Half in, half out

Half in, half out

Half in Half out

There are few more uncomfortable positions than half in, half out. That is where Britain is today. The much-vaunted ‘Brexit means Brexit’ has deflated like the gaudy balloons that promoted both sides of the case at the time of the referendum. If ever the British Government needed a COLO (yesterday’s Daily Paradox) it needs one now. But s/he would have to be a genius to predict what will happen next. Things have got to a pretty pass when the Prime Minister talks herself hoarse.

Make no mistake. I don’t want Britain to leave the EU. I want Britain there, helping to reform the organisation, improving its viability as a force in the world, understanding what the strengths of Europe are, making Europe great again. As a cultural centre of the world there is none to beat it. At a time when AI, Robotics, Big Data are consuming our attention, when productivity is the game but balanced lifestyle is out of the window, Europe has a lot to contribute… and learn.

The world needs a renaissance of what life is for and how it can best be enjoyed. Europe is the obvious place for it to start. Great European cultures, once opposed, as were the squabbling families that dominated them, are now collegial, but still competitive enough to remain vital and searching. When the Brexit bits have been picked up there will be a need for leadership of a compelling sort. An Adenauer, Brandt, de Gaulle, Macmillan is required.

But where have all the leaders gone?

So, what next? Mrs May has mentioned the R word (second referendum). She has talked about the W word (withdrawal of the notice to leave). She has not yet mentioned the E word (election). And she certainly isn’t going to mention the Q word (quit). So we are all forecasting. My bet is on a second referendum. I don’t want that but I also don’t want a disorderly Brexit.

I’d rather have an election and test the new cross-party alliances in a discussion of more than Brexit. Brexit will go – even though it doesn’t seem like it and we may all be dead before it does. But it will pass. Then the regular matters of government, safety, climate, education, health, welfare will dominate the political scene once again. Brexit would loom large in an election now but voters would be pushed back to the things that always matter, not those just once in a millenium.

The voters of Britain have had three years to learn what Brexit means. Do they yet know? Only a vote – referendum or election – will tell us that. Both will demonstrate massive division in the UK, I am sure. However, one or other will show what, if anything, has been learnt from the debacle of the present situation. What are the lessons we need to learn from it?

FIrst, government by lottery ticket is not a good idea. A referendum is little better than a lottery. You vote how you feel that day, not how much you know (very little) or what are the long-term interests of the country. Even general elections, a much more established form of bidding for the future, are notoriously influenced by the events immediately before them. No more referenda, please.

Second, it is a fast-moving world. Governments, never agile or swift by virtue of the fact that those involved earn money for doing them, have to learn, like the rest of us, to keep up or get drowned in the flood of new information. When it changes, views change. Three years is a rather long time to maintain a position about something that wasn’t understood at the start and still isn’t.

Third, party political alliances are out of date. Designed originally to ensure reliability of information and continuity of management, they have been wearing thin for many years. Now they are often meaningless. Ponder this – if UK sticks rigidly to its party system it will likely become considerably less united. Absurd to ask an entire electorate to vote freely in a referendum when you seldom risk asking a parliament to do so!

Fourth – and I hate to say this because she needs tea and sympathy (and cough mixture) more than criticism but – Prime Ministers must learn how to handle their constituents. You become stubborn today and you get stubborn back. Trouble is they are opposing stubborns. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Please read your Abraham Lincoln, Mrs May.

Call it off for a year. Ask the long-suffering EU to allow us to stay in, while we sort out a modicum of reliable fact on which to base a decision. Calm the waters, take a breather, get your voice back again – in every sense of the word.

If the British Prime Minister did that she might be Prime Minister for longer than she expects.

And Britain might become sane again.