The United Kingdom standing at the brink. A weak prime minister no longer in control of events, trying desperately to keep cabinet, party and country together.
A maverick leader-in-waiting – popular among many, but distrusted by colleagues and with too colourful a past to be considered a statesman, let alone the nation’s next leader. His overarching ambition not at all disguised by the public bluster and populist tone. Could the nation gamble its future on this damaged, suspect character? Is this who we really should turn to in our hour of need?
I’m referring of course to the events of 1940, when the establishment decided that they could no longer prop up Neville Chamberlain. They needed a safe pair of hands to manage the decline and inevitable surrender to Nazi Germany. Lord Halifax was lined up – the rest is blood, sweat, tears, our finest hour and all that.
Is this too extreme a parallel for the modern Brexit drama? Well Theresa May is playing the hapless Chamberlain role to perfection. She has brilliantly captured his show of nonplussed oblivion to the parlous chaos exploding all around.
Boris of course fits the maverick leader-in-waiting to a ‘t’. His abortive attempt to seize the crown following Cameron’s departure does not seem to have killed his chance. In fairness, he has spent most of his public life defying political gravity, so this is not too surprising.
In these uncertain times, conventional wisdom, along with the political rule book has long been abandoned.
We are seeing perhaps a natural reaction against the homogenisation of politics in the 90s/00s where they really did look the same and sound the same. Human nature abhors the vacuous, so the ground was ready for a polarisation. Just quite how polarised we couldn’t have foreseen.
How shall we categorise them? Well on one side we have the earnest, idealistic we-need-to-stick-together-come-what-may gang. Idealism is not a dirty word in my book, although the occasional smug, supercilious brand of liberalism is unwelcome. Keep the compassion and concern for social justice and the natural environment. Just drop the lecturing and belief that yours is the only wisdom.
On the other are those who have often felt overlooked, ignored and taken for granted. Patriotic, direct and old fashioned. Again, old fashioned is not a dirty phrase in my book, although using it to justify racism or other divisive attitudes is despicable. Pride without prejudice, a strong work ethic and conviction of self reliance is great. Just drop the lecturing and belief that yours is the only wisdom.
Orchestrating these large groups of people is a split traditional media, jostling with an unrelenting torrent of social media echo chambers. Politicians conspire and compete to alternately fan the flames or turn the tides. There is very little middle ground.
There is of course, another maverick leader waiting in the wings. A lifelong eurosceptic, who is desperate to get us out of the EU so that he can enact his agenda for social reform and industrial restructuring. Another one mistrusted by his own party, captive of his own supporters who do not share his view. Step forward, Jeremy Corbyn.
He owes his position as leader of the Labour party to an illiberal task force that has provided momentum in both leadership elections. His young supporters trust Uncle Jeremy to fight to keep them in the EU, despite his wish for the opposite. And his MPs despise him for leading a Thatcher-esque peasant’s revolt. Not to mention the millions of Labour voters demanding their vote to leave the EU be honoured.
One way or another, things will need to come to a head soon. Brexit is scheduled to happen on 29th March 2019. Is the time right for the UK to turn once again to a maverick to lead us into the next chapter of our history?
Theresa May’s fate will soon be sealed one way or another. The House of Commons will deliver its verdict on her efforts. If she should fall, the Conservative party will need to decide whether to look for another dull patsy to face off the almost inevitable general election. Or to turn with great reluctance as they did in 1940, to a genuine star – and strap themselves in for a racy ride to victory or oblivion.
Boris vs Jezza? If that’s the battle for 2019, then we’d all better strap ourselves in…