A personal anecdote wraps up the political atmosphere right now in Britain. We were in a restaurant when old friends happened to pass the table. “Isn’t Brexit frightful?” they said. When I replied that it opens the way to independence and democracy, their faces contorted with anger — it’s farewell old friends.
That same rage has split both main political parties. Prime Minister David Cameron has often told the nation that if he failed to obtain the reforms that were needed from the European Union, Britain would leave. When he indeed did not obtain those reforms, he inexplicably reversed his opinion and campaigned to remain in the EU. It is a mystery. Resignation was his only option after losing the referendum. Had he instead campaigned for Brexit as he had indicated, he would now have immense popular support to carry him though this parliament and the next.
As it is, a succession crisis arises. The first step is a sort of primary; the Tory members of Parliament have to choose candidates and a later vote by party members will decide the winner. Two possible Brexiteer candidates, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, have conducted a feud that misfired, putting them both out of the running. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has convinced a majority of MPs to vote for her, but she campaigned to remain in the EU, and might well find some way to finesse Brexit. A minority of MPs prefer Andrea Leadsom, a backbencher who stood out arguing the Brexit case intelligently and calmly. Anyhow the next prime minister will be a woman.
Post-Brexit, a veil, or better a shroud, should be drawn over Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. Corbyn himself cannot explain why his long-standing opposition to the EU ended with his support for remaining in, thus alienating millions of traditional Labourites, and his response to the party’s Muslim-led anti-Semitism is — how to put it — wishy-washy. Shadow cabinet members have resigned in a bloc, a motion of no confidence was passed, and Corbyn looks the other way.
In a short time, this will all be resolved. Something very different and long-lasting is the blackening of ex-prime minister Tony Blair. A shallow personality, he did much harm in office, for instance encouraging mass immigration, abolishing the House of Lords, empowering Irish terrorists, and deferring in every respect to the EU with his eye on becoming president of Europe. Most people shrugged at all of that, but cannot forget or forgive his part in the overthrowing of Saddam Hussein in 2003. In the popular imagination, an egomaniac Blair lied to the public, he let down the troops, he was President Bush’s lickspittle. “I will be with you, whatever,” he wrote privately to the president. Just published, an official report condemns Blair with a scornful thoroughness that will carry through to the history books.
Another anecdote. Martin Gilbert, the summa cum laude historian of Winston Churchill, was a friend and contemporary of mine at Oxford. He was on the committee reporting, and told me that on the evidence available any reasonable person would have taken the same decisions on Iraq as Blair. But Martin has died, and cannot speak for himself or Blair.