Politics: The Great Deception revised

Readers will, no doubt, be comforted to learn from the Department of Health and Social Care that “life changes due to the Coronavirus outbreak may cause you to feel anxious and stressed”.

I wonder if our gifted public servants have ever paused to think that this sort of “No shit Sherlock!” commentary is precisely why anyone with ambitions of holding on to their sanity avoids the Department’s website like the plague, if for no other reason than to limit one’s exposure to the mind-numbing diet of patronising trivia that comes from this source.

Despite that, it’s almost impossible to be unaware that it is mental health awareness week, an event that has been awarded its own Twitter hashtag. This comes complete with unasked-for advice, specifically for men, on how to avoid mental health problems.

One wonders how the “Blitz” generation of the 1940s would have responded to such advice, or what the troops on the front line would have thought about a society that is so self-absorbed that it needs to be hectored by paid civil-servants, telling them how to live their lives.

Interestingly, “tips” common to most of the mental health websites are suggestions to take up a hobby and to develop new skills – strategies that many people have already worked out for themselves.

At a personal level, I’ve returned to my boyhood hobby of making plastic models. But recently, I managed to acquire another 1/72 Revell Flower class corvette from ebay, at such a low price that it must have been a mistake.

This time round, though, I’m going to take the construction up a level, replacing many of the plastic components with what are called “photo-etch” – sheet brass parts which have to be cut out, assembled and soldered.

For me, soldering is an entirely new activity (I can’t say “skill” – I don’t have it). I’ve never tried it before and, after much trial and error, I’ve managed to put together the first of the assemblies (pictured). This is the “bandstand” – the gun platform for the afterdeck, on which is mounted the two-pounder “pom-pom” anti-aircraft gun. The diameter of the platform is two inches.

It’s taken me a week to build and will need an amount of filler and remedial work if it is ever to be used. But it’s a start. My problem now is that my index fingers are so spotted with burns from accidents with the soldering iron that I’m now having to type with my middle fingers. Perhaps that’s appropriate, given what I’ve been writing about.

Something not conducive to my mental health though is a task that I have been given by my publisher. I am to update The Great Deception for a new, fourth edition to be released next year. Its publication will mark the point at which it is anticipated the transition period will end and we will be fending for ourselves in a world fundamentally changed by Covid-19, most likely without a comprehensive (or any) trade deal with the EU.

This means writing up the events of the last sixteen years since TGD was updated (having been first published in 2003) – in what must be one of the most tumultuous periods for our relations with the EU, taking in the Lisbon Treaty, the financial crisis, the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan and, of course, the referendum and its aftermath. That will include (as far as I can) the joint impact of Covid-19 and the current negotiations with the EU.

The downside of this endeavour, however, is that I am under the strictest of instructions that the book must be no longer than the current 656 pages – for every word I add, one must be removed. My problem here is that Booker, who held the pen, has done what he was best at – compressing huge amounts of information into the text. It is so tightly written that the editing will be extremely difficult.

Nevertheless, this project will be a labour of love, and will keep me heavily engaged to the end of the year. The narrative starts well before the process of building what was to become the European Union got under way, with a discussion of the battle of Verdun in 1916, which is the acknowledged spiritual and intellectual home of the EU.

To this day, though, I still think we have written the best history of the early events which, with his partner – the English (then) civil servant Arthur Salter – Jean Monnet came to establish as early as 1926 the basic framework for the core institutions which comprise the EU as it is today.

When it came to 2003, though, when we finished the first edition, we had no idea how events would turn out in 2016 when the Brexit referendum was held – still less of the events after the referendum leading to our present position.

Those eighteen years ago, we wrote as our subtitle to The Great Deception, “Can the European Union survive” but, as we anticipate events in the near future, we could just as well have asked: “Can the United Kingdom survive?”.

Certainly, our membership of the European Union, and its predecessors, have created unique stresses in British politics, leaving us with an unbridgeable divide which shows no signs of healing.

Far from the referendum allowing the British people to “take back control”, we seem to have handed power to a self-referential claque which is wedded to extending the power of central government and destroying the last vestiges of local political autonomy. If the intent was to restore democracy to this benighted land, it has singularly failed.

That said, when we wrote the Epilogue to TGD, Booker headed it: “Deception or Self-Deception”. As much as Monnet had been duplicitous in concealing his real intentions in promoting European political integration, the real deception came in what our own politicians sold to the British people and in what so many of the British people believed the EEC and then the EU to be.

No greater self-deception can be seen than in the Tory Europhiles throughout the period, who constructed a narrative that the EU was about cooperation between nations and then, primarily, a trade agreement – denying the onward march of political integration.

In that sense, our battle was less with the European Union than it was our own politicians, and then with our own parliament – the one institution that kept us in the EU without our consent.

The Deception, therefore, merges with the self-deception of our political elites who seemed to believe that, for all time, they could keep the UK in the EU, through successive integrationalist treaties without going back to the people to ask for a renewal of their consent.

When it came to the referendum, the complacent view was that the people would vote for the status quo, and no real (or any serious) attempt was made by the “remain” campaign to sell the benefits of EU membership to an increasingly sceptical public. If there was a positive case to be made, the remainers failed to make it.

Sadly, as I will now have to recount, the “leave” campaign was effectively hijacked by that self-referential claque which is currently in power and doing so much damage to this nation – proving inept not only with the Brexit negotiations but also with the management of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Thus, although I will now be writing about the conclusion of our period of membership of the European Union, I fear this will not be the last chapter in a saga which has a long way to go yet.

Oddly, it may not even be the politics which define the final chapter but a microorganism called SARS-Cov-2, which may have more impact on events than the entire weight of the political elite.

But, if in 2003 we had no idea what 2021 would look like, I suspect that we have even less idea what 2039 might deliver – that being as far in the future as we were in the past when we completed TGD. The one thing no one can deny is that it was an epic ride and, for once, I get a stab at writing the history.

It may be a little time before I see my corvette model completed.

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