ANDREW ADONIS: When will Britain’s Scrooges wake up?

PUBLISHED: 10:01 20 December 2018

Prime minister Theresa May. 
Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

Prime minister Theresa May. Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

PA Wire/PA Images

The classic Dickensian tale of a grumpy man at Christmas sums up the leaders in British politics this year, writes ANDREW ADONIS.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYLabour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The most haunting line in A Christmas Carol is that Ebenezer Scrooge “carried his own low temperature always about with him”. It sums up 2018 and its low temperature duo, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.

I have yet to meet anyone who been inspired to do anything positive in politics by May. An aunt of mine was inspired to wear brighter shoes and bolder accessories by the prime minister, but even she has stopped wearing the leopardskin variety “because people were saying ‘you’re not copying Theresa May are you?’”

Brexit brings out the worst in May because her wooden inarticulacy meets a cause which she doesn’t believe in at all. Scrooge sold his dodgy insurance policies with more passion and panache.

The absolute low point was when I found myself at a dinner of senior business executives being addressed by this sorry successor of Churchill.

How, asked the first questioner, would Brexit make the country better off? Long pause. “Well, I’ve never said that; what I’ve said is that I had an instruction from the British people two years ago, and that’s what I’m doing.”

There was an audible groan around the room.

It would be the same as Churchill saying in 1940: “I’m really sorry, but Baldwin stood on appeasement in the 1935 election and he won a landslide, so I’ve got to carry out that instruction.”

That parallel keeps coming to mind because it is so close to the current situation. Neville Chamberlain, who inherited Baldwin’s majority and policy, pursued appeasement until the eve of war in 1939 and might well have signed an armistice with Hitler in 1940 had parliament not ejected him.

And he did so with far greater popularity than May, whose only engagement with the electorate, in last year’s general election, was as disastrous as possible without the other side taking power.

But Churchill didn’t regard that as a reason, still less a moral justification, for allowing a failed policy to destroy his country in 1940.

On the contrary, he immediately sought – and secured – parliamentary authority to fight Hitler without reserve. If required he would certainly have fought a general election on the same cause.

May should so obviously follow a similar course on Brexit and call a referendum with an option to stay in the EU. It may be too much to expect her to be Churchillian and actually seek to lead the British people to reverse their previous “instructions”.

But at least she could allow the British public a chance to lead itself as the facts and circumstances change in the Brexit crisis.

In such crises the leader of the opposition often steps in to provide leadership. Jeremy Corbyn isn’t prepared to lead on Europe because he doesn’t have strong convictions on the subject and therefore tacks from day to day.

We have to hope that our campaigning encourages him to tack towards a People’s Vote when he has to do something – anything – after May’s deal is inevitably rejected in parliament in the New Year.

It’s not fair to say that Corbyn has ‘no’ convictions on Europe. In truth, he has convictions which are equal and opposite and have the effect of cancelling each other out.

This was exhibited starkly in his speech a fortnight ago to the European socialist congress in Lisbon. In the first part he argued that we needed a fundamentally different kind of EU that was “social” and “socialist”, which the present one wasn’t.

But in the second part he praised Portugal’s ruling socialists for having ended dictatorship in the 1970s and transformed their country since, as part of the EU. Mr Scrooge, a clever man, would have realised that this doesn’t add up.

Scrooge’s problem was that he didn’t have a heart and soul – more echoes of Theresa May. But on Christmas morning he had a revelation and everything changed. So let’s hope for a similar Brexit miracle.

A happy Christmas to all my readers. Keep your spirits up to defeat Brexit and ascend to the sunlit uplands in 2019!

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