Where is Britain heading next?
A year ago Britain went to the polls to make the biggest decision about its political and economic future that I shall probably witness in my lifetime.
For the past 40 years this country had been stumbling along in the slow lane of the European highway, never too sure whether it wanted to join those committed Europeans who had devoted their whole futures to the European cause. So when the core European governments took a great leap of faith in developing and launching the single currency on 1st January 1999 we chose to look on in wonder whilst muttering “It’ll never work.”
And when the financial crash occurred in 2007 many Brits felt justified in staying out of the single currency because of our ability to manage our own interest rates and to some extend to stabilise the UK economy. This seemed preferable to having to go along with the desires of our European cousins, dominated by Germany and France, who perhaps we never truly trusted.
It seemed then that we had the best of all worlds, access to the European free market, low interest rates and inflation, a fairly robust economy despite some periods of recession, and our voice, albeit slightly timid, being heard around the European summits.
Unfortunately we also had the inconvenience of having to abide by rules that other European states live by. Perhaps most irksome was the need to give free entry into the UK of people who wanted to live, work and play here. We frequently heard from our press that Britain is only a small island and cannot look after so many new people. There was also a belief that we would be able to save so much money by leaving the EU that we could employ thousands more nurses and doctors in NHS, although no one said where they would come from and why they might want to live here.
Such was the distaste towards this state of affairs, and with the desire of David Cameron to get back into power in the General Election in 2015, that a gamble was placed. In order to win the election and to stop Conservative supporters voting for UKIP he promised a referendum on whether we should stay in or leave EU.
As we all know, on 23 June 2016, by a margin of slightly under 1.3 million votes it was decided that we would be turning off the European highway. Britain had turned on the indicator lights and, I guess, in March 2019 we shall find ourselves on the slip road of that particular motorway.
As we have witnessed, since then a major spat has broken out between those journeying in the British charabanc. Mrs May became impatient with the constant noise coming from the children in back seats and decided to put an end to the bickering by calling a General Election. In hindsight I am sure she regrets that decision now as the noise has now only got worse.
Currently sitting beside Mrs May on the front seat of the coach are DUP, presumably feeling pretty smug now that they have secured £1 billion for the people of Northern Ireland. Well, not unsurprisingly people in Scotland, Wales and indeed England are wondering where that pot of money has come from since we all thought there was no more available. Why, they are asking, can’t they have some as well.
With so many distractions now happening inside the UK it will be a miracle if we are able to get to the exit slip road still in one piece.
And then there is the problem of what to do when we get off the European highway. Our old maps got thrown away about forty years ago or were never updated. And even if we could get our hands on them we still haven’t made up our minds as to what the next destination for our great nation should be.
We want to remain the greatest of friends with Europe, but also reignite our old Commonwealth connections with Australia and Canada, and let’s not forget the emerging new economies of India, and what about the biggest new kid on the block in the form of China. Too many choices.
It is not surprising that in the 2017 General Election Brexit was barely spoken about. Why? Because it is too monstrous a problem to say anything more substantial other than “Brexit means Brexit”, or “We are leaving the European Union”.
There is no political plan on how to proceed from the Conservative Government. In the absence of being able to inspire the voting public, the previously inept Mr Corbyn is now the brightest star in our political firmament. By the day his luminescence grows and at some stage there is a strong possibility that he will be taking control of the steering wheel.
I imagine David Cameron is wondering when this nightmare will end!
Meanwhile UKIP no longer have any relevance. Like kamikaze pilots they have delivered their payload but are not able to experience, at least in this world, whatever glory they feel they deserve.
Maybe May, Davis and Johnson can get us off the highway safely and onto a fast trunk road to some other brightly lit destination.
But what I have seen in the past few months from our politics makes me wonder if this country will end up on some poorly lit, slow meandering county lane, peppered with potholes.
For all our sakes I hope that a person of considerable qualities begins to emerge. Someone who is competent, imaginative, trustworthy and realistic.
I am holding my breath.