I would say that we awoke in a different country from the one in which we fell asleep. But that would be too facetiously obvious and imprecise, not to mention an insult to those of us who never went to sleep.
That said, it felt like sleep in this one narrow way. As the results came in – first in the Japanese water-torture drip-drip-drip style, then as a tsunami of doom – it was like one of those fevery nightmares from which you know you can rouse yourself by act of will. Only this time, of course, you couldn’t.
So we find ourselves today in something other and scarier than just another country – a country already different metaphorically, and soon literally, when Scotland secedes and applies for EU membership as a sovereign state. We are in a country riven by civil war on various fronts.
On the voting figures, London is now in effect an enclave of its own – a city-state wholly divorced culturally, politically, financially and by its inclusive outlook from England. By those same figures, the young are in potentially irreconcilable conflict with their grandparents; the university educated with those bereft of higher education; and, if to a less blatant degree, the urban with the rural.
With the Welsh and English pitched against the Scots and Northern Irish, those who wanted their country back may wonder, when whatever remains of it is returned to them from Brussels’s phantasmal clutches, if it’s worth having. Never in modern history might millions have stronger cause to reflect on the old caution about being careful what you wish for.
The language from politicians and pundits on the BBC as dawn approached – the talk of emergency measures and possible suspension of the stock market – was language you’d more normally imagine hearing on the outbreak of war. Which seemed apt.
But what of the genius military strategist who led us into the most suicidal manoeuvre since the Light Brigade charged on and on with heroic futility, and into the Valley of Death? With the future of us all suddenly in peril, speculating about one man’s immediate future seems almost too banal to be worth deploying as a diversionary activity from the horror.
But David Cameron’s longer-term future must be a starring role in history as the Prime Minister who killed his country.
Finally, after all the narrow squeaks in general elections and the decade’s first (if not last) Scottish referendum, his luck ran out. There’s a poker saying about the tactic of going all-in: it works every time except for the last.
This would prove to be the last time Cameron pushed all his chips into the middle. His bluff was called, and his flushed face busted to smithereens. The leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, who this week said he is not by nature reckless, almost certainly terminated “our United Kingdom”, as he likes to call it, with an act of indescribably selfish recklessness.
You will remember how, when the Scottish vote looked too close to call, he raced to Scotland to came over all lachrymose as he spoke of his overwhelming love for the union. He may or may not have been sincere then. But if you caught him weeping in the early hours of this morning, you would not mistaken those for crocodile tears. As Nora Ephron advised her fellow women, beware the man who cries easily for he cries only for himself.
While Cameron is the master butcher of this national self-mutilation, he is not the only party leader who deserves to be fed into the mincer. Jeremy Corbyn’s surreal performance in a campaign plainly dependent on Labour’s ability to turn out whatever survives of its core vote beggared belief.
A man elected nine months ago with the overwhelming support of young and idealistic voters betrayed those supporters with his detachment. His appearance on a comedy chat show, when he arrived in a flowing white fur coat and pensively rated his out-of-10 enthusiasm for EU membership at “seven … seven and a half” … well, sorry for the pompous harrumphing, but if a senior politician ever treated a moment of unmistakably historic gravity with insanely misjudged flippancy, I don’t think I want to know about it.
God alone knows where we go from here. But you need not be an omniscient deity to know it won’t be pretty. Watching on telly with my 19-year-old son (one of those idealistic former Corbyn fans who voted passionately for a European future), I pathetically strove for consolation for the second time in barely more than a year. Last May, when the general election results ridiculed the pollsters (and hats off to them once again), I could find no words. During this incomparably more traumatic all-nighter, the words I found were less than useless.
Life, I said in a blatantly fake foray into puritanism, is not supposed to be easy. It isn’t about plateauing gently along. This is a gigantic historic moment – the biggest domestic story of my 52 years – and it’s a thrill and a privilege to be living through it. He had the filial decency to humour me with an indulgent nod, but I was no more kidding him than myself. Those weren’t the words of a wise father. They were the words of a journalist.
We all enjoy melodrama, hacks or not, and so many of us have a wicked anarchic imp perched on the shoulder whispering “relish the mayhem, relish the mayhem...”
There will be no shortage of either for a good while.
Whether Cameron leaves office in October with just the one broken Union to his name, or whether his folly triggers the referendum domino effect that knocks down the entire EU itself, time will tell. For now he must content himself with a starring role in tomorrow’s history books as the assassin of the United Kingdom he loved so much that the tears welled when he spoke of it.
Each man kills the thing he loves, as Oscar Wilde wrote in The Ballad of Reading Gaol. But even if Cameron’s feelings for the UK were genuine, patently he loved something else more. He placed “our United Kingdom” on death row by calling this referendum for one reason, and one alone. In an irony that speaks for itself today, he did it to lance the noxious Ukip boil that threatened his general election chances. He called it to save his job. And no greater love hath no man, to adapt Jeremy Thorpe, than that he lay down his country for his political life.
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