The Brexit legacy project is far from Churchill - who will write the history?

Written by Tom Freeman on 12 February 2019 in Comment

Meaningful vote or no meaningful vote, there are no winners from the Brexit standoff, writes Tom Freeman

Winston Churchill statue in Kent - Dees Chinniah

“History will be kind to me,” Winston Churchill is supposed to have said, “for I intend to write it.” 

Like most political leaders, Churchill was very aware of his own legacy and cared deeply what he would be remembered for. 

The war leader’s success in this endeavour was illustrated recently by the response to comments on social media by Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer.

The Scottish Parliament’s youngest MSP tweeted: “Churchill was a white supremacist mass murderer.”

The Daily Mail was furious, Conservatives accused him of cherry-picking history and Piers Morgan called him a “thick ginger turd”.

Greer responded by pointing out the “verified history of Churchill” known outside the British bubble included his treatment of India, views on Africa and using troops against striking workers.

But Churchill was one of the most popular prime ministers of all time. He did, literally, write history books about the events that he lived through. It was his story. 

While it is the inescapable truth that Churchill was an imperialist and held views that are very racist, they are not recognised as his legacy in this country. 

History, it is said, is written by the winners. That said, Churchill managed to lose the 1945 election despite having an 83 per cent approval rating.

Perhaps it was putting the country before party politics that cost him, or perhaps it was the fact his Edwardian values were clearly no longer suited to the domestic politics of a country ready to move on.

While Labour triumphed in 1945 and created the welfare state, in 2019, it is not clear that there will be any winners from the current assembly of MPs. 

After a referendum that split the UK down the middle, both main parties have sided with the 52 per cent, cutting the 48 per cent adrift.

After two years of avoidance and delay, the Prime Minister continues to play chicken with her own MPs and the European Union. She kicks the can down the road again and again.

In trying to keep her party from splitting, Theresa May has been feeding the crocodile and hoping it will eat her last, which is how Churchill defined appeasement.

While the media spotlight is on process, the undercurrent has been attempts by successive Conservative leaders to prevent the party splitting. Labour, meanwhile, finds itself caught between a pro-EU membership and an electorate in its strongholds desperate to leave.

Both scenarios are a political dilemma in the hands of politicians who clearly don’t possess the courage, charisma or competence to solve it. The country looks on. 

Despite all the daily drama, it is hard to see how the history books will focus on anything else.

Churchill’s Edwardian societal views may be painted as a product of his time. Theresa May’s actions will be judged not by the dewy-eyed atavists who pursue Brexit as a nationalist endeavour, but by those who will have to live with its consequences.

For example, her decision to reinstate the Conservative whip to two MPs suspended over claims of sexual misconduct to protect herself will surely be mentioned in any historical discussion of a time when the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have come up against coordinated campaigns to protect the patriarchy by the far right, such as #Gamergate and men’s rights activism.

While the battle of the sexes has become a global affair, Brexit is a story of an increasingly insular nation and political parties eating themselves. It is hard to see how a story of abject incompetence can be avoided. 

It is still not clear who will be writing the history books on Brexit, because at this point, there are no winners.  

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