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Wake up Britain, it won’t work this time

Mitch Benn say hoping it will be okay in the end won't work this time. - Credit: Archant

Keep calm and carry on is the old British motto but comedian, musician and writer MITCH BENN explains it’s not going to work this time round.

Sorry to begin on such a downer note, but I’ve been thinking about it and there’s one thing that nobody’s saying, and it is the one thing that people need to start saying and understanding: It’s not going to be okay.

If this country continues on its current course, it’s not going to be okay.

This is not an easy thing to acknowledge, because one of the defining features of the British mindset, indeed one of the defining features of the whole British experience, is the confident and generally justified feeling that Things Will Turn Out Alright In The End. Because for the vast majority of us, and for very nearly all of living memory, that has been the case.

The very idea that things are not going to be alright, that genuine turmoil and anguish is heading our way on a grand scale, is almost too alien to contemplate. But if there’s to be a hope of avoiding or even ameliorating this outcome, contemplate it we must.

It’s not going to be okay.

I’m in Edinburgh right now, doing a show entitled (for no particular reason) Doing It On Purpose, in which I explore my theory that the real political divide in the 21st century is not left vs right, or rich vs poor, or men vs women; it’s fantasy vs reality. That the conflict now is between those who are able and willing to assess and address what’s actually going on in all its nuance and complexity, and those who prefer to wrap themselves in comforting but illusory certainties. And, indeed, that for the past few years, fantasy – being much easier to sell – is winning, with entirely disastrous consequences.

For the show I’ve resurrected a ‘bit’ I wrote a few years ago about how to solve immigration; I won’t spoil the punchline as I hope you’ll come and see the show, either up here in Edinburgh (3.25pm at the New Town Theatre, since you ask) or when I tour it next year, but the ‘jumping off’ point for the routine is my assertion that Britain is, whatever anyone says, a bloody good country.

Unusually for someone making such a statement, I’m not basing this on mindless patriotism; I’ve actually done some research. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many parts of the world doing my job; I’ve not found many other places where I’d ever want to live and I don’t think I’ve found anywhere I’d rather live. This is, in spite of everything, a bloody good country.

I’ve been pondering why this is and I’ve come to the conclusion that the principal benefit to being British is all the stuff we don’t have to put up with. Okay, our weather may be a constant source of disappointment but we don’t have to spend every hurricane season wondering whether this is going to be the year that our home and family get blasted into the ocean.

Our governments are varying degrees of incompetent but it’s generally safe to say so in public without the fear of big guys in suits kicking your door down at 3am and dragging you away. We still have archbishops taking seats in the House of Lords for some bloody reason but they’re not, by and large, issuing pious decrees banning everything remotely entertaining.

Our young men get drunk and pick pointless fights with each other of a weekend but they don’t, as a rule, open fire on each other with heavy calibre weapons and take out a bunch of innocent bystanders in the process.

Britain has, for the last seven decades, existed in a state of comfortable complacency, in the knowledge that there’s always someone worse off than yourself and that things might be bad, but never that bad, and never for too long.

Even the wars we’ve found ourselves mixed up in happened thousands of miles away; the abolition of conscription meant that none of our boys went off to fight who hadn’t signed up willingly, and all the civilian casualties were anonymous (and generally brown) people who were probably nothing much like us really, so no point losing sleep over all that. Britain may have come through two world wars, but the British people who came through those wars – as adults, anyway – are nearly all gone now.

For Britain, as a society, Really Bad Things are something that befall other people. Obviously as individuals we live lives of buffeting, capricious fortune and tragedy, but as a nation, we’ve become very, very used to the knowledge that it’s going to be okay.

Well it isn’t. Not this time.

As James O’Brien (occasionally cited by friends as the only thing, along with this newspaper, keeping them sane) has pointed out, a no-deal Brexit was not only always a possibility (for all that the Brexiteers scoffed at the idea) but has probably been inevitable ever since the triggering of Article 50, since any actual ‘deal’, as soon as it’s proposed, will be rejected by at least one faction of the pro-Brexit movement and/or the EU27. There can be no deal which satisfies everyone, and since that’s what ‘deal’ means, there can be no deal.

Even the most optimistic projections of the results of a no-deal Brexit read like the synopsis of a zombie apocalypse movie.

It’s not going to be okay.

We need to contact every MP, every representative and tell them that history is being written right now. Tell them that they still have a chance to be remembered as one of the good guys, or as one of those who sacrificed the future of their people on the altar of their own fetid egos. Resist.

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