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Elsewhere on Reaction, Iain Martin, quite rightly, has a go at Theresa May’s “toxic” Tories. He does so as a supporter of liberal capitalism. He can’t believe that the party he loves has got things so wrong as to make it, under its current leadership, almost unelectable.
I agree with him. I am a left-of-centre expat from Northern Ireland, living in France after 14 years in America. But my son and his wife, live in in London (in a rented flat), with a child on the way who will grow up in England. I also have friends and in-laws in Manchester and family in Belfast. Not only that, I regularly meet Brits with holiday homes over here, who complain to me with depressing regularity that they no longer recognise their own country. So I think I’m not that far out when I say that, for millions of ordinary people, the UK is fast becoming un-livable.
London still looks glorious. I don’t approve of all the new high-rises, which I think disfigure the City, but I can’t pretend that the place doesn’t look sleek and prosperous. There is a sheen to it that certainly wasn’t there when I first arrived in 1979. And on a trip last year to Manchester, I was again struck by the wide range of improvements to what was once a rather shabby provincial metropolis.
I’m sure I would think the same if I went to Bristol, or Birmingham, or Leeds, or Liverpool, or Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cardiff. The years between 1979 and 2007 were good to Britain – the years not only of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, but of our nominally settled membership of the European Union.
It was what was lurking beneath the stone that caused the problem. Since I left for New York, with Blair still in Number 10 and the banking crisis seven years into the future (though already incubating), it has been downhill most of the way. The coalition years weren’t too bad. Cameron was an intelligent political manager and Nick Clegg put a stop to most of the potential Tory madness. But we were treading water, desperate to clean up our act, while heading inexorably into the chaos of Brexit.
Today, under Theresa May, the chaos is in full flood and no one seems to know what to do to stop it, or even slow it down. The PM is a Remainer – more convinced in the lead-up to the referendum than she cares to admit. A majority of the then and current Cabinet are Remainers. Most of the Labour Party and all of the Lib Dems and SNP are Remainers. And every one of the MPs now in Parliament was elected just last summer, with fresh mandates from the people.
But they are powerless. All we get is the noise of escaping gas and rising flood-waters. Voters, no matter which side they took in 2016, have been left in the dark about our preferred way forward, and the worst part of it is that the Commons, the Lords, and the Government are equally unable to see the way ahead. We are lost souls, thrashing around, looking for leadership when there is none to be found.
And it’s not only Brexit. Far from it. As Iain Martin says, the people are equally distressed by the fact that their trains don’t run and their bus services are breaking down, and no one under 40 who isn’t rich can afford to buy a flat in London, and wages have been stagnant for a decade, and the NHS is in danger of going under, our national defence is risible, Putin’s agents are poisoning us in our beds and the prisons are full, yet violent crime is on the rise.
I could go on and on. So could you.
But it seems to me that there is little point in looking to an alternative Tory Government to put things right. Who would you have in mind? Who? Boris Johnson? Don’t make me laugh. Jacob Rees-Mogg? The Moggster has been found out. Like Boris he wants his arse on the PM’s chair so that he can remake Britain in his own image. And there’s no one else. Philip Hammond is a competent accountant, not a leader. Ken Clarke is too old. Amber Rudd is a busted flush. Dominic Grieve is Marmite Man. This is the worst Conservative parliamentary party in living memory, full of bluffers, time-servers and over-ambitious shits. Maybe there are a few younger members who will be ready for office in five or ten years’ time. But none that are ready now.
As for Labour, the very fact that the People’s Party is led by Jeremy Corbyn, with John “Marx” McDonnell as his de facto number two, says it all. They couldn’t navigate their way out of a paper bag, let alone an economic crisis. I rather like Vince Cable. I think he would make a splendid leader of York City Council. But with just 12 MPs, he’s not exactly in the running to seize the reins of power, while the SNP are just the Nuisance Party, devoid of serious purpose, dedicated only to making as much noise as possible.
So where is national leadership to come from? Is there anyone out there, other than David Dimbleby? Looked at from rural France, no one springs to mind. I’m starting to think that another general election, in which moderates and independents flood the market, may be the only way out. But if that failed – if all we got after a bitter and divisive campaign was more of the same, with Rees-Mogg facing Corbyn at PMQs, or vice versa – what would be the bloody point?
I feel like going to Westminster to shake Theresa May and her entire Cabinet, plus Mogg and his idiotic European Research Group, by the throat. I would then turn round and give Corbyn, McDonnell and Diane Abbot a kick up the arse before heading off to the Bull in Ambridge for a pint of Shire’s and some realistic conversation with David Archer and Brian Aldridge. Why not? Except that the train to Borchester, changing at Felfersham, has probably been cancelled.