In Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, The Remains of the Day, set in the years before WW2, establishment figures meet in secret to shape the future of Britain. It would be a fascist Britain. Probably one in alliance with fellow travellers like Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. The event takes place over a weekend at a country mansion, well away from prying eyes. Like the story of unrequited love that is the central theme of the story, Britain’s fascists did not achieve their heart’s desire. Liberal democracy triumphed in the end. Well, at least until now.
In what is a great scoop, The Observer has learned that a group of the heavyweight political figures who led the Leave side at the 2016 referendum met prominent Labour figures to discuss “How can we make Brexit work better with our neighbours in Europe?”
None other than Peter Mandelson chaired the clandestine gathering at Ditchley Park, near Oxford. It is a house of Palladian elegance, straight out of Downtown Abbey. Just look at a picture of this stately pile and you can smell the privilege. Note it’s near Oxford. It wouldn’t do for such luminaries as David Lammy, Michael Howard, Gisela Stewart, Labour’s shadow defence minister, John Healey, Michael Gove and Norman Lamont to meet outside Doncaster, Truro, Aberdeen, Swansea or Belfast. To add to the stitch-up flavour of the event, can be added the attendance of a couple of big business chiefs, a former Treasury permanent secretary and a former number two at the political arm of NATO.
You Celtic Johnnies need know nothing
Does Keir Starmer so soon see the door ajar of No10 Downing Street that he is willing to sit down with Michael Howard, Michael Gove and Norman Lamont? Why not sit down on a cross-party basis to address the immediate and urgent problems of the NHS? Why exclude the devolved parliament of Scotland, the Welsh Senedd and representatives from across the main parties in Northern Ireland? These three institutions must play a central role in any post-Brexit recovery. But no, they are not invited. Not informed. Not consulted. The big two English parties own the ball, the pitch, the stadium, referee and goalposts. There’s no need for any of you Celtic Johnnies to know anything of the meeting. You are not of the chosen.
Oh yes, SNP, you may be the third largest party at Westminster and by far the biggest party at Holyrood, but you’re small fry. As for pro-EU parties holding the majority of Stormont seats? A mere trifle. Do go away.
As for Wales? Well, they say from their tree-hidden Oxford redoubt, let us remind ourselves of Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s A man for all Seasons. When More finds out his son-in-law, Richard Roper, has been bought off speaking for More at his trial with the job of Secretary for Wales, he says to Roper; “For Wales? Why Richard, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world…..but for Wales?”
So soon the limousine door opens
The court of Peter Mandelson in the grand surroundings of Ditchley Park was no less disdainful of those not of the elite as any in Henry Vlll’s court, including the saintly More. We of Remain well recall David Lammy’s coruscating critique of Brexit from the backbenches of Westminster. So soon the ministerial limousine door opens for him?
Let’s not beat about the bush. The whole thing stinks. As I wrote in Bylines Scotland only ten days ago, neither Tory nor Labour wants Brexit to be a central theme of the General Election. By meeting, ostensibly in what looks like a welcome piece of cross-party cooperation, the big two parties are attempting to snuff out debate. “Don’t worry your pretty little heads,” they’re saying. “We’ve got it all in hand.” This is the lowest form of political spin. Neither party has a clue about how to make the UK economy return to growth and to the sort of success it was enjoying before the insanity of Brexit. Labour dare not even whisper Customs Union, or, even in the privacy of Labour HQ, John Smith House, think the words Single Market.
They call this democracy
The timing of the Oxfordshire meeting says a lot. In the past month, the long apparent loss of support for Brexit solidified. National sentiment firmly moved to seeing Brexit as a great mistake. Poll after poll gave big leads to Bregret. More tellingly, the mainstream print media began running opinion pieces on the failure of Brexit. Letters editors were kept busy subbing billet doux from disappointed of Tunbridge Wells. But Labour had sold its soul to Brexit. It can’t backtrack now. Regain or rejoin may be the will of the people, but it’s not the will of the people who inhabit Oxfordshire country mansions little more than an hour from Whitehall.
They call this democracy.