BONNIE GREER: Politics beyond the looking glass

PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 July 2018

'Alice looking at a small door behind a curtain', 1889. Lewis Carroll's (1832-1898) 'Alice in Wonderland' as illustrated by John Tenniel (1820-1914). From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. [Macmillan & Co., New York, 1889].  (Colorised black and white print).

Credit: Heritage Images/Cover Images

'Alice looking at a small door behind a curtain', 1889. Lewis Carroll's (1832-1898) 'Alice in Wonderland' as illustrated by John Tenniel (1820-1914). From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. [Macmillan & Co., New York, 1889]. (Colorised black and white print). Credit: Heritage Images/Cover Images

The Print Collector / Heritage-Images/Cover Images

The fact that there are actual positions regarding a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, when in fact there is just Brexit, is one of the hallmarks of our current Age Of Absurdity writes BONNIE GREER

The fact that there are actual positions regarding a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, when in fact there is just Brexit, is one of the hallmarks of our current Age Of Absurdity.

That the European Union cannot make a bespoke deal for the UK because, in doing so the EU would, de facto, be destroying itself, seems not to be taken into consideration by either the Conservatives or Labour.

It is as if the governing party and the opposition live within some kind of alternative universe in which the EU waits as a supplicant, trembling in fear. That the United Kingdom is the supplicant, not the other way around, increases the danger of our Alice in Wonderland politics, with various white rabbits of the left and right appearing from time to time to take us deeper down that old rabbit hole. The latest is Jacob Rees-Mogg.

He has threatened the prime minister and leader of his party with ousting if she does not deliver the complete break with the EU that he insists that 52% of the people who voted for it demand. He states this in a recently published piece in the Telegraph, which was headlined: ‘Theresa May must keep her Brexit customs union promise or risk being overthrown by Tory MPs’. The article made the lead story on Radio 4’s Today programme.

In his piece, Rees-Mogg compares May to Robert Peel, the 19th century Tory Prime Minister forced to quit after his party revolted over the repeal of the Corn Laws. The wonderful irony of Rees-Mogg choosing the Corn Laws is that they were, in fact, a series of tariffs created to protect landowners and were therefore a form of protectionism. Just as Brexit is.

That Rees-Mogg and other Brexiteer zealots dress up the decision to leave the EU as a blow for free trade, when businesses and traders in sterling itself indicate that it is the opposite, is yet another sign of the trouble with reason and logic that we now face.

That Rees-Mogg is one of the leaders of this ‘Mad Hatter Challenge’, known as leaving the EU, can be best understood by visiting his Instagram account. It is a charming and warm recreation of a kind of ‘Life in the Shires’ as created by the gossamer world of Louis B. Mayer and his MGM of the pre-war 1940s. A faux Dickensian universe for the era of the selfie, it is full of his delightful ‘mini--me’ family. They are photogenic and bright, including the latest newborn asleep in a cradle complete with a little picture of one of the soldiers of the Home Guard standing to attention.

It is a slam-dunk for a kind of English upper middle class corniness. All you need as you gaze at it is the soundtrack of some Elgar wafting about. Preferably emanating from the wireless. Rees-Mogg is the Barnum and Bailey of what is known as ‘schmaltz’, untranslatable but apt. This schmaltz extends to the fact that Moggy, in order to topple May, will have to marshal half of all Conservative MPs to do it.

That this Brexiteer coup will not and cannot happen is just another sign of the influence coming from across the Atlantic, where the American Republic finds itself in its greatest crisis since the Civil War. Václav Havel stated that “The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.” This is what is happening now.

We are all living in a time when absurdities, hyperbole and lies are becoming the norm, the very basis of serious discussion.

From the lunacy of Labour’s demand for Brexit with frictionless borders to the story of the ‘Brexit Big Short’, in which it is alleged that pollsters sold information to hedge funds before the rest of us were notified of the referendum result, we see things that don’t make sense; that are out of order; but we feel powerless to address them.

In our era of living inside hyperbole, fantasy and downright lies, we have to navigate; and weigh up just what we can address at any given time. What needs our attention and alarm. Everything else has to float on by. That the president of the United States lies as a matter of course is now taken for granted.

The crises keep on coming at such a rate that we no longer have time to deal with them. What happened a month ago seems like the ancient past, buried under the ruins of another time. One very eminent advisor to politicians I know, a man who makes an enormous amount of money telling them how to shape policies, told me recently that so-called winning politicians “have something missing”.

He did not mean intelligence, nor heart, nor soul, nor will – but that component that makes us stop and look at reality. To see what is going on. Our politics are substance-free, intellect-free and policy-light.

It is dangerous now, and we could be in that breeding ground for real fascism, right out of the Mussolini playbook. We need to save ourselves from ourselves. But we are losing the understanding of how to do this. The franticness of the times, and our sheer exhaustion from it, is eroding our capacity to stand back and think.

Simone Veil, Holocaust survivor, politician, feminist, thinker, writer and champion of human rights, was reburied last weekend in the Panthéon. This is France’s highest honour, the final resting place of all of the nation’s heroes.

It normally takes years to be given that honour, but the president of France decided at her funeral last year that this should be waived and that she and her husband be allowed to rest alongside the other heroes of the Resistance. The nation and the world needed her example.

Now.

She once stated that the “poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real”. This is true of the politician. And of all of us.

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