Brexit debate: passing beyond satire

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The grotesqueness of the Brexit debate goes far beyond The Mikado's political satire

Okay, this is the last blog I shall write before the EU referendum. I cannot wait for next Friday. I dread our voting for a wrong result and, even if I get my way and the electorate votes Remain, I have many bad feelings about the possible aftermath. Moreover, the whole debate (a word which dignifies it beyond anything it deserves) has been so appalling as to be beyond even satire.

The degree of division we have seen among the political classes, all of whom almost without exception have behaved badly, risks being mirrored throughout society: our politicians have shamed themselves and our country. At least the so-called England supporting hooligans in France at Euro 16 only throw bottles and insults: they don’t lie and exaggerate as well.

On Wednesday, while TV news showed endless film of the absurd Brexit flotilla on the Thames and its dismal confrontation with Remainers led by Bob Geldof, I took myself to Newcastle’s Theatre Royal for a bit of drama therapy. Actually, I hoped for some amusing insights from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, brilliantly staged by Scottish Opera. G&S’s operettas are Victorian-era political satires, and I thought the bizarre court structure of the town of Titipu might furnish some interesting parallels to the Brexit debate.

But fictional Titipu – even with its Lord High Executioner, a former tailor condemned to death but then required to become executioner and ultimately presented with the challenge of executing himself (mercifully avoided) – seemed less absurd than some of the antics we’ve been witnessing recently.

Titipu also boasts the magnificently venal courtier Pooh-Bah who manages to hold all the offices of state from Lord Chancellor to Chief of Police and Archbishop to Attorney General, drawing a salary for each of them and pompously consulting all of them when deciding on policy (and the scale of the bribe he’s prepared to accept).

It’s hilarious knockabout fun, and the tunes are great too. Clearly the way in which Pooh-Bah accumulates all the political jobs in one personage is a satire on the way the political classes have always clung to one another, cronyism and vested interest forming cabals and cliques. Thus nothing changes, and all decisions are made for the political expediency of the small group in power.

By contrast, though, the present-day political class has elected to tear itself apart. I remain horrified by the way in which leading figures in David Cameron’s own party have lined up to shaft him, and by how they rely on myth and lie, with gross exaggerations of costs (the £350 million a week going to Europe without consideration of the benefits we receive), empty promises about the NHS from Michael Gove and distortion after distortion about immigration.

The Remain side hasn’t covered itself in glory either. Brexiteers quickly named “Project Fear” the promise of gloom, disaster, war, pestilence and plague if we vote to leave the EU.

It’s all been a sorry sight and if, before this campaign started, some of us were concerned about the way in which the electorate is becoming disengaged from the democratic process because politicians have lost so much credibility and respect, it can only be infinitely worse henceforth.

Brexiteers claim Brussels wants to rule us: on the other hand, recent events demonstrate that we are barely capable of ruling ourselves. Neither is actually true, of course.

There’s a phenomenon in schools when we experience a prolonged period of bad weather. Children can’t get outside to run around and let off steam, and the atmosphere indoors starts to resemble a pressure-cooker. Children kick off in strange and uncharacteristic ways, and things become dangerously unpredictable.

That’s how the Brexit debate has become. But in schools we have someone who, one trusts, can step in, bang a few heads together (metaphorically) and restore order.

I’m not sure that we have anyone who can achieve that feat with our UK politicians right now. They’re out of control – and we shall all be the poorer for it.

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