Owen Patterson, the inventor of footballing badgers (I’m not making this up, as Theresa May once said, though in her case, she was), was on the radio this lunchtime getting his knickers in a twist over David Cameron and the EU ‘negotiations’.
Meanwhile, on another channel, ‘Lord’ Nigel Lawson, the French chateau-dwelling defender of Auld Blighty, was smoothly spewing his bombast. He’s good at that – you can rent him by the hour. He moonlights as the improbable face (as in his face is pretty improbable) of climate change deniers and Big Oil.
Not that it’s all one sided. For heaven’s sake, the fearless Today programme interviewed Lord Neil Kinnock this morning. That’s probably the first Labour voice of the New Year, unless you count John McTernan, and no one does. Who is he, anyway? If you know, please leave a comment.
But don’t think the ladies don’t get a say. That nice Amber Rudd (who she?) was on Today, too, and over on sassy, urban C4 News there was even a well-spoken Black gentleman, one Chuka Umunna, debating with another Lord, Dobbs of Kevin Spacey fame. Britain, truly, is speaking.
But about what, exactly? Forget talk about emergency brakes, in-work benefits, border controls, and a host of other matters we might call “anti-plastic surgery”, i.e. cosmetic disfigurement. These things don’t matter to either side. They just provide the vehicle for the sub-text.
The facts are these. The Conservative Party is hopelessly divided, and its lazy leader may be stretching the limits of his luck. The referendum circus was unnecessary for Britain’s interests, spectacularly badly timed from a broader European perspective when we are caught up in the greatest refugee crisis of the century, and also face possible further economic chaos, but it is a veritable wet dream for the ‘outers’.
Make no mistake, the out campaign are the Donald Trumps of this country. A posse of angry fantasists, each motivated by their own malign phobias. That’s why they are so difficult to counter.
The sight of people foaming at the mouth to seal our border against the freezing kids of the Calais Jungle are a damn sight more compelling than Chuka talking export numbers. Who can get their head around billions of the currency of your choice? Six thousand refugees, on the other hand, would surely swamp a country of 60 million? They could all be resettled in Oxfordshire and Cheshire under the watchful eye of the PM and his Chancellor, and no one would notice, but I digress. None of these things matter.
If the right-wing press decide to back Cameron, whether his negotiation achieves an agreement that Germany will fund the entire NHS for ten years, and France will build HS2 for free, or whether he comes back empty handed, he will win. But if the press is against him, it will be a hell of a struggle to oppose Brexit. For this, ultimately, is about who governs Britain.
Yes, say the outers, waving their Farage masks in the air, and kicking their little legs with glee! Who governs Britain? ‘Us’, or ‘Brussels’?
Or is this referendum a few million quid on a pointless vote as a short term measure to rein in the right of the (already far-right) Tory Party? Whoever wins the vote, that bigger question – who governs Britain – remains. And the Governors live on contentedly in Murdoch Mansion, Dacre Palace, and Barclay Castle.
Because no one is offering us a referendum on ownership and control of the ‘British’ press, or the BBC Charter. Who governs Britain is the one question on which we will never get a vote.