“There ain’t no future in England’s dreaming…” was the refrain the year after the last referendum on the then EEC. “Wanna destroy…” was indeed the cry. And so it is again. Only this time, it’s for real.
Britain did not vote for Brexit. Even England didn’t vote for Brexit. The Brexit vote was a chorus of “No future…”, a vote for a past that never existed, a vote for Enoch Powell, a vote for Norman Tebbit, a vote for cricket tests, and tales of “wide grinning picanninies”, a vote for fags and booze, a vote for doffing caps, and rule by toffs. But, crucially, it was also a vote for host of other, new delusions.
It was never about the EU, not for the voters. And yet it is now.
We are set to leave the EU. David Cameron may think he is buying time by resigning to a timetable before invoking a Brexit. But his timetable is tight, and it only offers a choice to the Conservative Party, who will spend the next few weeks brawling over who will lead Little England instead of dealing with the crisis into which we have now plunged.
That is not good enough. This matter is too big, too vital to our interests, to be the plaything of a party supported at the last election by around a quarter of the electorate.
There must be a general election to choose the team to negotiate with our neighbours in Europe.
Therein lies the next problem. A snap election right now, in this atmosphere of hate, and political assassination, would probably let all sorts of monsters emerge further to stalk our unhappy country.
So this is what should happen.
Labour needs to get serious. Immediately. Corbin, too, should resign.
Jeremy Corbyn was necessary for Labour to realise its torpor and lack of connection with too many voters. His political views and instincts are often right. Politicians need to tell the truth, argue from principle, seek to persuade, not bamboozle in order to win. His prescriptions are also often right, and popular. Many, perhaps most of the Brexit voters want to spend more on health, renationalise the railways, bring control to the banks. But Corbyn is destined to be John the Baptist to some other leader. Labour must find that person quickly, unite around her, and bury the stupid factionalism that is left over from yesterday’s men and women, the children of Blair. Labour must discover discipline and purpose.
Cameron is still PM. Parliament returns on Monday. Before Monday, he should have talks with Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, and others with a view to forming an interim government of national unity to steer us through troubled times until an Autumn or Spring election. That government would have to unite all sides. The Cabinet table should seat Gove alongside Yvette Cooper, Andrea Leadsome with Tim Farron, Chuka Umuna and Caroline Lucas, and, why not some youth, Mhairi Black?
I am serious. The question of when and how Britain leaves the EU was not decided by the referendum. It is complex and technical, and needs to be done with maximum participation by all sides, not by a cabal drawn from one.
So the question for serious politicians, and those who care about this bitter, angry, troubled country, is whether they can be big enough, in this time of acute national danger, to throw off their partisanship for a short time and work together.
And after the election in six months or so? Another referendum, of course.
This story has only just started.