Politics

John Bird: It's all a question of confidence – ours

Did the masterminds of the Brexit referendum have a back-up, or even a back-out, plan?

So divided are we that it would probably take an alien invasion from outer space to unite us. Last week’s rejection of the deal proffered by the Prime Minister for leaving the European Union showed a momentary outbreak of some form of unity: MPs voted decisively against it, and by more than two to one.

So the incredibly united House of Commons, the chamber that voted 10 to one for a referendum in June 2015, have savaged the result of two years’ labour.

And now, with less than 70 days to go, we have to come up with something fast. Or plead for injury time.

I was on an early train the morning after the historic defeat when I heard a woman declaring that “it’s all our own fault”. That our politics is so detached from us that we get what we pay for. She didn’t pursue the point and got off at the next stop, but I would’ve loved to find out what she meant by “it’s all our own fault”.

Eighty years ago this year the British people began the year without the assurance that they would have a future worth having. Hitler was knocking the old order about to Germany’s advantage and rearranging Europe to his own liking. In Great Britain, appeasement and compromise were (with notable exceptions) the regarded feeling of most.

Of course, out of that uncertainty came the Second World War, and then the peace, and then the reconstruction, and then the European Economic Community which – by a majority of 1,269,501 votes – we decided to exit after nearly 45 years of membership.

Leaving Europe is going to be a big event in all of our lives

If you believed in the European Union, you wouldn’t want a membership organisation like Europe to be too easy to leave, for it might encourage others to leave the club. So it’s not surprising that the representatives of European governance should put all manner of obstacles in the way. They don’t want any other desertions.

It laughingly reminds me of trying to leave the David Lloyd gym I was a member of which I’d signed up with for a year. Alas, when I told them I didn’t wish to continue after the year’s membership, they told me I had to give three months’ notice. Of course, when I joined they did the usual of getting me to sign up but not emphasising the clauses like ‘a year doesn’t necessarily mean a year’. It could be 15 months.

At least I’m now free of David Lloyd’s with, I hope, little harm to my wellbeing. Alas, leaving Europe is going to be a big event in all of our lives.

Our prosperity may be enhanced or harmed. That’s a risk that you always take when you decide to leave anything you belong to.

Did those political masters who put the 2016 ‘in-out’ EU referendum on the agenda consider this? Or were they so, so convinced that Leave wouldn’t happen the way that it happened that they had no backup? Or even back out?

Were they really leaving it to the British people to make a decision?

The whole show smacks of such incompetence and double-dealing that it can only destroy our confidence in these distantly placed politicians

Was it not a representational and democratic chamber, run by our elected representatives, who gave us the responsibility for that act of mass participatory democracy? Did they also not size it up and come to the conclusion a ‘People’s vote’ might not come to the conclusion that they, the instigators of the referendum, wished?

I’m one who voted to Remain, but believed there’s no wiggle room around not accepting the result. However much distortion there was by Leave leadership, the Remain leadership was equally disingenuous, though in a politer way. Perhaps the poster I saw at a demonstration saying ‘Eton mess’ summed it up for me. Old Etonians and other rarefied birds played their cards in a game that really might have been little more than a contest to become the leader of the Tory party.

But we are in history. And there we stand. And we certainly have to make the best of it, 80 years after our forefathers and mothers had to also make the best of it. How concerning it must have been for them, and how concerning it is for us. Perhaps trepidation is the correct word, as we don’t know what ground is coming up ahead.

The woman on the train might be near the point. That our political landscape is determined by people we appoint and then leave to it. And then they do such dumb things as invite us to make a decision, only then to be appalled by it. And then look for the evidence, the stats, the dodgy gits – from foreign devils to Machiavellian millionaires – who worked to influence the outcome.

If you have politicians who take us on a trip and then wish to renege on having brought us there in the first place – based on there being ‘too many who got it wrong’ – then that undermines our confidence. As a Remainer, the whole show smacks of such incompetence and double-dealing that it can only destroy our confidence in these distantly placed politicians. And with that, our belief in democracy.

It devalues the votes of both lots of voters, and it undermines the authority of the agreement between us and the MPs we voted to represent us. A clearout might be necessary. I don’t think that the nurses, chefs, plumbers, firefighters, lorry drivers or teachers could do a worse job.

Cleanse the Augean stables, say I!

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