Never meet your enemies — you might like them, and that ruins stuff. I had dinner with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, about a year ago. During his time in office, Rowan came out with what I considered to be some of the most cringing, effete, left-liberal, self-abnegating rot I have ever heard. But then, at this dinner, I met the most kindly, charming, humble and witty human being. If a man could be said to actually radiate goodness, that was Rowan. I left the dinner utterly dismayed. Never meet your enemies.
So it is with Matthew Parris. I bump into Matthew every so often and am always reminded what a delightful chap he is: drily humorous, ineffably good-natured and a pleasure to talk to. Luckily, most of his fellow travellers are not similarly equipped — his friend David Aaaaaaronovitch, for example, is in person a smug dirigible inflated by gusts of self-delusion and self-righteousness. But there’s something even worse with Parris — he writes beautifully, too. It is an awful thing to see your opponent’s case put forward with elegance and erudition. Luckily again, most of his fellow travellers are not similarly equipped. Read a sentence by Polly Toynbee and fairly quickly a thin wisp of smoke will exit your temples, wraith-like — that is the will to live escaping your cranium. And yet it is still the case that I disagree with almost everything Matthew writes, on almost every issue. Sometimes, when I finish reading one of his articles, I am so irked at its sumptuous, chiming wrongness that, irrationally, I take a visceral dislike to his bloody llamas as well as his viewpoint. I don’t think ‘I hope your llamas all die’ or anything like that. I just think if one hove into view, spitting like a transgressed Remainer, I might kick it, spitefully, on the fetlocks.
Last week Parris regurgitated, entertainingly, a familiar bellyful of bile in the direction of those of us, the more than 17 million of us, who voted in favour of leaving the European Union. And won the referendum by more than a million votes, remember, Matthew. It was predicated on a comment made by the aforementioned friend Aaaaaaronovitch, who told him, with some glee, that Brexit was ‘dying’. A thinnish source, Matthew. This is a man who insisted that the Iraq War was a noble enterprise, that Saddam definitely had weapons of mass destruction and that the Tories would win the last general election with a landslide. I have tried to remember anything David’s ever been right about, but I’ll have to get back to you on that. But if Brexit really is ‘dying’, then isn’t that a worry for anyone who believes in democracy?
No, not at all. Not if you subscribe to the view that the Brexiteers are all thick as mince, pig-ignorant or deranged, and not deserving of the vote, as Matthew still does. These morons cleave to a spiritual vision of what it would mean for the UK to be liberated from the European Union, he asserts, and are unbothered by the promise — made exclusively by Remainers and so far decisively unproven, if something can be decisively unproven — that we will be much worse off as a consequence. I don’t know any Leave voters who fit this convenient stereotype; maybe I should get out more. Almost all of the Leave voters I know voted thus on the issue of sovereignty and the suspicion that we might do OK in a world beyond Jean-Claude Juncker. Nobody I know voted Leave because of that promise to repatriate an enormous sum to the NHS. It was a dismal campaign on both sides, hyperbolic figures bandied about, grave threats sprayed over the populace. I, as a fairly reluctant Leaver, was almost — almost — swayed by Project Fear. No investment, high unemployment, British industry wrecked, house prices collapsing. None of that has happened; quite the reverse. Investment is up, employment is higher than it has ever been, inflation has just come down. Oh, there are still plenty of people, like Matthew, saying this economic shit will ‘soon’ hit the fan. Always ‘soon’. Much as George Osborne said it would hit by October last year. I prefer to put my trust in what is happening, rather than what some embittered people tell me will happen, one day, not far down the road, mark my words.
And now, according to Parris, we Leavers are corralled into supporting a ‘soft Brexit’ because it may be the only one left available to us. Ah, yes — here he has a point. But not because the will for Brexit is weakening, but because his own reliably stupid party made a decision, based upon hubris and arrogance, to hold an election that nobody wanted. And an election in which the Brexit dog simply did not bark, despite the electorate being told that it was a Brexit election. Far from it. In the end it was a return to two-party politics: both the Conservatives and Labour, of course, supported the will of the people and were pledged to honour Brexit. The pro-Remain parties — the SNP and the Liberal Democrats — performed abysmally.
If we are being shepherded towards an ineffectual and unsatisfactory soft Brexit, it is not because the realities of the Brexit debate have changed; they palpably have not. It is because Matthew’s party is riven with loathing and dispute and clinging on to power by its fingertips, desperate to clutch at any straw that wafts its way.
There is not the slightest evidence that the mood of the country has changed regarding our leaving the EU. Only that internecine squabbling and the lack of a majority in parliament has meant that the clear mandate of last summer might be assuaged, watered down, ameliorated by a political opportunism that has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue itself. I think even llamas would be able to grasp that point.