The political meltdown continues. We find ourselves watching, goggling in disbelief, as one party hands out to cronies, and the other continues to destroy itself.
The other day I saw a TV programme I never expected to watch. To my astonishment, I found myself glued to Channel 4’s Gogglebox.
Ordinary families around the country (ranging, when I watched, from Liverpool to Hull to Wiltshire) are filmed watching television, their reactions edited into what media types might call an extended vox pop.
I tuned in because this one was a Brexit special: it was certainly special! I’m not sure I’ve seen anything post-referendum so neatly, skilfully or hilariously encapsulating what I sense is the prevailing national mood about the vote and its consequences.
No, I’m not about to reiterate my Remain views. Indeed, this Brexit edition of Gogglebox contained little about the vote itself. To be sure, one young woman told her parents she didn’t vote: she had no idea which way to cast her vote, so she didn’t. And there was a telling illustration of people’s ignorance of the issues: one motherly figure commented, “At least outside the EU we can buy curly cucumbers again.” Her husband was rightly incredulous.
The last word was also about the chaotic nature of the referendum: “It’s Hokey Cokey politics! In, out, in, out, they haven’t a bloody clue!”
Nonetheless, the Gogglers’ eyes were mostly on the politicians, not the issues: the programme focused more on the outrage of ordinary people at their incompetence, haplessness and untrustworthiness. The overwhelming emotion I identified was scorn.
Thus there was derision for Nigel Farage, who without exception was regarded as smug and untrustworthy (with less polite epithets added). Two women shouted at Farage in frustration, “What’s the plan? You ain’t got one.” That followed his unconvincing dissociation with the campaign that claimed we pay £350m each week into the European Union.
There was certainly scorn and no sympathy for former Prime Minister David Cameron. “He should be ashamed,” they said, commenting that he been stupid enough to call the election but was then “getting out the back door before the sh*t hits the fan. They’ve got no plans.”
There was mockery for the travails of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. The Gogglers hooted at his untidy front garden, the leader of a major party obliged to duck under the dangling foliage at his front door. Deputy Leader Tom Watson was at Glastonbury, instead of trying to hold his party together: “What the hell’s he doing there?” was the incredulous query.
Angela Eagle’s emotion and on-screen tears cut no ice: “Give her a tissue: she’s got issues!” Then, more aggressively, “What the **** was that?”
Next came the new government under Theresa May. The Gogglers were underwhelmed by her dress, wondering why she was wearing a bicycle chain round her neck when she made her first speech outside No. 10. Criticism followed of the cleavage she displayed.
Boris Johnson gave rise to genuine anger. In his post-referendum speech, he was distracted by a large fly, visible even on screen. One Goggler commented drily, “There’s always flies around sh*t.” His appointment as Foreign Secretary was “like putting a ferret down a rabbit-hole.” Somehow that was a vivid image.
Perhaps I’m a snob, and previously failed to take seriously the views of serial television-watchers. This programme changed my mind. These were people in all kinds of places and homes, describing huge political events honestly, trenchantly and with that fine British sense of humour and irony.
They were, I suppose, what Tory politicians like to call “ordinary hard-working people”. Like the rest of us, none had much idea what would happen post-Brexit, there was no hint of either Project Fear or “getting our country back”, and no one advocated intolerant or racist views.
They felt things deeply, though. They shouted at one another, yelled at the TV. Above all, amid their dismay at our current political plight, they talked sound common sense.
In the end I felt reassured. Good old British pragmatism, phlegm and healthy scepticism are still alive.
Thank God for that! In the coming months and years we’re going to need those qualities – and more besides.