Shortly after Melanie Phillips startled the horses with a clearly bonkers analysis of Britain and the ‘family of nations’ as essentially one of a race of Übermensch presiding over a horde of recalcitrant Celtic tribes, up pops Charles Moore (‘The Lord of the Rings is our Brexit guide – people need a home to come back to’), who seems to have lost his bearings a little too, declaring:
“This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers of the Great”.
Now Brexit does need some ‘creative re-imagination’ of our roles and place in the world, and Moore complies nicely with this fostering of a vision of simple but brave hairy-folk setting out on a big adventure, but there are, it’s safe to say, some problems with the analysis.
In some ways the citing of JRR Tolkien (closely ahead of JR Hartley as a figure of popular affection) was spot-on. Brexit is likely to be a lengthy and dull process ending in occasional carnage and re-awakening some ancient malignant demons, but Nigel Farage as Bilbo Baggins and Aaron Banks as Gandalf is a bit of a stretch.
Okay, some of the Ents may have more personality than Philip Hammond but as one reviewer put it:
“the Inklings responded not with fragmentation and pessimism but with a redoubled commitment to the world behind the world, freshly visible through this new rip in the fabric. The “intersection of the timeless / With time,” T. S. Eliot called it, and one feels it in the music of the dwarfs that sweeps Bilbo Baggins “away into dark lands under strange moons”.
In other words, as our new POTUS has it, not Trolls or Orcs, but ‘Bad Dudes’.
Watching the Liberal, Labour and Conservative parties stories about what is happening with Brexit unravel this week – may well have you thinking we are all “away into dark lands under strange moons”, and Farage as Gollum is – we admit – the perfect metaphor for a slimy neurotic servile obsessive. But, we wondered if there weren’t some other stories from popular culture that might not better fit the bill? What other classics from English literature might be our ‘Brexit Guide’?
If Lions are to England what Unicorns are (sort of) to Scotland, then surely C.S. Lewis would have been the fantasy playground to reference? Paul Nuttall, Liam Fox and Theresa May squeezing through the back of a furry wardrobe to an ice-cold alter-reality. If you can drop the slightly boke-inducing Freud for a moment its perfect. Or Chaucer, or Graham Greene or Jilly Cooper? Each of these authors have created a fantasy world that could easily have served as a ‘Brexit guide’ for people to have a ‘home to come back to’. Greene’s morally-dubious rat-infested world would have suited the inner world of Austerity Britain perfectly, though admittedly it doesn’t quite suit the Telegraph house-style. Jilly Cooper’s bodice-ripping bonkbusters contain only a handful of foreigners, and they are overwhelmingly ‘swarthy’, so it could be the perfect ‘Brexit Guide’ .
A Psychedelic Broken Shire
We can call Moore’s fantasy-literary world ‘Broken Shire’ after the wonderful leadership of the Member of Parliament for Old Bexley and Sidcup in Northern Ireland.
The idea of the Brexiteers as ‘Shire Folk’ is however, dazzling. From a campaign that can’t quite decide if its Little Britain or Make Britain Great Again that they aspire to.
Now – in even more dystopian bizarre world – we are asked to go with the idea that either ‘a deal’ or ‘no deal’ is great, even wonderful.
Tolkien’s Middle Earth is not fantastical enough for what is happening. As Jeremy Corbyn changes his mind daily on massive constitutional questions, as Crispin Blunt describes the chaos as an act of “gross negligence” (‘MPs slam Theresa May over lack of a plan if Brexit talks collapse’), as our shambling shochling Foreign Secretary declares: “Leaving the EU without a deal on Brexit would be ‘perfectly OK'”.
This is bumbling British muddling presented as an art-form but is in fact a pre-emptive covering of their collective arse in the safe knowledge that Europe will apply contagion and give a ‘deal’ that is in their interests not ‘ours’.
The level of delusion and Anglocentrism is phenomenal.
As Fintan O Toole writes, the new assembly elections in Northern Ireland are: “the first example we have of the Brexit bubble being burst by sharp political realities. And it exposes in particular one of the main delusions of the Brexiters: that leaving the EU would have no effect on the architecture of the UK itself.”
This delusion runs deep and is pan-Celtic.
Middle Earth or Middle England?
But anger and despair at the fantasy worlds of the Brexit Government is not enough, nor will it win the inevitable second referendum. Wailing against the democratic deficit, the farce of the Lords, the iniquities of the media or the multiple betrayals of Westminster won’t hack it.
The Brexit fiasco is a good enough reason to call a second referendum, but it’s not reason on its own to win it.
As Paul Kavanagh has noted: “There’s no point kidding ourselves on about our electoral weaknesses. Yes movement needs a good strategy to appeal to women & older voters.” Add young people, the disengaged and the disaffected to this list too.
Yes campaigners will need to step outside their well-sealed bubbles and fight a different referendum – not the 2014 one over and over. We will need positivity, ‘fresh eyes’ and solid arguments not grievance to win. Let’s do it.