A national catastrophe, and a vacuum in leadership. This is what Britain voted for
Posted on 28 June 2016 | 9:06am
So where to start with the national catastrophe, which has reduced us to an international joke, that has been unleashed?
Let’s start with the thing people are crying out for right now – leadership.
It is easy to understand why the Prime Minister has decided he has to go. But there is a reason for the phrase ‘lame duck leadership,’ especially when the bullet through the foot that made you lame was fired by yourself. My sympathy for David Cameron having to go to Brussels today and beg for understanding from other leaders, and my respect for the dignity he has shown since Friday morning’s political earthquake, is dwarfed by the anger and frustration I feel that he led the country down this road.
Apologies for banging on for the nth time about this. But the offer of the referendum was a tactical ploy to shut up the Tory right and shut down UKIP at the election. OK, it worked. He won a majority. But it looks like he is going to lose not merely his job, but the standing and status of the entire country; our prosperity; the Union.
He will now do his duty, and try to make the best of a terrible job. And what an irony that we, having made life a misery for other EU leaders, and having wrecked their markets as well as our own, now have to rely on Angela Merkel and Co showing the kind of fairness, reasonableness and solidarity that have been sadly lacking from this side of the Channel in recent weeks. But even her patience and understanding will have been pushed to the limit by this act of national self-harm and self-indulgence.
George Osborne is another lame duck, but one with the difficult job of continuing to try to steer the economy through some very dangerous waters. Given he always thought the referendum was a bad idea, and shared my view that UKIP and the Tory right were better seen off in strategic argument rather than tactical pandering, he could be forgiven for a mild dose of ‘I told you so.’ To his credit, he has done none of that and like Cameron is doing what he can to rescue the situation, steady the markets and the pound. Project Fear was no Project Fear at all. The warnings of economic damage were real, and the people who will first pay the price are those who fell for Project Lies.
An important role was played by our wretched right-wing, lying, anti-Europe, anti-immigrant right-wing newspapers, owned by an Australian-American billionaire who has always used his papers for his own political and economic agenda; a weak tax-dodging billionaire aristo at the Mail (Rothermere) controlled by a strong and sociopathic editor (Dacre); Channel Island tax avoiders at the Telegraph; a pornographer at the Express and Star, which with the Daily Dacre have fanned the anti-immigrant flames more than anyone. These are national and cultural leaders too, and they are disgusting in the extreme, not least the effortlessness with which they glide from stirring the hate to condemning its consequences. And when loathsome creeps like Kelvin Mackenzie talk of having ‘buyer’s remorse’ at the vote; when these papers’ money experts now give their guides as to how the result will hit the savings, pensions, holidays, cost of phone calls of their readers, you wonder how those readers can ever buy these rags again, given the damage they have helped create.
But these papers would not have managed to be on the winning side without the trio of leading politicians who led the Leave campaign. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage.
Of the three, as leaders go, I have more respect for Farage than the other two. He has always been a far right, nationalist, xenophobic, anti European who has consistently called for Britain to be out of Europe. He has often been a lone voice screaming in the wilderness. He has kept going, and he has won his fight. It is a tragedy for Britain, in my view, but for all the nastiness he has unleashed down the years, you cannot escape the fact that he stuck to his guns and never gave up.
For Johnson and Gove, I am afraid I find it hard to feel anything but contempt right now. They won the campaign, and that did require boldness and nerve, without doubt important leadership qualities. But they did so by, in Gove’s case, posing as the intelligent Tory while doing his best to create a post-intelligence, anti-expert, anti-fact debate; and in Johnson’s case putting his own ambition to be Prime Minister ahead of what he actually believes to be the national interest. If you haven’t read Nick Cohen’s piece in the Observer, you should. Here it is.
Since the vote, the lack of leadership they have shown has been stunning. As I said in this piece for the International Business Times on Saturday, they looked sick to their stomachs at having won. Their celebration press conference on Friday was like a funeral. They said nothing about the markets, nothing about Scotland, nothing about Northern Ireland, nothing about the tensions and hatreds that were already kicking off in unpleasant racist behaviour around the country. They looked and spoke like two naughty schoolboys who had been bullying the smallest kid in the class, and finally it had been caught on CCTV behind the bike sheds.
Then yesterday we had Gove sneaking in and out of the Cabinet meeting he had to attend. Johnson avoiding the Parliamentary session he should have attended, speaking to the nation via the column in the Daily Telegraph that pays him £250,000 a year ‘chickenfeed’, and giving more bumbling nonsensical clips to the media, saying the pound and the markets had stabilised when they hadn’t, saying we could have access to the single market and end free movement of travel when we can’t. ‘You betcha,’ he said when asked if this was possible, as he jumped into a blacked out Range Rover – a sign that he will now have to hide his face from people who saw him as modern, progressive, pro-youth and pro-immigration when he was running for Mayor, and now see him for the opportunistic unprincipled charlatan some of us have long known from his days lying about Europe for the Telegraph in Brussels.
And what a horrible irony that having won this campaign by saying it was all about the country being able to elect its own leaders, the next PM will now be chosen by the tiny and shrinking, old and unrepresentative, Tory Party membership. If there is a stop Johnson campaign, I wish it well. It deserves to win in a way that he and his fellow Vote Leave liars, busy backtracking from every promise they made, on the NHS, on borders, on immigration, did not.
Now to Labour. Another leadership disaster area, at a time a well-led Labour Party has never been needed more.
Nearly everyone who spoke of Jeremy Corbyn as they resigned yesterday said he was a good and decent man. Well, he is certainly a good local MP. But I am beginning to doubt the decency part. The phrase ‘do the decent thing’ comes to mind.
Of course this is a subjective view, but it is born of decades of campaigning and of travelling the UK listening to people (the ones who said we wouldn’t win with Ed Miliband, the ones who said – and this is not hindsight, I was clear with the Remain campaign from early June – that the referendum was being lost) – but here is as close as a fact as you can have in these unpredictable times. The British public will never elect Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.
Yes, he was elected leader by a landslide. Yes, he attracted lots of new members. Yes, he is right that division and inequality are massive problems in our country. But he is not going to be asked to solve them and, what’s more, for all the fine words, he has given little indication of how he would try.
MPs are of mixed quality. But they are not all daft. The avalanche of resignations of frontbenchers has come not merely because of his half-hearted, ineffectual campaigning in the referendum debate. It has come because they have seen up close that he cannot do the job. And we saw again last night, just as we saw in that car crash Vice documentary, is that he is great when telling the converted what they already think (and by the way large numbers in that crowd last night are dedicated to destroying Labour not saving it) but hopeless at winning over the people we are going to need to prevent an even bigger Tory majority in the coming election, whether it is Johnson, Theresa May or anyone else at the helm from Number 10.
There has always been a section of the Labour Party that cares less about winning power than it does about holding sway within the Party. Corbyn now leads that section. He seemingly couldn’t even answer the question if he voted REMAIN. And have you ever seen him say he actually wants to be PM. A sect has taken control of one of the two most important national political organisations. If he was a decent man, he would do the decent thing and go, and let someone who can lead take on the role of leadership. If he remains, fighting harder for this remain than the one he should have fought for, then he will earn his place in history – as the man who split and possibly destroyed the Labour Party in an act of vandalism and vanity. In this, he is the Labour version of Boris Johnson who, out of ego, ambition and vanity, has risked the destruction of the country he claims to love and claims he could be capable of leading.
This, tragically, is the story of British politics and national life today. Johnson – a man who doesn’t believe in Brexit, but said he did, may be about to become PM, despite his obvious unsuitability. And Corbyn, who does believe in Brexit, but said he didn’t, is clinging on as Leader of the Opposition, despite his obvious unsuitability.
Thank God Merkel is in Germany. Thank heavens too that Scotland has proper political leaders across the board, including three strong women leading the SNP, Labour and the Tories. But God help the rest of us right now.
And if I meet one more person telling me they wished they hadn’t voted Leave, they didn’t realise these warnings were real, they thought it did mean more money for the NHS, they thought it would mean a drop in immigration, they thought it wouldn’t lead to economic harm and job losses and rising prices and and tax rises and spending cuts … I worry my legendary calm temper might just snap.
We have got what we voted for. We were warned. We have the national crisis many of us said we would. And we have a vacuum in leadership.
A few suggestions.
Do not give up on the idea that the country can rethink this decision. Yes, accept the verdict of the people. But watch and get involved as the people express their regret in growing numbers and in varying ways.
Do not allow Boris Johnson, chief architect of this disaster, to become the Prime Minister.
Do not allow him, Gove et al, to escape the scrutiny they deserve for the lies they told. At the least, the Electoral Commission and the body for Standards in Public Life must be looking at the claims made, and the retraction of them immediately after winning.
If you think Corbyn has to go, join the Labour Party, and help make that happen so that it can become a proper functioning campaigning party again, not a hard left sect and vanity project, as a general election nears.
And call out and challenge the nastiness and the racism that this campaign has unleashed, further adding to the sense that a campaign won on the slogans ‘take back control’, ‘make Britain great again,’ is lurching out of control, and showing the world its worst side, not its best.