The country has not been short, in recent years, of aviation disaster-based metaphors for Brexit, so when the transport secretary Chris Grayling stood on the Tory conference stage and pointed the controls at this wonderfully fertile land, he knew he would need something devastatingly original. And he certainly did not disappoint.
Because where Grayling’s aviation disaster Brexit metaphor differed from the hundreds, if not thousands that have gone before, is that Grayling campaigned for Brexit, voted for Brexit and still thinks Brexit is absolutely great.
Traditionally, those who compare Brexit to aviation disasters are those who are, you know, kind of against the whole thing. When things go wrong with planes it is not commonly understood to have been a good thing.
And yet, here he was, addressing the party faithful with the following anecdote, which given it is a Grayling anecdote, I must pre-apologise for repeating verbatim.
“When I stood in front of you a year ago, I had just returned from Manchester Airport where I met the first flight bringing passengers back after the collapse of Monarch Airlines,” he said.
“In the following days we brought back nearly 100,000 people. And when I say we, this was a huge team effort involving other UK airlines, the Civil Aviation Authority and ten government departments. We all worked together to get people home and I am proud of the swift response. It was a tribute to what this country can do in times of change,” he continued.
And then came the punchline: “That ladies and gentlemen is what will happen to this country after Brexit, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.”
They clapped, a bit. It was, by Grayling standards, a rapturous ovation. Just a reminder: Grayling was the first member of the cabinet to declare for Brexit. He campaigned for Brexit. Once, at a rally in Stoke, I watched him on stage, standing next to Nigel Farage, the two of them shouting, “We want our country back!” That’s an actual member of the cabinet, the power to contribute to every major decision the country makes, demanding his country back.
And here he was, likening the very thing he’d campaign and voted for, to the emergency repatriation of passengers left stranded by a stricken airline.
It’s an analogy that invites a whole range of questions: Would Monarch’s passengers, who in this scenario take the role of the people of the United Kingdom, have had a better or worse holiday if the airline they had booked with had not gone bankrupt?
In a referendum on whether or not Monarch Airlines should go bust, how would the transport secretary vote? And then there’s the more technical questions: Does anyone sign this stuff off? Is Grayling an idiot?
Still, at least with Grayling you know what you’re getting. With the rest it’s more mysterious. Hitler called it “the big lie” – the one that if repeated often enough everyone will start to believe is true. Unfortunately, with a range of topics to cover, Mein Kampf doesn’t dwell for long enough on whether or not the liars themselves start to believe it too.
When, for example, David Davis is speaking at a conference fringe, and asked yet again about the fact that there isn’t a single economic forecast out there, not from the Bank of England, the Treasury, the IFS, any major investment bank, anyone, that suggests the UK isn’t going to end up substantially worse off as a result of Brexit, he answers with the following: “Can you name one forecast from the Treasury, OBR or Bank Of England in the last 50 years that has been right?”
No, forecasts tend not to be exactly right, but that, as Davis surely knows, is not a reason to ignore them. Long term weather forecasts also tend not to be entirely accurate, but to the best of my knowledge, not even David Davis has ever been spotted taking a brave stand against the Met Office by doing his Christmas shopping in his Bermuda shorts. The question is not, "Is it rubbish?" It’s not even "Does David Davis know it’s rubbish?" It’s "Has he been saying it so often, for so long, that he actually believes it?"
Earlier, we had Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, member of the cabinet, former Linklaters lawyer, graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge and six year veteran of the Foreign Office, warning no fewer than four times about “the establishment that seeks to overturn the result of the referendum".
The chief villains in “the establishment”, the ones who seek to overturn the referendum, are apparently the Labour Party, led by “Corbyn and McDonnell”, who within 20 seconds of being part of "the establishment", suddenly needed “to be driven back to the extremist margins where they belong".
Raab’s wild aggression spared no one. The “People’s Vote” people in particular, took quite the beating. “You can just picture them,” he said, “sitting in an expensive advertising agency, discussing how to claim that black is white".
The People’s Vote people include seven of his party’s own MPs, and not long after he was done ridiculing them, there he was, telling his party, “We must come together over Brexit”.
It is a full on assault on basic cognitive function. Such luminous, visible from space duplicity and stupidity that it cannot be reasoned with.
It is two years now since, at the hand of this political party, things fell apart. The centre did not hold. Mere anarchy was loosed upon the world. And still, the best lack all conviction, and still the worst are full of passionate intensity.
For two years they have sung the same tune, demanding the impossible of a government they’ve abandoned whilst warning the country of the Corbynite danger that lurks. For two years, the overwhelming electoral evidence is that no one has listened yet the record has not changed.
And it is no surprise at all that the gravest warnings come from Raab, Grayling, Gove.
When the aviation disaster metaphors are circling again, it will be them that will bear direct responsibility for it. Not that they will admit to it. They’ve never owned up to anything.
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