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Sorry, David, you’re not the man to lead Labour

The elder Miliband continues to defend an appalling breach of trust over Iraq.

The New Statesman editorial endorsing Ed Miliband for Labour leader described the decision to invade Iraq as "a great wrong, a moral failure". His brother's support for the war, it implied, was one of the reasons he does not qualify to be the change candidate that Labour and Britain needs. But the British voter is not an especially moral creature. If it was just a matter of right or wrong, however great, David Miliband might lose my vote as well as the NS's support, but he would certainly remain capable of winning an election.

What is summed up in the word "Iraq", however, remains a determining political issue. David's record on it will prevent him from winning a general election. I like David. I admire his energy and he seems to me to be more thorough, hard-working and professional than the other candidates, and to have a greater grasp of policy. These qualities have helped him gain a staggering range of endorsements across the UK media from the Financial Times to the Evening Standard, as the man they can do business with. But the legacy of the Iraq decision overshadows all this. It feeds into quite fundamental issues of trust and the role of the state. Labour will be forced to shape up on both issues to if it is to win back the decisive sectors of the electorate whose vote is not predetermined by party loyalty. David will be skewered.

First, trust. For Labour to win, its leader has to be able to give an honourable account of him or herself. The technical justification for the war was Saddam Hussein's possession of WMDs, weapons of mass destruction, and his refusal to surrender his alleged stockpiles despite UN resolutions requiring him to do so. David said at the NS hustings that if he'd known then that there were not, after all, WMDs in Iraq, he would not have supported the war. Or, to put it another way, that he originally supported it in good faith and let's move on. This positioning -- the decision was wrong but personally he was not -- is hardly honest, even on the narrowest of grounds.

No one who followed it believed that the war was fought because Saddam had WMDs. Tony Blair, as is well documented, had decided soon after 9/11 to support George W Bush, whatever he did. And, as Michael Elliott reported in Time magazine, in February 2002 Bush put his head around the door of a meeting at the White House where three US senators were being briefed by Condi Rice, and told them, "Fuck Saddam, I'm taking him out."

A year later, after Saddam had indeed been taken out, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the war's architects, told Vanity Fair that they settled on WMDs as the casus belli "for bureaucratic reasons". Yes, many intelligence experts thought Saddam had kept some rusting weapons. But no one believed they represented a danger to the west. The exaggeration was worse than contrived.

Take just one example, still unreported because it exposes the Blair regime's clinical disregard for truth: the British government stated in the executive summary of its September 2002 report, "As a result of intelligence we judge that Iraq has continued to produce chemical and biological agents". Blair sexes this up in his foreword: "What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons."

In fact, it was impossible for Saddam to have been producing new chemical agents, let alone chemical weapons, without this being observed by surveillance. The toxicity of the vapours demands massive ventilation for any level of manufacture, and this would have been identified. (See the openDemocracy interview with Ron Manley, who oversaw the destruction of Saddam's chemical armoury after 1991, but was never asked to share his expertise, though still attached to the Ministry of Defence.)

In other words, it is not just that Hans Blix, the head of the UN weapons inspection team, should have been given more time. The UK government was not interested in investigating the seriousness of the alleged "threat" of WMDs. They were a bogey that was itself contrived. Saddam was overthrown because the US knew he was weak, not because he was a danger. For someone in David's position to suggest even now, in public, that had they known there were no WMDs in Iraq the invasion would not have been justified, perpetuates an untruth, namely that the motive of ridding the world of Saddam's WMDs was genuine. The government misled the public about its reason for the war. By pretending otherwise, David continues to justify an appalling breach of confidence.

Room for redemption?

It remains an abuse of trust that angers the principled right, which draws on Britain's military folklore. The Daily Mail, the Telegraph and the Independent all supply readers with allegiance to this tradition and they are not going to allow Labour to forget it. Were he to become the party's head, David would be inescapably identified as an apologist and accomplice of the betrayal of Britain's military integrity.

We all make mistakes, especially in politics. People must be allowed to redeem themselves; otherwise, everyone gets trapped in sectarian shallowness. If David had said that the line on WMDs deceived him, he would at least have opened up a space between himself and the perpetrators of the concoction. More important, there was a decisive moment when he could have redeemed himself on Iraq.

On 12 November 2007, Gordon Brown made his first full-scale speech as prime minister setting out his approach to international affairs. He called for "hard-headed internationalism", opposed anti-Americanism and didn't mention Iraq. But as he went out of his way to regret that the international community had not taken action over the Rwanda genocide, the omission of the invasion of Mesopotamia was a clear signal that he wanted to distance himself from it. Typically, Brown did so while failing to be decisive.

The next day Brown's attempts at "renewal" were ambushed. His new foreign secretary was asked by the BBC whether the "same decision" on Iraq would still have been made under Brown's new direction. "Absolutely," David Miliband replied, and he insisted: "No one is resiling from the original decision."

Colin Brown's report in the Independent went on to say that Labour critics of the war were "disappointed". This is an understatement. At the time, David knew just as well as he does now that Saddam had no WMDs. But he didn't mention the fact as having any bearing; his support for the invasion was 100 per cent pure Blair and he locked his successor in to it.

Two points follow. First, a question: what has led David to change his mind between 2007 and 2010? Even his apparently low-key, technical positioning, that he would not have supported the invasion had he known there were no WMDs, is inconsistent and unsustainable. He backed it unconditionally well after he knew.

Second, he has a direct responsibility for the fact that Labour has not been able to put Iraq behind it. Earlier in the summer, he gave an eloquent Keir Hardie lecture. Looking back over the immediate past he said, "I agreed completely with Gordon Brown, when he became prime minister in 2007, that we needed renewal. I supported and voted for him. I agreed that we needed greater moral seriousness and less indifference to the excesses of a celebrity-drenched culture . . . But, it didn't happen."

One of the reasons it didn't happen is that David Miliband helped to prevent it from happening. He supported the previous celebrity prime minister when Brown sought change. In 2003 he was only a junior member of the team. By 2007, as foreign secretary, he shared responsibility for Labour failing to renew itself by backing the Iraq decision 100 per cent.

Talk versus walk

Jon Cruddas, who voted for the war, like so many of David's supporters, says the Keir Hardie address was one of the factors that persuaded him to endorse David. When James Purnell resigned from the cabinet in 2009 because Brown was sure to lead Labour to defeat, Cruddas gave a speech to a Compass conference. He ridiculed the arguments of the Purnell faction, who said they agreed entirely with Brown's policy but not his leadership. They were, literally, he mocked, "rebels . . . without a cause"!

It was a brilliantly funny rebuke. But was Cruddas demanding that they embrace different policies or was he telling them not to take a stand? For while Cruddas sets out his cause, where is the rebellion? From Iraq to 42 days' internment without trial, when push comes to politics, Cruddas, like David, has the rhetoric but not the will to strike.

Below the Plimsoll line of acting honestly, there is the great bulk of public opinion. Historically, Iraq was a unique war in terms of popular support. With appeasement in 1938, Prime Minister Chamberlain had most of the public behind him, even though he was wrong. When Winston Churchill was defiant and far-sighted in 1940, he had wide public and cross-party backing. When Anthony Eden launched the Suez expedition (also dishonestly), the assault on Egypt was popular, even though the strategy was disastrous. Over the Falklands, Margaret Thatcher had public opinion on her side, whatever you thought about fighting in the South Atlantic. Throughout the cold war, the British overwhelmingly backed deterrence. But with Iraq, for the first time, the government committed the country to a major conflict while millions marched against it despite the leadership of both main parties and most of the press.

Britain's informal constitution has at least two abiding rules -- unwritten, of course -- that have ensured its longevity. The first is to ensure broadly speaking popular consent for the regime and its wars. Consent can be highly manipulated and is different from democracy. Arguably, certainly from the point of view of a political elite, it is better to have consent without democracy than democracy but not consent. In the case of Iraq, Britain had neither.

That was bad enough. But the second informal understanding of the British regime is that while the public is foolishly conservative or dangerously populist and generally grasping, short-sighted but foolishly in love with conventional forms of power, the elite are wiser, more far-sighted and know what is best. It is the validity of this presumption that allows the country's rulers to retain consent over the long run.

With Iraq, this state of affairs was turned upside down. The real, unspoken reason for the Chilcot inquiry is to work out what do to re-establish the credibility of a military, administrative and intelligence establishment that got it completely wrong.

How wrong, and it is good to be reminded, was summed up before the war by an obscure Democratic politician in Chicago who, despite his ambition, broke ranks with his party and, in effect, spoke for millions in his own and our country when he said about Saddam Hussein:

He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbours, that the Iraqi economy is in a shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.

David Miliband went along with the Blair view that the millions who thought this didn't "get it" when we took to the streets on 15 February to protest against the coming invasion. In fact, the millions were wise and he was dumb.

General crisis

What David needs to explain, therefore, is not just why he was wrong, but why we the public got it right. The issue is not only about him and his judgement, but his explanation, as the would-be leader of a democratic Britain, of why, when the public was right, we were ignored. The public being not just Labour supporters but also the hated Lib Dems, patriotic Conservatives, Greens, Scottish Nationalists, Robin Cook, Diane Abbott and, indeed, Uncle Tom Cobly as well as President Chirac, Chancellor Schröder, Joschka Fischer, Barack Obama (they were his words in Chicago) and all. How come we knew what was going on when he didn't? It is the answer to this question that tells us what kind of power (and there are different kinds) he feels he has to represent.

David is now saying that Labour has to be a "movement" and he is funding a thousand citizen campaigners to help achieve this. But Labour was rarely, if ever, more of a movement than in February 2003. Even a majority of Labour MPs not on the government payroll voted against the war, which was only endorsed by the House of Commons thanks to the Tories. Yes, indeed, a party of the left needs also to be a movement. But a movement has to embody judgements; it has to stand for something. When Labour was last a movement David opposed it. Why does he think that the movement called it right -- and six years later what remained of it then got 42 days right, while he didn't? Perhaps Jon Cruddas can explain.

The question goes to the heart of current British politics. For perhaps the first time since the franchise was cleaned up in 1832, the voting public feels that the political elite do not represent the country. The public has always been justifiably cynical in thinking its leaders support the class system, but at least it was our class system! In the case of Iraq, the elite acted in the interests of Washington and George Bush. They told us that we had to back globalisation for our own good. When the crash came, it turned out that they were representing the bankers, not the British. Then the expenses crisis broke, and the catastrophic decline in trust that followed was less about what some MPs took for themselves than what MPs as a whole permitted.

At first, the freshness and surprise of the coalition made it seem that it would be able to distance itself from this general political crisis. It may find it increasingly hard to sustain this, and it is certainly the case that unlike "sleaze" and John Major's government, the corruption of the Noughties is cross-party.

But it does not follow that Labour is not specifically identified with the abuses of power that marked this century's opening decade. It expanded the powers of the state far too much, threatened our liberties and deployed its powers on behalf of vested interests, especially international financial ones. The public knew this, has not forgotten and anyway will be reminded of it. In these circumstances, to dismiss the Iraq decision as "the past", as David Miliband does, when it opened the gates, and to belittle the issue of trust that it symbolises, is a strategic failure of political judgement. In whose name does he want Labour to rule the UK? Because of its reckless statism, from ID cards through subsidising bankers to the Budget deficit, and above all its military adventurism on behalf of the United States, this will be a major front in the coming battle for Labour to re-establish its claim to govern.

Milisisters

The new generation bidding to lead Labour are not interested in having the kind of bunfights that permit the press to destroy them. Inheritors of 13 years in office, they know what it takes to win; the disciplines of ruling come naturally to them (including Diane Abbott). Today, the question is what to do with power once in office and how to build support for any reforms they carry out. Something that Mandelson, Campbell, Brown, Blair et al, for all their skill at "persuasion", were incapable of achieving. Boring as the leadership contest may be to outsiders, this is the underlying seriousness of it.

Delivery, it seems, will not come from internal ideological correctness. Perhaps this is why partnerships seem to go down well in British public life. What are David Cameron and Nick Clegg but a replacement for Blair and Brown? Voters find ideological disputes between party factions weird. They make them feel excluded, and the media hammers "splits". But who isn't familiar with strong personal differences between individuals tied together in a relationship?

In an era when the spectacle demands personalisation yet dislikes the cult of the individual, partnerships, with their human tensions and difficulties, may be inherently attractive. The Blair-Brown diarchy in Downing Street has been replaced by another, and in a similar way the coupledom of the Milibands is an attraction. They are the Williams sisters of Labour Party politics, outsiders delivering a new style and professionalism to the game. Is David the Venus who may win first and Ed the Serena who shows greater determination when pushed to prove himself?

If they can continue to play together while playing each other, Labour could have a winning team. But it is as certain as things ever are in politics that, however much David is an asset in the larger game, he will be an election-loser if he is appointed captain.

Anthony Barnett is co-founder of openDemocracy and co-edits its British blog, OurKingdom.

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The biggest blunder of them all

It was a catastrophic error of judgement that produced the referendum – and now the British political class is paying the price.

AAs dawn broke on Friday morning and I turned over in bed to grab my phone and Twitter, I thought immediately of G K Chesterton’s poem from 1915, about the secret people of England:

 

Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.
There is many a fat farmer that drinks less cheerfully,
There is many a free French peasant who is richer and sadder than we.
There are no folk in the whole world so helpless or so wise.
There is hunger in our bellies, there is laughter in our eyes;
You laugh at us and love us, both mugs and eyes are wet:
Only you do not know us. For we have not spoken yet.

 

Well, they have spoken now. This was a quietly devastating revolt by the English heartlands – southern and western suburbs; the urban sprawls of the Midlands and the north; former mining areas and devastated ex-industrial towns – against London, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the so-called elites. Looking at the numbers, one sees that it was a revolt also by older voters against younger voters and by poorer against richer, better-educated voters. It was, of course, a great democratic moment. Apart from the hideous and probably unconnected murder of Jo Cox, it was accomplished peacefully, and by a majority of well over a million. That sets it aside from Chesterton’s vision, which moves on from benign, bucolic defiance to outright anti-Semitism and warnings of blood-drenched revolution. Well, that’s the beauty of modern democracy . . .

The decision by the British people to leave the European Union is this country’s single biggest democratic act in modern times – indeed, as far as I can make out, the biggest ever. But it is also one of the elite’s most significant blunders, provoked by the most senior politicians for the wrong reasons and then pursued in what (to use a crude but apposite phrase) is the biggest establishment cock-up in my lifetime.

We should not fall into the trap, though, of seeing this as a purely British story. It is also about the EU, now looking more fragile than at any other time since the 1950s, and about what is still our common European home. There are calls for national revolt against the EU coming from across the continent. Far too many of the continent’s leaders welcoming our decision were the wrong sort of people. Mostly, the congratulations are coming from far-right parties, whose most lurid and upsetting rhetoric has emerged from central and eastern Europe. If you think I’m exaggerating, go on to YouTube, type “Visegrad”, and spend ten minutes watching. If this vote presages a process of messy and angry dissolution, it’s a story that will have started here. But that is only the beginning. If Marine Le Pen wins the French presidential election, then a French exit from the EU looks very likely – and that really is the end of it all.

Hurrah, many people will say: but we should reflect that this will demand negotiation of many individual trade deals with the leaders of angry and fractured European nations, which will clearly be a lot harder than any single deal with the EU. And then, there are the darker forebodings about Europe, which has never managed to stay at peace with itself for long as a constellation of independent countries. Immigration pressures and the Russian threat are just a couple of possible sources of future conflict.

But there are better outcomes. For the UK the optimal one now is clearly “Norway-plus”: meaning, in essence, restrictions on the free movement of people but access to the single market. Unless the victorious team of Brexit Tories is bonkers, this is what they will try to negotiate. It would minimise the threat of all-out economic disruption, which has already begun, and answer the biggest complaint from Leave voters. To which the obvious retort is: “Why in a million years would they give us that?” Well, as leaders in France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries contemplate their own populist insurgencies, they must know that a rethink of freedom to work across borders is their best card against the insurgent right. There is a slim, but not entirely negligible, chance that a much wider rethink across the EU will now be prompted by the British decision.

This is not something that will be decided here. Is it possible that leaders in Brussels will eventually react, once the anger has cooled, to take a different path: to listen much more acutely to the sounds of pain caused by the euro experiment; to do a proper deal for Greece; to reassert democratic accountability (much more Council of Ministers, much less Commission); and to reassess free movement? Writing it, I know that I sound like a deluded optimist, but the possibility deserves to be filed alongside all the grimmest alternatives.

Keeping all this cautiously in mind, let’s look at the British establishment cock-up. According to one of those involved, this all started at a pizza restaurant at Chicago O’Hare Airport at the time of a Nato conference in 2012, when David Cameron and his closest political allies decided that the only way of scuppering Ukip and the Euro-hostile right of the Conservative Party was to give the British people a referendum.

The brutal way of putting this is that Cameron decided to put party management and tactics ahead of grand strategy, grossly overrated his own negotiating skills, and has been badly bitten in the bottom accordingly. He has often looked like a chess player who plays the next move brilliantly yet fails to see three moves ahead. There is, however, a more generous explanation – which is simply that this referendum was inevitable; that it was more than time for restless British voters to reassess their membership of a union that has changed dramatically since we joined, both in extent and in depth.

***

At any rate, whatever his mixed motives, Cameron believed that he could negotiate a deal with his EU partners so good that he would win a subsequent referendum. A great deal of this was based on a second huge miscalculation – about his friend Angela Merkel.

As a result, the whole referendum process was fixed around the negotiation. In other words, the feeling was: “Give the plebs their plebiscite. It’s pretty safe. The Continentals will be scared enough to give us a great deal and, therefore, the people will vote for Nurse.” As soon as it became clear that Mrs Merkel was not prepared to countenance an end to the free movement of people, the plan began to fall apart. I vividly remember interviewing Cameron as the details of the negotiation became clear and thinking to myself, between his explanations: “This isn’t nearly enough.”

This mistake was followed by another – one that the Scottish National Party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, publicly warned against months ago. Those running the Remain campaign always believed in “Project Fear”; that a barrage of warnings by the Treasury, big business, banks and international organisations would simply terrify ordinary voters – pensioners and workers alike – and pulverise the arguments for leaving.

It had worked, after all, hadn’t it, in Scotland in 2014? A close confidant of the Prime Minister told me, when I questioned him about the wisdom of this: “On the contrary, we need more fear. Fear is the only thing that can win it for us . . . We need lots of fear. We need as much fear as we can get.”

But the Scottish parallel proved to be a delusion. First, this kind of “you will lose your pensions, you will lose your jobs” warning infuriated many Scottish voters in 2014, who stuck their fingers in their ears and moved over to the Yes campaign. Second, although in the end threats of doom may have swung things, Scotland was a country of five million people, suffering from a falling oil price and taking a decision about a union that had been around for three centuries. If, right at the end and by a narrow margin, Scots voted two years ago to stay inside the UK, that was not a close enough comparison for this referendum; there were far more people involved, a bigger country, a much looser and more recent union.

It was the specificity of the Project Fear warnings that did most damage: households £4,300 worse off, house prices falling by 18 per cent, and so forth. By being incredibly detailed, the Remain campaigners lost the ear of a dubious public. That meant that the much more frightening warnings by business leaders, talking about companies they knew and understood, didn’t get enough traction. Granted, we still don’t know; Project Fear may be vindicated yet. (The early falls on the money markets and stock markets tell us very little – they may be an overreaction to previous and recent complacency.)

But the most significant reason Project Fear failed was that it was confronted by a larger project of fear: the fear of uncontrolled and uncontrollable migration running, cumulatively, into the millions for many years ahead. Frank lies were told. Gross exaggeration ran riot. This was a fight between people who like living among migrants from Europe and employing them, on the one hand, and those competing against migrants (and failing) for jobs and wages. Neither David Cameron nor Theresa May seemed to have a plausible response to “uncontrolled immigration”. That may be because, inside the EU, there wasn’t one. Jeremy Corbyn responded with interesting ideas about wage rates and employment laws which did not address, at all, central fears about numbers and identity.

It is on this, above all issues, that “the plain people of England” spoke most compellingly against the elites, from Westminster politicians and Whitehall mandarins to London actresses, pop stars and media grandees. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage were absolutely right to point out that immigration from eastern Europe – though it has hugely benefited people who employ drivers and domestic servants, and who want to pay less for their electrical or plumbing repairs – keeps down the wages of indigenous working-class people and, in many cases, makes it harder for them to find work in hotels, in restaurants, on farms and elsewhere. Aggregated economic statistics mean nothing compared to personal experience. If you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. (Well, in fact, you have got something, but it feels that way.) When George Osborne warned of an economic apocalypse, people with nothing who felt they had no opportunities just put their fingers in their ears and went “la-la-la”.

There were people who saw what was happening and understood that disregarded Lower and Middle Britain was fed up to the back teeth and ready to revolt: some trade union leaders – whose job it was, after all, to represent them – and some Labour MPs.

***

The Labour leadership, however, seems to have got the message far too late and far too weakly, and that was a function of its own political philosophy. Labour leaders of the Jeremy Corbyn era don’t like to talk about immigration and have based much of their inner-city politics on the rights and causes of migrant communities already in the UK. The menacing noises about a leadership challenge grew louder by the hour and then turned into open revolt.

There is something tragicomic about this. The Corbyn revolution was about the overthrow of the last remnants of the Blairites, accused by party activists of not thinking enough or caring enough about ordinary Labour voters – of becoming too rich, too close to the elites, and infatuated by neoliberal, post-Thatcher economic solutions. The Corbyn movement began as an anti-elitist rebellion. But now, from their base among Londoners and students whose politics are a million miles away from the views of angry, white, non-metropolitan, working-class voters the Corbynistas, too, found themselves unable to get a hearing.

So, what is the result of all this? Wherever one looks, the British political class has come close to destroying itself. There is no source of authority. As Kenneth Clarke has noted, we have a hole, in effect, where a government should be.

The Remain faction of Tory MPs has no leader now. Many of them are bruised and livid against the triumphant Brexiteers. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and the rest now have to deal with outraged Tories who accused them of lying, a panicky and angry City, big business leaders who feel betrayed, and an EU in a dark mood. All of this is taking place during the inevitable turmoil and struggle of a Conservative leadership campaign. It is no doubt hyperbole to say we have absolutely no government at the moment: there is still a prime minister, there is a cabinet, and there is a party with a paper majority in the Commons. But if “government” means a group of people with a mandate and a plan, and the parliamentary authority to carry it through – well, we certainly don’t have that.

What happens in Scotland and Northern Ireland now adds to the sense of crisis. Nicola Sturgeon has this problem: she would very much like to secure terms for Scotland staying inside the EU before the rest of the UK leaves. That would minimise disruption, give Scots a secure alternative haven and prepare perfectly for a successful referendum on independence. The problem is that the EU is unlikely to countenance this. First, Scotland may be a country but it is not a nation in EU terms, and therefore has no locus. At the very least, under current EU law, Scotland would need to be a customs union – which it isn’t.

The alternative is that Scotland leaves alongside the rest of the UK and then has to reapply, after an independence referendum. The problems here multiply: Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP may have lost momentum and because new applicants have to join the euro, and will be under great pressure to ­accept the Schengen Agreement, she would be going to the Scottish electorate offering an independent Scotland using the euro (not the world’s most popular currency at the moment, to put it gently) and requiring a hard border with England. This seems to me a hard sell to Scottish voters, especially long after the initial Brexit shock will have faded. What we don’t know is how enthusiastic the rest of the European Union would be about bringing in an independent Scotland briskly, to punish Westminster, and how threateningly Spain’s Catalan/Basque difficulties will loom.

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein is calling for an all-Ireland referendum. There is now a border problem there as well, for the first time since the 1998 peace agreement. Tory ministers dismiss this but the dynamics of Irish politics, too, have been dramatically changed by the Brexit vote.

The UK could, naturally, survive all of this completely intact. But the possibility, at least, of a relatively lonely England is something that the new and victorious Brexit Tories now have to confront.

In usual circumstances, we would expect an early general election. There is a strong basic democratic case for one: otherwise, we get a prime minister, never chosen by the country, attempting to enact a manifesto no party has ever stood on in a general election. But we don’t really have the political parties to contest it, do we? Ukip is in chipper form. Like so many nationalist movements, it may survive achieving its goal. But the Conservatives are hopelessly divided. The outgoing Prime Minister believes the likely incoming Tory leader – a certain flaxen-haired fellow – is going to put a bomb under the British economy and has told outright untruths. He is trying hard to stop Boris but Boris may well be unstoppable. Another (former) prime minister, Sir John Major, tells us we cannot trust the National Health Service into the hands of Johnson, Gove and Duncan Smith. The amiable Alistair Burt, the MP for North-East Bedfordshire, has promised Brexit Tories that what is to come will make the Maastricht rebellion seem like a tea party.

No, on the whole, they don’t look like a party aching to face the electorate. You might expect the Labour leader to fight for an early election and try to rally the Commons to his side. But then Jeremy Corbyn faces his own rebellion.

At the moment, the coup against him seems to face insuperable hurdles. There isn’t a plausible alternative candidate so far. Above all, he retains the support of most Labour members, and it is they and trade unionists who will have the final say, whatever the Parliamentary Labour Party does.

If Corbyn sees off the plotters, what next? A united Labour opposition could go into a general election saying explicitly that it rejected the Brexit decision – that the vote was based on lies and scaremongering – and that, if elected, they would not implement Article 50: in effect, not leave the EU. That is what the Liberal Democrats are doing. For Labour, it would be a huge gamble. It would be a slap in the face for the majority who voted on 23 June and could lead to a different kind of revolt. But it would give the Labour Party a very clear purpose and agenda that could reach out into parts of Britain Corbyn has no chance of reaching just now.

Naturally, the politicians have noticed all this. So we are hearing a great deal of optimistic whistling from leading Conservatives, insisting that they can work together happily and cordially for the rest of this parliament – trying to persuade us that they’ve forgotten everything they said about each other during the referendum campaign, and that people who believe Brexit is an economic catastrophe will nevertheless roll up their sleeves and . . . er . . . make it happen.

Clearly, the best hope for the Conservatives is that such warnings turn out to be piffle and that we are soon enjoying an economic upswing, even as the EU continues to struggle. If Boris Johnson or another leader is indeed able to achieve “Norway-plus” then the Brexiteers are close to being home free. Yet there are signs already that the Boris camp is slightly panicky – as well it might be – about a rash of racist and xenophobic politics immediately after the results. He is right, of course, to call for inclusion and calm, though it is fatuous to suggest that immigration was not a critical issue in the campaign. If he wants to win long term, he has to get a different deal from Brussels, much better than the one that Cameron got – a long shot, but not impossible. For the Brexiteers, time is very short. They have to stay together, and yet there will be tensions: Rupert Murdoch is running Gove against Johnson, or, at any rate, would like to.

My guess is that parliamentary chaos and an overwhelming sense of drift at the centre of politics will nevertheless propel us into an election later this year or early next year. If so, that will mean that, tactically, the Brexiteers, who don’t want to trigger Article 50 just yet, must do so before the people are asked for their view again.

And, of course, if it turns out that George Osborne’s blood-curdling warnings about jobs and investment turn out to be even half accurate, then those same cheerful gentlemen will have many personal apologies to make to people who do lose their jobs, or see prices rise and their pensions fall. There is plenty of anger still to come.

That’s not so surprising: after all, this was a kind of revolution. It has been a very British revolution, accomplished through the ballot box and after a great deal of nonsense spoken on all sides. The plain people, of England, mainly, have spoken at last and their voice has blown over not just a constitutional link with the European continent but also almost the entire political class – and most of the pollsters – and oh, go on, then – us clever-Dick journalists as well.

Andrew Marr presents “The Andrew Marr Show” on BBC1. His Brexit thriller, “Head of State”, is published by Fourth Estate

Andrew Marr is a broadcaster and journalist. Formerly the BBC’s Political Editor, he presents the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 on Sundays and Start the Week on Monday mornings on Radio 4.

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit lies