One thing leads to another and there’s no doubt that Brexit led to Trump. Both campaigns yanked the same populist chain, dinged the same nationalist bell, deployed the same language about taking back control, and now the question remains: is resistance futile or urgent? I went to a dinner last week given by the French ambassador, Sylvie Bermann. She fly-papered so many of the buzzy, bold-faced names for Remain – Lionel Barber, the editor of the FT, Jason Cowley, the editor of this magazine, the former attorney general Dominic Grieve, Mrs Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell – that it felt as if any minute someone would deliver a stirring Gaullist broadcast from the salon to rally the 48 Per Cent.
In the end, this function was fulfilled by Alastair Campbell, who left the room just as the raffle was being drawn, and came back to find everyone roaring with laughter, as he’d won the prize (a special wine dispenser and he is famously a teetotaller, ho ho ho!). Campbell surged forward and made a speechette in good French, in which he said the only prize he wanted was for the three supine cabinet ministers on my table to stop Brexit. Afterwards I asked him if this “aux armes, citoyens” stuff was stable-door-shutting but he held me with his glittering eye. “No! We can do it,” he insisted.
I’ll have what he’s having.
I didn’t recognise the novelist Jonathan Coe at first, as he’s sprouted a bushy white beard. “Towards the end of January I realised I hadn’t shaved since Trump’s inauguration, and so what started as a coincidence turned into a tonsorial political protest,” he explained. “Whether I can live with it for four or even eight years remains to be seen: the main difference between the beard and Trump himself is that when the beard becomes too irritating and contaminated to put up with for a moment longer, I can at least just get rid of it.”
I asked our hostess what was worse, Trump or Brexit. “Brexit,” Mme Bermann agreed with Coe. “Trump will only last for four years, but Brexit is for ever.”
I am on my own, sitting in a chair for a large part of the day, staring blankly at screens or newspapers. My children are grown and my husband has departed on a trip to Latin America for the purposes of “personal growth”. I note that George Clooney turned up at an assisted living facility in Berkshire last week and gave a lonely 87-year-old a bunch of flowers on her birthday. If anyone sees George, can you tell him that there’s a middle-aged woman in Notting Hill and a home visit would brighten up her day, too?
I listen to Today daily and am trying to work out what I would do if I were in the dainty shoes of Sarah Sands, its incoming editor. I’m stumped. I think the programme is unimprovable. I would even leave Thought for the Day be. Sands inherits the most superb roster of presenters of any news programme in the world. I can’t work out which one I love best – Mishal, John, Justin, Nick, or Sarah – and don’t want to. It’s a bit like having to choose a favourite child. You can’t.
Ducking for cover
Every hack in town wrote accounts of the attack on Westminster, but I was intrepidly lunching a mile away with my Sky News editor. At 2.45pm, we were just digging into a dish of ice cream – two spoons – and my iPhone kept vibrating. In the end I checked it, and straight away called Jo, the only one of my two MP brothers in town that day.
He told me he’d been cycling through those gates as the attack was taking place, so was bundled off his bike and thrown into the checkpoint booth by shouting policemen. He was talking to me while prone, a copper standing over him. “I can still hear screaming,” he said, “but where are you?” I reassured him that I was in the Wolseley.
Later, I called him to find he’d been moved from the hut to another place. “Unless they storm the tearoom I think we’ll be OK.”
Show me a hero
I don’t like the attack being called war, or even terrorism: it was a crime, by a thuggish crackpot, but nobody could deny how dramatic and symbolic it was. The most remarkable images for me were of the armed policemen who, having shot the assailant, then knelt to try to save his life. These two officers have been signed off and relieved of their weapons, pending an investigation. It sounds straight outta Line of Duty but is in fact the mark of an essentially civilised and non-violent country that even a death caused by officers hailed as heroes by everyone from the PM down triggers an independent inquiry.
As a result of the attack, my Bright Blue dinner with David Jones, a minister at the Department for Brexit, was cancelled. I’d been looking forward to hearing what the post-Article 50 plan was, when the third-person singular “Brexit” becomes first-person plural “Breximus” (we are leaving.) I confess I didn’t make the great European march on Saturday, though that wasn’t cancelled. I went down to Chevening in Kent, and relayed the news to the Foreign Secretary that his niece, my daughter, was on the march and that her godfather, Henry Porter (an active Brexit-blocker) had tweeted: “Leavers, tell me one advantage of #brexit and I’ll put it on a placard for today’s great march.” It fell on deaf ears. My brother maintains there’s going to be every advantage (although, as far as I can see, for the next two years-plus this country and the EU are going to be like a bitter divorcing couple, rowing about every last DVD). He promises that “Global Britain” will be big and bouncing and beautiful, and it’s for all our good that “Brexeundum est” (ie, we must leave the EU). I hope he’s right. If only saying it would make it so.
Rachel Johnson is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday
This article appears in the 29 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition