Theresa May dementedly asks us to ‘hold our nerve’ but it is gutless MPs who are letting us down

The PM has likely suffered damage to Shatner’s Bassoon, the part of the brain that ‘Brass Eye’ informed us was responsible for the perception of time

Matthew Norman@IndyVoices
Tuesday 12 February 2019 15:35
'We now all need to hold our nerve and deliver Brexit on time' Theresa May says Brexit talks are at 'cruicial stage'

Even in the infinity loop of hell where Dante on acid meets Kafka on steroids, there are laughs to be had.

They are as wintry as they are unintended, but beggars and choosers and all that. We must take our mirth where we find it, and this morning it came from the Today programme’s Mishal Husain.

It wasn’t her fault. She’s a fine journalist. If you had to choose a broadcaster to announce that a nuclear missile had left its silo, and was three minutes from your garden, she’d probably be the one.

So Husain was only doing her job when, with no hint of sarcasm, she asked the BBC’s political editor: “Will the PM say anything new when she comes to the Commons today, Laura?”

Laura Kuenssberg was equally professional in her response. She didn’t snort and asked Husain whether she’d had something grown under hydroponic lights for breakfast. She didn’t even do what I do whenever somebody asks “Are you happy?”, which is stare at them blankly and demand a translation into comprehensible English.

She simply replied: “I’m not really sure that she will, Mishal.” D’ya think?

I suppose you could argue that the PM’s latest mantra, “hold your nerve”, is new in the limited sense that she hasn’t put those words in that order before.

But their meaning is that nothing has changed, and their implication is that nothing will. Not at her end, anyway.

For months, the received wisdom has been that even she could not be so dementedly intransigent and narrowly self-interested as to blow the UK apart to hold her party together. One assumed she would hold her nerve until the moment it was inescapably obvious that petitioning the EU to postpone Brexit was the only credible option.

Never assume, as the saying goes: it makes a bankrupt, broken country out of you and me. What looked like a negotiating stance – one admittedly sourced in some alternate universe where she had serious leverage over the EU27 – looks now like a pathological disease of the nervous system.

If a neurologist scanned her brain, it would probably look normal. But that’s only because an MRI machine cannot detect damage to Shatner’s Bassoon, the part of the brain responsible for the perception of time according to Chris Morris in his Brass Eye satire on “the war against drugs”.

A user of the invented drug “cake”, so one of Morris’ celebrity contributors recited to camera, died because he thought he had a month to cross a busy road.

With little more than a month before 29 March, May acts as if she has eternity to amble to the other side. She has none of his manners, charm or wit, but her nonchalance reminds me of Louis Mazzini D’Ascoyne casually peeling grapes the night before his scheduled meeting with the hangman in Kind Hearts And Coronets.

He was a sociopath, but not a fool. He had a get-out-of-jail-free card up the sleeve of his velvet smoking jacket to explain the insouciance. The PM, so far as we’re aware, does not.

And so, as she sits on death row, her rendition of Louis Amstrong’s We Have All The Time In The World is being drowned out by the executioner’s shoes squeaking towards her cell. Or rather, our cell.

For anyone who’d prefer to avoid the cataclysm, the problem has nothing to do with the holding of nerve in the fantasy expectation that the EU will blink first. This stance, as one European pundit puts it, is “a bit like the crew of the Titanic deciding, by majority vote, that the iceberg really must get out of the way”.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

The problem is the loss of nerve among the MPs who seemed poised ready to mutiny, take the ship and steer us clear of the no-deal collision. The night the Cooper-Boles amendment went down, and the Commons voted for the Cloud-Cuckoo Land amendment authorising her to reopen negotiations, pop went the resistance balloon.

It needs reinflating right now. If not, with May demanding more and more time to waste and Jeremy Corbyn sneakily colluding with her by inaction, we could very well be screwed.

With the 20-30 ministers eternally on the verge of resignation apparently content to stay there, the search for a saviour turns to the opposition.

Until now, Keir Starmer has reacted with stoicism to the pain of being routinely undermined by his boss. In recent days, he was first kept away from Corbyn’s meeting with May; and then found that an agreed line in Corbyn’s letter – which threatened a Final Say referendum if May rejected the Labour proposal – had been removed. The explanation given him, according to Robert Peston, was “Oh, we must have forgotten that paragraph”. Ah well, in all the excitement who’d remember a silly little thing like that?

Starmer has been the most impressive Brexit performer (not a high bar, admittedly) on either front bench. His reputation for reassuring dullness and uncomplaining tolerance of humiliation make him a modern-day Geoffrey Howe.

If he quit now, and made a resignation speech half as devastating as the one with which Howe effectively brought about the end of Mrs Thatcher, who knows, it might restore the nerve of those who lost it in an instant a fortnight ago. It might also end his political career. But what a way to go.

While Starmer continues to play Corbyn’s useful idiot, it becomes harder by the hour to cling to the assumption that Theresa May will summon the decency to put the needs of country over the interests of party.

As the faint dividing line between satire and reality fades into invisibility, her ravaged Shatner’s Bassoon could yet find her singing “We Have All the Time in the World” to herself as she strolls into the Commons chamber.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments