Bonnie Greer: Brexit is not the elephant in the room... It is the room

PUBLISHED: 19:00 07 October 2017

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: Leon Neal / Getty Images

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The real question of the Age is the question of authenticity. Jeremy Corbyn is authentic. Theresa May is not. During the US presidential election, for many, Donald Trump was authentic. For many, Hillary Clinton was not.

Boris Johnson is seen as ‘Boris-is-Boris’. Authentic. Philip Hammond is ‘Spreadsheet Phil’, the Remainer, slowing down the Brexit juggernaut.

Along with The Authentic, comes the common factor of improbability.

For example: a year ago at this time, Hillary Clinton was measuring the drapes for an office that she knew well: the Oval Office. Donald Trump was preparing for defeat, and what he himself said was going to be a “long vacation with Melania”.

Instead, he is the one who can push a button and have his favourite Diet Coke on tap as he steers the affairs of the United States. He is the one who can have chocolate cake on demand, as he affects the course of the whole world.

And how do we know this? Trump tells us. That is authentic.

It is said that at one time in the Labour Party, a test of something’s unlikeliness of happening was the expression: ‘when Jeremy Corbyn is leader’. During the last election campaign, big bets were made outside the party that this was the end of Labour under Corbyn.

But the veteran Islington MP not only survived what had been expected to be a Tory landslide, but the party under his leadership had actually increased its number of seats.

The man who had increased the vote-share of sitting MPs could no longer be written off as absurd. From winning Canterbury, which had returned a Tory for one hundred years, to taking Nick Clegg’s seat, Labour changed the game. Because they were authentic.

The authenticity of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg fit a dream and a myth that their party and a good deal of the population has of itself: the toff with derring-do / ‘he who dares wins’.

Much of the mainstream press hate and fear Corbyn, although the intelligent among them know that he has rung a bell. The right will scurry to imitate him. They will attempt to create a Momentum of their own again, after the collapse of their grassroots youth effort, Activate.

They know that their foundation myth – stability – is wobbly. They know that the Conservatives’ invocation of Article 50, before they had anything in place, was a category error.

They know that what authenticity the Conservatives have left depends on the Captain of the Titanic, in the guise of Boris. And the entertainment in the cabaret, Rees-Mogg.

The more ardent Labour members bolster one another up with the mantra: “It’s only a matter of time.”

They talk on social media about “letting the Tories hang themselves”. They fail to understand that the reason the Conservatives are the most successful Party in European history is because they seldom do that.

The next general election is scheduled for the normal end of the current Parliament: 2022. For the Conservatives to call it before then is to ensure certain defeat.

Right-of-centre commentators see this defeat in an early election as a racing certainty. So do my taxi-driver pundits who are always right.

They are tired of the Conservatives. As with this past election, they will vote Labour again. Which means that the Tories have five years to either change the game, or raise the game. They will make Leave their mark of authenticity, as they double-down on the un-ideological, the uncomplicated. They will leave that to Labour.

This strategy is straight out of the Trump Playbook, and Labour has to beware. The Conservatives have nowhere to go but up.

Labour, on the other hand, must create an analysis of the biggest deal for the UK since Neville Chamberlain said portentously over the airwaves in 1939: "...this country is at war with Germany". This can be done, but it takes the kind of natural political brain of a Bill Clinton.

The former president knew that his wife’s 2016 campaign was in trouble. He knew that Trump had tapped into something, and that former Secretary of State Clinton had to go where Trump was striking political oil. But she did not. She relied on analytics, which deteriorated into "magical thinking".

Labour is working hard, but partly depending on "magical thinking" in relation to the fact that they have a five-year, long haul in opposition. They have ‘game-changed’ once. What can they change again? Can their authenticity win?

The excellent Channel Four programme Brexit Reality, anchored by Krishnan Guru-Murthy and filled with Leave voters, was a superb map of where things are now. It began with Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, clear-eyed and steely-voiced, assuring us, one and all, that Brexit not only will work, but that it is inevitable. Contrast that with the other Leavers in the room. What they had to say was full of red lights for both the Tories and Labour.

The audience was composed of bamboozle-proof Yorkshire men and women. And they had questions.

One man asked why the whole Brexit thing was taking so long. He had not signed up for that. Another pointed out that since there was what seemed to him to be 10,000 laws to convert over to UK law, so surely there were at least 10,000 people attending to the task. If not, why not? Another person spoke of his embarrassment at how ill-informed he had been at the time of the EU referendum. Another stated that he did not vote Leave in order to be made poorer.

On and on it went, this tsunami of confusion; impatience; anger; and regret. No one was happy. No one was confident. Their very real authenticity put paid to the Swiftian miasma that the Conservatives have mired the nation in. The people of Brexit Reality were real, not pundits, not politicos.

They know that the pound has been under pressure since Leave won. They know because their pockets tell them. They said so on the programme too.

There were those in the audience who tried to put a brave face on it. A tourist agency owner spoke enthusiastically about her hope for an increase in trade from China. A man talked about better exports and so forth. They were the exception.

For the majority, this show of optimism cut no ice. Before the theme music began that signalled the end of the show, Guru-Murthy turned to camera and told the remorseful Brexiteers they really did not know what they wanted.

But they did.

They wanted authenticity. They had the right to expect that from the people who sold them a bad deck of cards and have now left them with a lousy hand at the table.

They had the right to be told that Brexit underpins everything: from the future re-nationalisation of the railways proposed by Labour; to the lowering of student fees now by the Tories. They needed to understand something authentic: that Brexit is not just the ‘elephant in the room’.

It is the room.

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