Boris Johnson uses today’s Telegraph to trail what will doubtless become a leadership bid, and his agenda for post-referendum Britain contains some remarkable claims. Not in the form of proposals, but by its lack of them. If Johnson has his way, Brexit is going to involve inactivity on an industrial scale. He envisions a ‘balanced and humane points-based’ immigration system, but that’s for the extremely indeterminate future – and everyone can meanwhile look forward to ‘intense and intensifying’ co-operation with Europe, and opportunities to live, travel, work and study on the continent just as they please. British businesses will enjoy uninterrupted ‘access to the single market’. The only apparent change, which will happen ‘in no great rush’, will be the UK’s ‘extrication’ from the European Union’s ‘extraordinary and opaque system of legislation: the vast and growing corpus of law enacted by a European Court of Justice from which there can be no appeal’.
The programme sounds so laid back that it’s tempting to wonder why we committed national hara-kiri in the first place. But Johnson’s proposals obscure a lunge for power as disingenuous as it is opportunistic. More »
In the address she delivered to the College of Europe in Bruges in September 1988, Margaret Thatcher introduced her notion of the European super-state and why Britain should see it as a threat. ‘We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain,’ she said, ‘only to see them reimposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels. Certainly we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose. But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country; for these have been the source of Europe’s vitality through the centuries.’ More »
There hasn’t been much rejoicing on the winning side of the EU referendum. How many of them must have spent the weekend thinking: ‘Fuck, what have we done?’ As the pound plummets, Cameron falls on his sword, a clown is set to take over, Corbyn (the only one who put a rational case for the EU, if only the press had bothered reporting it) is stabbed by the Brutuses in his own party, the UK breaks up, region turns against region and generation against generation. I’m embarrassed meeting young people now; I ought to get a badge: ‘I may be an old fart, but I voted Remain.’ More »
The only thing we can say for certain in the immediate aftermath of the referendum is that David Cameron will be remembered as one of the worst prime ministers we’ve ever had: at once ignorant of his own people and reckless with their lives. And yet I don’t entirely blame the Tories for the disaster they’ve set in train, even though the avoidable misery and cultural polarisation we are now seeing only tends to happen under Tory governments. Labour’s last period in office was the biggest missed opportunity since Thatcher’s decision to spend North Sea oil revenue on tax cuts and subsidising council house sales. Between 1997 and 2010, Labour sowed the seeds of the cynicism and anger that have propelled today’s result. More »
Why did he do it? Why take such a needlessly cavalier risk with the country’s future and his own? Maybe he thought his luck would hold. Well, it didn’t. It’s hard to see a path back to the European summit from here. Yes, facing Iceland rather than Portugal turns out to be a slice of good fortune. But then it’s likely to be France in the quarters, and if it comes to that Germany or Spain in the semis. The final seems a very long way off. And all because Hodgson took a gamble against Slovakia, in the mistaken belief that he was in control of his own destiny.
I never had Hodgson down as a Cameron-style chancer. More »
In January I outlined a nine-stage process by which David Cameron’s premiership could end within the year. The referendum’s timing excepted, that has turned out much as predicted. Cameron’s translation from PM to dogmeat is complete. The referendum campaign has been a Conservative leadership primary, and the blond populist has come out top dog. More »
Three weeks after the Berlin Wall opened up on 9 November 1989, I made my way from London to Prague, anxious to catch a revolutionary wave that seemed about to ebb. Within days, I had decided to stay. I was 25. A publishing company, tentatively imagining that a few adventurous Westerners might one day explore Europe’s post-Communist wastelands, offered me a pittance to write a guidebook. It was a deal too good to refuse, and three years of pen-chewing ensued. But writing was never the priority. The city was a party. More »
Aristotle identifies three types of ‘proof’ in public argument: logos, pathos and ethos, or reason, emotion and character. You wonder what’d he’d have made of the referendum campaign. From the get-go it’s been a bad-argument Olympiad, marked by fallacious claims, scaremongering and self-parody. More »
The verities of British politics – its stability, temperance and perceived permanence – are rapidly dissolving. Up to 70 per cent of those who voted Tory last May could be about to vote against the express wishes of the government, in the process forcing David Cameron to resign. If Britain remains in the European Union it will be largely thanks to Labour voters. Yet as many as 45 per cent of them could vote to leave tomorrow, and Brexit high command has been actively seeking their votes for months. Iain Duncan-Smith, who has said nothing about pay over the last six years, recently blamed stagnant wages on immigration. The most prominent Brexit arguments increasingly aren’t about competition or red tape, but protecting the NHS, improving access to council housing and increasing wages – even though leaving the EU wouldn’t help with any of those issues. Talk of ‘Red Ukip’ – a combination of social conservatism and anti-elite populism – came to nothing at the last general election, but it is now the default politics of the leave campaign. More »
Basil Bunting wrote his long poem Briggflatts over the course of 1965, much of it while on the train commuting from Wylam to Newcastle, where he worked as a subeditor on the financial pages of the Journal, then part of the Thompson newspaper empire. Bunting had published nothing in the previous 13 years, nor had he written any poems, as such. Aged 65, he was struggling to support two children and his second wife, Simia, whom he had brought back with him from Persia to Northumberland in 1952 after being expelled by Mossadeq. More »