Boris Johnson has no idea how to fix the national disaster he's bequeathed us
Following the shock win for Leave after the EU Referendum in June, Alastair Campbell condemned elitist Boris Johnson for leaving the UK in uncharted waters and economic turmoil - just as the experts had predicted. As Brexiteers began to renege on their NHS funding promise, the UK was left in a crisis of leadership.
Well, Michael Gove was right about the experts being wrong. They totally underestimated the extent of the disaster that Brexit would unleash. It is perhaps why he and his partner in crime Boris Johnson looked like they were at the funeral of their old friend yesterday, not a celebration of one of the most remarkable and truly historic campaign victories of our time. So let's look at some of the things we on the Remain side said would happen, and which were all dismissed as the scaremongering of Project Fear.
Virtually every major economic voice in the world warned there would be an immediate plunge in the value of the pound, investors would start to pull out, and the Bank of England would have to step in. As the pound charts began to resemble a modern graphic of the white cliffs of Dover, no wonder Gove and Johnson looked sick. The vote had wiped out more money than we had paid into the EU in the last 15 years. Brilliant. They took back control of economic madness.
The economic shrinkage that is now on the way means that far from their claim (aka lie) about more money from the NHS being delivered by Brexit, public services will now see their budgets cut. And in any event, Johnson's fellow campaigner Nigel Farage has already dumped the NHS pledge, just as Daniel Hannan MEP has begun to walk away from the pledge to stop free movement.
Dover, by the way − that is where the border with France is moving to now. That was Project Fear too. Of course the French would continue to look after our borders − said LEAVE. It's in their interests too, innit, stands to reason, common sense? The French authorities are already calling for the Treaty of Le Touquet to be renegotiated. It is going to happen.
Then there is the hard Irish border which is already on the agenda − that was never going to happen− said LEAVE. Well the logic of ending free movement of people means it has to happen. You cannot be out of the single market and not have controls at border points. Impossible. One of those inconvenient truths that had no place in the wretched, dumbed down, post-intelligence debate we have had, where brainy Oxbridge politicians link up with the right-wing tax dodgers, foreigners, liars and pornographers who own most of our national press and are today enjoying the benefits of years of lying about Europe and hate-stirring against immigrants. The power-crazed Murdochs and sociopathic Dacres of this world are all too easy to despise. But it was politicians Johnson, Gove and Farage who managed to turn the lies and the myths into a campaign that persuaded millions of people to go their way.
Then there is Scotland, and our warnings that a Brexit vote would lead to the break-up of the Union. Scaremongering. No way would the Scots go for a second referendum with the oil price so low. Well as we have seen in recent days sometimes emotion can top economics. Added to which I for one would much rather live in the Scotland Nicola Sturgeon described yesterday than the England of Johnson and Farage. Scotland will get a second referendum. And the Union is likely to break. And many of those English people who voted for Brexit will say "oh well, who needs them?" Like they have been saying who needs the EU, and singing their xenophobic songs about it at the football in France. They are beginning to get their answer.
This referendum has been a bigger story around the world than any event in Britain since the death of Princess Diana. The consequences are obviously far, far greater. Most of the rest of the world is looking on with a mix of bemusement and concern. The exceptions are Isis, who welcomed the decision(and those of us who said they would were attacked for even suggesting they might), Donald Trump, who dropped into the cartoon yesterday to insult the Prime Minister and our intelligence, and Vladimir Putin, who is rejoicing in seeing Europe destabilised without him needing to lift a finger. As an American friend emailed me yesterday "at least we can now begin to lose our reputation as the most stupid country in the world".
To watch and hear the vox pops of some of my fellow Brits expressing buyers' remorse yesterday was to want to weep. "I only voted LEAVE because everyone said REMAIN was winning."
Another said: "I didn't realise it would actually mean we left. All my family are really sad today. We want to go and vote again."
And: "I voted by post and now I wished I hadn't."
There were also the ones celebrating because they imagined the lies they had been told were actually going to happen. "We'll be able to build a new hospital every week."; "The immigrants will have to go home now."; "We've got our country back." Well you wait and just see what kind of country this will create.
There was the lifelong Tory, the man who said he liked and admired David Cameron, who couldn't believe the Prime Minister was resigning. He had breathed in the warm words of admiration of the LEAVE Tories that they wanted Cameron to stay. And do their dirty work. If Cameron was as ruthless, nasty and narcissistic as Johnson, he would ask him to be Chancellor and Gove to be Foreign Secretary, and take a long holiday.
At 10pm on Thursday, as the markets, the pollsters and the bookies wrongly declared for REMAIN, Cameron looked like he might go down in history as the man who won two elections, three referendums, dragged the Tories into the modern world by settling the argument on Europe and strengthened the economy after the crash. Now he is in the history books forever for one thing and one alone. The man who gave a referendum to the people to make the biggest political decision of our lifetime, which led to Britain leaving the EU.
The tragedy lies in the fact that his arguments were right but they were not enough to defeat the myths and the lies, and the emotions, anger, divisions and inequalities of the post crash, post globalisation world. And though I always said it was a huge strategic error to cave in to a referendum, rather than fight and win the case as part of a general election, he showed yesterday that at least he has the courage, bearing and dignity that real leadership sometimes requires. Johnson looked about as Prime Ministerial as a discarded half-eaten Chinese takeaway sitting on the kitchen table after a heavy night that felt great at the time but left you with a nauseous feeling in the stomach and a dreadful pain in the head. As for the protests of young people to whom he used to project himself as modern, outward-looking, pro-immigration (when running for Mayor), their protests will now follow him wherever he goes.
And what a wonderful irony that a campaign whose central argument was that the people should be able to elect our own leaders so we weren't "run by unelected bureaucrats" (sic) ends with a new Prime Minister elected only by the shrinking force that is the Tory Party membership. An irony horribly compounded by this reality - Boris Johnson, as elitist and right wing as they come, has been put into pole position by blue-collar workers who will be the hardest hit by the consequences both of Brexit and of a Johnson government.
The Tory Party, dominated by the older generation who voted overwhelmingly for a Brexit younger people did not want, may well elect him. But for the country Johnson has gone overnight from being a loveable rogue who knows how to work up a crowd to being the most divisive political figure in the country. And right now the country needs leaders who can heal not divide. Johnson is not that man. Nor is Jeremy Corbyn, as has been obvious since he was elected Labour leader, as was obvious during the campaign and obvious again yesterday. He just cannot do the job.
We have a crisis of leadership at a time we could be heading for a crisis in the economy and a crisis of division within the country. These are dark and depressing times. This is a divided country and the divisions are within as well as between communities.
Many are now saying we all need to pull together and make this work. I am not sure I agree. The country has voted on a totally false prospectus for a decision that has dramatic and damaging consequences, many as yet unseen. As the reality of that sinks in, the anger will grow. I believe the recognition of the sheer scale of the error that has been made will grow. The demands for a second referendum will grow. Or for a general election where an unequivocally pro-EU case can be put by an unequivocally progressive party. Right now it is hard to see where that party is or who are the people who could lead it. But without it, this country is in trouble and staring at rapid decline.
And discredited though they are, the pollsters might try to find out what proportion of the population think we made the right decision on Thursday. I suspect it will be well short of 52%.