One of the oddest aspects of Brexit is that those who were angriest beforehand – “Politicians are all liars!” ; “They’re only in it for themselves!”; “I’ll never trust one ever again!” – were and remain those most likely to vote for, defend and even champion the worst liars of all. The most dishonest bunch of chancers in our history continue – quite literally – to be madly popular.
Yet Brexit’s supporters – they aren’t apologists as they can see nothing to excuse – genuinely seem unaware how perverse this is.
Someone recently quoted the line from Le Carré’s ‘Smiley’s People’ (or was it ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’?) in which Smiley says to art dealer Toby Esterhase words to the effect of:
“The more you’ve paid for a fake, the less you’re able to question its authenticity.”
This helps explain why, with the wreckage piling around us, those most invested in this patent insanity seem genuinely not to see what they’ve done – or what’s being done in their name and, not least, to them. They paid for this fake with their very souls so they have to believe it – and find ever more bizarre justifications to back up their misjudgement.
For the whole self-willed nightmare has been a triumph of emotion over thought from the start. Brexit – and wider populism – is all about it: “Just believe!” “Just hope!” “Have faith!” And worse: beware those who do think: they’re “enemies of the People”; traitors within, “a metropolitan elite”; “the chattering classes”; or to quote Michael Gove, “experts”.
Most of us are none of the above . Our only sin, paraphrasing Bertrand Russell, is to prefer our opinions to be correct before we decide to hold them – which requires putting in a bit more thought than feeling.
It’s hard enough to admit error if you thought too little or too much about something, but near impossible if heavily-stoked emotions led your thinking from day one. If it’s about who you are, not what you think.
It was that approach to marketing Brexit (helped by the very British – or is it predominantly an English? – delusion that, bar the odd war, ‘History’ is what others suffer or at best endure and is for them alone to learn from), that won the day in 2016 and has buttressed the faithful’s crumbling ruins ever since, although any objective observer can see its absurdity.
One effect of this fancy is that – safely untested behind the accident of our engirdling seas – we’ve never really had to ask who we are, but only the far easier question of who we aren’t. Unlike all our continental cousins we’ve been untested in our own country by war, invasion, revolution or reconstitution.
That time is now upon us – at our own hand! – and, while it may not be 1930s Germany, it will tell us things about ourselves that we really don’t want to know. Or admit.