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Monday, 13 November 2017

A Symbolic Bonnet?

I was brought up, long ago, with the constant admonition: 'do not mock the afflicted!'

I usually avoid doing so; but sometimes it seems that a voluntarily-adopted affliction makes an important point about the person who has adopted it. I increasingly feel this about the prime minister's selection of clothes. I recognise that she is tall and slim: as many leading models are, so there is an amplitude of clothing for women of means who are of those dimensions to choose from. Mrs May's choices vary between the odd and the wildly eccentric; and yesterday at the Cenotaph I thought that she established a new, abnormal norm. The black bonnet that she had selected - possibly it was even designed for her - looked like something that a war widow of 100 years ago would have dressed her teenage daughter in for a remembrance event: yet it was also vaguely reminiscent of a German army helmet. Yesterday it simply looked anachronistic on a grown woman.

But for me it also epitomised her situation. She gambled on winning enough seats in the Commons for the Conservative Party so that she could discount the ten-to-twenty headbanging Brexiteers who for various reasons - including pure stupidity - want to risk national economic ruin by interpreting the referendum result of 2016 as authorising the government to leave the European Economic Area altogether, on a cliff-edge date at the end of March 2019. As she totally misjudged the one-woman campaign that she ran, she lost her majority; since when the headbangers [and the DUP] have dominated her field for policy options. She has retreated into a psychological bunker, from which - so it is rumoured - she continues to radiate confidence that all will become well in the best of all possible worlds: sometime. And meanwhile, as M Barnier has said, the clock on the exit door is ticking.

Yesterday the Sunday Times - never known as a Labour-supporting vehicle - gave a prominent page to an article in the name of Jeremy Corbyn [which was, therefore, at least authorised by him]. In it he presaged a shift of parliamentary arithmetic, implying his recognition of the fact that while virtually all members of the Commons accept that the referendum result [though many of them think it unfortunate] must  - at least, minimally - be implemented. But he also accepts that an overwhelming majority of members have come to recognise that to leave the Common Market and the European Union in a simple step would be a calamity for the country.

To demand a general election - which may become necessary if Mrs May is defeated by the defection of any section of her party - would mean that the current crop of MPs have abdicated all responsibility. It is deeply unclear what the result of a general election would be: but the most probable outcome would be a small renaissance for the LibDems, the Scots Tories at least holding their position, no change in Ulster, Labour gains in Scotland [but the Nats still in the lead] and no clear result from England. Labour might just be the biggest party, though the Tories have an equal chance of that; so the construction of a coalition would be a slow and painful business: while the Europeans could fold their arms and enjoy the British discomfiture and the tick of the clock.

The last time when Britain was in a comparable situation was in June, 1940; when a paralysis of government [albeit, with a strong Conservative majority] faced an existential threat. Talk of coalition was in the air; and Labour had already made clear that they could not support a Chamberlain-led government: though they also accepted that the Tory majority required that any coalition was led by a Conservative. In the crucial debate, as a government supporter spoke for the government, a fellow member challenged him to "speak for England". The government left the debate with a clear majority, but the loss of confidence in them was equally clear. Chamberlain - a sick man - resigned, and the amazing, anachronistic career of Winston Churchill reached its apogee.

Corbyn is no Churchill: he is no patriot, he has supported obnoxious alien regimes acting on the lines of the traduced anti-patriots of whom W S Gilbert wrote they admire "all centuries but this one, and all countries but their own". Corbyn's recent adoption of statesmanlike utterances - at odds with his career-long posturing - is utterly unconvincing: but if he were to prove capable of keeping to manifesto promises [and capable of keeping his close associates within those bounds] he might be useful in the hour of crisis. 

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