Last night, watching TV, I was flicking between the test match and a repeat of Notting Hill. The cricket was bloody good, but I kept going back to the movie, which is good-natured and amusing and captures something very English. There was a sense of nostalgia watching it as this was one of a few movies made around the same time that struck a similar chord – including Love, Actually (soon to repeated near you) and For Weddings and a Funeral. They portray an England decent in its essence, nice, sometimes bumbling people who wish for and want to do the right thing for each other. It was a prosperous, optimistic England, full of character and charm. Of course, it’s highly idealised, if not stylised – most Brits don’t live like that – but it was true in an aspirational sense. This was the England England wanted to be, and the England, the rest of the world, hunkered for.
When I went to bed about an hour later, I quietly wondered if that England – or even the possibility of it – was now gone forever. It was a sad thought, but I imagine quite demoralising for the remaining English who believe in such a place.
The poms were on a hiding to nothing in the election just held. No matter which way they voted, they lose, so it seemed to me. It’s an election that should have had foreboding theme music because if Brexit wasn’t going to doom them, then Corbyn would.
In all honesty, despite what many of the pundits said, Labour was never going to get close. I’ve learned to discount the social media chatter because the loudest voices are those most engaged (and/or crazy), and most of them come from the progressive side of politics. It’s unrepresentative. Better to listen to the small voices in between rarely heard. Half the problem is that they’re seldom heard until they roar their dissatisfaction at the ballot box – hence we have Brexit; hence we have a coalition government in Australia.
There’s a lot of argument bout why the Labour defeat was so comprehensive. Many blame Brexit. Others say it’s down to Corbyn. And the bitter and twisted blame the media.
Let’s start with the media and accept that we live in an era of dysfunctional, frequently corrupted, media. They don’t help, but I’ve come to accept it as a matter of fact. Was it the media’s fault? No, though it was bloody twisted.
Then there’s Brexit. Of course, that was a big part of this result. Brits want things done with. They’re sick of the uncertainty and the mindless, circular debate, and so they voted for the certainty of a resolution against the risk of a hung parliament.
What’s interesting is that it appears leave and remain positions are inconsistent with traditional political divisions. The rump of Brexit support is in the British working class, while many remainers are in the traditional conservative demographic. But it was the conservatives who championed leave, while Labour was ambivalent about it.
Which brings us to Corbyn. He might have had a stronger chance had he come out in support of Brexit – he might then have got the vote of the traditional Labour base at least. Even so, he was never a chance.
I’m a progressive. I’m open-minded. I’m liberal and left-leaning. I’m not stupid, though. I may be far away in Oz, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why Corbyn was even a candidate.
I have a soft spot for Bernie Sanders in the States, maybe because he’s much more charismatic than Corbyn. He’s far to the left, like Corbyn but, unlike Corbyn, he appears to have a grasp on reality. I’d expect Sanders to be reasonable and responsible if by some chance he becomes the Democratic candidate (though my vote is for Warren), but not in my wildest dreams could I believe the same of Corbyn.
Not only is Corbyn without charisma, or in fact, any facility to charm the electorate, he strikes me as being dogmatic, unimaginative, and unreasonable. If I was English I’d have no confidence in him, and fear he would ruin the country.
The country is ruined anyway, now, but given a reasonable and personable leader Labour might have had a chance in this combustible atmosphere – but they never gave themselves that chance. Corbyn was proven to be unelectable, but it was no news to anyone but the hard core, the feeble minded, and the English labour party administration. To have any chance, English Labour had to replace him, and they didn’t.
Now they get Boris Johnson and Brexit. They’re fucked. Johnson is an opportunistic clown. Even without Brexit, I think England would be fucked. Years of austerity have crippled the country, and while the haves got richer, the have nots are sleeping on the streets. Don’t expect Boris to change any of that.
The problem is, with Brexit, that I reckon many more poms will end up sleeping on the street. They’re handing back their golden ticket out of a misplaced sense of national pride and racism. And stupidity.
Which brings me back to the original question: is that golden England lost forever? I think likely it is because I don’t know how they come back from this. Even if, by some strange quirk, England are re-admitted to the EU in years to come, it’ll be as a much weaker economy. In the meantime, the national fabric is being shredded. There’s a rude awakening ahead for those who foresee prosperous independence, for so much of what they have taken for granted will be taken from them with Brexit. And it’s a nasty piece of work.
But then…the movies of Richard Curtis came in a golden era where England was bountiful and prosperous. It was even cool for a while. And all of this came after the crushing, grey years of Thatcherism. Anything is possible.
I find it hard being an Australian these days, but if I was Brit I’d be despairing tonight.