Who could have imagined that the vote for Brexit could have thrown so much of the politics of our Western world into such turmoil? Especially that of the United Kingdom (as it is laughingly called).
One would have imagined that the appointment of Theresa May as UK Prime Minister --- no need for an election, chaps, not at all! ---- would have stilled the fires of idiocy that seemed suddenly to have overcome everybody. Who was this woman, risen from the depths of the Conservative Party to absolute power? We were all just groping around, wondering what to think of her, wondering how much she meant her pledge to care for everybody in the Kingdom, a pledge as far removed from Conservative traditions as it is possible to be, wondering what her occasional sallies of humor might have meant --- for example on one occasion she said that Boris had once tried to negotiate with Europeans, and had returned with three half-working cannons! ----- when the news came that she had appointed the man himself, the unpredictable Boris, as Foreign Secretary.
The newspapers since have been full of his past gaffes, wallowing in them to such effect that probably everyone reading this has already seen them all, gaffe after gaffe. His insult to Erdogan, of Turkey in a poem he wrote calling him a "wankerer" to rhyme with Ankara, suggesting he had had sex with a goat; his description of Hillary Clinton as having the face of “a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital”; his description of Africans as “piccaninnies”; his description in Israel of people who oppose Israel’s occupation of Palestine as “really just a bunch of corduroy-jacketed…lefty academics”;
--- and so it goes on, the guy has a definite gift for ill-timed description.
Fresh out of 10 Downing street this morning with his new remit in hand in the traditional red briefcase, he had difficulty finding his car, and tried three before he found the right one. Sounds typical, and perhaps a stirring harbinger of the Tory approach to Europe in the coming days: complete disorientation.
I have, of course, a personal interest in British politics, having lived in that country for eleven years, during eight of which I was employed to write about their politics. I was always astounded by the sheer effrontery of the Tory party, always so unashamed as to be almost admirable, and remember vividly how even the more intelligent of their ministers could stand there before the gathered tribe of Tories and solemnly dedicate them all to serving only the interests of the nation, because of their unshakeable sense of duty. Tory duty, inculcated at every public school, where the ministers were usually educated because of their wealth and privilege. In those days I had a low opinion of the Tories, but I did develop a slight admiration for Harold Macmillan, descended, as he always reminded us, from a Scottish crofter, the man who picked up the reins after the disastrous Anglo-French attack on Egypt, led by the bewildered Sir Anthony Eden soon after he took over from Sir Winston Churchill, after a lifetime of being second fiddle.
Macmillan, now that one can see him in the perspective of the past half century, was a remarkably sophisticated Tory who was able to shrug off the attacks of his opponents as if they were annoying flies. I remember once when he had sacked half his Cabinet, and immediately left for a trip to the Soviet Union shrugging it all off to reporters at the airport as “a little local difficulty.”
He was the only politician I have ever seen who, when he was telling one of his convolute jokes, actually seemed to stick his tongue into his cheek, as if to announce to the dimwitted amongst us that everything he said was said with tongue in cheek! Got it, Harold, we got it, and we were all laughing….
But Macmillan ran up against De Gaulle, who pushed him away because he didn’t trust the British to be wholehearted Europeans. And was the General ever correct about that! Still Macmillan never was like our modern right-wingers, who, nurtured at the teat of Thatcher and Reagan, are ready to pull the whole edifice down around their ears. Although he didn’t hesitate to throw Britain’s ancient allies under the bus when it became clear to him that the country’s best interests lay in becoming closer to Europe, Macmillan maintained the essential features of the welfare state that had been built largely by the post-war Labour government.
Nowadays, the Brexiters --- that is to say those who are pursuing the exactly negative reasons for which they joined the European Community in the first place, that they think they can do better outside Europe than inside it, are shoving off from Europe without a second thought, once again abandoning their friends for some higher, poorly explained purpose that leaves only a sense of betrayal. Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it too! The British are experts at that.
We are all awaiting developments from the slightly eccentric figure who has risen to the top in Britain.