The world changes on small decisions, those tiny moments in the crosshairs when everything shifts.
Which moment would I pinpoint? Is it arch-Brexiter and several times failed MP Nigel Farage grinning in front of a Nazi-inspired billboard depicting a snaking line of would-be immigrants next to the words “Breaking Point”?
Is it the time shiny-headed ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, who called a referendum he barely understood, stood outside 10 Downing Street to announce that, having lost, he would flounce off to his holiday home?
Maybe it’s that big red bus, cartoonishly emblazoned with a lie so laughable, so obvious, so damn brazen that no one could believe it… right?
Whichever moment marked the change, my country has gone from one viewed as sensible to the laughing stock of Europe. If it weren’t for the continuing ineptitude of Donald Trump, we would be the laughing stock of the world. In fact, we may still be, Trump or not.
I’ve never been patriotic. I’m Welsh but have spent most of my life living in England. I have family members either from or living in: England, Wales, France, Belgium, Poland, India, Canada and Senegal. It makes it difficult to favour one country over others. Maybe I wasn’t one of those people to wear their love of their country (or countries) on their sleeve, but I always liked it here.
Now? I am ashamed of my country.
As I type, we have just over a week to go until the Brexit deadline of 29th of March. A self-imposed deadline, I hasten to add, after our elected representatives chose to trigger Article 50, firing the starting gun on a two year negotiating period we were woefully unprepared for.
How unprepared was the country? Two years after triggering Article 50 — and three years after the initial in/out referendum — we still have not found a withdrawal agreement anyone can get behind.
We are being led by the intransigent Theresa May, who has spent months ruling out every option but the withdrawal agreement she has negotiated (which no one likes) or no deal at all (which no one but some hard right maniacs in the Conservative party want). On the “opposition” side we have Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong anti-EU politician whose principles are so inflexible they form into an iron bar — a weapon with which he harms no one but himself.
Narcissists and opportunists beset us on all sides. May is desperate to both cling on to a job for which she is patently unfit and to go down in history as the woman who delivered Brexit. Corbyn hopes that Brexit chaos will somehow propel him into Number 10, and who cares if the country he controls is in flames? Meanwhile, behind May sit a cabal of disaster capitalists calling themselves the European Research Group (ERG) who plan to pick the meat off Britain’s bones after a no deal crash out and slink back into the obscurity whence they came (only millions of pounds richer) and doubtless on both sides there are those eager to set fire to regulations protecting things like workers’ rights, and slash yet more budgets as our economy shrivels.
The easy narrative here is “lions led by donkeys” but it’s not really true. There’s a saying that democracy gives you the leaders you deserve and that’s true, then a moral and intellectual coward like May is the perfect fit. This is a country turned cold, hard and mean. We are a populace that sees its beloved NHS creaking, nurses forced into using food banks, disabled people being denied benefits and schools that can’t afford to stay open for a full week and choose not to blame decades of ideological Tory austerity — but foreigners and the EU.
Outside Parliament, protesters harangue MPs who want to remain in the EU, calling them traitors. Against that backdrop, May gave a televised speech putting the blame for the whole Brexit mess at the feet of those same MPs, stopping just short of inciting the public to enact violence against them — heavily implying they would deserve such a fate.
“I’m on your side”, the personality-free would-be demagogue intoned from her lectern, trying to convince the public that she, and she alone, can deliver us to the promised land of Brexit. She shuffles on, attempting a brutish form of populism, trying to get onside with the electorate while ignoring MPs (whether or not they’re on her side), refusing to negotiate, answer questions, or explain what she’s doing.
She is unflexible. She is uncaring. She is several magnitutes less clever than she thinks. She is the perfect reflection of her country — a cold, mean, soon to be left behind country that I am ashamed to call my own.
Thanks for reading! Call me a traitor on Facebook, or whatever.