5 things about this week (21 March 2019)

by Stephen Tall on March 21, 2019

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Until last night, I was a supporter of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. As I wrote last week:

For all its many flaws, and it’s certainly a marked trade-down on our exceptionally good deal as an EU member, I think Theresa May’s deal is a workable way of honouring [the referendum] mandate. Sorrynotsorry.

Well, scrap that.

Her live TV address from the Number 10 podium, abdicating leadership and accusing MPs of letting her down, was cowardly, delusional idiocy. Even if you agree with her, as I formerly did (ish), that it’s “the very best deal negotiable”, it is quite clearly not the wisest strategy to try and win over the votes of wavering MPs by accusing them en masse of “indulgence” and of being willing to say only “what they do not want”.

It exemplified her complete absence of political judgement. Small wonder, Conservative chief whip Julian Lewis is apparently despairing of her, ‘openly admitting in the tea rooms that PM’s statement was “appalling”‘, according to ITV’s Paul Brand.

Even now, I hear some people expressing sympathy for Theresa May; that any Prime Minister would have found it impossible to deliver Brexit, that it’s inevitable she’s failed. But I simply don’t accept that. I’m in no doubt a different, better, braver PM could have successfully Brexited.

Michael Gove, for example, for all his many faults (and they are numerous), would, I feel sure, have had the political smarts to approach the task with some flexibility. He also, of course, would have had the credibility advantage of being a Brexiter, so could — Nixon-goes-to-China-style — have spent some of that capital negotiating an EEA-style interim agreement. It would have been achievable. It would also likely have brought our divided Remain/Leave country together somewhat.

Sure, she’s had a difficult task, arguably the hardest of any peacetime Prime Minister (though as she did the bare minimum during the referendum campaign to support Remain it’s not like she shares no responsibility for the outcome).

But she’s never once levelled with the public about the trade-offs; never once faced down the hardline ERG-ers in her ranks; never once offered an inspiring vision of life beyond Brexit to the 48%. Her deal deserves now to fall and her premiership with it.

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So I ended up signing the ‘revoke Article 50’ petition — currently numbering 1.7 million signatures — even though I’m far from convinced revoking Article 50 is the answer. But anything that stiffens the resolve of MPs to take back control from this Prime Minister and do something constructive in what little time is left is better than nothing.

A futile gesture is better than no gesture (and a damn sight more useful than snarking about the uselessness of petitions on Twitter). After all, I marched against the Iraq war in 2003 not because I was a pacifist or even necessarily opposed to deposing Saddam Hussein, but because the case was unproven, the decision-making process flawed, overseen by a Prime Minister who was dissembling and increasingly out of his depth.

I’ve no idea what should now happen next with Brexit (let alone what will actually happen next). I’ve spent the last almost three years adjusting to living in a post-EU country. I wasn’t reconciled, but I was resigned to it.

Yes, I’d like us to stay in. But the breach of a democratic mandate troubles me, still more the inability of our political system to seem to even want to try to find a resolution.

And let’s not forget it was the Lib Dems which were the first mainstream party this century to campaign for an In/Out European referendum #soproud.

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I accept this isn’t a fair grievance to hold against Theresa May, but still… her Brexit shenanigans this week have completely put me off my reading stride. Instead of, as I’d promised myself, weaning myself off Twitter, I’ve been scrolling ‘n refreshing like a news junkie to keep abreast of the breathless pace of her jaw-dropping infamy.

On the upside, I did as a result stumble across this terrific article by Fintan O’Toole, Are the English ready for self-government?

Aptitude for self-government is not what comes to mind when one looks in from the outside at the goings-on in Westminster last week, when, as Tom Peck so brilliantly put it in the London Independent, “the House of Commons was a Benny Hill chase on acid, running through a Salvador Dali painting in a spaceship on its way to infinity”.

Let’s just say that if Theresa May were the head of a newly liberated African colony in the 1950s, British conservatives would have been pointing, half-ruefully, half-gleefully, in her direction and saying “See? Told you so – they just weren’t ready to rule themselves. Needed at least another generation of tutelage by the Mother Country.” …

Brexit is a dead horse, a form of nationalist energy that started to decompose rapidly on June 24th, 2016, as soon as it entered the field of political reality. It can’t go anywhere. It can’t carry the British state to any promised land. It can only leave it where it has arrived, in a no-man’s land between vague patriotic fantasies and irritatingly persistent facts. But equally, because of the referendum result, the British state can’t get down off the dead horse and has to keep flogging it.

Do read it in full. It’s superb.

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It was my birthday on Tuesday, so of course I got up at 5.40am to go and record the latest ‘Never Mind the Barcharts‘ podcast with Mark Pack, talking Lib Dem leadership (Vince, Jo, Layla, Ed etc) and conference, plus a bit of TIG — but not Brexit, never Brexit (Mark’s allergic) — so please listen here to show me it wasn’t all in vain:

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I’ve been watching repeats of the BBC sitcom Outnumbered, which is still funny and rings a whole lot truer now than it did when I first watched it, pre-kids. Though (not to go all Millennial-watches-Friends on you) but I was also struck that it’s hard to imagine Hugh Dennis’s teacher-character, Pete — subject to a complaint of racism for saying to a “fat Turkish kid”, “You could do with Ramadan lasting all year round, couldn’t you, Kamal?” — being portrayed quite so sympathetically today as in 2007.

I’ve been reading… absolutely nothing. * See above, shakes fist at Theresa May *

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PS: I have now attained wisdom…

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Reached the answer to "the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything". It's actually cake.

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