Sketch: The political year in review
Liam Kirkaldy takes a look at an increasingly weird twelve months in British politics
There’s nothing more depressing than being outsmarted by a bus. It’s a low moment for anyone. As the old proverb goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me bus, shame on me.
But it’s been that sort of a year – an odd one. Tories resurgent in Scotland, a reality TV star in the White House and the UK cabinet in such a deep state of confusion on Brexit that, at this point, offering up the Hokey Cokey as a strategy document would genuinely represent a major policy breakthrough. Watching it all unfold, it’s hard to escape the feeling that referendums do strange things to people.
Twelve months which started with Bob Geldof and Nigel Farage engaging in a naval battle on the Thames then moved through plans for a quick war with Spain, claims the National Trust was trying to ban Easter, and ended with a discussion over the health benefits of eating chicken dipped in chlorine.
So what happened to us? Sailors used to mutter about cabin fever – of the listless paranoia induced by extreme isolation. And at the time of writing, with politicians standing, heads bowed, to pay their respects to a clock, the idea holds a certain attraction. The UK hasn’t even left the EU yet and already the prospect of isolation seems to have driven us to a state of collective madness.
But still, it’s hard to move past that bus, unveiled in the heat of the EU referendum campaign, as the moment things began to unravel. “We send the EU £350m a week, let’s fund our NHS instead,” the bus promised us.
Sure, it was a charismatic bus – there’s no denying that – but the statement wasn’t true. Or at least, it wasn’t true in the sense that it was a campaign pledge which anyone would deliver.
The move seemed to sum up a lot of what followed, even if it wasn’t so much an example of post-truth politics, as pre-truth politics – the pledge wasn’t true, but no one had found that out yet. But then that’s really the problem with facts – any statement is true as long as you change enough of the words or numbers involved.
So yes, it’s been a mucky time, but maybe it’ll all work out fine, who knows? The vote certainly advanced the career of known wheat-hooligan and later Prime Minister, Theresa May, who found herself being catapulted into Downing Street with so little preparation that she might as well have travelled using a real catapult.
And it’s hard to say when it all went wrong for her, though with hindsight, it was probably around the time she called a snap election while 20 points ahead in the polls, despite already having a majority, then lost it. Of course, it would be cruel to mock the Prime Minister’s failed attempt at gaining party political advantage in the name of national interest, though to be fair no one forced her to approach the campaign like some sort of bungling cartoon villain.
As electoral strategies go, it was like watching Dick Dastardly setting a trap for the cars chasing him, and then proceeding to fire himself into a cliff face with a cannon. Certainly the idea of Jeremy Corbyn as Road Runner is attractive – or it would be if he didn’t bear such a startling resemblance to Wile E Coyote.
The most confusing bit, apart from the whole field of wheat business, was probably Theresa May’s decision to pull a swift U-turn on her plan for social care.
“Nothing has changed,” the PM claimed, flapping her arms up and down last May, as she announced that something had changed. Everything seemed to go wrong from there. It was like watching a deckchair collapse.
At least there was good news for the party north of the border, with Tory supporters reacting to the result – they won 13 seats in Scotland amid the failure of the party in the south – with the same kind of qualified celebration of someone who drops toast and realises only some of it is face down. Or stubs their toe and realises that, although painful, it’s not broken. Or campaigns for Jeremy Corbyn and learns he hasn’t lost the election by as much as everyone thought he would.
But still, it could have been worse for them, and in the last year, maybe that’s enough. Some put the Scottish Tories’ electoral gains down to Ruth Davidson’s personality. Others attributed it to the party’s strong opposition to independence. The matter has certainly been subject to plenty of speculation, though curiously, no one has explored the most obvious explanation for the party’s success, which is blood magic.
Who knows how they did it. A fox, hunted and sacrificed on a pentagram? A buffalo slaughtered by Ruth Davidson on the full moon? Thatcher-based voodoo? Some sort of focus group?
Impossible to say. And so what will happen next? Will Brexit mean Brexit? Will we skip Spain and go straight to nuclear war with North Korea? Or will there finally be a bit of calm? Maybe we should have a referendum on it.
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