A real golden oldie popped into my head today: “And now, the end is near; and so I face the final curtain”. Maybe it doesn’t quite show my age, because I remember my grandparents rather than my parents talking about Frank Sinatra. I’m in Strasbourg this week, clearing out my office. It’s a beautiful city, in contrast to the politics which happens there. This should be the last time I’m here, but who knows? By the time you read this, a Minister of the Crown will have laid regulations before Parliament to delay Brexit until April 12th. The British government – whether May is still Prime Minister or not – will doubtless request another extension. May 22nd? June 30th? Even longer?
Meanwhile, the European Parliament continues passing legislation: this week it has sadly approved the Copyright Directive (far worse than ‘banning memes’ as the media suggests, it’ll seriously interfere with the internet), adding a clock change at the Irish border from 2022, and fitting new cars with all kinds of price-increasing modifications – also by 2022. The EU claims to respect the ‘subsidiarity’ principle, which means decisions should be taken closer to the citizen, then ignores it and harmonises anything it can across an entire continent. Having voted 38 times this week on ‘the labelling of tyres with respect to fuel efficiency and other essential parameters’, I’m hardly eager to come back – but if Brexit is delayed, there will doubtless be ‘vital’ legislation on axles next month that won’t oppose itself. Given the current mess in Westminster, we face the ridiculous spectre of European Parliamentary elections three years after the referendum.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: if the British people could not – through European elections, a referendum, and two General Elections – achieve Brexit, then millions will lose faith in democracy altogether. I’ve been bombarded by such messages on social media, from people so despairing because they no longer believe that they live in a democracy. If Brexit delayed from March 29th caused that, what will further delay or betrayal cause?
Regrets? I’ve had a few. I’ve had my fill, my share of losing. I can cope with losing. Losing happens sometimes in life. Nothing ever quite prepared me for the pain of winning, then watching a hapless Prime Minister systematically fail to deliver. Millions may never vote ever again, and I’ve seen cynical left-wingers online praise that very fact. They actively want huge numbers of people to feel so disenfranchised that they’ll never vote again. That way, they hope, they might then deliver a majority for their own plans.
The words I see from the general public are far stronger than mine: “this week we officially became a banana republic”, “I have cast my last vote”, “I’m done with this sham system”, “utter contempt from the British people”, and so on – they’re the tame remarks. Most are simply unprintable. The levels of anger within working-class communities are stronger than anything I’ve ever known. Not directed at Labour, or Conservatives, or Liberal Democrats individually – but aimed at the whole lot, the whole system. If your preferred measure of outrage is statistics, it’s worth noting that Theresa May’s approval rating is -39% and Corbyn’s is -53%. There’s something fundamentally broken when those numbers are comparable to Putin’s.
We’ve got a feedback loop of anger: the more that those people are insulted, the angrier they become. Those who first ignore and then insult, berate, and name-call the electorate repeatedly over years should not be surprised when they push people into the arms of extremists.
The sad fact is that only Westminster can make the difference we need. Being stuck in the European Parliament voting on tyres won’t deliver Brexit. Yet our Westminster politicians have punctured the tyres; they’re the ones who need changing most desperately of all. If we end up forced into more European elections, I won’t be standing again. I suspect the single-issue Brexit Party would do incredibly well.
At the end of it all, I shouldn’t be able to say, Sinatra-like, that I did it my way. Politicians shouldn’t say that they did it their way. No! We should have done it the way that the people elected us to. We should say that we did what we had to do, that we saw it through without exemption. That’s all we can do.