sexta-feira, 1 de julho de 2016
A warning to Gove and Johnson - we won’t forget what you did
A warning to Gove and Johnson - we won’t forget what you did
Friday 1 July 2016 20.10 BST
Though events are moving fast, it’s crucial to hold on to our fury at the selfishness that caused this crisis
It’s gripping, of course. Game of Thrones meets House of Cards, played out at the tempo of a binge-viewed box-set. Who could resist watching former allies wrestling for the crown, betraying each other, lying, cheating and dissembling, each new twist coming within hours of the last? And this show matters, too. Whoever wins will determine Britain’s relationship with Europe.
And yet it can feel like displacement activity, this story of Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Theresa May – a distraction diverting us from the betrayal larger than any inflicted by one Tory bigwig on another. Now that the news cycle is measured in seconds, there’s a risk that 23 June might come to feel like history, that we might move on too soon. But there can be no moving on until we have reckoned with what exactly was done to the people of these islands – and by whom.
This week’s antics of Gove and Johnson are a useful reminder. For the way one has treated the other is the way both have treated the country. Some may be tempted to turn Johnson into an object of sympathy – poor Boris, knifed by his pal – but he deserves none. In seven days he has been exposed as an egomaniac whose vanity and ambition was so great he was prepared to lead his country on a path he knew led to disaster, so long as it fed his own appetite for status.
He didn’t believe a word of his own rhetoric, we know that now. His face last Friday morning, ashen with the terror of victory, proved it. That hot mess of a column he served up on Monday confirmed it again: he was trying to back out of the very decision he’d persuaded the country to make. And let’s not be coy: persuade it, he did. Imagine the Leave campaign without him. Gove, Nigel Farage and Gisela Stuart: they couldn’t have done it without the star power of Boris.
He knew it was best for Britain to remain in the EU. But it served his ambition to argue otherwise. We just weren’t meant to fall for it. Once we had, he panicked, vanishing during a weekend of national crisis before hiding from parliament. He lit the spark then ran away – petrified at the blaze he started.
He has left us to look on his works and despair. The outlook for the economy is so bleak, the governor of the Bank of England talks of “economic post-traumatic stress disorder.” The Economist Intelligence Unit projects a 6% contraction by 2020, an 8% decline in investment, rising unemployment, falling tax revenues and public debt to reach 100% of our national output. No wonder George Osborne casually announced that the central aim of his fiscal policy since 2010 – eradicating the deficit – has now been indefinitely postponed, thereby breaking what had been the defining commitment of the Tories’ manifesto at the last election, back in the Paleolithic era known as 2015.
Perhaps headlines about Britain losing its AAA credit ratings don’t cut through. Maybe it’s easier to think in terms of the contracts cancelled, the planned investments scrapped, the existing jobs that will be lost and the future jobs that will never happen. Or the British scientific and medical research that relied on EU funding and European cooperation and that will now be set back “decades”, according to those at the sharp end.
And what was it all for? For Johnson, it was gross ambition. Gove’s motive was superficially more admirable. He, along with Daniel Hannan and others, was driven by intellectual fervour, a burning belief in abstract nouns such as “sovereignty” and “freedom”. Those ideas are noble in themselves, of course they are. But not when they are peeled away from the rough texture of the real world. For when doctrine is kept distilled, pure and fervently uncontaminated by reality, it turns into zealotry.
When doctrine is kept distilled, pure and fervently uncontaminated by reality, it turns into zealotry
So we have the appalling sight of Gove on Friday, proclaiming himself a proud believer in the UK even though it was obvious to anyone who cared to look that a leave vote would propel Scotland towards saying yes in a second independence referendum. The more honest leavers admit – as Melanie Phillips did when the two of us appeared on Newsnight this week – that they believe the break-up of the union is a price worth paying for the prize of sovereignty. But what kind of patriotism is this, that believes in an undiluted British sovereignty so precious it’s worth the sacrifice of Britain itself?
Just look at what this act of vandalism has wrought. There has been a 500% increase in the number of hate crimes reported, as migrants are taunted on the street, told to pack their bags and get out – as if 23 June were a permission slip to every racist and bigot in the land. And for what? So Boris could get a job and so Gove, Hannan and the rest could make Britain more closely resemble the pristine constitutional models of the nation-state found in 17th-century tracts of political philosophy, rather than one that might fit into the interdependent, complex 21st-century world and our blood-drenched European corner of it.
They did it with lies, whether the false promise that we could both halt immigration and enjoy full access to the single market or that deceitful £350m figure, still defended by Gove, which tricked millions into believing a leave vote would bring a cash windfall to the NHS. They did it with no plan, as clueless about post-Brexit Britain as Bush and Blair were about post-invasion Iraq. They did it with no care for the chaos they would unleash.
Senior civil servants say Brexit will consume their energies for years to come, as they seek to disentangle 40 years of agreements. It will be the central focus of our politics and our government, a massive collective effort demanding ingenuity and creativity. Just think of what could have been achieved if all those resources had been directed elsewhere. Into addressing, for instance, the desperate, decades-long needs – for jobs, for housing, for a future – of those towns that have been left behind by the last 30 years of change, those towns whose people voted leave the way a passenger on a doomed train pulls the emergency cord. Instead, all this work will be devoted to constructing a set-up with the EU which, if everything goes our way, might be only a little bit worse than what we already had in our hands on 22 June.
This week of shock will settle, eventually. Events will begin to move at a slower pace. We will realise that we have to be patient, that we need to wait till France and Germany get their elections out of the way, and hope that a new future can be negotiated – one that implements the democratic verdict delivered in the referendum, but which does not maim this country in the process. But even as we grow calmer, we should not let our anger cool. We should hold on to our fury, against those who for the sake of their career or a pet dogma, were prepared to wreck everything. On this day when we mourn what horror the Europe before the European Union was capable of, we should say loud and clear of those that did this: we will not forget them.