To mark the first day of a bright new dawn, Costello sums up Brexitworld forty years earlier
Johnson: Are you sure this will work?
Cummings: It’s the Will of The People…
At the time of writing, it all looks pretty bleak for Labour Party supporters. The last poll put the Tories 19 points ahead.(update at the bottom of this article) Yes, it was similar midway through the 2017 election. Yes, this is an election with, more than ever before, constituency-specific conditions that buck the trend of national polls. Yes, the campaign allows Corbyn more direct access to people to be able to counter the most egregious media bias. Taking all of that into account, it still feels like a mountain to climb, and the ambition of being the largest party in a hung parliament, realistic a few weeks ago, seems unattainable now. The first sign of a closing of the gap in the polls has brought out the big guns of the anti-semitism tactic, a hugely successful plan to discredit the most overtly anti-racist political party in the history of the known universe. You can’t argue against it, if you’re not Jewish, without running the risk of being accused of, at best being in denial about the problem and at worst, being a racist. Even Jewish labour party supporters who have the temerity to contest the MSM version of events are demonised as traitors or not being real Jews. Please, give the tens of thousands of Jewish voices who are pro-Corbyn some air time. Please, when you write these articles, give us some evidence. Please Jeremy, argue your case. Look at some of these links for more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/mar/07/debunking-myth-that-anti-zionism-is-antisemitic Michael Rosen’s blog: https://t.co/H6kKX1R2b0?amp=1 Jewish Voice for Labour: https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/article/smoke-without-fire-the-myth-of-a-labour-antisemitism-crisis/
It could still be the case that real people voting on December 12th will show the polls to have been wrong, but I have to be honest, I’m not expecting that and I’m beginning to feel more than a little depressed. Because what is at stake in this election makes it, by a country mile, the most important in my lifetime. Despite the best efforts of the mainstream media to normalise the Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson, to place them in a One Nation Tory tradition, they are really the Brexit party in all but name.
The Selfish, the Sentimental and the Stupid
Consider what has happened in the last year.
Moderate and mainstream Tories have left in their droves. Either they have something resembling principles, and they cannot in conscience be part of a party that is going to inflict such damage on the country. Or they cannot justify, with weasel words, (See James Cleverly, Matt Hancock, Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove) the blatant, repeated and outright bare faced lying and law breaking that is the modus operandi of the current leadership. Whether they have left, or have been ousted by the withdrawal of the whip, or the actions of rabidly right wing constituency parties, they are no longer there, a moderating influence on future policy direction. Look at the names of those who have gone: Rory Stewart, Ken Clarke, Amber Rudd, Dominic Grieve, David Gauke, Nick Boles, Justine Greening, Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen. His own brother, Jo Johnson, has stepped down as a candidate. We have no way of knowing, at the time of writing, how many of his children are standing against him for other political parties. The party is now an unembarrassed coalition of the selfish, the sentimental and the stupid, a mirror image of the voters they now attract.
You just have to look at the current cabinet for a flavour of what a Johnson Government would do.
Priti Patel as Home Secretary: Believes in the Death Penalty. Thinks poverty is the fault of local authorities. Broke Civil Service regulations last year as Secretary of State for Overseas Development by holding secret meetings without the required Civil service officials, with members of the Israel government over illegal settlements on the West Bank. Thinks British workers are “the worst idlers in the world” Has advocated reducing dramatically the welfare state in the UK and imposing working conditions of countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea
Sajid Javid as Chancellor. His main role appears to be as a token person of colour in the cabinet. Has suffered outright and open racism from other Tory members in the way he has been treated and in the torrent of social media abuse he has experienced from many constituencies, members and officials. Played a leading role, before becoming an MP, in Deutsche bank, enriching himself on the back of his trading of collaterised debt obligations (no, me neither), the financial instrument that played a central part in the collapse of the global banking system.
Liz Truss as President of the Board of Trade. Someone with the largest recorded gap between their ability and their own estimation of their ability, coming just ahead of Andrea Loathsome, the person who wants to get rid of all workers’ rights legislation from Europe.
Dominic Raab, co-author with Priti of the book “Britain unchained”, a rag bag collection of lunatic fringe right wing stuff, both on economics and social policy. This is the stuff that passes for the intellectual wing of the party. The compensation prize in this election, if the Tories win, is the prospect of Raab, IDS, and even Johnson himself losing their seats. Most of them, Johnson in particular, wouldn’t be able to find the high street of their constituency without a minder holding their hand, because they don’t give a flying fig leaf for boring old constituency work. That sort of stuff is for social workers.
Matt Hancock, minister for Health, who will say and do absolutely anything he has to, to cling on to power and his ministerial limo.
And that’s before we get onto Jacob Rees-Mogg, Minister for the eighteenth century and Michael Gove whose policy crimes and misdemeanours, and his absolute equanimity about lies and law breaking almost rival Johnson himself. (What a dream team that would have made back in 2016 – The Mendacious Brothers).
So what policies could we reasonably expect to be enacted if the Tories have a working majority, given that the new crop of MPs are likely not to have a single scruple or moral instinct between them? Well, for starters:
- Savage anti-immigrant legislation
- Selling off much of the NHS to USA and a quantum leap towards Health insurance
- Abolition of all meaningful workers’ rights laws – expect restrictions of sick pay entitlement and the right to paid holidays.
- Abortion outlawed
- Increase in State pension age to 75
- Slashing of public spending on services and infrastructure
- Increase in unemployment that not even the expansion of the unregulated gig economy can mask.
Most worryingly, once Johnson gets a majority, I don’t think that it’s far fetched to suggest that they will do everything in their power to stack the elections odds against Labour ever getting re-elected. The Boundary commission redrawing of constituencies will go ahead this time, with all that implies for Labour. They will bring in the blatantly partisan requirement for photo ID before citizens are allowed to vote. This will effectively disenfranchise tens of thousands of Labour voters. Johnson has shown his utter contempt for previously accepted norms of public discourse and for the rule of law and the conventions of parliamentary democracy, and will have no hesitation in dismantling anything that is a hindrance to his pursuit of power and his retention of power once he has his hands on it. The most recent heavy-handed threats against Channel four for not just rolling over are a sign of how none of the freedoms we have taken for granted for so long can now be guaranteed.
Lies, damned lies, and the media
Johnson: Won’t anyone notice?
Pa Johnson: Don’t worry -The great unwashed can’t even spell Pinochio
And it is this that is at the heart of this election, the reason it is of such importance. It is conceivable that reasonable, civilized people can vote Conservative because they believe in a smaller state and trickle-down economics. I don’t agree with them and I think that they are wilfully ignoring all the available evidence, but democracy dictates that we must suck it up when The People make the wrong choices.
But absolutely nobody can vote for this particular brand of the Tory party, who has any regard for the truth, for the law and for freedom.
It is possible that some of the apologists can convince themselves that the ends justify the means, that they know they are right so that it is acceptable, ultimately, to bend the truth and the law, to get a Tory Government. That is chilling enough. Even more sinister is the idea that they know they are wrong, but they want power above all else and are prepared to do anything to get it and then hang on to it.
I don’t want to be hysterical about this. I may be being overly susceptible because I watched the BBC4 series, “The Rise of the Nazi Party” a few weeks ago, and I’ve just finished reading the Booker prize winner, “The Testaments”, Margaret Atwood’s follow up to the dystopian nightmare view of the future, “The Handmaids Tale”. But the checks and balances of a mature liberal democracy that we have all taken for granted as guaranteed for ever are under attack, and suddenly it is possible to see how, step by step, populist authoritarianism slides in through the backdoor and slips into a seat on the back row. Before you know it, it’s taken the stage and the audience are all clapping furiously.
We’re half way there. Already Johnson has:
- Suppressed the report into Russian interference and donations to the Tories
- Unlawfully prorogued Parliament
- Misled the Queen
- Doctored video of Starmer talking about Brexit
- Produced a fake “Fact checker” version of the Conservative Party website to mislead the public
- Threatened a national broadcaster
- Leant on the BBC, with the license fee an unspoken arm twisted behind their backs.
- Avoided all serious scrutiny by the media
- Avoided investigation into fraudulently funnelling money to Jennifer Arcuri when London Mayor.
- Lied about the reason for having the general election
Ten to twenty years ago, just one of these things would have sunk any political career. Now, apparently, the public say that Johnson’s a naughty boy and we don’t trust him, but we like him and we’re going to vote for him because he will get Brexit done, with his “Oven-Ready” deal.
It’s not the deal that’s Oven Ready. It’s us – the long -suffering Turkeys.
Fight back! Vote tactically, even if that means holding your nose and voting for the Lib Dems. Find out who are the nearest challengers to the Tories in your constituency and vote for them.
Ps: Stop press! Latest polling suggests a narrowing of the gap -It’s not over yet and this makes the tactical voting message above even more important.
A Public Service Announcement
Given recent political developments, a new General Election seems imminent. In the interests of a fully informed electorate, to protect the democratic health of the system, you may find the following guide a useful tool to use with any Young People you know.
Conservative Governments follow a cycle of events in an unchanging, fixed way, like the seasons follow on from each other. These are the key stages:
- During a period of Labour Party Government (*see below), the Conservatives spend a lot of money given to them by rich donors and foreign powers, to issue propaganda rubbishing the actions of the Labour Government and falsifying statistics to create the impression that key areas of society are in decline. The money is given to them because, under a Labour Government, the Rich have fewer opportunities to further enrich themselves at the expense of the state and the poor. This enrages them and they consider it to be very unfair and very detrimental to a productive economy. They mask their concern for the decline in their own personal enrichment by expressing concern for the lack of opportunities afforded to the poor by having a badly run economy, with rising unemployment.
2. As a priority, the Conservative party identify key areas of the economy or of Society that are in crisis. They use phrases such as “Broken Britain” and they issue misleading right wing think tank reports to stoke fears of terminal decline under the Labour Party that they portray as unpatriotic, economically illiterate, and in the pocket of terrorists and the trade unions.
3. They identify a series of key groups who can be routinely scapegoated for these manufactured crises. These tend to be the following: Immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers. Lots of preparatory work has to be done first to blur the distinctions between these groups and to create the impression that most of them are associated with Islam or terrorism. In recent years, this list has been supplemented by the idea of “Europe” or “The EU” as a sinister unelected body whose only purpose is to do Britain down because at heart we are better than them, culturally, historically, economically and morally. (see “British Values”). This narrative of British exceptionalism is pursued without embarrassment, and in some cases, it appears that some Conservative Politicians and supporters actually believe it. In recent months, new groups have been added to the list of scapegoats: The British Parliament, The legal establishment and the BBC. This has been given the helpful umbrella term, “The liberal metropolitan Elite” or more usually, “The sneering liberal metropolitan Elite”. No-one actually knows what this means. There is a suspicion that it is used in the same way that the term “Fake News” is used by Republicans in the United States, ie when they cannot give a plausible answer to legitimate questions that have been raised by a free press, or the political opposition.
4. Hand in hand with this decline goes a reckless spending of tax payers’ money, on projects and initiatives that actively make things worse. Higher taxes allow the Labour Party to encourage immigration, terrorism, criminality, unemployment. Because of high taxes and political correctness gone mad there is more homelessness, more immigration, more crime, poorer exam results, worse health outcomes, longer waiting lists. This list is literally endless. Why on earth would the Labour Party do this? What is in it for them? The Conservative Party in opposition have strained every sinew to make the answer to this glaringly obvious to everyone, apart from the handful of Communists in the country: The Labour Party are the Enemy Within.
5. Once in power, The Conservative Government follows its natural instinct, which is to dramatically reduce public spending, lower taxes and line the pockets of its supporters, the already very rich and powerful. These people, apparently, are not the liberal metropolitan elite. They may be the rural elite, or the fascist elite, but both of these groups are infinitely more acceptable than those damn liberals. The sneering ones especially.
6. This is all done in the name of freedom and to liberate entrepreneurship from the dead hand of the state, so that we can all become richer. No-one seems to worry that this has never worked. Except The Enemy Within.
7. Carrying on the work carefully prepared when in opposition, the Conservative Government continue to denigrate the work of the BBC, accusing all of its journalists and newsreaders of being Lefties. There are clear threats made regarding the licence fee and, subsequently, all news broadcasts are grotesquely “balanced”, which means even the most rabid right -wing lunatics are given equal air time for their views. Please note: This is a process likely to accelerate given the success of the Trump experiment in America. (See “Fake News”)
8. As the life of the Government progresses, their policies start to have an impact. Statistics regarding Homelessness, Health, Poverty, Climate change Social Care, Children’s services, Crime, Infrastructure, Transport etc all plummet. On the BBC news, a succession of such disasters is reported by head shaking, hand wringing newsreaders, with a baffled expression, as if they are at a loss to explain these strange, unrelated phenomena. A simple graphic would show the cast iron correlation between the election of Tory Governments and the inevitable collapse of the fabric of civil society. The point is never made because it is too “political”, so we must get used to thinking of these events as Acts of God, not policy consequences.
9. In the second half of a Tory Government, the arguments of the Labour Party and the possible policy solutions become very popular as clear and obvious solutions to the disasters wreaked by the gang of half -witted charlatans currently in office. Tory spokespeople reaffirm that they are spending more money than ever before on (insert any issue people are moaning about).
10. The year before the election when the Tories are double digits behind in the polls, they steal 75% of the Labour policies they have spent the last four years demonising, and pledge to spend loads of money on Housing, the NHS, Social care, etc etc.
11. They spend billions of pounds from the magic money tree on bungs, bribes and propaganda that forcibly remind people that the Labour Party, The Greens and The Liberal Democrats are all Communists, in the pay of the Unions, Palestine, Islamists and foreigners generally. It used to be Russia, but that’s a bit awkward nowadays.
12. They will do absolutely everything in their power to obscure the basic choice everyone has to make about what kind of society we want to be. Either we can be a country that spends 42% of its GDP on infrastructure and the public realm, ensuring a country that runs efficiently (See Germany). This used to be the case for all civilised European countries. It is what we used to do during the post-war consensus, when all of the statistics mentioned several times above were all much, much healthier. Or we can choose to spend 37% of GDP on the same stuff and watch as society crumbles around us. No-one will ever point out his basic choice to you because they are disposed to treat the electorate as ninnies who don’t know their arse from the elbow. You will get used to this. You have a choice over whether to get angry about it and protest or to shrug your shoulders and eat more of the same shit.
13. Very often the electorate buy the lies and The Conservative Party is re-elected to Government. As soon as that happens, the steps outlined above start again, from step 5, and they begin to cut public spending savagely again. They reallocate a pittance from existing budgets as a fig leaf to cover up their broken promises. This is a bit of a bore for them to have to go through, but they are heartened by the success of Trump who has hit upon a new way of dealing with this. He simply lies about it and gets away with it. This will save the Tories a lot of time in the future. (see “Dominic Raab”)
14. Every now and again, things are so badly mismanaged by the Tories that no amount of lies and spin and propaganda can prevent the election of a Labour Government. Historically, this has been a statistical aberration, but, strangely, there was a period of over ten years of Labour Government, on the back of three election victories and they did great things, but the Left don’t like to talk about that. (ask your parents about this. I think it has been removed from Wikipedia) They (the Left) still think of that period as another period of Conservative Government, cleverly rebranded. During this period, Tony Blair did several things that did not help. They were:
- Knocking back Proportional Representation. (This was a disastrous mistake, and, I believe, an example of Hubris. Jacob Rees-Mogg may correct me on this)
- The Iraq War.
- Being starry -eyed about the Rich and Famous
There are signs that this immutable cycle may be entering a period of rare adjustment, on the back of the success of Trumpery in the USA. This has emboldened the Right to embrace cheating, lying and outrageously unethical behaviour. The current Cabinet appointed by Mr Johnson is so unspeakably Right Wing and so driven by ideological fervour that they are impervious to any appeal to morality or ethical standards. There are people in Mr Johnson’s cabinet who believe in the Death Penalty. Who are against abortion. Who do not support Gay marriage or a whole raft of LGBT rights. Who think that there should be no regulation of markets, or employers or housing. Who think that the creation of a low tax, no tariff, low standards sweat shop off shore is a step in the right direction. Who do not care about the return of bombs in Northern Ireland. Who have been openly racist. There are even rumours that a member of the Cabinet is planning to make not leaving a double space after a full stop illegal, no ifs, no buts. (In that sense, this whole article has been an act of civil disobedience, which is very gratifying). I never, ever thought that I would be able to write that paragraph in bold above in my life time. They believe that their view of the world is right and that The People cannot be trusted to realise that. This means that they can no longer countenance even a brief five year hiatus in their hold on power. The prospect of not being in charge for a minute enrages them beyond reason so steps will be taken to ensure that there will never be a Labour Government again. In the same way there is now talk from the USA that Trump will not step down if he is voted out and the rule about not serving for more than two terms will be scrapped if he does win again. (see “Vladimir Putin”)
We all need to be ready for this. There will be some very dark, difficult days ahead.
So, farewell then, Theresa May.
Theresa May. A strange name for a
Prime Minister. So
She has gone,
But Nothing Has Changed.
Theresa may decide.
Theresa may waver.
Theresa may resign.
Theresa may run through sunlit fields of wheat,
Under blue skies and high, wispy clouds,
Naked and abandoned.
She has gone,
But Nothing Has Changed.
Theresa will dissemble.
Theresa will obfuscate.
Theresa will not answer the question.
Theresa will be frightened and alone in a crowded room of dangerous foreigners.
Theresa will cry hot tears in the street, angry and confused.
She has gone,
But Nothing Has Changed.
The Old Grey Owl
The pause in Brexit proceedings ushers in a period of reflection, before we all take a deep breath and go again. Although, I have to confess to being one of those Brexit nerds for whom the pause is agony, like the gaps in between Game of Thrones seasons. Just before the Easter holiday, I found myself getting annoyed when not only did Brexit not occupy the first twenty minutes of the main news bulletins, but that, horror of horrors, it wasn’t even first item. I’m afraid my habit has got an iron grip of me. The six o’clock followed by Channel 4 news (a personal favourite of mine this and so refreshing after the right wing bias of the BBC. Although one does live in permanent fear of Jon Snow keeling over live on air. He does appear to be gabbling and getting a lot of his words wrong these days. Retire Jon! You’ve done your bit. Now you can sit back and just tweet like the rest of us. Obviously, the money’s not what you’re used to, but that’s getting old for you.) Then a gap that is filled by News 24, Parliament Live, Twitter, and the Internet until Newsnight and the joy that is Emily Maitliss. Since the general election I’ve watched Newsnight religiously, partly in the hope (shameful, I know) that Paul Mason and Iain Dale will actually come to blows. He’s a big lad, though, Iain Dale. Then a gentle wind down to sleep with BBC News 24 before being woken at 6 am by The Today programme.
And this obsessive consumption of news programmes has left me with few certainties, except these: 1. European politicians, when interviewed, are notable for many things, but in particular, their effortless command of English. Can you imagine David Davies back at the start of the negotiations, conducting a meeting in French or German? No wonder he only went over there for about forty minutes in total. They also appear to be thoughtful and intelligent. Adults, in short, compared to the embarrassment that are our shower. They have a detailed grasp of the issues, they are well-briefed and endlessly patient with our amateurish efforts. It’s been clear to everyone for some time, and I suspect, to them almost immediately, that there is no Plan B, and barely even a Plan A, apart from Theresa May Maybotting for England until time finally runs out. When highly educated members of the British establishment think Foreign Languages consists of speaking English louder, it’s no wonder that the vast majority of the population don’t think its worth bothering. We really must get to grips with our failure to teach Languages with any degree of success. And I don’t mean to smear the heroic MFL teachers battling against all the odds in our schools to challenge indifference and outright hostility to foreign languages and foreign cultures. This is a cultural mountain to climb, not just a schools’ problem.
2. Nearly every TV news programme seems obliged to show its commitment to the will of the people by having some dreadful Vox pop, which always appeared to be dominated by Brexiteers, who don’t appear to know their arse from their elbow. And that’s a fully paid up member of the metropolitan elite talking there, or so the conventional wisdom goes. The vox pop is either a panel of ”ordinary folk”, often a revisit of some group of lost souls who went through the same nonsense in the run up to the Referendum, or it’s random punters in the street who are button-holed for their reaction to a decontextualized question, the answer to which is clearly engineered to be dangerously dim and populist. These little snapshots of uninformed prejudice never seem to bear any relation to what the polls are telling us. The rise in people wanting a second referendum or who have changed their mind, that many polls have indicated in the last few months, seem to have been conducted somewhere else in the space-time continuum, if these vox pops are to be relied upon. But then again, polls are notoriously unreliable. Or, in the case of Boris Johnson, don’t actually exist. Still that story this week at least had the merit of confirming what we’ve all suspected anyway, that The Telegraph just makes stuff up. What’s breathtaking, even in these post -truth days, is their casual admission that it doesn’t matter if one of their “Star” columnists lies. According to them, Johnson was “entitled to make sweeping generalisations based on his opinions”. Or lie, in other words.
Just one example of a ridiculously loaded question arriving at the required result, was the recent poll where shedloads of people mysteriously said they’d like to have a “Strong leader”. That would be instead of a really weak and weedy leader, presumably. Amazing. It’s like giving people the choice of having a cup of coffee that tastes strongly of urine or a cup of really nice coffee. “Yes, I’ll have the piss coffee thanks.” No, I don’t think so.
These are just some of the nuggets of public opinion the vox pops have treated us to in the last few months:
“I hate the French. I’ve always hated the French”
“I thought when I voted out in 2016 that we’d just be out like the next day.”
“Why can’t they just get on with it?”
“The bloody politicians are just going against the will of the people. They are all traitors.”
“They’re talking about the European elections now. Ordinary people like us don’t know how any of that works. What have the European elections got to do with us?”
“We’re British. We’ll get through it. We used to have an Empire.”
Apologies for any inaccurate paraphrasing, but you get my drift. In my darkest moments, stuff like this awakens my hidden, dormant inner-fascist and I begin to think that participation in democracy should be contingent on the possession of at least two A levels, or equivalents. Even a BTEC would do. And then, after I’ve calmed down, that turns into a lament for the state of political education in the UK. Why are we so ignorant about our most basic political institutions and structures? Why don’t people know, with any degree of certainty, what the parties stand for, who they represent, their history? And without knowing that, is it any wonder that people vote in the same way as many people choose their horse in the Grand National. The name sounds good. Nice colours on the jockey’s silks. Democracy, it seems to me, is far too important to leave to chance like this.
We must include political education as a statutory part of the curriculum that applies to all schools, public and private, academy and local authority. It’s had a token presence in PSHE programmes, but that is just not good enough. And that’s not to demean the efforts of PSHE teachers over the years, many of whom do a great job. But too often it’s a task left to form tutors as an afterthought, and, as a result, it carries the very clear message that this stuff doesn’t really matter. It’s not important. But it does matter. And it’s not just important, it’s crucial to our commitment to an informed and active citizenry.
And so, there, I’ve done it. I’ve done what every charlatan Government minister does when there is a catastrophic failure of Government. I’ve blamed the teachers. This Brexit mess is all their fault. But don’t worry. By blaming the teachers, I have, brilliantly, identified the sure -fire solution, the strategy that is always used when the whingeing teachers are at fault. More Academies. So, how does that work, you ask? Dunno, it just does. Where’s the evidence, you childishly persist? Errr… there isn’t any. Phew! Brexit sorted.
A short story by The Old Grey Owl
“It’s ten to eight and time for Thought for the Day. The speaker from our Cambridge studio is…”
“A smug, patronising bastard,” continued Ollie automatically, his left hand flicking out to jab the mute button on the radio.
Some days, he added his own ending to the familiar link in his head. Other days, when he travelled to work with a tightening knot in his stomach, he voiced it. Saying it aloud, with a mannered delivery, added to the pleasure and invariably came accompanied by a wry smile of appreciation for his own wit. In the last couple of months, that had become a daily event.
He talked out loud regularly in the car on his journeys to and from work. He often thought that it was a good thing that the dashcam was a device only configured to look out at the other traffic, not in at the driver, but in his darker moods he thought that it was only a matter of time.
Playback of footage taken inside his car would reveal some uncomfortable truths. A man who would randomly shout at other drivers, pressed into action by a range of motoring misdemeanours: not indicating, driving too fast, driving too slow, straddling lanes. The M25 was a rich source of examples of this kind of incompetence, bad manners and stupidity.
The rest of his repertoire was not provoked by any activity outside of the car, but by the entertainment he had selected inside. Mealy-mouthed, vacuous Government Ministers, desperately straining to fill their allotted time by describing what was already known so that they could not be pressed to give a direct answer to the original question, drove him to fury. He would bang the dashboard and shout at the top of his voice, hurling foul-mouthed abuse at the blatant lies and distortions the disembodied voices were peddling. Favourite songs from the treasure trove of Spotify and Bluetooth inspired lusty singalongs, swaying and headshaking in time to the beat. Occasionally, in town streets, he would find himself intoning a Test Match Special type commentary, or shrieking a Match of the Day style soundbite as he described the antics of the people on the streets.
Outside the car, walking through a shopping centre, or pottering aimlessly at home, solitariness was always accompanied by silence. It was invariably a comfortable silence, a silence that fitted him snugly like a familiar pair of old trainers. So why the change whenever he got in his car and pulled away from the kerb?
The solid clunk of the driver door closing, the rolling pull of the seatbelt and the ensuing metallic click as the buckle engaged, all signified a retreat into a private, protected, invisible world. Despite the wrap around plate glass windows, it was if he were invisible once strapped in, in the same way that those who populated television screens were detached from the viewer in their front room. They were there, but not there at the same time. He imagined it was the same feeling of anonymity, of invisibility, that internet trollers wallowed in. In the shadows, they were emboldened to spew vitriol and bile, confident that no-one would ever know who they were.
“Oh look, there’s another one,” he thought as he had to brake to accommodate the Nissan Micra that was serenely hogging the middle lane at fifty miles an hour. Too scared to mix it with the articulated lorries in the slow lane, relentlessly nose to tail from Prague to the Midlands, and resolutely refusing to contemplate the outside lane, where people actually broke the speed limit, the Micras of this world provoked the purest form of his fury.
“Moron!” he muttered at the windscreen, as he swerved around him, like a stream in flood surging around a rock in the middle of a river bed. He glanced back in the rear mirror as he pulled away from the Micra, just to check. Yes, there it was, another “Leave means Leave“ sticker, slightly obscuring the driver, squat, low down in his seat, flat cap seeming to float in the air above his head. He bellowed curses at Micraman, who just for that moment became the target for all of his frustrations with stupid Brexiteers and their little Englander small -mindedness. A little unfair, he knew. For all he could tell, Micraman might have principled, reasoned objections to the Europe that went beyond the outright xenophobic. And he would never voice this level of anger in the staffroom, where some people went quiet the second it came up as a topic of conversation. The only safe ground was to blame “the bloody politicians”, which everyone seemed to agree with. Everyone except him, that is. Blame the Government, certainly. But MPs? No, they were doing their jobs properly. If he saw one more bloody Vox pop on the news giving air time to someone saying, “They’re all the bloody same, that shower. I’m never going to vote again”, well, he didn’t know what he would do.
Still, the guy in the Micra couldn’t hear him, so he reasoned a foul -mouthed bellow at the rear-view mirror wouldn’t harm anyone and provided a healthy release for him. And God knows, he needed some kind of release at the moment. Particularly today. Another bloody lesson observation, another evening spent tweaking a lesson plan and polishing his PowerPoint, another troubled night’s sleep, worrying about whether he would get into school early enough to do the photocopying he really should have done on Friday. And to add yet more pressure, he’d been asked to bring in his identity documents because his DBS clearance had run out. That had been another forty -five minutes wasted the night before, ransacking filing cabinets in his study, trying to remember where he usually kept his passport, birth certificate and proof of address. Pressure, pressure, pressure.
He glanced up ahead. Shit. The signals that straddled the M25 blared their amber numbers. Just as he clocked the row of 50s, the car crested the brow of the hill and there laid out below him, in that familiar descent towards the Dartford crossing, was the beginnings of the banked -up lines of traffic, the red stop lights spreading back towards him like an incoming tide. He slowed, checked his rear-view mirror and indicated to move into the left-hand lane, ready to leave the motorway and join the A2. There was a grim satisfaction to be had from deftly slipping in between two gargantuan lorries, into a space barely big enough for that Micra he’d seen moments before. He smirked to himself. Micraman would need a space the size of three cricket pitches before he dared to change lanes. The smirk died on his lips almost as soon as it had formed, as the line of traffic he’d just joined slowed to walking pace and then stopped all together. The knot in his stomach tightened.
“Come on, come on,” he shouted at the windscreen, slapping the steering wheel and then gripping it white knuckled. He looked across at the car to his left and just caught a glimpse of the driver, a young blonde woman looking at him horrified, mouth agape. Their eyes met and she looked away, embarrassed. She began talking into her phone and her eyes flicked across at him a couple of times. His mouth set into a straight line. Now he was an object of fear and ridicule. How much worse could things get. The last time this had happened on the way to work, he had ended up sitting in traffic in this very spot for about two hours
He couldn’t be late. He couldn’t walk into his lesson without that photocopying. Maybe he could just explain and apologise and reschedule. “Sorry, dreadful traffic on the M25 this morning” Even just trying it out for size he knew what the response would be. Excuses were letting the kids down. They’ve only got one shot at their time at Secondary school. If you had any kind of moral purpose, you’d get up an hour earlier and make sure you got in on time. It’s not as if it’s a surprise, the traffic on the M25 being bad. His heart pounded against his chest and that familiar tightening behind his eyes began as his head started to throb.
Deep down, he knew that it wouldn’t make any difference anyway. He knew he was going to fail the observation. It was his third in a row after all, and according to their Performance Management protocols, it was three strikes and you’re out. Each one had come up with different reasons why his lesson was unsatisfactory. The first time he’d been baffled and then confused and then angry. It had never happened to him before. He’d always been a Good or Outstanding. He was so used to being good at his job, being the member of Senior Management who could hack it in the corridors and the classroom, the expert, the person that others sought out for advice or help. And now, suddenly, when he wasn’t that person anymore, he was adrift. He didn’t know who he was.
Back in the day, on the rare occasions when something went wrong, he would have talked it through with Helen. Her calm, rational reassurance would have made everything alright again, but now, since the divorce, he didn’t really talk to anyone, well, not about big stuff anyway. And so, he was left with the growing understanding that he was yesterday’s man, whose views on how to run schools and deal with “challenging” kids, were deemed old fashioned and unfit for purpose. He had, almost overnight, turned from being part of the solution, to being part of the problem.
And so, he knew that he could have spent all night perfecting his lesson plan, could have photocopied the entire contents of the schemes of work filing cabinet, could have slept overnight in his classroom to ensure he was there in time on Monday, and they would still have found a reason to fail him. And from there it was a matter of weeks to competency procedures, union representation and a hush-hush deal being offered to him to resign for a pittance.
This analysis was already there in the murky depths of his consciousness, fully formed, but it was only now, in the strange stillness of a choked and stationary M25, that it revealed itself to him and that he accepted it with a calm, zen like feeling of inevitability and release. The knot in his stomach eased slightly and the pounding behind his eyes relented. He would do his lesson, whenever he got into school and they could say what they liked. Just an ordinary lesson, one of those that over the years had generated hundreds and thousands of excellent exam results, one that he could churn out without spending hours of agonised preparation on. And then, what would be, would be.
The sun peeked through a sudden gap in the bank of clouds above, bathing the lines of cars in a warm, golden glow and he felt himself caressed by a gentle wave of relief. At exactly the same time the traffic began to move. It was not just one of those five-yard crawls that resulted in another forty minutes of stasis, it was proper, genuine movement. All around him, in cars, lorries and vans of all descriptions, drivers broke into smiles, tentative and hesitant at first but then as the traffic accelerated, broad and strong. Some even laughed out loud.
As Ollie pulled on to the A2, he couldn’t remember a time when he had felt happier. The birth of his children, perhaps? Meeting his wife? The surge of the traffic, blue sky above and bright sunshine all around kindled an almost alchemical reaction. Base metal had turned to gold, somehow, and his spirit soared. The silence in the car suddenly seemed at odds with this feeling of euphoria and his finger automatically jabbed out at the volume button.
He knew even before the first word reached his ears. Something in the tone, an uncomfortable agglomeration of vibrating air patterns, a dog whistle like scream, whatever it was, it announced itself to the world. Thought For The Fucking Day.
“…. and so, although Jesus exhorted us all to turn the other cheek, there are times when we must make a stand, no matter how uncomfortable that might be. We too, must be prepared to throw the money lenders out of the Temple and be prepared to face the consequences of our actions, no matter how daunting those consequences might be.”
His initial instinct to scream at the radio, so strongly embedded, suddenly faded as he listened to the words. He never listened to the words. He didn’t have to. Whatever it was, it would end up with some God or other telling all of the sinners to be nice. Comfort for the simple -minded, he always thought. But this morning of all mornings, the words caught somehow. The moneylenders in the Temple. He frowned and hit the mute button again before the pantomime of political debate started up again.
Looking up, he realised that he’d taken his eye off the ball and his exit was fast approaching. For some reason, maybe the volume of traffic that had build up on the M25, maybe the return to school of the Private school kids in their massive pretend off-road vehicles, the lane of traffic to his left was full. Full and fast. He indicated to move left and waited for a gap, or for someone to slow a little and let him in. His eyes flicked rapidly to rear view mirror, then side mirror and back again. Nothing.
“Come on, come on, come on. Let me in you bastards,” he muttered.
He looked ahead, checking the road ahead. It was then he noticed. Right in front of him, also signalling left and trying to squeeze into the exit lane, was Micraman.
“How the hell have you got there?” he wondered aloud.
Maybe it was a different Micra, he thought. But no, there was the “Leave means leave“ sticker, and there, bobbing up and down around it, was the flat cap. Unless Micras were always sold to aging Brexiteers, it was definitely him. And he was in some distress, if the behaviour of the car was anything to go by. It veered and wobbled alarmingly in the lane in front of him, and the flat cap was frantically moving left to right like a set of demented windscreen wipers. Framing the picture in his own windscreen was the traffic signal above, indicating the road options on the A2 after his exit. Canterbury. Car ferries. Ramsgate. Dover. The Channel Tunnel.
The road was running out for him to make his manoeuvre. He was going to have to go for it in the next couple of seconds, or he wouldn’t make it. The nose to tail lorries closed ranks, like roman centurions forming a shield wall. Suddenly, up in front of him, a tiny gap appeared and he prepared himself, clenching and unclenching his knuckles around the steering wheel. Just as he was about to dart into the gap, the Micra swerved at the last moment, and by a miracle, managed to insert himself in the chink they had left. Micraman had either had his eyes closed or had nerves of steel. The lorry at the back of the gap blared his horn, the driver’s hand jabbing down at it in fury, and there was an accompanying screech of brakes.
Ollie had watched the whole thing unfold in terrible slow motion. He instinctively flinched as the Micra jagged across the lanes, waiting for the impact that would surely follow, but apart from the horrible, accusing vibrato horn screaming, there was nothing but the smooth flow of traffic. The last thing he saw of the Micra, as it disappeared off to his left, was the sign in the rear window, “Leave means Leave”, being swallowed up by the chasing pack of lorries.
His own car sailed on down the A2, the signs for Dover, Ramsgate and The Channel Tunnel now a comforting reminder of where he was headed. He looked down at the passenger seat. The burgundy cover of his passport peeped out from underneath a folder of his documents, its gold lettering catching the sun pouring through the windscreen. “European Union. United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
“Yes,” he thought, the beginnings of a smile playing across his lips, “Leave really does mean leave.”