It’s a quintessentially British idea: ‘caught in a downpour without a brolly’ [“Britain is caught in a storm. We shall need to make the best of things”].
The very odd ‘These Islands’ project has burst onto the scene with a series of subtly-placed articles in major newspapers across the land, each tweeted proudly out by the organisation as if they had just stumbled across them at the newsagents (“Good god Hargreaves another great piece in the Times this morning!” – “Yes and we’re surprisingly well received in the Telegraph…” etc)
But occasionally the choreographed media coverage goes a little awry, as it seems to have done with the Guardian’s fantastically nostalgic Bute-columnist, Ian Jack.
Before we look at Jack’s well-intended piece, it’s worth glancing (perhaps only briefly) at Nigel Biggar’s piece on the website. Biggar we’re told is “Oxford University’s regius professor of moral and pastoral theology” – as if we didn’t know that!
Anyway he’s just the sort of grassroots, finger-on-the-pulse homey that is going to transform the Better Together campaign’s urban base the next time (and they clearly think there’s going to be a next time). The purpose of These Islands is, according to the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology: “To remedy “the faltering inarticulacy of unionists in explaining what the United Kingdom is good for”.
Yes, well, quite.
Ian Jack explains:
“So what is the United Kingdom good for? According to Biggar, three things: as a bulwark against Russia’s threat to liberal democracy; as an example of multinational solidarity (the depth of which “the European Union can still only dream”); and as a prominent upholder of a humane international order – “a post-imperial habit” that for the world’s sake the UK needed to keep. All of these things will remain true “whether or not Brexit comes to pass”, but all will be diminished if the UK breaks apart.”
Talk about a hot take! By a bulwark against Russia’s threat to liberal democracy presumably he means our famously misfiring Trident missiles and our famously coke-free navy vessels standing valiantly by to defend our food banks from being flooded with cheap wodka and tins of Borscht.
And, aren’t you just brimming-over with “multinational solidarity (the depth of which “the European Union can still only dream”. Hmm. Me too.
As for the “post-imperial habit” that for the world’s sake the UK needed to keep” – I just have no idea whatsoever what that’s supposed to mean.
But you have just got to love the sustained fantastic delusion of the sentence: “All of these things will remain true “whether or not Brexit comes to pass”.
To be honest, if the Brexit omnishambles rumbles into your home town causing the sort of economic devastation that’s been outlined by independent think-tanks, I can’t really imagine the “multinational solidarity” holding up against the primal wail of “We didn’t vote for this you stupid fuckers” cascading down the country.
Over at the New Statesman the usually reliable Chris Deerins veers dangerously off-message:
“There are plenty of people south of the border who have had enough of the Jocks banging on about independence. I’ve lost count of the number of Brexiteers who have said to me that, given a straight choice, they’d rather lose Scotland than give up Brexit. Lord knows what the Northern Irish reaction is going to be once the full impact on its relationship with the Republic is felt. None of this gives me any pleasure, but it would be a lie to say I can’t feel my internal chemistry beginning to change. I won’t be the only one. The Britain I argued for in 2014 is ceasing to exist, has made a monkey of me, is regenerating into an unattractively spivvy character – and it doesn’t seem to care, really.”
Ah, yeah, Northern Ireland. Shit.
Anyway, as a sort of exercise in Astroturfing for the Autumn Years These Island shows great promise, even if the desperate need for Credibility and Status does seem to be pursued with a bit too much vigour.
We’re told that:
“They have assembled a 40-member advisory council rich in good names, including Lady O’Neill, Prof Margaret MacMillan and Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield.”
I was left a little bit cold by this announcement, though I did begin to wonder where Nympsfield was.
If this all seems a bit weary and downbeat, it is.
Jack admits solemnly: “Three years on, I would find it much harder to grieve for the end of Britain. Brexit and a strident English nationalism have changed everything.”
Hey! You’re supposed to be the warm-up act fella!
He ends rousingly: “In these circumstances, the thinktank These Islands may find its true purpose in encouraging us to make the best of things: a pep talk to a weary couple holding on to the wreckage.”
Jesus H Christ – it’s not exactly the Promised Land is it?
Still if the No campaign has any doubt about its name for the second referendum Jack has at least stumbled upon it. Cast aside the magnificent “UK:OK” – bring on “We shall need to make the best of things”.
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