Upon Brexit Day
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he neâ€™er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursâ€™d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Brexit day.
Let the bells peal out across this sceptr’d isle, William Blake’s Jerusalem 2.0., to mark the end of a grand experiment. To harmonise, to freely move and work together. For in 1973 did every national newspaper proclaim their close affiliation to a grand union of nations 28 in total, to trade and move as one.
Yeah, well, we know how that turned out.
But after a referendum to discover the will of the people that was revealed to be a deal-brokering stunt from a weakling failed PM, the era stumbled to a whimpering end and fell into a ditch.
So today, not St Crispian’s but an ugly contraction of ‘Britain’ and ‘Exit’, is for my neighbour who voted Leave because because she ‘doesn’t like the corner shop being run by Turks’ (Turkey is not in the EU). It’s for the lady in the charity shop who told me she voted Leave because it’s what Jesus wanted. It’s for Cornwall and Wales and parts of the North, poor places that accepted vast amounts of money from the EU to repair their infrastructure and shot themselves so badly that the MP for Penzance offered to ‘have a word with EU officials and ask for special exemption’. It’s for anyone who thinks Boris de Pfeffel Johnson will shower them with cash.
The English are nice. We’re not great but nice, not hot but lukewarm, not angry but disappointed, not eloquent but opinionated.Â The Spanish call us the ‘Por Favors’ because we ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ them to death. The French used to call us ‘Les Rosbifs’ and now call us ‘Les Fuckoffs’ because we can’t open our mouths without swearing. The EU are entitled to call us anything they like after suffering through the humiliating farrago of Nigel Quisling and Mad Madam Mim waving plastic union jacks and singing at the European Parliament until they were told to stop being childish by the grown-ups. The Farage and Widdicombe end-of-the-pier act has come to a merciful end.
Those who don’t feel represented by the pantomime performance of a ranting racist and an elderly woman who is clearly mentally ill, ie the young, those of mixed or different race, the independent thinkers and the free-spirited, have found that their say means less than nothing in today’s new mediocrity. ‘Populism is sweeping the world,’ cried Farage to the press, blind to the realisation that ‘populism’ is a new whitewash term for the destruction of intellect, the equivalent of ‘intelligent design’, and that it will sweep him away in turn.
Not far away from them, in the nation’s suburban middle ranks, there’s a huge swathe of disenchanted, disenfranchised people who just wanted a little attention paid to their needs. They fulfilled their role in the farce merely by being decent, sensible, unimaginative islanders. Â At the core of this drab world is a disfiguring blankness that leaves them all wondering ‘Why are there so many foreigners around now?’ as they awake in mystification from their political slumber.
But change is already happening around them, leaving them on a shrinking plot of damp soil that will soon be cut off from the mainland. And like some great renaissance painting, the photo below catches that moment brilliantly.
‘Mr Brexit’ – The Artwork
Farage is being presented with an amateurish painting of himself by Jim ‘Nick Nick’ Davison, the forgotten racist wife-beating homophobic pub comic, in the back room of anÂ unfashionable pub. The details fascinate, from the strange drink on the glass table to the unused fake fireplace, the sad potted plant, the carelessly unpacked holdall, the unveiled cloth, the repro bust,Â the Victorian china dog and the handful of hacks revealed, Manet-like, in the mirror. I’m inevitably reminded of a Tony Hancock exchange from ‘The Wild Man of the Woods’.
HANCOCK: This is ten-inch-deep banner headline stuff. Where are the gentlemen of the press?
KENNETH WILLIAMS: I’m from the East Cheam Advertiser. But we also take in part of Sutton.
There they stand, the reviled racist comic in a borrowed ancient suit with too-long legs and the failed racist politician with the suspiciously non-English tan who never made it to being an MP but only reached the Westminster equivalent of a Community Police Officer, in a room that’s a half-remembered copy of a 1950s colonial office, with its fake Indian rug and mock-Olde World mantelpiece, a carbon of a carbon which when exposed to the light will simply fade from view, leaving behind a faint grey stain of mediocrity.
And while the millions who have had their freedom curtailed wait for that to happen, the EU money is being withdrawn from Britain’s poorest Leave-voting counties, even as Boris Johnson today surprised them all by announcing cuts to services, no more handouts and further austerity.
When Rupert Brooke asked, ‘Stands the church clock at ten to three?Â And is there honey still for tea?’ the reply wasn’t supposed to be: ‘We’re out of honey. Have a chlorinated chicken burger.’
The English are nice. We compromise. Democracy is a system in whichÂ nobody gets what they want.