Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Last Brexit to Bullingdon

Bullingdon Boys - Cameron (2nd left back) & Johnson (front right) at Oxford together
 "This is the most important decision Britain will make in a generation," quivered the worried voice of Tory grandee Lord Heseltine on the radio this evening. "But it is turning into something nasty."

The plaintive plea of a serious man, perhaps, but one likely to fall on deaf ears as the European referendum campaign grows ever more shrill.

Remain have deployed the Project Fear tactics of the Scottish referendum (forgetting how that in fact almost lost Scotland from the UK). Unlearning, the Remain camp has choreographed an endless succession of bad Brexit days on what would happen if the Eurovote is to leave the European Union: we will all be £4,000 worse off, we will pay more for our goods, we won't get a trade deal with the USA, we will lose influence, European scientists won't talk to British scientists any more, and, today, according to Prime Minister Cameron, the bloodthirsty terrorist leader of Daesh will apparently be delighted if Britain opts for Brexit.

So far, so fear.

Brexit are no better however: we are long used to Farage and Co proclaiming the imminent death of Britain as more Bulgarians and Romanians than actually exist allegedly prepare to decant to Margate. But now we are also told by the increasingly hysterical Boris Johnson that the EU is in fact the realisation of Napoleonic and Nazi dreams of conquest (although curiously he seems to applaud the Roman invasions) and now today he has claimed Cameron has been bribing business leaders to support Remain in return for public contracts.

So what are we seeing here?

Just two men define the debate: David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

All along, the referendum has been David Cameron's high-risk tactic for managing his party. Aware of how Euroscepticism and "bastards" round the Cabinet table did for the last Tory PM, John Major, his offer of a referendum was only ever designed to rally his own dissidents and take the sting out of the rising UKIP. But, now that the time is here, the real reason for this national vote is as clear as crystal. The debate they really care about isn't Europe, but rather who will be Cameron's successor?

Boris Johnson supported remaining in the EU until over a weekend in February he decided to campaign to leave, largely to give him a platform to promote himself to succeed Cameron as leader and PM when the latter stands down, as he has pledged to do sometime before 2020. Similarly wearing his convictions lightly, Cameron reportedly prepared two articles for publication, one for staying and one for leaving, until he assessed his chances (and those of his friend and desired successor George Osborne) after the concluded his notional negotiations with other EU leaders.

So now, instead of a meaningful debate of the merits and possibilities of In or Out, their shrill, personalised and ever more ridiculous baiting of each other exposes not only the immature level of their European debate, but also the truly nasty natures of both men. This should be of little surprise, of course.

These men were contemporaries at Eton and in the infamous Bullingdon Club at Oxford University. The latter institution, which takes stipends rumoured to be up to £10,000 pa from each member, distinguishes itself with schoolboy rituals, such as smashing up the rooms of new members, holding an annual breakfast involving such excess that each person is given a sick bag to allow them to vomit without leaving table and, allegedly, burning money in front of a homeless person.

Our protagonists were no exceptions. Boris Johnson's biographer notes:
"I don't think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash. A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men."  Meanwhile Cameron has reminisced fondly that,Things got out of hand and we'd had a few drinks. We smashed the place up and Boris set fire to the toilets.”

These men are bullies. They have grown up in a culture where self-entitlement and bullying (thinly disguised as upper-class joshing) are de rigeur. It has shown in how Cameron has run a Government targeting the vulnerable with his relentless austerity economics and in how Johnson allegedly ran City Hall via eclectic demands for half-baked ideas to be implemented and then growing angry with those who failed him.

Both men have tried hard to cultivate more positive self-images - Cameron as a regular family guy, Johnson as a happy buffoon on a bike. All too often their masks have slipped for a moment - such as when Cameron described a handful of desperate refugees as a "swarm", like human insects; and Johnson when he screamed abuse at a taxi driver for no reason other than his own pomposity. But of course, there is nothing as bitterly vitriolic or fascinatingly unpleasant than two former allies scrapping jealously with each other. Whatever the outcome of the Eurovote, the medium term future not only of both men but of their party and its Government must now be in serious doubt. We can but live in hope.

In the meantime, however, we will have been required to make a major decision on our national future with the arguments mired in mutual loathing between different wings of the Tory Party. It is to be hoped that in the weeks remaining more sensible voices, on all sides, can come to the fore and debate the issues without the distraction of either of these smug egotists.

Let them go back to Bullingdon, shout bullshit at each other and vomit together. Then the rest of us can get on with the grown up stuff. Like deciding the future of our country and Continent.

No comments:

Post a Comment