Zen And The Art Of Brexit
‘When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion.’ – Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
To adapt the classic quote from Pirsig, who died this week: ‘When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When an entire government suffers from a delusion it is called Hard Brexit.’
Witness this week our Remain-voting Prime Minister. A Prime Minister who is dragged towards a Hard Brexit strategy by a cabal of hard core eurosceptics; a Prime Minister who U-turns on the promise of no snap election as soon as polls tell her she can bury what’s left of our Opposition, who says the British People Have Spoken but asks to hear them speak again, who decries political ‘game-playing’ but denies the Scots the right to a second referendum on exactly the same basis she now goes to the country for her own new mandate. A Prime Minister who tells us we are united, when we have never been more divided.
And she does this under the campaign banner of ‘strong leadership’. Deluded.
Switch on a television or radio and it’s nigh-on impossible to avoid encountering a Tory MP parroting the phrases ‘strong and stable’ or ‘coalition of chaos’, presumably as read from cue cards held up by election mastermind guru Lynton Crosby.
If you want to talk about chaos, Mrs May, let’s talk about the state of Britain ever since David Cameron’s referendum of June 23, 2016. Never before in living memory has our representative political system seemed so dysfunctional, so inadequate, so completely unfit for purpose and so blatantly unrepresentative of reality; that same reality Theresa May attempted to confront in her first day on the steps of Downing Street – in what seems a lifetime ago – in her famous JAM speech.
What consideration now for the JAMs that Mother Theresa pontificated over? The just about managing pensioners, about to lose the triple lock on their meagre pensions? The just about managing NHS, facing years more underinvestment? The just about managing all of us, facing extra tax, rising inflation and economic insecurity as we pursue our Hard Brexit war footing with Europe? The just about managing to find somewhere to live in our chronic housing shortage? The not really managing at all victims of a disgracefully underfunded social care system?
‘Strong Leader’ Mrs May, who appears permanently knackered and who doesn’t even have the guts to take her argument to our TV screens, talks not of foodbanks and corridor trolleys, but of power and mandates.
Some leadership. Some strength. Some delusion.
Meanwhile, Labour – a party trapped in a dark place between conviction and cowardice – continues to struggle to articulate just what the hell it is they actually think about Brexit.
If this General Election was an appeal being fought before the Supreme Court, Labour would have it in the bag. But it’s not. This election is being fought in the chip shops, the bus shelters, the motorway service stations, the GPs’ waiting rooms, the call centres and the pubs of Britain.
Three months ago, a number of senior members of Labour’s front bench articulated to this newspaper that the thing they feared most was Theresa May calling a snap election.
‘Think it through,’ they variously said. ‘An election now and we end up with a House of Commons stacked to the brim with hard line EU-haters, and the effective death of the Opposition.’
This has now come to pass, but still Labour shy away from a clear position on this most important issue of our lifetimes. This is not a time for legalistic fuzziness, but for outspoken clarity.
Meanwhile, Tim Farron, the one politician who does have a clear alternative view to the car crash Hard Brexit proposed by Mrs May is quizzed, ad nauseam, by various TV political editors about his views on … gay sex.
Those TV political editors are overthinking this one. This election is not about gay sex. It’s about how Hard Brexit could bugger up the whole bloody country.
Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, understood how it is often very hard to get to the truth, even if the evidence is stacked up all around you.
‘It is a puzzling thing,’ he wrote. ‘The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth,’ and so it goes away. Puzzling.’
The truth is knocking loudly at Britain’s door.
Theresa May’s vision of Hard Brexit is bad for this country, an unnecessary affliction more to do with unity of the Tory Party than unity of the country they claim to represent.
Her Hard Brexit will damage many of the most vulnerable parts of our society. It threatens the very unity of our United Kingdom; something most people have considered impregnable, yet now looks so vulnerable.
The lofted upsides we hear about a global Britain, wonderful new trade deals, and taking back control of our borders are at best a hope, at worst a lie.
If the Conservatives win a landslide in June, if those of us who believe that it is patriotic and democratic to keep arguing against the facts of a Hard Brexit, if the Opposition continue to fudge and seek to palliate their constituencies with messages they think they want to hear and not the messages they pass to journalists in off the record briefings, if the right-wing press continues unabashed their crushing of the disaffected they call saboteurs, then this Great Britain continues blindly along the path to this great and unnecessary crisis. And at that point, with an empowered, emboldened, uncaring and determined Theresa May sitting on top of an unchallengeable majority, that democracy in our country becomes meaningless, and it will be in the waiting rooms of our debilitation, the emptied call centres of our economic troubles, and on the terraces of our relegated global influence where the consequences of this Hard Brexit will be counted.
Matt Kelly, editor, The New European