How it has felt to be British (and a Bremainer) these past two weeks.
There’s a theory that the British developed their world famous sense of humour, irony, and love of sarcasm as a way of reconciling that we went from the greatest empire the world has ever seen* to an insignificant little island next to France, in just a few decades.
I’ve always liked this theory. It’s neat. Humour is obviously best birthed by tragedy. It also suggests that our humour is world renowned, which, even if incorrect, is a pleasant enough notion to ponder. The problem with it, however, is all the overwhelming evidence that we have never accepted we’re an insignificant little island next to France.
Brexit was just the latest example of our raging Small Island syndrome, as we plucky Brits, egged on by a small cabal of right-wing media and an odious political elite, finally squared up to the European bully. With trepidation we sucker punched him in the ear before running back to the safety of our friends, who then promptly disowned us.
The fallout has been like a bizarre Game of Thrones spin-off no-one remembers commissioning. In this one, Game of — I don’t want the — Thrones, the goal is to abdicate faster than everyone else, in what has looked from the outside like the world’s politest game of musical chairs. “Sit, please. I insist.” , “After you. Me? I enjoy standing. Did the music stop? Oh, I hadn’t noticed”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the whole Brexit saga is that everyone kept banging on about there being two options — “Leave” and “Remain”, completing forgetting to mention that the voting slips held a third option, “Burn it all down…”
It’s in those ashes that we now sit, forlorn, trying to retain that famous sense of humour. Those still vying for power are doing their part to provide us with punch line fodder. Jeremy Corbyn, the nation’s favourite doddery left-wing Grandpa found himself in front of an open goal, the ball at this feet, the crowd chanting his name, only to discover he’s been struck down, once again, with the political equivalent of Locked-in syndrome. The ball is still at his feet. The goal is still open but the crowd has long since left, frustrated at his inability to do something with his balls.
For satirists, it has been a bumper few weeks. This shits been writing itself. We lost in the Euro’s to an even smaller Island no-one cares about. One that actually learnt from the financial crash and punished its bankers, instead of its citizens. Oh, the irony. What with our citizens, through Brexit, finally biting at a hand that had long stopped feeding them. Perhaps not the hand they needed to bite, or thought they were biting, but a hand nonetheless. We’re sarcasm experts? What about Iceland both celebrating our defeat and manifesting the entire sentiment of Europe into one long, elaborate, sarcastic, slow clap routine?
In the shadows of all this failure and abjection, the fringes have been raiding their bargain bins for Prime Ministerial hopefuls many of us have never heard of. In response we’ve been spun dizzy googling what exactly a Liam Fox or a Stephen Crabb is and why we already hate them. A cursory glance at them failing to complete a simple human task such as clapping is usually enough, and possibly proof the lizard people might be real, after all.
The current batch of Labour and Conservative leaders and hopefuls feel like solutions to a problem no-one remembers having, such as — what’s the most efficient way to crash your new car into your own house?
Of course, Brexit has happened. We have to move on. We have to rebuild. Blame doesn’t help. Yet, it’s hard to let go of its comfort. It feels good to be angry. To hurl insults. To malign Brexiters. To treat them as the irrational believers of some Holy Trinity of Lower-Class Stupidity church. A cult whose god is not real and whose members we can heckle and insult back to rationality, forgetting, as with religion, it’s never about who is right and wrong, or whether the god really exists or not. The question is better phrased as how does it feel while believing in that thing that might well end up to be wrong?
For Brexiters, it must feel pretty good, I imagine. They got to be Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving back to the poor. They got to pull up a drawbridge everyone told them couldn’t be lifted. Whether it really can and whether we really will isn’t the point. Believing you have control is the next best thing to actually having control. Just like with the devout, shouting at them that their God — who I envision as twelve armed Nigel Farage, a truncheon in each, clubbing a Lithuanian plasterer — isn’t real, doesn’t help. Nor does reminding them of their own impending financial doom. Or the belching of some distant London stock marketing. For them, FTSE is a game you play under the table. Europe is a place you save to go on a package holiday. THE POUND FELL AGAINST THE DOLLAR?!?! Well, erm, pick it up then? Financial doom is not a threat, it’s what already happened a decade or two ago.
So, here we are. We Brits “have our country back”, it’s a shame we have no idea what to do with it. Still, at least we still have our humour, right? Good, because the Chilcot report is out, and it looks like we’re going to need it…
*Rating empires by people enslaved and land conquered is spectacularly distasteful yet completed with commendable detail here. We win. Hurrah. Rule Britannia etc etc.