell, Labour’s very own Francis Urquhart, waiting in the wings, knife in hand. The rest of the potential candidates resemble the England football team’s forward line – good looking but as yet unproven when the chips are down. The reliable midfielder, Alan Johnson, has unfortunately retired from the team.

Not necessary a dearth of talent on either side, but do they have the experience to lead us through what is likely to be a bumpy ride over the next couple of years? Equally importantly, do they have the ability slap down Nigel Farage, who, back in the day when Britain’s public schools were famed for their robust put-downs, would have been referred to as a bumptious little squit. And do they have the qualities needed to hold the country together in the face of secessionist pressure from Nicola Sturgeon and renewed polarisation in Northern Ireland?

It’s no surprise that David Cameron didn’t fancy the job of dealing with the self-inflicted mess arising out a contest that never should have been imposed on us. But one thought does occur. Is he planning to hang around for a while in the hope that his party calls him back to “save the nation”?

And as for Labour, will we see David Miliband returning from exile at some stage to try and take the crown he must have felt should have been his when his little brother outmanoeuvred him? That might depend on whether the crown turns out to be worth wearing.

If I was a Conservative, I would probably go for Theresa May, who has managed to get through the ghastly referendum process without making too many more enemies than she had before. She also has a reputation for being tough yet pragmatic, which would serve her well in negotiations with the EU. On the Labour side, the parliamentary party seems to have settled on Angela Eagle as the alternative to Corbyn, at least for the time being. Longer term, I would say that Hilary Benn or David Miliband would have the best chance of restoring the party’s fortunes. Assuming, of course, that Labour as we know it still exists as a coherent whole by the time the Brexit negotiations have been concluded.

Whatever happens, given the mud that is bound to be slung in all directions for the foreseeable future, politics doesn’t look like a very attractive career choice right now for the ambitious young hopefuls working their way through a system that seems pretty much shattered. How many of them will change direction and seek refuge with Goldman Sachs? That would perhaps be the most significant fallout from the current debacle.

We need decent, honest and principled politicians. People like poor Jo Cox. And no doubt there are still some around on all sides of the House of Commons. But if you were faced with abuse on your doorstep, violence every time you made yourself available to your constituents, and death threats when you expressed concern about your leader, would you want to be a British MP in 2016?

From → Politics, UK

  1. John Butler permalink

    The Labour Party members consider Eagle toxic and will never vote for her. The only hope is that this article 50 is never submitted. This is absolutely essential. The people have not voted for this: 37.4% of the electorate did. There’s a possibility of a judicial review challenging the legality of submitting it on the basis of the referendum (see Guardian Philip Allott 30.06.16). David Milliband would rescue us and I just hope that’s a possibility, but it’s a dream. Once article 50 is triggered all is lost, no possibility of a favourable negotiation. It should dawn on the political parties soon that it would be political suicide to leave the EU as they’d lose the next general election (people soon change their minds when food prices increase etc). The next government can easily, and rightly, blame Cameron’s government for causing the distress voters were voicing and that this had precious little to do with the EU (forbidding LAs from building schools where they were needed, not training sufficient GPs, not supporting areas with a large number of immigrants etc) – it wouldn’t be difficult.
    Stronger in Europe is mounting a big campaign to remain:

  2. Thanks John. I’ll be making a few suggestions in my next post. I fully agree with you about underinvestment by the current and previous government in schools and the NHS. S

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