‘Britain is in the most complicated mess we have been in for decades’
Well that didn’t go well, did it? Last time I wrote here, in the June issue, I suggested that the UK election was a simple matter of whether people wished Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May to be Prime Minister. A large number of people decided they wanted Mr Corbyn, and more decided they didn’t want Mrs May. All of which, with Brexit still to be negotiated, leaves Britain in the most complicated mess we have been in for decades.
Speaking to some young friends before the vote, I tried to bridge the gap in history that appears to separate millennials from everyone else. Set your mind back a year to the murder of Jo Cox, I suggested. And imagine that instead of being a neo-Nazi loner with no real network, her murderer had been part of a biggish militant movement. Then imagine the scale of your revulsion if, shortly after the murder, a backbench Conservative MP had invited the associates of Cox’s killer to tea in the House of Commons. The scenario is unimaginable of course, not least because there are no Nazi-sympathising Conservative MPs. But this is the revulsion some of us feel for Mr Corbyn, who invited the murderers of Conservative politicians to the Commons, honoured them and provided moral support for years afterwards.
The survival of Labour under Corbyn is obviously the worst aspect of the election result. It also confirms that the British Left cannot exercise the most basic moral hygiene. Now that Corbyn has done fairly respectably in an election, what little hygiene was still practised has disappeared. All those “moderates” who thought he would lose are getting behind him and conferring further legitimacy to the man they abhorred until June 8. Is it possible that at some point a countervailing force will be created on the British Right? One must hope not. But it seems possible that a political Left that has sunk so low as to promote Jeremy Corbyn to the position he now holds could at some point provoke a political Right that decides basic moral standards in politics are a needless encumbrance.
On the night itself I darted between election parties. One of the most enjoyable — at the start of the evening — was also the most ecumenical. I realised the exit polls heralded disaster when two things happened simultaneously. The first was the visible horror of a Conservative friend. The other was that one of the architects of the New Labour project got a phone message, leapt up and said he had to go. As I pondered the sudden possibility of a Corbyn premiership I wondered if some deal couldn’t be done — some other year if not this — between a decent portion of the Conservative Party and the decent remnant of Labour. Because of Brexit, probably not. But a “Keep Corbyn out” coalition should put out some feelers.
With the full electoral disaster becoming clear I texted some friends in Aldeburgh, saying it was unlikely I could take up their offer of a ticket the next night. But after waking up and staring at the ceiling for a while I decided that Benjamin Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Snape Maltings was exactly what I needed. What a wonderful decision it was.
Whereas London was overcast in every way, Suffolk was bathed in sunshine. The production had a cast of pretty much all the best young singers in Britain. Magnificent projections onto a screen which spanned the stage allowed the cast to blend in and out of the forest, without the usual stage business of pretending to be unseen by hiding behind a small papier-mâché tree stump. Best of all was the second act which ends with the lovers all asleep and the fairies singing the wondrous “On the ground, sleep sound . . . All shall be well.” The packed audience went out for the second interval to see that the only thing in the sky, hanging over the Suffolk broads, was a brightly shining moon.
I feel sorry for those people who seek much meaning, let alone happiness, in politics. I’m happy to go with Alexander Herzen’s summary: art and the summer lightning of personal happiness are the only goods we have.
A sad sign of our political times was the resignation of Tim Farron. I never praise Liberal Democrats, because there is so little to praise. But Farron suffered truly rotten treatment. He has private religious opinions that he has never sought to enforce on others or legislate about. Indeed, his own behaviour is of an actual liberal — recognising differences without imposing them on others. And yet throughout the campaign he was treated to a moral grilling that was disgraceful. There is an intolerant strain abroad in our politics. Farron turns out to have been a martyr to it. I wish him well.