OLD KING KOHL

The death of Helmut Kohl last week was understandably overshadowed by more dramatic events in Blighty, but I’ll be fair and declare that Kohl (for good or ill) was the most influential German since Franz Beckenbauer or the collective members of Kraftwerk, rather than that funny fellow with the toothbrush moustache – who was really an Austrian, anyway. Kohl passed away on Friday at the age of 87, having retired from public office in 1998; but he was German Chancellor at the most crucial stage of the country’s post-war existence, overseeing unification in 1990 and consequently becoming the first properly elected Chancellor of a united Germany since a certain Mr Hitler in 1933.

Born in Bavaria in 1930, the timing of his birth meant Kohl was legally required to join the Hitler Youth when turning fifteen, though he avoided being recruited into Adolf’s increasingly juvenile forces on account of the Second World War ending at the moment he was drafted. As with many factors in the life of Helmut Kohl – including growing up in West rather than East Germany – he found himself in the right place at the right time. Spared military service, he studied Law in Frankfurt and then history and political science in Heidelberg before entering the business world, though he’d been active in politics from university onwards, joining the newly-formed Christian Democratic Union Party. In divided post-war Germany, the legacy of the recent past necessitated a clean slate in politics as much as every other aspect of daily life, and Helmut Kohl was in attendance right at the very birth of modern German politics.

Kohl’s professional political career began in earnest with his election to the state assembly of the Rhineland-Palatinate Landtag in 1959, and he moved up the greasy pole of federal government throughout the 60s, elected Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate in 1969. With his centre-right stance, Kohl was at odds with the more conservative wing of the CDU; but the loss of power for the party after twenty years to the Social Democrats of Willie Brandt was compounded by Brandt’s attitude towards the GDR, which the CDU (unlike Kohl himself) officially opposed. In 1972, as West German Chancellor, Brandt instigated the Ostpolitik, a programme of rapprochement towards East Germany that attempted to establish formal relations between the two separate German states for the first time since their division.

The CDU leader Rainer Barzel gambled on public opposition to Brandt’s East German policies when he first provoked a vote of no-confidence in Brandt’s government (which he lost) and then ran as the CDU candidate for Chancellor in the 1972 federal elections; the gamble backfired again and Brandt was re-elected. Barzel’s failure gifted Helmut Kohl a clear run to becoming West Germany’s effective opposition leader, elected as Chairman of the CDU in 1973. After being a prominent figure on the German political scene for the best part of twenty years, Kohl finally led his party back into power in October 1982 at the expense of a coalition led by the Social Democrats’ Helmut Schmidt, which collapsed after losing a vote of no-confidence; and Kohl then strengthened his position via the ballot-box in the federal elections of 1983.

The previous decade had been a traumatic one for West Germany; the country’s economy may have emerged as one of Central Europe’s strongest (certainly when compared to the UK’s at the time), but the nation was as vulnerable to terrorist assaults as we were. The notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang – or, as they were more commonly known in Germany, the Red Army Faction – had repeatedly targeted holders of public office they claimed had been Nazi Party members during WWII; whatever legitimate grievances they may have held, however, were undermined by the violent means with which they addressed Germany’s recent past. Those born either during or after the war carried the guilt of their parents and resented the fact; Helmut Kohl, born before it, was equally determined to address Germany’s recent past, but by diplomatic and economic means.

Keen to forge a stronger bond with one of Germany’s oldest enemies, Kohl developed a close friendship with French President François Mitterrand; but Kohl’s plans for greater European integration and Germany being central to it were hampered by the inconvenient fact that his country remained divided. However, when the Berlin Wall tumbled down following the unexpected collapse of the East German Government in the autumn of 1989, Kohl had the opportunity he’d been waiting for. After eliciting the support of the USSR, Kohl wasted little time in drafting a reunification treaty that was signed within a year of the first civilian hammer hitting the Berlin Wall. Germany was back in one piece and Helmut Kohl now had the chance to, well, ‘make Germany great again’.

Along with Mitterrand, Kohl was the prime mover behind the Maastricht Treaty, the evolution of the EEC into the EU, and the creation of the Euro. Angela Merkel, an East German whose entry onto the national stage of German politics was as a member of Kohl’s first post-unification administration, is the most notable beneficiary of the rebirth of Germany her former boss instigated, whereas the rest of Europe now views Kohl’s achievement with decidedly mixed emotions.

Wherever one stands on the EU issue, however, there’s no denying Helmut Kohl was perhaps the most influential European politician of his generation, a man whose career spans the entire post-war history of Europe, and a man who played a major part in shaping that history by remaking the continent in his own image. That’s no mean feat.

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A SONG FOR EUROPE

Ah, for the days of Katie Boyle in a sequinned gown speaking French with an RP accent as a crackling line from the distant Balkans announced the votes of the Yugoslavian jury – yes, along with Wogan’s wry interjections during an especially surreal performance and the oompah rhythm of a Germanic fairground ringing around the theatre; for most of us, that’s what the Eurovision Song Contest represented when we were first exposed to it. It was a musical event unlike any other aired live on TV; it couldn’t be compared to either the Proms or ‘Top of the Pops’; it existed in its own impenetrable and often inexplicable bubble.

Britain’s relationship with the Eurovision Song Contest is almost a microcosm of our relationship with Europe as a whole, rarely treating it with the reverence mainland Europeans themselves do. We’ve often regarded it as a joke and this has been mirrored by many of the most famous UK entries, the majority of which have plumbed the depths of pop banality; in recent years, our attitude towards it has combined the excavation of old-timers like Engelbert Humperdinck and Bonnie Tyler with singers so crap they couldn’t even win the bloody ‘X-Factor’, which speaks volumes. It also doesn’t help that we enter it with the knowledge we won’t win it.

At the beginning of Britain’s earliest European adventure, we had misplaced confidence on a par with the similar absence of realism that characterised England’s inaugural foray into the World Cup in 1950. The curious novelty of a live broadcast that crossed the Channel in the competition’s early days gave a rare platform to the strange music of ‘funny foreigners’ when there was less of a homogenous culture on the continent; we figured we could do better, though the superiority complex the contest bred in Brits wasn’t backed-up until our first triumph courtesy of Sandie Shaw in 1967. Abba’s game-changing win in 1974 was the first year when countries no longer had to sing in their native language, and that altered the feel of the contest thereafter. Those cheeky buggers were now singing in English – and Abba themselves had successfully hijacked the British Glam stomp of Wizzard with ‘Waterloo’, proving Europeans could take us on at our own game.

For the first thirty years of the Eurovision, the UK finished outside the top ten placed songs on just one occasion – 1978, when ‘The Bad Old Days’ by Co-Co (featuring future Bucks Fizz winner Cheryl Baker) slumped to eleventh thanks to a shaky live vocal performance; we won it four times from 1967 to 1981 and finished second ten times from our first appearance in 1957 to 1977. We were runners-up again on five more occasions (the last being in 1998), though we haven’t claimed the Eurovision crown now for twenty years. Since Katrina and the Waves won in 1997, the British entry has only made the top ten at the end of the night on three occasions and has finished rock bottom the same number of times.

Anyone doubting that politics play a part in the way nations vote need only look at the example of 2003, when tuneless duo Jemini not only became the first British entry to finish last but the only one to date to receive the dreaded nul points. Yes, their vocal performance was so flat and off-key that they didn’t deserve much when it came to the voting section of the show, but there was more to it than that. The 2003 Eurovision was staged two months after the UK joined forces with the US to invade Iraq. This transatlantic alliance played badly with our nearest neighbours and it’s entirely feasible to speculate one way that Europe could make its feelings known outside of a summit meeting was to give the Brits a kicking on a programme transmitted across the continent.

What awaits poor Lucie Jones in Kiev tonight, God only knows. This is, of course, the first Eurovision to be staged since Brexit. Theresa May’s chilly reception in Brussels when she made her debut visit to the EU lion’s den as PM said everything about the way the continent views these islands now, so we can hardly expect this year’s entry to be welcomed with open arms. However, the result of last June’s EU Referendum merely gives Europe an official excuse to take revenge on us via Eurovision voting; they’ve been down on us for a long time as it is. We haven’t had an entry placed in the top ten since 2009, and that entry itself – ‘It’s My Time’ by Jade Ewen (No, me neither) – was out first top ten placing in eleven years.

The Eurovision has changed a hell of a lot over the last twenty years as it is; the growing list of entrants – which now bizarrely includes Australia – has swelled to the point whereby semi-finals are held to reduce the length of the actual contest on the night, and Eastern European nations (who didn’t participate during the Cold War) have come to dominate the event ever since they were admitted in the wake of the Berlin Wall’s collapse. The continuing presence of some of the countries that ruled the roost prior to the demise of the Eastern Bloc – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and us – is due to the fact the so-called ‘Big 5’ automatically qualify every year on account of them being the largest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union.

Fifty years on from the barefoot dollybird’s win with ‘Puppet on a String’, the UK’s role in one of our most uniquely eccentric annual events is perhaps more in doubt than it ever has been. We can stay put, pushing forward more Cowell rejects in the absence of anyone else and hoping to reach the dizzying heights of 24th place (as Joe and Jake managed last year), or we can finally bow out of a competition that pre-dates the EU as a naive experiment to unite a divided continent. Personally, if we’re going to go, I think we should go out with a bang. I suggest The KLF’s incendiary performance alongside Extreme Noise Terror at the 1992 Brit Awards as a blueprint for our European exit. Any takers?

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THE REVOLUTION HAS BEEN POSTPONED

I would imagine the sigh of relief from Brussels can be detected in Paris tonight. As with the recent failure of Geert Wilders to claim victory in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen’s threat to win the French Presidency has been vanquished. Of course, over in EU Central, the potential panic wasn’t based on her far-right rhetoric and how it might impact upon those within France who don’t fall into her favoured demographic, but the explicit anti-EU bandwagon she’d attached herself to – a common thread amongst Europe’s contemporary far-right parties. In the wake of Brexit, the fear that the other leading Western European nations might follow suit and bring the whole bureaucratic house of cards crashing down appears to have been eased; but how long for, one wonders.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s petulant jibe at how the English language is losing its relevance on the continent a couple of days ago for some epitomised the arrogance of the unelected passengers on the Brussels gravy-train, whereas others might regard it as a tit-for-tat response to the equally combative approach of the right in both Westminster and on Fleet Street. It was almost reminiscent of when the host of the Eurovision Song Contest would make his or her announcements to the audience in French before being forced to repeat them in English – just so viewers knew which language took precedence. European harmony is certainly in short supply at the moment, but Juncker and his colleagues can take solace from the fact that, of the three key General Elections taking place in Europe this year, at least one of them has gone their way. And it’d be a major upset if the Germans don’t do likewise.

It’s probably true to say Britain never truly embraced the European project with the same verve as our continental neighbours; we were the cautious bass-player in the early Punk band who was the last member of the group to cut his hair and stop wearing flares – and even then, the barber and the boutique were approached with reluctance. If any member state was eventually going to bail out, it was bound to be Blighty; perhaps the real surprise is that it took so long before it happened, not that it actually did happen. For France to reach the same conclusion, however, would have been unthinkable until very recently. Then again, France’s all-encompassing enthusiasm for the European Union has been whittled away by similar factors that motivated some to vote Leave here last year.

Considering France has suffered more than most from Islamic terrorism in the last couple of years, the issue of immigration has unsurprisingly registered highly in this Presidential Election; Marine Le Pen, like Farage and Trump before her, has tapped into the neglected concerns of natives who, already victims of the post-2008 economic downturn, have naturally laid the blame at the door of globalisation and freedom-of-movement immigration. Le Pen has exploited this for her own gain, as any canny politician would, but it’s easily done when such a large demographic has been consistently ignored by the mainstream parties for so long. That neither Le Pen nor Macron belongs to a mainstream party speaks volumes as to this dissatisfaction with the political process.

Marine Le Pen has portrayed herself as a figure outside of the establishment, though it’s not as though she rose from humble beginnings and has entered the political arena overnight; she’s very much a member of an establishment, just not the establishment. However, she was able to play the outsider card on account of her opponent. Standing against Emmanuel Macron – former investment banker, ex-member of Hollande’s cabinet, liberal centrist and (crucially) pro-EU – the gift of Macron to Le Pen masks Macron’s own independence from the political establishment, leaving the Socialist Party and forming his own party, En Marche! By the way (just in case you were wondering), the exclamation mark is part of the party’s name.

Macron appears to be a rather bland professional politician in the Blair mould, espousing the kind of centrist rhetoric that’s certainly been discredited on this side of the Channel; in fact, the only thing I can see remotely interesting about him – other than (at 39) he’ll be France’s youngest-ever President – is that he married his former teacher, some twenty-odd years his senior, thus fulfilling the fantasies of many an adolescent boy. Were he a Brit and their positions were reversed, i.e. he’d been the former tutor who’d married a pupil, he could probably expect a knock on the door from Inspector Knacker and the Historical Fishing Party Squad; but they’re French, of course, and the French don’t get so hot under the collar about such things.

So, Le Pen may have lost this time round, but the challenge facing Macron, regardless of the blessing he’ll receive from Brussels, is to try to heal some of the gaping wounds French politicians have allowed to fester for a long time. If he doesn’t, he’ll find his opponent in 2017 (who is hardly the sort to disappear from the political scene with a whimper due to one defeat) will be more than ready to take him on again in 2022. The French electorate have resoundingly rejected the two dominant parties of the last half-century in this Presidential Election, so past loyalties can no longer be relied upon. Macron has quite a task on his hands, and if he isn’t capable of getting the job done, both he and his countrymen will suffer the consequences five years from now.

As for home soil, we’ve nothing to be smug about…

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ROCK ON!

One of the most contentious issues during the EU Referendum was – it goes without saying – immigration, and specifically the subject of free movement within EU countries. However, the system that enables foreign nationals from other EU member states to be ‘fast-tracked’ into the UK to serve as convenient cheap labour – whether in a Sports Direct sweat-shop or as an au pair to Notting Hill twats – doesn’t necessarily mean they intend to put down permanent roots in Blighty. Many make as much cash as they can and then take it back home; but that fact was glossed over by those who stood to gain from their demonisation as it aided the Brexit cause.

We have been here before, though. Up until the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962, all citizens of British colonies and overseas territories had full UK citizenship and were entitled to set up home in the Mother Country. Natives of nations with whom we had long-standing cultural and historical ties had been raised to believe Britain was their homeland, and those who arrived on these shores in the immediate post-war era contrasted with many recent ‘economic migrants’ in that their aim was to build new lives for themselves. Unfortunately, that didn’t prevent racial tensions in areas that experienced high immigration levels in the 60s and 70s. Further moving of the goalposts, not especially aided by the inflammatory language of Enoch Powell, came with other immigration acts in 1968, 1971 and 1981.

Those born in Hong Kong found their status as British subjects particularly affected by these changes; but Mrs Thatcher was aware of China’s impending takeover of our last imperial possession in the Far East and sought to stem an expected tide of immigration from Hong Kong, something that was heightened after the 1989 events in Tiananmen Square. Such circumstances didn’t – and don’t – apply to Britain’s lingering Mediterranean outpost, however. Gibraltar is also uncomfortably close to a large unfriendly neighbour with vague territorial claims, though there is no handover earmarked where Spain is concerned. As a consequence, the 30,000 strong population there is often more defiantly British than Britain itself.

Since being ceded to Britain in perpetuity as part of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht – following its capture by an Anglo-Dutch force during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704 – Gibraltar has been a permanent thorn in the side of relations between Britain and Spain, often surfacing in the most bizarre manner, such as accusations that General Franco ‘fixed’ it so that Cliff’s ‘Congratulations’ lost the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest to the Spanish entry at the eleventh hour. Its status as a British Overseas Territory may seem antiquated today, but its origins as such are very much in tune with how European powers settled disagreements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, using the odd strategic island or peninsular as bargaining chips. Cyprus was acquired by Britain from the Ottoman Empire in not dissimilar circumstances.

The nascent Brexit negotiations have already thrust Gibraltar back onto the front pages; lest we forget, though, Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly in favour of Remain during the EU Referendum last year, being the first result to be declared that eventful evening – something that gave false hope to Remainers in the UK. The revelation that a clause in draft guidelines drawn up by Brussels mandarins suggests Brexit negotiations won’t include Gibraltar unless there is an agreement between Spain and the UK has provoked anger both here and on the Rock.

The draft negotiating guidelines state: ‘After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.’ In response, Andrew Rosindell, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar, commented: ‘British people must and will stand together. We cannot be bullied by Spain. Any agreement must apply equally to the whole British family and that includes Gibraltar. There can be no compromise on this.’

Spain’s claims on Gibraltar have no more proper legal standing than Argentina’s claims on the Falklands, so to evoke the Spanish on this issue was guaranteed to enflame patriotic passions. Both Theresa May and Boris Johnson have responded to the EU proposals re Gibraltar by emphasising again that the concerns of the people of Gibraltar will not excised from the negotiations. And it’s worth remembering that Gibraltarians have twice voted overwhelmingly ‘no’ to shared sovereignty between the UK and Spain in referendums (in 1967 and 2002); moreover, the border between Spain and Gibraltar was only permanently opened after decades of petulance on the part of the Spanish when Spain joined the EEC in 1985.

If one excludes the Episkopi Cantonment enclave of Cyprus, essentially a military anomaly since the island’s independence in 1960, Gibraltar is unique amongst the fourteen remaining British Overseas Territories in that it is not some distant landmass in the Caribbean or South Atlantic, but essentially sits on Britain’s doorstep. Its presence during the EU Referendum may have seemed incongruous, considering it has no British Parliamentary constituency, but it certainly had a right to be there.

Whether or not one believes leftovers from the Empire should be ceded to their nearest neighbours, the Gibraltarians themselves are steadfast in their loyalty to the Crown and their preferences should be taken into account. It appears yet one more strand to the tangled web of Brexit needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

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A MAJOR MISTAKE

Well, I wonder, have the ravens flown the Tower? Not as far as I know, but the sky isn’t raining a shower of bank notes down on the populace either. Theresa May today signed a document that could well define her time in Downing Street and could equally decide which direction the UK heads in for the next decade or so; nobody knows what will really happen – apart from Fleet Street, of course, which is telling us all exactly what we can look forward to; mind you, the Brexit battle bus did that too. The first step towards a not-so fond farewell to the EU is underway, but what precisely are we waving goodbye to?

John Major’s recent reappearance on the British political stage, following hot on the heels of his immediate successor Tony Blair, should have served as a potent reminder that what we now recognise as the European Union was established (and endorsed) during his premiership, rather than that of Edward Heath. Major’s early 70s PM predecessor tends to carry a great deal of retrospective blame for Britain’s eventful European adventure, though the Europe that Sailor Ted steered us towards had experienced a game-changing facelift in the thirty years since Heath himself had witnessed the devastation global conflict had wrought upon the continent.

The European Economic Community was an idealistic post-war project intended to do for European trade and industry what the United Nations intended to do for world peace; the triumph of the former, when measured against the limited success of the latter, naturally made it an attractive proposition to countries undergoing economic decline, with the UK foremost amongst them. Long before he led his party, Heath (unlike many Tories at the time) realised Britain urgently required a post-colonial role and he regarded membership of the EEC as the way to achieve one. It took the best part of a decade, but he eventually realised his ambition.

When Heath signed the Treaty of Accession on 22 January 1972 (with Britain’s membership of the EEC coming into effect on 1 January 1973), the bleak situation in Blighty appeared to vindicate his decision. Just two days before Heath signed on the dotted line, unemployment had topped the one million mark; a little over a week later, Bloody Sunday happened. The country was also in the middle of the first official miners’ strike since 1926, one spanning seven weeks and including the infamous forced closure of Birmingham’s Saltley Coke Works; with the nation’s power supply perilously close to running out, the Government capitulated and the NUM recognised the dangerous strength of the cards it held.

Britain’s entry into Europe was marketed as an exciting new dawn for the country; there was even a special concert staged at the London Palladium to mark the occasion, headlined by the biggest band in Britain at the time, Slade. But beneath the PR, there was concern that the nation was surrendering sovereignty to Brussels without the people being consulted; yes, the Treaty of Accession was debated in Parliament and at the party conferences in the months leading up to its ratification, but the electorate had no say in the matter. A shared economic policy with Europe seemed sensible on paper, but when the NUM flexed its muscles again barely a year after Britain joining the Common Market, the country’s fortunes plummeted once more and Heath was out of office.

Following the EEC Referendum instigated by Harold Wilson’s Government in 1975, Britain’s position at the European table in the immediate years after was largely marked by debates over the size of sausages, the imperial Vs metric weights-and-measurements argument, and other silly season stories that were recycled whenever the UK required a lazy scapegoat to attribute its ills to. Margaret Thatcher rarely disguised her antipathy towards the EEC, securing the UK Rebate in 1985 that allowed Britain to reduce its contribution to the organisation’s budget; but it was her successor at No.10 whose actions one could say directly led us to where we are today.

When Britain became a member of the Common Market (on the same day as Ireland and Denmark), the membership of the EEC totalled nine nations; by 1986, only three more had been added. Twelve seemed a nice manageable number, but the dramatic alteration of the continent following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the early 90s not only ruined the Eurovision Song Contest; it had a considerable impact on the EEC. Moves to enlarge the remit of the EEC beyond mere economic issues had been afoot for a long time, but the newly independent nations queuing up to join after the fall of the Berlin Wall presented the Brussels powers-that-be with the opportunity for expansion they’d been looking for, the chance to build the United States of Europe that Churchill foresaw decades before.

John Major was the third successive Tory PM whose term in office was marked by arguments over Europe. When the Maastricht Treaty was drafted at the end of 1991, the prospect of greater European integration and the introduction of a shared currency filled many with horror, albeit not Mr Major. The main opposition to the implementation of Maastricht came from within his own party, the so-called Maastricht Rebels, as well as some members of his Cabinet, whom Major referred to as ‘the bastards’. His Government’s small majority (18) was compounded by 22 rebels, who spent the best part of a year deliberately sabotaging every attempt by Major to get the job done.

Mercifully, Major resisted signing the UK up to the Euro, though Blair was keen for a while; Maastricht was eventually ratified, however, and the bureaucratic monolith that is the EU came into being proper. Maastricht created what we are now divorcing ourselves from, rather than the 1957 Treaty of Rome, and further national powers being devolved to Brussels came with the amendments inherent in the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, followed by the Treaties of Nice and Lisbon.

John Major may well have misread the aims and intentions of the EU when Maastricht was drafted, but I don’t believe he was/is that stupid; he must have known what it would amount to and how difficult it would be for the UK to extract itself from the monster Maastricht manufactured. If any single individual could be said to have sold Britain’s sovereignty down the river – if indeed one views membership of the EU as representing just that – it was John Major, not Ted Heath.

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TRIGGER WARNING

I really honestly do not miss David Cameron at all; but I confess I miss taking the piss out of him. He was such a gift – a posh boy desperately trying not to be a posh boy and failing miserably, albeit hilariously. Blair might have looked like the archetypal trendy vicar twit when armed with his guitar, but it was impossible to doubt his deluded sincerity in genuinely believing it made him ‘cool’. By contrast, whenever Dave had a crack at playing the pleb, whether pretending to enjoy a pasty or deciding his favourite football team wore claret-and-blue (West Ham or Aston Villa?), he so was clearly chronically uncomfortable that watching him squirm was comedy gold.

Yes, there’s still Boris to send up, but Boris has cleverly created a character in which it appears he’s already sending himself up long before you get the chance to do likewise. The Foreign Secretary took the joke toff route from day one and has got away with it because being Bertie Wooster is a canny strategy; the Proles can suppress their instinctive antagonism towards the upper classes if the aristocracy’s poster boy is a superficially harmless bumbling buffoon who can laugh at himself along with the rest of us.

Which leaves us with the Duchess of Dullsville, Theresa May, the middle-class God-bothering matron of British politics. Of course, those who put her where she is (not the electorate, of course) regarded her as ‘a safe pair of hands’, that Westminster code-word for someone who inspires little more than a shrug of the shoulders and a yawn in a crisis like the one taking place during her swift rise to power. In the panicky, post-Referendum cauldron of last summer, the frightening prospect of an untrustworthy little backstabber like Gove, an unknown nonentity like Leadsom, or bloody Bo-Jo being given the keys to No.10 meant May seemed the only sensible option. Her talent for provoking indifference proved to be her secret weapon as she sneaked in on the inside and slipped past the finishing post.

Ironically, May’s invisibility during the Referendum campaign and her ‘don’t quote me on that’ caution when it came to publicly supporting the Remain camp – a stance surpassed only by Jeremy Corbyn’s own dynamic role in proceedings – has resulted in the responsibility for extracting the UK from the EU matrix falling on her shoulders rather than a prominent Brexiteer like Gove. It’s no wonder the most fervent Europhobes in the Conservative Party have frequently expressed doubts as to the strength of her commitment to the cause. Europe has been the single most divisive issue in Tory circles for forty years, yet overseeing the far-from simplistic process is not in the hands of someone who has decried the European Union throughout her career but someone whose dedication to the task has largely been limited to saying ‘Brexit means Brexit’ a lot since she became PM.

However, this is the week, or should I say the week, when Theresa May switches from Mrs Bouquet to Boudicca; yup, it’s all about to get exciting! The language used to describe ‘the triggering’ of Article 50 is evidently intended to add some Ian Fleming-penned thrills and spills to what is essentially a dull diplomatic procedure, as though Article 50 is a huge missile secretly nestled beneath the rim of a dormant volcano. Agent 006½ has bravely battled her way through an army of EU bureaucrats guarding said missile and now stands poised to launch it at the dark heart of Brussels by triggering the mechanism that has kept it immobile since 1975. Whatever you do, don’t miss this heart-stopping, page-turning adventure when it’s serialised in this week’s Daily Mail!

The problem with this particular Bond movie – ‘From Maidenhead with Love’ or ’Doctor Don’t-Know’ – is that it threatens to be the longest-running episode in the entire series, lasting so long that even the most diehard Bond fan won’t sit through the credits for the ‘James Bond will return in…’ pointer to the next adventure at the end. Naturally, none of this boring detail accompanied the straightforward Remain/Leave option on the ballot paper last June, though probably because nobody behind the decision to stage the EU Referendum planned for the possibility of a Leave vote, something David Davis virtually confirmed a couple of weeks ago; and he’s one of the three men entrusted to deal with it.

Wherever one stands re this issue – Union Jack waistcoat-wearing Euro-sceptic or placard-waving Remoaner – the decision of the majority, for good or ill, was final and now has to be enacted. That the enacting of this decision has left the Government floundering in unfamiliar waters is testament to their woeful lack of preparation and hardly fills one with confidence over their ability to deliver the best outcome for the country. Not that Theresa May appears unduly concerned. She’s keeping calm and carrying on.

The PM is obviously doing her best to project positivity, but her assertion that Brexit will make the UK a more united nation flies in the face of such basic evidence to the contrary that her public opinion borders on delusional. Britain right now is probably more divided on social, economic, racial, religious and nationalist grounds than it has been at any time since the early years of Thatcher’s reign; the seeds for this division were planted long ago, but the idea that two long drawn-out years exiting the EU will somehow serve as a tonic for the nation’s ills is laughable. It may well make those outside of London, Scotland and Northern Ireland happy, but unless all three shut up and put up, the European Union isn’t the only union we’ll be waving bye-bye to en route to the Promised Land of 2019.

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SCOTCH FROTH

The aim of Sinn Fein is to achieve a united Ireland; the aim of the Scottish National Party is to achieve an independent Scotland; therein lies the basic raison d’être of both political parties. Neither has managed to achieve either aim yet, though the SNP has come closest. The result of 2014’s Independence Referendum, rejecting the SNP’s ‘Braveheart’ fantasy, may have cost Alex Salmond his job, but it was never going to be the end of the story with Nationalists ruling the Holyrood roost. The Brexit vote was the dream result for Nicola Sturgeon, and this week’s announcement by the First Minister that she intends to instigate a rerun of 2014 has been expected ever since the morning of June 24 last year.

On paper, Sturgeon’s demands appear to be economic insanity. With the UK perched on such an uncertain precipice, having endured almost a decade of austerity measures and now facing a protracted withdrawal from Europe, why the hell would the SNP want to jeopardise these uncertainties further by bailing out of a Union that it has done far better from than the Union it wants to throw its lot in with? The bloated beached whale of the EU has been on its arse – to paraphrase a little French – for years; Germany may be flourishing, but Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal tell a different story. That the SNP places a ‘special relationship’ with a struggling continent over its relationship with its nearest neighbour speaks volumes as to its narcissistic agenda.

Sturgeon’s Scotland seeking an alliance with an ailing institution rather than remaining a key member of a county it helped put on the world map says everything one needs to know about the SNP. It doesn’t give a toss about its countrymen and their future; all it can see through its tunnel-vision is sepia-tinted liberation from the Auld Enemy, something that conveniently brushes aside the benefits of a relationship Scotland entered into with shrewd economic foresight 310 years ago.

Scotland didn’t unite with England because – unlike Wales or Ireland – a megalomaniac monarch with anger issues conquered it; Scotland was smart enough to recognise the financial benefits of such a union at a time when its own finances were far from healthy, and the deal that brought hundreds of years of mutual antipathy to an end was sealed by Queen Anne, an English sovereign from a Scottish royal dynasty, the Stuarts. Thanks to the willingness of the Scots to link arms with the bastard English, the collective inhabitants of this violent, quirky, bloodthirsty, ill-tempered and eccentric island were truly united for the first time since the Roman occupation; and what came out of that union surpassed even the global reach of our former Latin subjugators. When Ireland was officially absorbed into the club just under a hundred years later, the journey from Great Britain to the United Kingdom was complete.

The Union was the culmination of a long transformation from warring tribal kingdoms to the mature recognition of the sense in joining together; having done pretty well out of the deal since 1707, one would imagine recognition of that fact along with future Scottish prosperity would be at the forefront of the SNP’s mind; but a party that cynically toys with the tendency of Celts to romanticise and sentimentalise their ancient history is too focused on its one objective to take anything else into consideration, let alone pressing issues in the here and now that even Robert the Bruce would struggle to deal with.

Theresa May’s predecessor at No.10 signed the Edinburgh Agreement with then-First Minister Alex Salmond, which gave Holyrood the power to call the 2014 Independence Referendum free from any Westminster approval, but that only applied to 2014; Nicola Sturgeon needs to seek a similar agreement in order to instigate round two, though it seems highly unlikely the PM will grant it to her when she currently has bigger fish to fry. Besides, despite an upsurge in support for Scottish independence following the EU Referendum, the figures have since slipped back to where they were in 2014 – further evidence that underlines Sturgeon’s willingness to sacrifice the interests of half her fellow Scots for the sake of her own ego.

Nicola Sturgeon fired her anticipated missive at a moment when she, like many observers, imagined Theresa May had her finger on the trigger of the revolver known as Article 50; but by attempting to punch above her weight and dictate the Brexit narrative, Sturgeon may well have gambled on the outcome of a second referendum that polls consistently claim her nation is hardly unanimously in favour of right now. Not that this will concern the First Minister, however; being the leader of a Nationalist party means everything – including a measured response to a delicate situation – is secondary to the overriding obsession of independence, whatever the cost to her country. As long as she can get to play Mel Gibson in drag, the sacrifice is justified.

© The Editor

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