5 things about this week (23 Jan 2018)

by Stephen Tall on January 23, 2019

What is Theresa May playing at? A week on from the heaviest parliamentary defeat since ever, and still she’s clinging to her Brexit deal, her Plan A-thru-Z.

The reason, I guess, is clear. She would rather go down in history as the Prime Minister who brought the country to its knees (by allowing no deal) than the Conservative leader who split asunder her party (by blocking no deal).

There was a time, not that long ago, when I could conjure up some sympathy for Mrs May. She was the only grown up left standing in her party’s 2016 leadership contest. Even her reach for a hard Brexit, withdrawing from the single market to end free movement, I could initially understand given the desire of so many to ‘take back control’ of our borders.

But she has failed to acknowledge two realities. First, the significance of the Northern Ireland border with the EU which stymies a British exit from the Customs Union. And secondly, the significance of losing her majority at the 2017 election, which meant any deal would require an embrace across the Commons chamber given the implacable zealotry of her own party’s Brexit headbangers.

Ignoring both, Mrs May has created the current impasse. As a result, she is left with just one hope: that by kicking the can down the road long enough, one of the two obstacles she faces — either the headbangers or the EU — will jump out of her way. This seems massively to underestimate their respective persistence.

I suspect she knows that. But still she cannot bring herself to put country before party. It’s quite the political obituary she’s writing herself.

**

I finally got round to watching Channel 4’s Brexit: the Uncivil War, written by the splendid James Graham. It’s good fun and well worth a watch, but it also grated on me for three principal reasons:

1) while Benedict Cumberbatch is superb as Vote Leave’s combustible éminence grise, Dominic Cummings, the casting is also a bit easy. Yes, here’s the guy who played that psychopathic genius, Sherlock — DO YOU GET THE PARALLEL?? — as the geeky protagonist who (we’re more or less told) single-handedly wins the referendum by inserting the word ‘back’ in the middle of the campaign’s slogan, ‘take control’.

2) Cummings was, of course, a key character in Vote Leave’s success. But not as pivotal as the film made out (his boss Matthew Elliot was probably more influential). The play which made James Graham’s name, This House, set during the final groaning years of the minority Callaghan government, was an ensemble piece and all the better for it.

3) it also falls too hard for the half-conspiracy theory that Cummings’ recruitment of Cambridge Analytica and its dodgy Facebook ads were the difference between the two campaigns. We’ll never know for sure, but I can’t help feeling that three decades’ relentlessly negative media coverage of the EU from the right-wing press (ie, pretty much all of it) dutifully followed up by the broadcasters, was way more influential.

**

Can I be the last person to slate Russell Brand for his jaw-dropping shirking of the excruciating and mundane bits of fatherhood he doesn’t care for? Here’s what he told the Sunday Times’s Decca Aitkenhead:

I’m very, very focused on the mystical connotations of Mabel’s beauty and grace. Not so good on the nappies and making sure that they eat food. … Laura’s able to sustain and maintain domesticity in a way that’s astonishing. I didn’t have much experience of how to organise domesticity. … Laura does all of it. It turns out that she is extremely well versed in the nuances and complexities of child-rearing.

Because of course mothers are genetically programmed to change nappies and pack carrot sticks while, for fathers, such desiderata is the equivalent of learning Mandarin while skiing up a treacle-covered Everest.

Reading this new-age-woke-bloke-laziness I’m reminded of a Guardian article Helen Lewis once wrote, highlighting the default assumption that’s still only slowly changing that mothers are the home-makers: Yes, there is one great contribution men can make to feminism: pick up a mop.

**

I’ve gone done a second pilot podcast with Mark Pack, still titled the ‘As Yet Unnamed Political Podcast’ – you can listen to it here. We cover Paddy Ashdown, Lib Dem strategy, Tim Farron’s record, and overseas elections. But (almost) no Brexit because Mark wouldn’t let me. Next time (if there is a next time)…

**

It’s 25 years since BBC2 first broadcast The Day Today, one of the greatest satirical TV shows of all time. Which is all the excuse I need to post this clip – WAR! – which captured perfectly the symbiosis of amped-up media and failed political leadership a full quarter of a century before Brexit:

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