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Fear and Loathing in La-La Land

Fear and Loathing in La-La Land

Boris Johnson

It used to be boring. But suddenly Brexit’s toxic. The nation’s options are narrowing by the day. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the Prime Minister’s upped the ante, glaringly.

‘Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, cannon behind them.’

Those words, from Tennyson’s poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, came hard on the heels of the stuff about doing and dying. Boris Johnson’s casually chosen formula for getting Britain out of Europe by Halloween.

The Russian commanders decided the British officers must be drunk, sending their men on such a crazy mission.

And leading figures in Brussels right now are every bit as bewildered at the sight of the UK getting deeper and deeper into its own quagmire.

As the deadline rushes headlong to meet us the warning voices get ever louder. Cannon to the right, left and behind? And the rest.

Potential rioting if no-deal leads to food and medicine shortages and traffic chaos. Not the ravings of remoaner wusses, but the sober assessment of the civil service.

Realistically, it wouldn’t take many television images of empty supermarket shelves, or parents weeping as their sick children are deprived of life-saving treatment to spread panic. Aerial shots of clogged motorways wouldn’t help either.

Against that, what if a second referendum cancelled Brexit?

Of course, the seventeen and a half million who voted out wouldn’t immediately take to the streets with cudgels and pitchforks. But there’d be a lot of angry people around. And, in the age of social media, rallying the troops is easy.

Remember it only took one far-right extremist to shoot the Labour MP Jo Cox before plunging a knife into her body time and time again, while explaining ‘this is for Britain’.

Not that Boris Johnson is prepared to admit there’s any connection between his bloodthirsty rhetoric and the death and rape threats MP’s now face on a regular basis.

His answer to the accusation he’s subtly giving people permission to be vile is simple. It’s humbug. The way to keep MP’s safe is to get Brexit done.

His own sister thinks that sucks. His brother’s already jumped ship. The nation’s bishops aren’t impressed. And, very likely, his dad’s none too chuffed either.

But now he’s got the bit between his teeth he’s off at full gallop. And devil take the hindmost.

There’s now an act of parliament commanding him to ask for an extension to Britain’s membership of the European Union in the (extremely likely) event that he can’t get agreement on how we go.

He says he’d sooner be dead in a ditch than do any such thing. And has dubbed the new law ‘the surrender act’.

Asked to apologise, he simply said it again. And again. And again. While ministers still loyal to his cause insist it’s simply an accurate description of what the legislation is for.

Others, even some in the cabinet, are uneasy. While the clamour from the opposition parties and huge swathes of the media shows no sign of dying down.

Their problem is it’s the language of war. And, face it, if the Panzer divisions really were stacking up at Calais while the Luftwaffe was demolishing the East End, the Beeb, Sky and ITN would be on to it by now.

But, rest assured, when Bojo does his rallying call at the Tory conference in Manchester on Wednesday, he won’t be backing down.

You can almost hear him leading the party faithful in a rousing chorus of ‘who do you think you are kidding, Mr Corbyn?’

His strategy then remains what it’s probably been all along, though with added refinements.

Ideally, he’ll spook MP’s into changing their minds about the deal they already chucked out three times, and vote for it even though they hate it, rather than risk chaotically crashing out.

Failing that, there are widespread suspicions that he’ll somehow engineer the timing of a general election in such a way as to slip the no-deal departure through when there’s no one in parliament to prevent it.

If he manages either, his inner circle’s thinking goes, he’s home and dry.

So what he’s just had the highest court in the land banging him to rights for telling porkies in the Palace and unlawfully shutting down parliament?

So what M’luds gave him the wham bam zap treatment? Yes, it is something for judges to decide. Yes, the Prime Minister is guilty as charged. And, yes, the verdict was unanimous.

Even the shadow chancellor, who’d obviously been praying Bojo would get his nose rubbed in it, said, on hearing the news, ‘bloody hell’. Bit like all those Brits at the Emmys, who after win after win, kept saying ‘blimey’.

And Bojo’s reaction? He didn’t actually say everyone gets a parking ticket now and then, but that’s pretty much what he meant.

You get the feeling he’s not really that struck on the norms and precedents that are supposed to guide the so-called great and the good.

But then he chose as his strategic adviser the former Vote Leave chief, Dominic Cummings, who’s not a member of the Conservative party and who makes no secret of his contempt for ‘the establishment’.

He likes to keep things simple, does Dom. Tends to prefer four-letter words to longer ones. His sole and overriding objective is to get Britain out, and, as Machiavelli sort of said, the ends justify the means.

A lesson Bojo seems to be learning.

It’s said that while campaigning to be London Mayor he vetoed a Tory attack line on his rival for the post, Ken Livingstone, on the grounds that ‘I hate being mean’.

That was then. This is now. Macbeth started out as quite a nice guy too.

It’s all straight out of the Donald Trump playbook. If he looks like a winner who cares what he gets up to?

Worth noting in passing the gathering momentum of the impeachment process against the US President for alleged dirty dealings against his Democrat rival Joe Biden.

Also the prospect of Bojo in poo-poo over implied backhanders, during his London mayoral time, to a glamorous young American businesswoman. Could even lead to a prison sentence if he tries to keep schtum.

Perhaps no coincidence there’s polling evidence that voters, especially female voters, aren’t as sure of Boris Johnson as they were.

But there’s loads more evidence that the Labour leader’s best days are way, way behind him. Largely because he’s still hopelessly vague about Brexit.

Amazing how much grief all that’s caused, over the decades.

The new law that Johnson calls the surrender act is also nicknamed the Benn bill, after its main architect, the Labour MP Hilary Benn.

Hilary’s dad was the Tony Benn everyone’s heard of. Ironically, a fanatical opponent of the then Common Market. And, incidentally, mentor to the young Jeremy Corbyn.

So Tony Benn would be turning in his grave, while families across the land are turning against one another.

Funny to think that, before the referendum, polls put Europe way down on voters’ priorities. Basically nowhere.

Now, however, remainers have Brexiteers down as stupid old people who don’t deserve the vote, while Brexiteers think remainers are stinky spoilsports who wouldn’t even take yes for an answer.

Fact is hardly any of these people know one another, or even cared about the subject back then. But somehow the process has unleashed a whole heap of nastiness that’s taken everyone by surprise.

It’s also torn apart public respect for politicians, politicians’ respect for one another and the architecture of government. Turning the once green and pleasant land into something more spleen unpleasant.

No matter what November 1st brings Brexitwise, the sun will get its act together each morning, and evening. And doubtless the cornflowers will sprout each year too.

But what about the question in Rupert Brooke’s wistful poem about dear old Blighty: Stands the church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?

Highly debatable. Certainly take a while …

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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