I have always loved ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Of all children’s stories, its anarchic, upside-down, crazy, unimaginable world for some reason appeals to me, if only as a salutary contrast to reality. But when that world seems to become reality, then I’m not so sure about it. Yet that seems to be where we are in the United Kingdom right now. We seem to be down the rabbit hole, in the crazy world, but - unlike Alice - we can neither wake up nor climb back up to reality on the surface. Our reality is what is down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass.
I refer, of course, to the constitutional, political, social and economic dog’s breakfast being created around the subject of Brexit. Leaving aside one’s own view of the result, the process was flawed from the beginning. First, referendums don’t actually sit very well in our system of representative democracy; Edmund Burke - next to whom our current politicians stand like Lilliputians before the Colossus of Rhodes - effectively pointed this out to his constituents in Bristol (although, to be fair, they did vote him out soon afterwards…). Secondly, if you are going to address major constitutional change in this way, then would you not be wise to set the bar a little higher than 50%+1 vote? Say 65, or 70%?
Still, the parameters were set as they were, a huge stain on the otherwise generally decent record of David Cameron, from which his reputation will not recover. We can’t go back, so somehow, somebody has to make some sense of the position in which the country finds itself. Sadly, it looks like that is still going to be very difficult, cursed as we are with inadequates at the top of both major political parties. We have a Prime Minister and Chancellor who shouldn’t be in their jobs, and a Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Chancellor who frankly shouldn’t be in the House of Commons. Still, people get what they voted for.
Could there have been a reasonable way out of it? I think there could, but the problem has been all the way through that those involved in the negotiation of a separation have no knowledge of how to do it. Politicians and civil servants do not make their living through negotiating deals, making trades and trade-offs; they genuinely - although with good intention, I believe - are out of their depth.
Would it not have been wiser and more honest to accept this from the outset, and try to use some of the industrial and entrepreneurial negotiating skills available? Wouldn’t it have been worth approaching - I don’t know - say Jim Ratcliffe, or James Dyson, or others of their ilk, and asking them for a little bit of advice in how to set about getting the best arrangement you could? In other words, please tell me how to negotiate.
Men and women who have made major successes from pretty much a zero starting base - there are plenty of them in this country, and they should have at least been given a shot at giving some guidance. After all, there should be no shame in admitting that somebody else has different skills - except, of course, for our politicians, who believe, it seems to me, that their skill-set encompasses everything.
So what is the way out of it? Frankly, I have no idea; I just wish I could wake up - like Alice - and find it had all been a dream.
But that never happens, and sadly I have a horrible feeling that this is going to go on, and on, and on, because there is still no clear endpoint in view……….