In 1974, soon after the three-day week, in the midst of industrial turmoil, in the throes of an election campaign, Harold Wilson, leader of the Labour Party, remarked that all the British people wanted was “a little peace and quiet”. That year, they voted twice for a little peace and quiet. They didn’t get it, but Wilson was right to think that they wanted it.
Politicians, journalists, and the chattering classes generally, constantly and vastly overestimate the degree of interest that people have in politics. No matter how many opinion polls report that only 5 per cent of the country can identify more than two members of the Cabinet at any given moment, they are so consumed by politics themselves that they assume that everyone else is too. I don’t know why I’m saying ‘they’. I should mean ‘we’, but perhaps I don’t include myself any longer.
The last time I wrote a blog about current political events was more than two months ago. Extraordinary. One reason is that I have been so wrapped up in trying to complete my thesis that I haven’t thought much about anything else. But that’s not the only reason. I, too, am fed up with all the political brouhaha, and especially with Brexit. What I want is a little peace and quiet.
Until this summer, Britain spent two years in what was as close as it ever gets to a political fever. Now we have to wait and see how things play out. And get on with our lives again. To bowdlerize Dr Johnson, he who is not tired of Brexit does not have a life. It still matters hugely: of course it does. But we’ve been there, done that, got the poster from the side of the bus. Enough already.
So when Lord Adonis pops up, as he did this last week, frothing at the mouth about Brexit and saying all sorts of things he could just as well have said a year ago, and may have done for all I know, my main feeling is one of boredom. Even if he’s right. Perhaps especially if he’s right, because it’s too late now.
Speaking for myself, but perhaps not only for myself, I have become a political somnambulist. I wade through a daily dose of Radio 4 headlines, or Channel 4 News, or a clutch of newspaper columns, eyes glazed over, hearing what is said, but not really listening to it and not much affected by it. With Brexit, we are on a long route march, the course set 18 months ago. I mechanically note the occasional milestone. We have agreed the divorce bill. We are starting on trade talks. Plod. Plod. Plod. Until eventually we leave the EU, eventually there is some sort of deal, and eventually a new life emerges. Apart from Brexit, nothing much is being done on the political front, and few people seem to care that it isn’t.
It may not turn out this way, of course. We may return to the age of convulsions we left behind as soon as we had digested the election result. The Tory party might tear itself to pieces. Jeremy Corbyn might become Prime Minister. It is not unthinkable that circumstances could arise that will cause Brexit to unravel. But you get the sense that no one really believes that such spasms will occur. The Government doesn’t believe it. The Labour Party doesn’t appear to believe it. Not even the LibDems appear to believe it. So, unless the world is turned suddenly on its head, on we go. Trudge. Trudge. Trudge. And, for that, we have the perfect Prime Minister. Trudging is what she does best. She may yet be around a lot longer than anyone thinks.
This feeling is not just to do with Brexit, or with Britain. The world has improbably survived nearly a year of a Trump presidency. It has proved not a whit better than most of us feared. Other than the fact that we’re all still here. That counts for something, I suppose. But no one now bats an eyelid at anything the President says or does, no matter how outrageous. The more he ratchets up the rhetoric, the more the world ratchets down its response. These things will pass. Three more years to go. Or perhaps seven. No, it’s not morning yet. Go back to sleep. By the time you awake, Germany may have a government.
There is a limit, it would appear, to how much politics most of us can take. From mid-2015 to mid-2017, we feasted on the stuff. Course after course was laid before us at the banquet, accompanied by lashings of booze. The politicians can be left to carry on with the gorging. For the rest of us, now is the time for a severe diet and a large pack of Rennie’s. Now is the time for twelve months of a little peace and quiet.
Happy new year.