It’s a toss-up as to which is the most undignified gesture, really – gate-crashing Europe’s leading gentleman’s club with a choreographed stunt during the playing of ‘Ode to Joy’, or wearing T-shirts bearing the legend ‘Bollocks to Brexit’. It’d be comforting to think the former was a protest at Ludwig Van’s masterpiece being purloined for political purposes, but alas, no, for these are our representatives on the European stage in 2019; it’s enough to make one hanker for Brotherhood of Man and Buck’s Fizz. Then again, representatives for both sides of the divide advertised their intentions in advance, or at least the respective stances they would take once in a) The Lion’s Den or b) The Garden of Eden (tick where applicable).
The Brexit Party certainly made it clear they planned to descend upon the European Parliament determined to disrupt proceedings in the manner of Paisleyite Unionists striding into 1970s Westminster; similarly, the servile sucking-up to the same institution by their Lib Dem opponents whilst wearing their contempt for democracy as a literal T-shirt (just in case anybody missed it) shouldn’t have come as a surprise either. Of course, three years ago 17 million members of the Great British electorate decided we wouldn’t be sending any MEPs to Brussels in 2019; but the fact we are means it was almost inevitable the conflicting responses of the British intake would be akin to children being let loose in an adventure playground without parental supervision. That’s where we are now.
Whether ‘Carry On Up The EU’, milkshakes as missiles, baby blimps hovering over London, or every Grauniad reader’s favourite ‘Urban’ person Stormzy leading a white woke audience in a chant of ‘Fuck Boris’ at the rock & pop Glyndebourne known as Glastonbury, it would appear the nation is experiencing its second childhood. The default panic room when faced with the intractable series of crises confronting the country seems to be the nursery. People are worried about the future, impoverished by Austerity, browbeaten by Brexit and powerless in the face of Parliament discarding its democratic duty, so they retreat to the sole surviving safe-space available to them – sticking their tongues out at the powers-that-be en route, and shouting ‘Fascist’, ‘Nazi’ or ‘Racist’ for good measure.
Reduced to hurling an aforementioned dairy-based beverage at a pantomime villain when the ability to articulate frustration any other way appears a lost art – that’s 2019; the argument has exhausted the nation, even though most of us ironically do now know a great deal more about the EU than when presented with a choice in 2016. Unfortunately, those of a Second Referendum bent have failed to realise that possession of this knowledge doesn’t necessarily serve as the ideal recruitment weapon for the Remainer narrative; if anything, the more we learn the more likely we are to be drawn to the Leave cause. They really should’ve retained the beguiling mystique of the EU and not exposed the grotesque bureaucratic behemoth to the light.
At least we all had a say in 2016 (even if it appears to have counted for nothing in the end) – unlike the race to No.10, the latest offshoot from Cameron’s can of worms. Yet, if eras are given leaders most pertinent to those eras, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that Boris Johnson is still the odds-on favourite to be the next Prime Minister. He is the ideal candidate for our times – immature, immoral, avaricious, frivolous, reckless, devious, dishonest – and so say all of us. Maybe the most significant example to date of Boris’s inability to cope in a crisis came via his infamously sloppy response to the detainment and imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe; the potential damage the then-Foreign Secretary’s casual comments did to the British-Iranian citizen held on dubious spying charges in Tehran contrast sharply with Jim Callaghan’s response to the threatened execution of Ugandan-based British author and lecturer Denis Hills in 1975. Hills was sentenced to death by firing squad on charges of espionage and sedition; but Callaghan as Foreign Secretary made a personal approach to Idi Amin, flying out to Kampala and bringing Hills home. That’s the kind of thing grownups do – or used to.
An elderly, ailing Churchill returning to power in 1951 was the perfect personification of the early 50s malaise, playing the nation’s grandfather in the manner of an aged stationmaster from the Rev. W. Awdry’s Railway Series; Harold Wilson was the right man for the job in 1964, surfing the wave of the nation’s dynamic go-getting attitude via his utilisation of both the pre-eminent pop culture and the white heat of the new technology; he performed his own late Churchill role ten years later, holding both party and country together as one last duty before collecting his carriage clock; in contrast, the big hair & big shoulder pad ensemble of Mrs Thatcher was the stylistic embodiment of mid-80s excess in all its ‘greed-is-good’ vulgarity as the free-market hounds were released for round one of casino capitalism’s ascendancy; the middle-management, superficial blandness of Blair and his heir, Cameron, equally made them men of their times. We’ve got Boris.
Yes, like Trump, he may piss-off the right-on chattering classes – which is undeniably entertaining; but that’s not a good enough reason on its own to hand him the keys to No.10. We should be able to do better. But take a look at the opposing frontbenches and nominate a great man or woman who would make a great leader. No, me neither. This is an age of unprecedented parliamentary mediocrities. Boris has always caught the eye because of the amusing comic character he plays in public; surrounded by such nonentities, he was bound to stand out. But the Enoch Powell-like ‘voice in the wilderness’ aura he has generated from the backbenches ever since his exit from government should have kept him as a perennial beacon for mischief-makers to congregate around, not propel him all the way to Downing Street.
Boris wants to be Prime Minister, whereas Nigel Farage claims he doesn’t want to be an MEP; his presence in Brussels inevitably provokes cries of hypocrisy from his enemies. ‘But you still collect your Brussels salary!’ Yes, just like all those SNP MPs whose avowed aim is to detach their country from the UK and its parliament, yet still receive their Westminster paycheque – or all the members of the Northern Ireland Executive who continue to be paid, despite the fact it hasn’t sat at Stormont for over two years. Nice work if you can get it, eh? All adult avenues are sealed-off now, so while you arm yourself with a milkshake, I shall continue to exercise my own puerile prodding with the occasional silly, satirical video as I proceed towards my destiny as Miss Havisham. Or maybe not…
© The Editor