We are in the dying days of a Prime Minister, the third in six years, all destroyed by the flagship policy of their party. When are they going to realise that Brexit isn’t the Philosopher’s Stone? Just say it, all of you, from nice Rishi, Nigel Lawson without the sneer, to ‘Suella’, born at the height of ‘Who Shot JR’ mania to wacky parents who named her Sue Ellen. Say it, Unmagnificent Eleven – Brexit’s a crock of shit, and you’re all fighting for possession of the commode.
But it isn’t about Brexit any more. The bridges have been burned, the tunnels sealed up. We’re barely even Airstrip One these days. Haven’t got the staff.
This is about this sad little island set in a silver sea full of ferries staffed by temporary agency workers, and desperate people in inflatables. The only plot, blessed or otherwise, is the ongoing Tory plot against themselves. We are hostages, and sleepwalkers, onlookers, and junkies. We rap out morse code on the radiators to which we are chained, or film the whole car crash and upload it to Tik Tok, or shoot up until that drowsy numbness hits.
I could witter on about the ‘runners and riders’ as if it mattered. Or give vent to justified outrage at what Kim Johnson and his whole Kardashian family, and their assorted hangers-on, have done to us in the tawdry pursuit of Kremlin gold wallpaper, but what’s the point?
Why aren’t we angry? On television I see Sri Lankans lolling on their PM’s bed, or frolicking in his brother’s Presidential pool. Perhaps it’s easier when the Rajapaksas have looted the country and there’s literally no money left. The Tories have only looted our reputation as a country that used to respect international law. Trashed the constitution. And it’s not as if we’re all hungry. Only 27% of children live in poverty. The same figure as the number of hours someone spent waiting in an ambulance outside an A&E department yesterday.
It feels as though the next sentence should be, ‘We can’t go on like this’. But we do go on like this. On, and on, and bloody on. Blown around on a tempest powered by money and malice, much of it off-shore, or never on shore. And the longer it goes on (which is already way too long) the more perilous it will get.
It’ll get dangerous, because people aren’t wholly passive, or just hopelessly cynical, when it comes to what’s wrong. People do feel in their bones a queasy sense that things ought not to be like this. Every pack of pasta dropped in the supermarket food bank box is a token of conscience, of moral unease, shared by shoppers from Aldi to Waitrose. There’s something lurking in the fear that we feel as we look at this month’s Direct Debit from the energy supplier, and know it’s nearly twice last year’s figure, and set to double again later in the year when there is no heatwave, only lengthening nights and frost on the window ledge. There’s lots of latent discontent that for now is unsaid, or expressed in gestures.
It’s not as if we aren’t aware of precisely what the problem is. Plenty of people – politicians, academics, commentators – are doing the hard work of analysing what’s wrong. There are reports, and conferences, the odd people’s jury, to suggest what might be done, and how, and by whom. But who knows about these things, unless they’re directly involved, except sad people like me who read the reports, and go to the meetings. So the many collective and individual grievances, except in the rare event that they have a union to organise them, remain in isolation from the ideas that might be, if not their resolution, at least might offer practical relief, or improvement.
Because what is needed to link these disparate things – the inchoate unease, real material need, alienation, cynicism – with the prescriptions from which we might choose something else, something better, is the very thing that is currently most despised. Politics, and politicians.
But power is so highly centralised on this island that even devolved governments have little real ability to make real change, except at the margins. We are in desperate need of leadership that can take the fight to the centre, as the first necessary, but insufficient, stage of change. The centre needs to irrigate the country, but right now, it drains it. And will continue to do so until it’s under new management.
The Tories aren’t capable of doing this. They might have been, once, when they shared certain basic convictions, and observed the rules about what constituted good governance. Those far off days when ‘law ‘n order’ wasn’t an empty three word slogan. But now solutions cannot come from the party responsible for turning a drama into a crisis into a bloody apocalypse (dump “green crap” even as the planet burns?) The sooner the whole Tory Party is told firmly, in the words of their esteemed and gallant former Chief Whip, to “go away and shut up”, the better.
The trouble is, who else is going to do it? Where’s the leadership to come from now?
There are plenty of opportunists and loudmouths, political entrepreneurs, who fancy a bit of the Tufton Street action, some Heritage Foundation gelt, a regular seat on the talk shows and Question Time, and approval in the Mail and the Telegraph. We could easily continue on this road for some time to come, if we allow that to happen.
The Opposition needs to stop cringing. It’s time for a bit of courage, a bit less cap doffing to the ‘wisdom’ of focus groups (which only repeat the lines they’ve heard from louder voices). Of course it’s not easy. Too much of the press is a plaything of some rich and malevolent men. The BBC is cowed. Getting heard isn’t straightforward. But playing by the rules that the others break is getting us nowhere. A ‘reasonable’ sounding Blair talking conversationally on a daytime TV sofa won’t cut it in these times. A good PMQs is nice, but it’s nothing more than a sound bite, not a megaphone. In a shock jock age it’s necessary to turn up the volume to be heard. And once leaders command attention, the proper arguments can begin, the vision can be sketched out, and the people who don’t feel heard right now will, perhaps reluctantly at first, feel the first stirring of hope.
Otherwise we are stuck, trudging morosely along on the treadmill to nowhere. And I’m not sure I can take much more.