Bonnie Greer: We are sailing away from common sense
PUBLISHED: 12:17 25 September 2017 | UPDATED: 12:18 25 September 2017
There is a way to understand how much the nation has changed since the EU referendum vote.
In place of a kind of hard-headedness, that famed “British common sense” that we immigrants find a hallmark of life on this island, there has emerged a kind of dream state. This Britain, woolly and dreamy, is like suddenly discovering how ugly someone looks when they cry. You sympathise, but the shock of the face-change is repelling and disturbing.
Shouts of “the will of the people” ring throughout the land.
The idea that this mantra would have given both Evelyn Waugh and Max Miller pause – as well as gift Monty Python with acres of material – seems to have evaporated.
These is now a deadly seriousness. That word-class sense of humour that could imagine Sid James using ‘the will of the people’ as the launch pad for a spectacular con in which the victim would have been left with just trousers and a hat; or Hattie Jacques shouting the phrase before administering an enema in hospital to some hapless victim of her medical attention, seems to be gone. Brexiteers are deadly serious. Even as erudite a man as Douglas Carswell uses the phrase ‘Remaniacs’.
There is the Witchfinder General visage of John Redwood, perpetually on air to make sure that we do not stray from The Path. And – when he is bored or feels ignored – Boris Johnson. He must have finally understood that Theresa May had given him his post so that – in the great Victorian phrase – she could “send him on his travels”.
There are two big metaphors for The Way We Live Now.
One is in a kind of antechamber of AA or Gamblers Anonymous, where you must say before being allowed into the meeting “I accept the referendum result”.
And the other is that voyage of Ulysses, the Odyssey across a sea that the Greeks called “Mediterranean” not knowing that it really was not the “middle of the earth”. Nor were they.
The Brexit Odyssey involves the Leave campaign and its various factions, offshoots, successors, chancers and usurpers. While we are told that Leave are united, confident, cheerful and victorious, it is, instead the opposite: fractured, unsure, gloomy and in dread of a possible second referendum.
There are some in Leave who still defend the campaign’s centrepiece, the legendary £350 million a week for the NHS. They are even willing to take on Sir David Norgrove, new Chair of the Statistical Authority, a former colleague of mine. This is a guy steeped in numbers and systems and stats.
But Michael Gove had announced that we are all sick of experts. Now an opinion and a feeling have the same weight as a fact.
This attitude is Circe, the Siren in the Odyssey who leads Ulysses’s men off the path of reason and to their end. In her domain is the sacred Article 50 The Irrevocable. Yet there was a warning from inside Leave to not touch Article 50 without a plan. The voice was ignored.
We can take this voice from another Greek myth. We can call this voice Brexit’s Cassandra: “The One Who Warns.”
In US sports, the term ‘choke artist’ denotes an athlete who has the power to be a champ, but can’t, in the end, pull it off. They lose faith; lack the intelligence. They ‘choke’.
Dominic Cummings could be considered the man who sees Brexit, the Odyssey that should be heading home, now being shaped by a cabal made up of choke artists. And he is appalled.
Cummings, whose twitter handle is interestingly @odysseanproject, is former director of Vote Leave, the successful campaign that won the 52% for Leave. A former adviser to Michael Gove, Cummings has a brilliant and ruthless mind.
He could be called an anti-Monnetian, for Jean Monnet, economist and diplomat, and a fierce supporter of European unity after Second World War. Monnet is considered by some one of the founding fathers of the European Union. It would not be far-fetched to believe that Cummings might see Monnet as the Fount Of All Evil.
Cummings is a huge advocate of the notorious £350 million. He brilliantly understands that this is the equivalent of Trump’s Wall: both a symbol and reality.
The Leave campaigned focused on the mantra ‘Take Back Control’ while the £350 million became The Vessel that contained all of the rage, the frustration, the feelings of being ignored, left behind, of being on the wrong end of the demographic curve, the wrong end of the hourglass of Time, the wrong end of History.
It did not matter that the term ‘The Elites’ was flung around by Oxbridge grads and other privileged people. That was beside the point. Cummings understood that without the £350 million a week it might have been difficult for Leave to have won.
So while Remain ran a rather wonkish campaign similar to the one Hillary Clinton ran in America, Vote Leave went for The Feeling.
Trump’s campaign was built on rage and disdain for Washington. Vote Leave’s campaign subtext was rage and disdain for Westminster and Whitehall. Cummings refers to the entire mechanism of government as “SW1” or, as Trump calls DC, “The Swamp”.
Cummings’s series of recent tweets indicate that he feels that Davis is out of his depth in this swamp, led around by real-life Sir Humphrey. Theresa May appears to be bunkered down in the ever-decreasing circles that she prefers to do business in. And there is Cummings, the guy who masterminded it all, stuck on an island as the ship sails past.
Boris Johnson’s intervention might be seen to be a cry from the rocks as May and Davis are being outplayed in Brussels. Cummings is telling Tory MPs to revolt against the strategy of David Davis.
But it may be too late. The Brexit odyssey might be heading for the rocks, lured by a siren off Berkeley Square.
That siren is The Legatum Institute, a think tank located in a tranquil white Georgian House in Charles Street. It publishes something called the Prosperity Index, a table of nations that can be roughly considered to be “happy”. I spent some time there writing a paper, and found everyone to be cheerful and very smart, but a little too neo-con for my tastes.
The suppers were congenial, the conversation stimulating. My biggest problem was that I did not quite know what Legatum did and what it was for.
It now turns out that it may have been creating Brexit.
Miriam González Durántez, the Spanish international trade lawyer, EU trade negotiator and the wife of Nick Clegg, wrote recently about a meeting convened by David Davis featuring 33 business leaders. And Legatum.
The meeting was held at Chevening, the grace and favour home that González Durántez shared with Clegg while he was deputy PM.
She writes that: “Legatum Institute, a think tank with unparalleled access to Davis and Theresa May... seems to have been at the origin of some of the preposterous positions on Brexit taken by the government so far. ”
This is the odyssey of Brexit.
Homer, accredited with composing the Odyssey, was said to have been blind.