Monday, 21 October 2019

The saga has a long way to run yet

The television coverage which we generally see from the House of Commons can be very misleading.  On the whole, it’s quite a friendly place; and most clauses in most legislation are entirely uncontroversial.  The coverage that we see concentrates on the areas of difference rather than of agreement; difference is more newsworthy than agreement, and it makes for better television as well.  There are a great number of cross-party friendships – indeed, over the years it has often seemed to me that MPs act, and maybe think, as though they have more in common with each other than they do with the rest of us.  For all the rhetoric and vitriol in the chamber itself, the MPs play together in the various parliamentary sports teams, eat together, and above all, drink together.
That may be why the PM genuinely seems to believe in relation to Brexit that if only we can ‘get it done’ the country can come together again.  It’s a belief (insofar as he believes it – I mostly wonder whether he believes anything he says) which is entirely in line with normal parliamentary procedure.  In the case of Brexit, however, it’s a major category error, and it ignores the extent to which the debate around this issue extends well beyond the boundaries of the parliamentary estate.  Just occasionally our parliamentarians are asked to take decisions which are not just about comparatively minor details of legislation which can easily be reversed in the next parliament, but about issues which will change the direction of the future for a generation or more.  Brexit is such an issue.
It’s not just some sort of giant game at the end of which both sides line up, shake each other’s hands, and wander off to the club for a drink or two.  For those who care passionately about the sort of future we are going to leave for our children and their children, it isn’t a game which ends with everyone accepting the score-line and quietly acquiescing.  And that’s a factor which applies to both sides.  Just as Farage made it clear (entirely properly) before the referendum that if his side narrowly lost, the issue wouldn’t go away, equally those who believe that the future of Wales (or the UK, depending on one’s personal focus) lies in a European context aren’t going to simply go away and accept an insular or US-dominated future either.  There are non-Brexit parallels as well – supporters of devolution didn’t simply give up the battle after the 1979 referendums, and supporters of an independent Scotland haven’t simply given up after the result of the 2014 referendum.  And why should they?
Those who argue that such arguments can somehow be ‘settled’ by a vote in the House of Commons – or even by another referendum – are failing to understand the significance of the issue under debate.  It wasn’t the referendum which caused the polarisation of opinion amongst the population; the difference in opinion existed beforehand, especially within the ruling party itself, which is why we had a referendum in the first place.  The way it was fought and the way in which things have turned out since may have exacerbated the division and hardened opinions on both sides, but it didn’t create those divisions.  Agreement by the House of Commons on the terms of departure won’t change the opinions of those who believe that it’s the wrong decision, and another referendum won’t change the minds of those who choose to see the EU as some sort of evil empire either.
There really is no good way out of the hole into which we have collectively been led, and there is no mechanism for bringing people together, no matter how often the PM claims that a decisive victory for his side of the debate achieves precisely that.  As far as the next week is concerned, imprisoning the PM for contempt of court might please some; agreeing the terms of a deal might please others; yet others will be delighted to get one hurdle out of the way so that they can pursue their dream of what they call a ‘complete break’.  There is nothing that will please all of those groups, and nothing which will put an end to the argument.  This one will, as they say, run and run.

1 comment:

Simon Neville said...

... and run.

The atmosphere in the run-up to the referendum reminded me forcibly of those months before Gŵyl Ddewi 1979. It took the Thatcher years to make *some* of the George Thomas school of thought change their minds. My earnest hope is that people will come to their senses a lot quicker this time round.