There was a shrewd old Tory MP called John Stokes. He was not on the left of the party. Indeed, I once told him that he was the right pole. He chuckled at the compliment. Others — including some Conservatives — would not have regarded that as a favourable assessment, and often found his views dismaying. He enjoyed that and, to encourage it, would play the role of caricature reactionary. This rarely failed to get a rise. There is a comparison with that consummate ironist Jacob Rees-Mogg, though Jacob is also a serious Tory philosopher. John’s many friends could not have alleged that of him. He once aroused derision in the House by saying that things had come to a pretty pass: people were talking about politics in the pubs. What would he have made of our present discontents?
The British people are now divided into two contending factions. There are those who are desperate to talk about Brexit. There are those who are desperate to change the subject. My forays into a couple of rural pubs have led me to two other firm conclusions about public opinion. First, politicians are held in almost universal contempt. Sometimes, the locals would exempt their own member; otherwise it was à la lanterne with the lot of them. I would argue that this was unfair; one must not judge the entire parliamentary race by Theresa May. But I was swimming against an implacable current.
The second is that everyone wants the whole business over with. As the French said at the beginning of the last war: ‘Il faut en finir.’ Admittedly, that did not have a happy ending: even so, it might work for us. As I write, it still seems possible that we may stumble out of the EU on Friday. That could be the best possible outcome, and it would also be an appropriate one. Mrs May’s negotiations resemble that Bruegel painting ‘The Blind Leading the Blind’. The leader is about to blunder the whole lot of them into a ditch. Yet it may be that we could blunder ourselves to a better future.
We were discussing all this in Dorset, that happiest of counties. It has no motorway. Mobile-phone reception is fitful. But the earth is fruitful in abundance, and man and nature are in harmony. There was even talk of a Dorset independence movement: Dorexit. After all, as well as agricultural plenitude there is oil at Wytch Farm, a sea coast teeming with fish and shellfish, and many a well-stocked cellar in case the Frenchies played silly buggers with an embargo. Dorset could comfortably sit out a trade war and, with a long coastline to encourage unofficial imports, there should be no problem with ‘brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk’. Channel Islands status would work well. Her Majesty rules those domains as Duke of Normandy. There has not been a Duke of Dorset since Zuleika Dobson, so perhaps the Monarch would take over that title when dealing with Her loyal Dorset subjects.
Amusing whimsy, which we stimulated with various refreshments. I had never come across bullace gin. The bullace is a type of plum, and it was the best sloe gin-type beverage I had ever encountered.
There was also an excellent Beaujolais. I know: that sounds like the grossest of oxymorons. Sensitive readers might feel like following Zuleika’s suitors to a watery termination. But a Côte de Brouilly Cuvée Godefroy is Gamay made to the standards of a sound Pinot Noir. I was required to drink for my supper (and luncheon). We were tasting a number of potential summer whites. Some of them may feature in future columns, by which time… we might… be out of the EU. Cry God for Dorset, England and Saint George.