Monday 25 March 2019 8:12 am

Don’t you dare tune out – your country needs you to step up

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.

So sang Janis Joplin in what sounds like a 1970s version of the Prime Minister’s “No Deal Is Better Than A Bad Deal” refrain.

Perhaps this was at the back of her mind when she called for a “moment of decision” last week.


One EU leader’s response was to diagnose the UK as the “sick patient”. The prognosis sounded terrible. We have been given two weeks.

And with that, more grist for those who feel that it’s time to throw in the towel, get out, and get on with it – whatever the cost.

It is easy to miss the substance when there is easier viewing elsewhere. Who needs daytime TV when you can get daytime deal or no deal Westminster?

If you’re looking for a flip out, why bother with Jeremy Kyle when you can witness Jeremy Corbyn’s walk-off-set moment when near neighbour Chuka Umunna turned up?

If you’re looking for full-on kitchen sink drama, try the theatricals of a Prime Minister presenting parliament as the enemies of the people.

And you don’t need Countryfile when you can go full Farage and get away from it all by joining the Leave Means Leave march – judging by the size of the turnout in Wetherby last week, there are plenty of spaces left.

Much as we might like to change the conversation and focus on other things that matter, the debate remorselessly tracks back to this one all-consuming issue. There is no getting beyond Brexit, because our political system has become Brexit.


It is the wound that refuses to heal, the obsession of the political class, the undoing of much that held the promise of being so right.

Dreary squabbles dressed up as national debate. Mind-numbing platitudes which rob language of any meaning. And a journey that seems to move us every day that little bit nearer to nowhere.

Remember, by voting for Brexit we were voting for self-government. In our greatest exercise in direct democracy, we are hardly writing the text book on how to carry it off with aplomb.

Little wonder that if you are one step removed from the obsession, you might either feel physically sick at the choices on the political menu, or have zoned out entirely.

We must beware desperation. With it comes bad decisions – and desperate seller truly is a dead seller. This is the point at which self-denial serves to deceive, by dampening down the sense of peril no matter how real it is, and when we grasp at straws it is the moment of greatest risk.

Think passengers on the Titanic who went to their graves in the belief that, despite the clear danger, the ship remained unsinkable. But take the good news where you can: if you weren’t in a rush for the life-boats, the bar remained open and the band played on – until she sank.

Our version of the Titanic is to surround ourselves with the rhetorical equivalent of polyfilla, filling the cracks with the reassurance that we are the sixth largest economy in the world and thus too big to fail.

Lehman Brothers drew comfort from the same logic. It went bust.

Yet the current predicament is not because Brexit is inherently good or bad. After all, we have no idea what post-Brexit life is actually like.

Despite the political turmoil, ours is an economy that continues to confound. Take progress in jobs. Last week, UK employment hit a new record, the jobless rate slumped to its lowest level since 1975, and weekly average earnings rose to their highest since March 2011.

Brexit itself isn’t the problem. Nor are the fundamentals of our resilient economy, our hardworking businesses, or our nation of talented entrepreneurs.

But the political attrition since the vote has robbed us of resolve and energy. The referendum has punctured our system of parliamentary government. The public anger on both sides is palpable – and the Prime Minister has not found a way to abate it.

We have been in the EU for 46 years so if we need more time, so be it. But that must be in the service of decision, not obfuscation.

It is very much in our interests to step up, not step away. And that means getting a deal we can live with and that our nation can find peace with.

We cannot afford to tune out if we are to win. We’ve got to dig deep. And while I admire the musical lyrics of a legend, freedom has to be so much more about what we gain rather than having nothing left to lose.

 

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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