For Remainers, this election is just the latest episode in the nightmare unleashed by the 2016 referendum. In this excoriating essay, LIZ GERARD condemns all those she blames for this sorry state of affairs.
Damn them all.
Damn the liars, the charlatans, the hypocrites and the opportunists.
The fear-mongers and the hate-mongers.
The politicians, their parties and their members; the trade unions, the broadcasters and the press.
The great unwashed and the liberal elite.
The dumbers-down and the delusionists.
Damn them all.
Especially this week, as they shepherd us, the unwilling, unknowing, unseeing flock, to the abattoir marked ‘polling station’, all the while murmuring soothing platitudes designed to reassure us that everything is going to be all right. When they know that it won’t be. That it can’t be.
Damn the Tories for their empty three-word slogans, for their sham shaming and blame gaming. For the way they pretend they’ve been in power for only nine weeks, not nine years. This isn’t a ‘new’ government sailing the ship of state out of harbour. It’s the same crew that’s been tossing us around on choppy seas for years, but now with any rational members thrown overboard or locked below deck.
What is new is the industrial-scale mendacity, sanctioned from the top. They’re all at it now – Gove, Cleverly, Patel, Raab, Hancock, as well as the blond blusterer – whether its “more” nurses who are already employed or “new” hospitals that are nothing more than business plans. Sanctioned from the top? Ordered from the top more like.
It has become so endemic that people brush it aside. You hear them in the pub: “All politicians lie.” Well, no, they don’t. They may make promises they subsequently fail to keep, and my New European colleague Alastair Campbell certainly turned spinning into an art form. But until now politicians have generally been honourable people, rooted in truth.
For us to assume that they are all liars makes it worthwhile for the real charlatans to keep on inventing ever more outlandish undeliverable promises, further eroding our shaky faith in politics and democracy.
Damn Labour and the Liberal Democrats, for their circular firing squad that allows the Tories to frolic round the outside, untouched by all but the odd stray bullet. Don’t they understand “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”?
Damn Jeremy Corbyn simply for being Jeremy Corbyn and not Keir Starmer, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham or virtually anyone else who would romp home against this abject government. Damn Jo Swinson for her obstinacy and for being out of touch with reality. Of course, they have dreams for a ‘pure’ Labour or Lib Dem administration, but that ain’t going to come about as a result of this week’s election, when the Conservatives are almost certain to win the most seats.
Sometimes coming first isn’t everything, while second place can be good enough to get you into the game you really want to play. Just ask last season’s Premier League winners Man City and runners-up Liverpool: Who went on to win the Champions League?
Damn the anti-Semites for polluting a party that is supposed to stand for equality and justice; damn those who failed to see what was happening or – even worse – turned a blind eye, thus condoning their appalling behaviour; damn those who would rather dance on a semantic pin than get their feet on the ground to tackle the problem. Damn, too, the Conservative Islamaphobes and their denials. Damning camp-following Faragist racists is taken as read.
Damn the intransigent Labour and the Lib Dem supporters: “I couldn’t possibly vote for Labour because of anti-Semitism.” “I couldn’t possibly vote for the Lib Dems because of austerity.”
Very noble and moral views to hold, to be sure. But ones that, held in isolation, will see the Conservatives in power for the next five years and Britain out of the EU within the next five weeks.
And while we’re at it, damn university lecturers, rail workers and posties – whether their cause is justified or not – for the exquisite timing of their strikes in helping to reinforce the anti-Labour ‘back to the bad old 1970s’ narrative.
Damn the press, both right and left. Not for their partisanship, but for the way they parade it. For the venality and the demonisation of the ‘other side’, for the dredging up of ancient history while failing to address the here and now. For the way they promote every stunt, distraction and manufactured row over real issues of substance.
For the editorialising headlines on news stories, for the cynical choice of pictures – here’s buoyant Boris laughing with nurses, builders, schoolchildren, firefighters; here’s Comrade Corbyn looking severe against a red background. You’d never know that he, too, goes out and meets voters. And here’s scatty Swinson with her least-flattering grin, looking neither strong nor stable on her high heels. At least we’ve been spared the sexist fashion notes this time.
Damn the broadcasters, too, for falling into those bear traps so that day after day, the first two words in any news bulletin is “Boris Johnson”. For utterly failing, even with all those debates, to get the answers the voters need to make their choice. For abdicating forensic questioning by trained interviewers to studio audiences packed with people more interested in five minutes of fame or making their own point than in getting information from the candidate.
For wasting journalistic expertise that could be used to assess the impact of the rival manifestos on everything from the arts to zoos and instead requiring specialists to ask other, less knowledgeable, people what they think.
Which brings us to vox pops. Why? Just why? “I want to get Brexit done.” “I voted to leave and I think we should just leave.” What do the opinions of three blokes in a working men’s club and their barmaid tell us about anything? The reporters never even ask them why they want what they want or think what they think. They’re just trotting out soundbites and doing the spin doctors’ jobs for them.
I don’t know about you, but I think we’ve all had enough of non-experts. So damn them all.
Damn David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg. Cameron for calling the referendum without proper safeguards and then running a hopeless Remain campaign. Osborne for the years of austerity that sowed the seed for that Leave vote. Clegg for facilitating that austerity.
But these are the least of their sins. Because they all buggered us up then buggered off to richer pastures. Cameron to a £25,000 shepherd’s hut to write an £800,000 memoir, not to mention the £120,000-an-hour after-dinner speeches. Osborne to edit the Evening Standard alongside his £650,000 part-time role with fund manager BlackRock, allowing him to carp at his former colleagues from the sidelines and then change tack to cry “vote Boris” once the election campaign started. Clegg to election villains Facebook, the ‘nice guy’ trying to persuade us (for $650,000 a year) that there is nothing untoward about the platform’s ambivalence over what gets posted – truth or lie, fact or fake news – on its space. And that there is absolutely nothing to see here when it comes the sale of users’ personal information.
Damn Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson. For poisoning our politics and for helping bring xenophobia, racism and nationalism into the mainstream.
Damn Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon. For being the best politicians in the UK and not available for election this week.
Damn Tony Blair. For never knowing when to keep his mouth shut. Even if he is right about Brexit and talks more sense than any current politician.
Damn Sinn Fein. For not taking their seats in Westminster, which could have ended this agony before it began. (Though credit to them this time for standing aside where an anti-Brexit nationalist party can win.) And damn the DUP. For taking up their seats in Westminster and prolonging the agony by propping up May’s government (OK, for a billion quid, anyone might be tempted). But mostly for the rank hypocrisy of insisting that Northern Ireland must not be treated any differently from the rest of the UK. Until it comes to abortion and gay rights.
Damn Dominic Cummings and Seumas Milne. For their puppet mastery; the unelected manipulators pulling the strings of the two main party leaders arrogantly decreeing “We don’t do this… or that…” For the dirty tricks and social media deceits, the backroom selection and deselection of ideologically sound or unsound candidates. Democracy anyone?
Damn Roland Rudd, Jacob Rees-Mogg and their sisters. Roland and Amber for trying their best for the Remain cause within the People’s Vote movement and the cabinet and getting it hopelessly wrong. Jacob and Annunziata for doing their worst for the Leave cause in Westminster and in Strasbourg and getting it awfully right.
Damn Jo Johnson, Rachel Johnson and (most of all) their brother. Jo and Rachel for being blinkered for too long by sibling love. Boris for applying the blinkers (among many other sins).
Damn Tom Watson and Len McCluskey. Watson for being Labour’s flawed voice of moderation and then walking away to throw a spanner in the works at the worst possible moment. McCluskey for being Labour’s fluid voice of extremism and then popping up to throw a spanner in the works at the worst possible moment.
Damn them all.
But, most of all, damn Johnson. For the vanity, the self-interest, the ambition, the bombast, the mendacity, the dodging of accountability, the incompetence and the incoherence. For a career built on fake stories about bendy bananas and kipper wrappings, on columns dripping with racism and sexism.
For the illegal prorogation, the doctored videos, the suppressed Russian report, the Arcuri scandal, the Garden Bridge extravagance. For the failure to lie under a bulldozer at Heathrow or to die in a ditch on October 31.
For turning other people’s disasters, be it a flooded village or a terrorist murder, into a political opportunity – especially after the murder victim’s father specifically asked that he should not.
For not knowing his own manifesto or understanding his own “oven-ready” Brexit deal. Indeed, for not knowing that something “oven-ready” is not usually cooked in a microwave.
For “f**k business” when challenged on the impact of Brexit and “get stuffed” when challenged on London fire service cuts. For “girly swot” and “big girl’s blouse”.
For brushing aside an MP’s concerns about violence as “humbug”. For describing single mothers as “uppity” and “irresponsible” and their offspring as “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate” – before going on to create an unspecified number of single mothers and illegitimate children himself.
For all of this – and that big red bus – damn Johnson. Before he damns us all.
Rant over… and now for the some positives
But it’s not all bad news. There are reasons to be cheerful – or at least hopeful.
So bless Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry, decent Conservatives who didn’t troop into the lobbies to vote against their consciences and who are now standing on their own two feet.
Bless the four million new voters who registered before the deadline last month. Not just because they surely didn’t do so to keep Johnson in Number 10, but because the more people who vote, the healthier our society.
Bless Stormzy and Raheem Sterling for reaching young people and persuading them that they have a real part to play in shaping the way our country is run. Just to put this into context, Stormzy has 2.6 million followers on Instagram, where the young dudes hang out, and Sterling has 6.3 million. Johnson has 272,000 and Corbyn 363,000. Stormzy and Johnson both have 1.3 million on Twitter against 2.2 million each for Sterling and Corbyn.
Bless the campaigners and the lawyers who took on both the May and Johnson governments in the courts and won: Gina Miller, Jo Maugham. Bless the judges who refused to be cowed by a baying press and the sight of Jacob Rees-Mogg interrupting the Queen’s summer holiday to shut down parliament. Bless the blogger, writer and.. er barrister, the Secret Barrister, for quietly demolishing ministers’ dodgy legal pronouncements – to such effect that Johnson plagiarised one blog post and so proved himself wrong (though he probably didn’t realise that’s what he’d done).
Bless Led By Donkeys for force-feeding politicians their own words in the most imaginative advertising campaign since Heineken.
Bless journalists Ian Dunt, Jonathan Lis, Hugh Dixon, Peter Jukes, Remain convert Peter Oborne and others – including on this newspaper – who have set up or contribute to independent fact-checking and news websites to counter the predominantly nondom-owned Conservative mainstream media.
Bless the indefatigable Twitter, Facebook and Instagram armies of Remain campaigners for their determination, common sense and reassurance that the country is still good at heart.
Bless David Merritt and Brendan Cox for standing up to opportunists trying to make political capital out of their losses, when they should have been allowed to grieve in peace.
And bless Larry the cat for showing Dilyn who is boss in Downing Street. Maybe the removal vans will pull up outside at the end of the week and he’ll be left in peace.
Because for all the gloom and whatever the pollsters say, I have this sneaking feeling that all is not lost. That, after everything that has happened over the past four years and notwithstanding what the vox-poppers in “Leave-voting constituencies” say (why do they never, ever, visit Remain-voting areas?), voters can see through Johnson. Some are fooled; many like him in spite of his lies.
But this is not America. We had our Trump foisted on us by a niche electorate. We can see through him and we can see him off.
In that case, he would surely go down as the least effective prime minister in history, achieving zilch during a tenure entirely devoted to campaigning and the avoidance of governing. Then the worst that could happen would be a softer Labour Brexit – and a chance of no Brexit at all.
And if Johnson does stay put? Well, that would bring an end to Brexit uncertainty – until the end of next year – but it would also mean that he would have to own his own mess. He and Gove and the rest have fought so hard for Brexit and for power that maybe they’ve been right all along. After all, why would you saddle yourself with chaos?
So maybe, against all odds, everything will turn out fine.
In which case, happy days. Pass the humble pie.