Saturday 19 October 2019

Sarah Carey: 'Bonkers Boris and chums face Revolution of the Sane'

Getting stick: Boris Johnson and farmer Peter Watson during a visit at Darnford Farm, near Aberdeen in Scotland, yesterday. Photo: Andrew Milligan/Pool via Reuters
Getting stick: Boris Johnson and farmer Peter Watson during a visit at Darnford Farm, near Aberdeen in Scotland, yesterday. Photo: Andrew Milligan/Pool via Reuters

Sarah Carey

ONLY in the mornings; before I open my eyes; before the madness has begun, does it hit me: this is real, and it can still go wrong. We could still end up with no deal and then everything we have rebuilt since the bailout could be destroyed.

Then I feel sick because even though the economy has recovered, some people never will and we cannot go back there. A job is everything and anything that harms people's jobs must be fought to the end.

But the nausea passes, because I'm still convinced, as I always have been, that the consequences of a no-deal Brexit are so dire that it will not be allowed to happen.

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I've always believed that sooner or later the Revolution of the Sane would take place. They took their time about it, but finally this week the House of Commons started to do its job.

Even Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, of whom I had despaired, understood the trap that had been laid for him and refused the election.

There is only one game in town now: stop no deal. And it will be stopped because it must be. I refuse to give up on that until I see the trucks pile up at Calais.

Relieved as I am to see the moderates fulfil their destiny and act to save the United Kingdom - and us - from economic immolation, I can't help wondering: what took them so long?

There are many answers to this question but my thoughts keep turning to the fatal role of television. I remember first seeing the glorious series 'Brideshead Revisited'. My parents had inconveniently refused to invest in an aerial that would allow British stations into our house. Not because they were against British television, but because they were against any television. Fortunately I could watch 'Brideshead' on Sunday afternoons in a friend's house, drinking tea and eating bread her father made fresh out of the oven. In my little life, this was exotic.

It was probably then I decided I was going to Trinity College, so I could swan around in affected, drunken idleness just like the characters in the series. So I did.

I immediately took to the old societies that preserved the fetishes and mannerisms of parliamentary-style debating. For big competitions we wore black tie and, sometimes, academic gowns. It was great training for talking and thinking and it was both hilarious and pathetic that we enjoyed it so much.

It was there I first encountered Jacob Rees-Mogg. Representing the Oxford Union, he was exactly then as he is now. I'd never seen anything like him - except on the telly - on 'Brideshead', which he would have watched too. Now he's still on the telly - except it's real.

And those other appalling characters; Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and the rest. They were all in the Oxford Union, imagining themselves to be characters from a book that got on to the telly and now the lines between life and art are so blurred that when someone tweeted during the week, "No Brexit spoilers please. I'm still watching Season 6", it was both terribly funny and terrible.

In the last few weeks I've watched 'The Thick of It' and 'Brexit; The Uncivil War'. The former, if you don't know it, is 'Yes, Minister' on cocaine with famously profane language where the principal character is supposedly based on Alastair Campbell. The latter is a political thriller in which Dominic Cummings is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. When Sherlock Holmes is playing the mastermind behind Brexit, is it any wonder a dispiriting proportion of the British electorate declare their government should "get on" with Brexit, because they're just bored now and want something new to watch on telly?

This is exacerbated because current affairs producers are self-consciously in the showbusiness game. Guests for high-profile shows are selected with entertainment, not news, in mind.

Nigel Farage has appeared on the BBC's 'Question Time' 33 times despite never being elected to parliament. A BBC producer told me once that Johnson was very quickly identified as a "star" performer they loved having on.

So without anything other than bluster and one-liners, these appalling men became national figures because they were made so by television, fulfilling their own fantasy.

When the experts and economists explain the consequences of no deal, the Brexiteers simply don't believe any of it is real - because they don't think they themselves are real.

Can Boris Johnson tell the difference any more between the man he is and the character he plays? I don't think he can, and I genuinely believe this to be the fundamental problem with Brexit.

But in the arc of a great drama, there comes a time when the unlikely heroes step forward. The terrible weakness but ultimate redemption of the centre was surely the inevitable plot twist in Brexit.

Ordinary politicians from the reality-based community hung back too long. They may yet save us from the worst, but their inertia means that terrible damage has already been done.

The bitter lesson is that as voters, politicians and journalists, we cannot keep indulging and facilitating these awful characters because all anyone cares about is the ratings. It's not telly. This is real life and it can still go wrong.

Irish Independent

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