The Brexit PM
15-21 July issue
The May doctrine: Helen Lewis and Stephen Bush ask whether we should believe in the new Prime Minister’s rebrand.
George Eaton on the Labour leadership contest – and why Jeremy Corbyn believes he will win again.
Jason Cowley on the failure of David Cameron: Theresa May must mend a broken inheritance.
Ed Smith on the Brexit plague: One by one, the leaders of the Leave campaign are being destroyed.
View from America: John Bew on how the Brexit vote has been received across the pond.
Tanya Gold on Boris Johnson: “Now he’s been found out, he can finally stop lying.”
William Keegan’s Diary: What the bookies knew about Brexit.
Richard Dawkins on why we need a second EU referendum – to unite Britain.
The forgotten game: Michael Henderson on England, the English character and the slow decline of cricket.
Personal Story: John Simpson remembers his tormented great-uncle Harold, who survived the Somme.
Cover Story: The May doctrine.
The NS’s deputy editor, Helen Lewis, and special reporter, Stephen Bush, explore Theresa May’s record and conclude that although the new Prime Minister’s beliefs are more unpredictable and nuanced than those held by many of her colleagues, there are still many reasons for left-wing voters to be worried:
Over the past two weeks, a strange phenomenon began to afflict Labour MPs, left-wing think tankers and progressives of all sorts. They started to wish fervently that Theresa May would triumph in the Tory leadership election. Yes, the woman who sent vans around north London ordering immigrants who had overstayed their visas to “go home”; she who has long been the darling of the Daily Mail, which praised her lukewarm speech in favour of staying in the EU in terms it normally reserves for actresses who have lost their baby weight freakishly fast; the woman who (erroneously) claimed in 2011 that human rights laws had allowed an asylum-seeker to avoid deportation because he owned a cat.
May’s rivals for the Conservative leadership included the blustering Boris Johnson, the neocon Michael Gove (“I think with Michael as prime minister we’d go to war with at least three countries at once,” as Ken Clarke put it), the disgraced Liam Fox, the largely untested Stephen Crabb and, finally, Andrea Leadsom, the brittle Brexiteer who crumbled under scrutiny. May turned out to be the only serious candidate.
When the contest came down to the final two, she continued to pursue a quiet, calm strategy. On the night it was revealed that Andrea Leadsom had suggested that being a mother gave her the edge over May, who does not have children, her rival was on the front page of the Telegraph talking about her “positive vision” for the country and proffering a “clean campaign” pledge.
Then, at lunchtime on 11 July, Leadsom pulled out, saying a nine-week campaign would be “undesirable” and that she could not hope to govern when only 25 per cent of Tory MPs supported her. (This had the happy side effect for Conservatives of delivering a swipe at Jeremy Corbyn, who enjoys the confidence of only 20 per cent of Labour MPs.) Immediately, May rushed back to Westminster from Birmingham, where she had given the first speech of her campaign, to be acclaimed as the new party leader and our new Prime Minister.
With that coronation, the yardstick against which May must be judged has changed. No longer is she merely preferable to the British Tea Party stylings of Leadsom; she must be judged on her own record and professed opinions. As we outline below, these are decidedly mixed.
[. . .]
The new Prime Minister’s long tenure at the Home Office has given her little opportunity to set out her beliefs on other matters, including foreign policy. She voted in favour of the Iraq War in 2003 and for intervention in Syria in 2013 and 2015. She voted against taking in more child refugees who had reached Europe, and promised that all refugees would be screened twice before entry to the UK in case they were terrorists. She first visited Israel in 2014, and later that year she told a Conservative Friends of Israel meeting: “I – and the whole British government – will always defend Israel’s right to defend itself.”
On social issues, her views have evolved. She voted not to repeal Section 28 (which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools) in 2000, but backed civil partnerships in 2004 and same-sex marriage a decade later, declaring: “If two people care for each other, if they love each other, then they should be able to get married.”
She also won the admiration of many in the feminist movement by introducing a law to criminalise “coercive control”, a tactic often used by domestic abusers. However, there is disappointment at the continued detention of women at the Yarl’s Wood immigration centre.
Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow in Essex, told Jason Cowley: “Theresa really does believe in compassionate conservatism. Her speech this week about putting workers on boards was groundbreaking for a Conservative leader. This is potentially huge for us because we’ve got to become the party of social justice.”
George Eaton on the Labour leadership contest.
The NS’s political editor, George Eaton, reflects on the struggle within the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s fightback:
On the day of Corbyn’s election in September 2015, there was one source of consolation for his many ideological opponents: “At least we’ve got Tom [Watson],” an MP told me. The party’s deputy leader, who hails from Labour’s old right, was elected on the same day with his own mandate.
With his strong trade union connections, Watson was one of the organisers of the 2006 coup against Tony Blair. Though he was at Glastonbury when the mass shadow cabinet resignations began on 26 June, Watson swiftly became the pivotal figure.
He told Corbyn in a series of meetings that he should resign because he’d lost the confidence of MPs. When the leader refused to go, despite reportedly wavering, Watson began three days of negotiations with union leaders. “A last throw of the dice” was how he described it at the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting on 4 July. The party’s major union affiliates – Unite, the GMB and Unison – had been largely loyal to Corbyn since his election victory.
Watson hoped, however, that Labour’s parlous opinion poll ratings, and the threat of sustained Conservative rule, could persuade them to relent.
On 2 July, some rebels were buoyed by a YouGov poll showing 59 per cent of Unite members wanted Corbyn to resign before the general election (immediately, in the case of 49 per cent). But the survey was of little concern to Len McCluskey, the head of Unite, Labour’s largest affiliate and donor. His support depended not on Unite members (just 15 per cent of whom voted in the 2013 general secretary election) but on the unions’ left-wing activists. McCluskey’s intention to seek re-election in 2018 meant he could not afford to alienate them by turning on Corbyn.
“He’s just being disingenuous,” said a senior Labour MP of McCluskey, who had accused the PLP of a “squalid coup” against Corbyn. “Len calls us weak but he’s too cowardly to face up to the likes of Steve Turner [Unite’s assistant general secretary].”
McCluskey’s refusal to countenance Corbyn’s departure led Tom Watson to end negotiations on 9 July. “For years I’ve been told that I’m a fixer,” Watson told the PLP meeting two days later. “Well, I’ve tried to fix this and I’ve failed.” He added: “I’ve got my own mandate but if I lost your confidence I would resign – and Jeremy should have done.”
Yet Corbyn, who was elected with the backing of just 14 MPs, is unfazed by losing support in the PLP that he never truly had. It is the obligation he feels to the hundreds of thousands who voted for him, the members and activists who yearn for authentic socialism, that sustains him. Under Labour’s one-member-one-vote system, introduced under Ed Miliband in 2014, the members rather than the MPs are sovereign. This is the “direct democracy” for which Tony Benn long agitated.
The day before the NEC met, Angela Eagle, who for months had been planning to stand for the leadership, formally launched her challenge. Eagle, who deputised for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions, is admired by MPs for her work rate, tenacity and intellect. But many in the party were underwhelmed by her launch, at which she struggled to name a divide with Corbyn other than his perceived unelectability. Asked why she could beat Theresa May, she simply replied: “Because she’s a Tory.”
Corbyn’s team is confident that he can beat Eagle by exploiting her past support for the Iraq War as well as military interventions in Syria. Several senior Eagle supporters privately confessed to me that she would likely only narrow Corbyn’s margin of victory.
In the Observations section of this week’s issue, Eaton also profiles the leading trade unionist and Labour kingmaker Len McCluskey, who has refused to countenance Corbyn’s resignation:
McCluskey served as national secretary of the TGWU [Transport and General Workers’ Union] general workers’ group from 1990 and in 2007 was appointed assistant general secretary for industrial strategy of the newly created Unite (founded through a merger of the TGWU and Amicus). It was in this role that he achieved national renown, earning the nickname “Red Len” for his championing of the 2010 British Airways cabin crew strike.
In November that year, he was elected as general secretary. Unite played a decisive role in the Labour leadership contest that year through its endorsement of Ed Miliband. “Thank you,” said Miliband after the result was announced, putting his arm round co-general secretaries, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley.
During the Labour leader’s first conference speech, however, McCluskey – who was elected as general secretary soon afterwards – fired a warning shot. “Rubbish!” he cried from the floor, after Miliband condemned “overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes”.
As Labour became increasingly dependent on Unite’s funding, McCluskey’s influence grew. After Miliband supported a public-sector pay cap of 1 per cent and further spending cuts, Unite’s general secretary accused him of “being dragged back into the swamp of bond-market orthodoxy”. “Ed barely spoke about fiscal responsibility after that,” a former shadow cabinet minister told me.
With the notable exception of Trident renewal, a project on which thousands of Unite members’ jobs depend, McCluskey’s relations with Corbyn have been far more cordial. Yet his support for the Labour leader has never been unconditional. In January 2016, he stated that Corbyn had “two or three years” to develop an alternative to austerity. The underlying message was clear: Unite’s backing is not indefinite.
Labour’s rebels long hoped that after his anticipated 2018 bid for re-election, McCluskey would turn against Corbyn. “He wouldn’t need to keep the left onside then,” one told me.
But the reckoning has come earlier than many people expected. To defeat Corbyn now, Labour MPs will also have to defeat McCluskey.
*PLUS* on newstatesman.com: Neil Kinnock on his own experience of facing a leadership challenge in the 1980s.
Editor’s Note: Jason Cowley on David Cameron’s “epic failure” and Mrs May’s mission to save Britain.
The NS editor, Jason Cowley, reflects on the legacy of David Cameron, the rise of Theresa May, and French sang-froid:
Who is to blame for Brexit? Bernard-Henri Lévy asked during a flamboyant performance at a Henry Jackson Society event at Westminster on Tuesday afternoon. Immaculate in his trademark unbuttoned white shirt and well-cut dark-grey suit, tanned and with his thick hair elaborately combed over, the French philosopher-journalist expressed “great concern and anxiety” about Brexit and the decline of Europe. His address was a lament and a sustained accusation.
“Who is to blame?” he asked again and again. “Those who voted. Those who lied to the voters for sure. Those foreign leaders from the extreme right [he cited Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump] who encouraged it.” He never once mentioned David Cameron as one of the guilty men of Brexit but the former prime minister was implicated in much of what was said, all the same.
European field of ruins
Lévy, or “BHL”, as he is known, also scourged the “excessive progressivism” of the European Union as well as those politicians and bureaucrats who with “eyes shut” were prepared to “sit quietly in the back seat of history” believing that “the European project was insinuated in the providential course of history”. BHL said that the leaders of the Remain campaign made, at best, only a merchant’s case for staying in the EU. They were never able to say that “Europe is great, because they did not feel it”. (At times, he conflated Europe and the EU; the UK of course remains of the former if for not much longer of the latter.) The Remainers suffered from a lack of soul, of ideas and of spirit. You might say that BHL suffers from a surfeit of all of these.
Cameron’s biggest blunder
When the end came, it was merciless: David Cameron was hurried out of Downing Street a humiliated and defeated man, brought down by his own insouciance and gambler’s instinct. His is an epic failure, comparable to what befell Anthony Eden after the Suez crisis (Eden won a comfortable majority at the general election of 1955 but was gone less than two years later) or Neville Chamberlain, who is for ever stained by the shame of appeasement. Cameron is the prime minister who lost Europe as a result of an attempt to settle an internal party dispute, and perhaps, ultimately, the United Kingdom as well.
As Michael Portillo wrote in a piece for Portland Communications, “David Cameron’s decision to promise a referendum on British membership of the EU will be remembered as the greatest blunder ever made by a British prime minister. There was nothing inevitable about it. It was a calculation made when he led a coalition and had little hope of gaining a majority at the election that loomed in 2015 . . . But in any case, if he seriously thought that leaving the EU would be calamitous for Britain, there is no defence for taking that national risk in an attempt to manage his party or to improve its chances of election.”
I am told by allies of the former PM that he is “devastated”, as no doubt he is. This week, he said farewell with characteristic good grace: one never doubted his fluency or essential decency. What you doubted was his conviction, his soul, his spirit. The one moment of authentic passion he showed during the referendum campaign was when, during a BBC Question Time programme, an audience member likened Cameron’s botched EU renegotiation to [Neville] Chamberlain’s boast that he had returned from Munich having secured peace with honour. The reference to Chamberlain seemed to panic Cameron, and suddenly you saw something of his passionate nature. But BHL is right: he did not love Europe enough. He did not believe in it. He did not feel it.
May’s monumental task
In the speech that helped Cameron to win the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2010, he said of the Labour government: “It has made promises that no one believes, passed powers to an EU that nobody trusts . . .” It’s true, he did not trust or believe in the EU. What he believed in were his own powers of persuasion, his charm, if you will. Yet he won the general election largely because his chief opponent, Ed Miliband, was so feeble and because voters in England feared a Labour-SNP coalition. Now Cameron must live with the consequences of that mistrust, and Theresa May has the monumental task of trying to prevent the break-up of the UK while simultaneously negotiating a post-Brexit settlement as well as keeping her own Eurosceptic ultras onside. That’s quite some inheritance.
I watched the France-Portugal Euro final at a party hosted by the French ambassador, Sylvie Bermann (an occasional New Statesman contributor), at her official residence in London. It was a cool evening but guests mingled contentedly in the garden until, just before kick-off, we were drawn inside by a cry of “It’s the Marseillaise”.
We watched on the big screen as the French players sang the national anthem and soon nearly everyone in the room was joining in as well. The French are passing through a prolonged period of torment and mourning: but at least the Euros offered some respite. “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of 11 named people,” wrote the historian Eric Hobsbawm, and this was especially so for the French at this tournament, at this time.
The final score, with Portugal scoring late in extra time to win, was not what any of us would have wished. Even so, something strange and moving happened at the residence as the referee blew the final whistle: rather than expressions of resentment there was only gracious and spontaneous applause. Vive la France.
The Brexit plague: Ed Smith on how the campaign to leave the EU destroyed a string of top political careers.
Ed Smith diagnoses a deadly disease that is killing the careers of Leave campaigners one by one: the Brexit plague. How many more victims will it claim?
Brexit: the career killer. Boris Johnson: humiliated and felled; Michael Gove: tainted by his ruthlessness against Johnson and also by his late acceptance of conventional wisdom (that Johnson is talented but unreliable); Nigel Farage: resigned; Andrea Leadsom: brutally and almost instantly exposed as out of her depth.
With Theresa May in No 10, experience and competence have been restored. For that reason, there is room in May’s cabinet for some of Brexit’s fallen leaders. For the time being, however, the Remain campaign’s repeated warnings that Brexit would be bad for jobs have already proved prescient in one respect: the referendum has destroyed the prospects of Leave’s top brass. The Brexit crown won’t stay on anyone’s head for more than a few days.
We once imagined, ironically, that the Brexit movement would be vulnerable to cynical exploitation by careerist politicians who were keen to make a name for themselves. They would climb aboard the Brexit bus, take an easy ride, and get off higher up the mountain. Quite the reverse. Politicians have not ridden to power on the back of Brexit; Brexit has ridden to power on the back of them, breaking them in the process.
Like a superbug, Brexit inhabits its host spokesmen and women before choking the life out of them. The illness takes a horrible course, first imbuing the victim with great energy and enthusiasm, as though the ailment was in fact a cheering tonic. Then, at the peak of Brexit bounce, when the victim’s mood seems most adulatory, despair and withdrawal set in.
To adapt the celebrated lines spoken by Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited, does Brexit, politically speaking, spot and kill everyone it touches?
[. . .] I must make an important distinction between the perfectly legitimate and finely balanced argument about whether Britain should be outside the EU – the Brexit debate that might have been – and the one that actually happened, with its £350m a week for new hospitals and the exploitation (or wilful blindness) of the emotive power of anti-immigration. The first debate, the proper one, might well have allowed the finest Brexit minds to shine. The second (that is: real events) has left them vulnerable, floundering amid the tectonic shifts in the political landscape which they helped to initiate.
View from America: John Bew on Brexit from across the pond.
The NS contributing editor John Bew considers the US reaction to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union:
Understandably, most Americans viewed these events through the prism of their own country’s presidential campaign. For some, the Brexit vote was another symptom of the age of anti-intellectualism and populism into which we have entered. More than most, indeed, it was intellectuals and academics who seemed to have been caught off guard by the thunderclap that had been building on both sides of the Atlantic.
To the few who had thought more deeply about social and economic conditions in the heartland, rather than living on the intellectual frontiers, it was clear that the new age of discontent had long tentacles. That the poorest in our society had mostly voted for Brexit was no surprise. A friend gave me a copy of Robert D Putnam’s Our Kids: the American Dream in Crisis, which was published last year. It describes the steady erosion of the social mobility implicit in the promise of the American dream. Putnam begins with an analysis of his former high-school class in small-town Ohio to show how most of his peers had the opportunity to live lives that were materially better and emotionally more fulfilling than their parents’. Social progress for the next generation has stalled, however, in an era of fewer jobs, family breakdown and fragmented communities. According to Putnam, Donald Trump “lit a spark”, but the “dry tinder” had been there for many years.
As for how Brexit has been perceived in Washington, DC, the foreign policy establishment is not so despairing as one might expect. Since the Second World War, Americans have urged Britain to play a leading role in Europe but has been rather vague as to what this means.
Henry Kissinger was once reported to have said: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” That he cannot recall saying this illustrates that it is something of a phantom scenario. Indeed, although Kissinger would prefer to see a strong and cohesive Europe, he is under no illusions about the cracks opening up in it elsewhere. To that end, he has warned those engaged in the divorce against taking punitive measures.
“The coin of the realm for statesmen,” he wrote recently, “is not anguish or recrimination. It should be to transform setback into opportunity.”
Since the referendum, Barack Obama has rowed back from his claims that Britain will be at the back of the queue in trade deal negotiations and has spoken more warmly about the “special relationship” than he did previously.
The American view is that there is an optimistic scenario in which the UK – still one of the strongest military powers in Europe and a natural ally of the US on issues such as Russia and the Middle East – becomes a more dynamic actor on the world stage. But what excites grave concern is the prospect of the break-up of the United Kingdom. This, more than anything else, is taken as the litmus test of Britain’s seriousness as a state and a world power.
Winston Churchill talked of Britain operating at the heart of “three majestic circles”: the “empire and Commonwealth”, “the English-speaking world” and a “united Europe”. At least one of those has now broken. In Kissinger’s view, the first step in putting things back together is to discover a sense of “self-confidence”. Yet this is in short supply in our political classes.
Tanya Gold on Boris Johnson: The press created and destroyed Boris. It was an absolute failure of journalism.
In a guest column, Tanya Gold admits that she is ashamed to say she was one of many media “enablers” of the narcissistic former mayor of London:
I love writing about Boris Johnson so much that I could not bear to write his political obituary, even though he has at last been outed as a terrible politician, almost an anti-politician, for he could barely make an alliance with himself. I think a lot of hacks did. I watched the way they resented and punished him for his political ambitions. This was pride in the trade. We poke the monkeys in the cage, but we do not presume to be monkeys, for they are lesser than we. (Never underestimate the self-importance of the journalist.) Was journalism – and Johnson was to journalists what stars are to actors: that is, he wrote thrilling bollocks, often lies – not good enough for him, when he was already more famous than he deserved? (He was fired from his first job at the Times for inventing quotes but he recovered and become a star at the Telegraph, writing on the EU.) The only story he ever broke was himself.
He commissioned me when he was editor of the Spectator. I liked the surface of him – the falling hair, the dirty eyes, the stupid voice. But then I learnt what he did to Sonia Purnell when he was her colleague in Brussels. He sent her the wrong way to her first event; the man with everything harms the woman who has only herself. (Her revenge was a fair and penetrating biography; his was trying to get her banned from the BBC.) And there was Petronella Wyatt. He wasn’t nice to women. After that, I hated him; and I could never escape the feeling that all of this was somehow about his father, Stanley – and surely politics is more precious than an Oedipal growl?
The way we followed him was a wind-up. I remember in Bournemouth in 2006 he made some minor gaffe relating to Jamie Oliver and we chased him until he was a man in the midst of a forest of cameras. The rest of conference, engaged in embracing the Tory Tree, was forgotten. It must have looked ridiculous from a distance. He was certainly furious when we cornered him; we were treating him like Beyoncé when he wanted to be . . . I’m not sure, really; most narcissists only want to be themselves but they’re afraid to be.
If this was our homage – we helped him become the most visible politician in Britain, after all, and he was Maverick to David Cameron’s Iceman – it was also our insult. We bring the rope. You bring the man. We colluded in his self-destruction; we encouraged it with our attention, which was more than he merited. You might call us enablers. After that, he always looked like a man who’d climbed too far up a beanstalk. His visible terror on leading Brexit to victory did not surprise me at all, because for him there was nothing beyond the want. I suspect he is best suited to absolute monarchy as a political system, and I wondered if he would have been happier as Louis XIV or a member of the Rolling Stones.
We made him look trivial, in our passive-aggressive way, and he was. We teased out the lies and the adulteries until he became a celebrity. It was cruel, really, and idiotic, an absolute failure of journalism as a trade, and the wages of our folly are more enormous than we could ever have imagined. A responsible media would simply have ignored Johnson, made space for better men – made space, perhaps, for him to be a better man. But he was one of our own. We kept him alive until we tried to kill him.
[. . .]
This is why he was destroyed so quickly: he had never believed in anything, and then he was exposed as not even believing in himself. Michael Gove was only a resentful trigger. I wonder if Alexander Johnson [his real name] was relieved that the burden of being Boris had been lifted; for when you are found out you can stop lying – but I cannot say.
William Keegan’s Diary: What the bookies knew about Brexit.
William Keegan, a former economics editor of the Observer and a keen follower of horse racing, notes that the bookies had it right all along about Brexit:
The bookmakers have been much in the news recently, not least because a lot of my fellow members of the Remain camp relied too much on what they thought the bookies were telling them when the opinion polls were far from reassuring.
The key point so many commentators missed was that, although the far greater weight of money went on Remain, far more individual bets were being placed on Brexit. Until Andrea Leadsom’s sudden withdrawal, the same pattern seemed to be emerging in the Conservative leadership race. But we have now been spared.
How did I know this – and start considering Irish citizenship several months ago? Well, I have loved horse racing from a very early age and am in close touch with the bookies. Throughout the referendum campaign I received regular bulletins from William Hill about what lay beneath the odds that, superficially, suggested that Remain was a racing certainty. At one stage, if one had placed £100 on Remain one might have won only £15 (the odds varied a lot).
After a searing experience at Ascot one year, I decided never to back an odds-on favourite ever again. In which context I should like to make a confession. Many decades ago, in this very periodical, I wrote an article arguing that the bookies should be nationalised. Subsequent reflection has convinced me that this was a mistake. Their presence adds greatly to the enjoyment of a trip to the racecourse. Indeed, as I witnessed yet again at Newmarket’s July meeting, there is something special about the social mix, and general air of contentment – win or lose – that one experiences at the races.
After the fall
In common with most readers, I imagine, I have found it difficult to get away from the horrors of the referendum result, tending to alternate between depression and black humour. As a young journalist I followed closely the abortive efforts of Harold Macmillan and then Harold Wilson to overcome President de Gaulle’s intransigent “Non”, and Edward Heath’s final triumph in the early 1970s thanks partly to his good relationship with President Pompidou. It beggars belief that, after decades of trying to enter what is now the European Union, we are likely throw it all away.
Or are we? Almost certainly Mrs Leadsom, the last Brexiteer left standing after the shoot out at Gove-Johnson Corral, would have done so. There is more hope with Mrs May , although it was a terrible thing for her to frighten all those immigrants who are so vital to our economy by raising the possibility of using them as “bargaining chips” in negotiations with the EU.
Richard Dawkins: Why Britain needs a second referendum.
The author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, argues that the only way to know for sure that Brexit is the will of the majority of the British people is to rerun the EU referendum:
“The people of Britain have spoken. Now we must all bury our differences, rally round and pull together with good grace.” Fat chance! It sounds good. Yet the problem is that too many of us don’t believe the people of Britain really have spoken.
Some of us don’t believe the people of Britain were ever qualified to speak on such a complex and sophisticated question in the first place. We are those who believe not in plebiscites but in parliamentary democracy, where the people elect representatives qualified – and paid – to deliberate on complex issues and take decisions after due diligence and careful examination of all the repercussions. Our misgivings about plebiscites were alarmingly confirmed by the number of people in Britain who googled “What is the EU?” the day after voting to leave it. Also by the many irresponsible Leave voters who have belatedly voiced their regret: “I didn’t think my vote mattered. I only wanted to give Cameron a kicking. I never thought Leave would win.”
Setting aside us unfashionable elitists, it is now admitted that the Leave campaign was glaringly mendacious (think of the Brexit bus plastered with its £350m lie) and the perpetrators of the lies have now, predictably, gone to ground, washing their hands of the mess they have wished upon us.
[. . .]
You cannot hold a second vote simply in the hope of getting a different result. That’s no way to run a democracy, and it is poignantly revealing that Nigel Farage, anticipating back in May that his side would lose narrowly, proposed that there should be a second referendum.
No, the justification for a second referendum is much stronger than that. It is that, if the result were to go the same way twice, we would all have good grounds for accepting that the people really have spoken their mind and truly favour the huge upheaval that is Brexit. Even we staunch EU loyalists would then swallow our misgivings and unite behind a Brexited Britain. We would become good losers, prepared to pull our weight and loyally make the best of it.
The forgotten game: Michael Henderson on English cricket.
Michael Henderson mourns the slow decline of cricket. Once England’s national sport, it has become invisible for many people today:
When England play Pakistan at Lord’s on Thursday, in the first match of a new series, the ground will be full. In the Coronation Garden behind the Victorian pavilion, there will be talk of “Kipper” Cowdrey, good old Goochie and maybe even the valiant Steele. Beyond the Grace Gate, named after the most celebrated of those fabled men whom [Roy] Harper sang about [in his song “When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease” in 1975], there will be indifference. The summer game, squeezed out of view this year by football’s European Championship, as well as the rituals of Wimbledon and the Open, is drifting towards insignificance.
How often do you now see children playing it in parks, or families improvising games on the beach? As for street cricket, with stumps chalked on walls, it has not been spotted in years. Public schools, which have wonderful playing fields and teachers who are prepared to devote to cricket the long hours that it demands, continue to do the game proud. The England team is full of public school boys, led by Cook, who attended Bedford. In state schools, alas, cricket is merely a rumour that many teachers don’t want their pupils to hear in case it gives them ideas.
At a recreational level, too, the story is changing. In “The Whitsun Weddings”, Philip Larkin described seeing from a train carriage the Odeon, a cooling tower and “someone running up to bowl”. Yet fewer people play the game these days – between 2013 and 2014, for instance, there was a 7 per cent fall in the number of players aged between 14 and 65 across England and Wales. As a result, there are fewer cricketers of Test standard. It can’t be ignored that, increasingly, England have to promote players from the swelling ranks of those born overseas. This month, for instance, the team replaced Nick Compton (born in Durban, South Africa) with Gary Ballance (born in Harare, Zimbabwe). Both men went to Harrow.
As football becomes ever more newsworthy, even at the height of summer, cricket is banished to the margins of newspapers, including those that, until a few summers ago, served the game so loyally. Once there were dozens of broadsheet reporters, well known and much loved: Alan Gibson of the Times, who was forever changing trains at Didcot; David Foot, who wrote lyrical capsule essays for the Guardian; and Dicky Rutnagur of the Telegraph, who – uniquely – saw both Garry Sobers and Ravi Shastri hit six sixes in an over.
Now, unless there is hard news, or some celebrity dust to sprinkle, sports desks are not interested in cricket. One experienced reporter, who left his post at the paper where Cardus invented sportswriting, says, “I was fed up with having to answer the same question every morning: ‘What’s the Pietersen story today?’ That’s what it had come down to.”
The greatest loss by far has been the absence of Test cricket on terrestrial television. Since Channel 4 took over coverage from the BBC in 1999 and then passed the baton on to Sky after the Ashes series of 2005, a generation of young people has grown up without attachment to a game that their parents and grandparents took for granted. In Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain, two former captains of England, Sky has outstanding performers, but their talents are not as widely known as they should be. The game may be millions of pounds richer for Sky’s bounty but cricket has suffered an immeasurable loss.
Barbara Speed meets Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss and March and leading LSD advocate.
Michael Prodger spends time in the spiritual Santa Fe home
of the painter Georgia O’Keeffe.
Television: Rachel Cooke is left gobsmacked by Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, BBC2’s epic study of life for refugees.
Film: Ryan Gilbey on how an all-girl Ghostbusters improved on the original – despite misgivings by Donald Trump.
Radio: Antonia Quirke follows reactions on BBC 5 Live to the unsparkly winner of Wimbledon.
Richard Overy considers why, 80 years after its outbreak, the Spanish Civil War still holds such a fascination for writers and readers.
Wendy Moore compares two new studies of body parts –
Hands: What We Do With Them – and Why by Darian Leader and
This Mortal Coil by Fay Bound Alberti.
Amanda Craig’s round-up of children’s books for summer.
Ian Thomson on the history of censorship by fire as told in
Kenneth Baker’s On the Burning of Books.
Frances Wilson muses on the portraits of Britain’s greatest painter unveiled in The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J M W Turner by Franny Moyle and Young Mr Turner by Eric Shanes.
Ben Myers on Sarah Perry’s fine new tale of myth
and monsters, The Essex Serpent.
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