Welcome, one and all, to the British renaissance. It’s already started, in case you didn’t know. It’s happening right now. The “British renaissance” is the term Britain’s Brexit negotiator David Frost now uses to describe the food- and fuel-free times that he has personally bequeathed us through his towering statecraft.
“The bad dream of EU membership is over,” he told the Tory party conference, coming live this year from a hermetically sealed bubble in central Manchester, known locally as F***wit Island. “The British renaissance has begun.”
We have awoken from our nightmares. We have made it to the sunlit uplands. And thank God we have, because we can’t leave – not by car, anyway.
They’re a funny old business, renaissances. No one really knows when they start, and they have a habit of going on for several centuries. It’s far too early to judge the British renaissance, then. And it would be very unfair to point out to its Tory vanguards that, outside on the mean streets of the British renaissance, there’s no petrol for sale within several miles of where they’re celebrating it. And ten yards beyond the perimeter wall, a Starbucks has had to shut down for a day and a half because it doesn’t have any milk.
And why hasn’t it got any milk? Enter Chris Loder, MP for West Dorset and in some ways the breakout star of this year’s party conference so far. Mr Loder really does think that, actually, food shortages are good. That it is “in our mid- and long-term interest that logistics chains do break”.
If this is what the British renaissance looks like, then it’s going to involve “the farmer down the street selling their milk in the village shop like they did decades ago”.
So kind of like the 1950s, then, but with more “opportunities”. David Frost reckons the “opportunities are huge”, even though well over half a decade on from the country voting for these “huge opportunities”, they remain merely opportunities, and not anything anyone has actually managed to take advantage of in what has now been a reasonably lengthy amount of time.
For most of the past five years, the huge opportunity was a trade deal with the United States, but that isn’t happening now, mainly because it was never going to. Still, other “huge” opportunities will be along soon, no doubt.
This is how it always is with renaissances, and there’s no reason to think this one won’t be just as great as the others. A renaissance is never about such base trivialities as whether or not the people living through it can buy any food. It’s about the ideas, the vision.
Outside, they might be queueing for petrol. On the inside, they’re queueing to listen to Rishi Sunak tell them all about how he’s going to make the UK “the most exciting place on the planet”. At this stage, one could point out that the UK is already the most exciting place on the planet.
On a personal note, I was dancing round the Costco car park in Thurrock on Friday afternoon, my two-hour-long, thrillingly exciting hunt for petrol having reached its triumphant end. What could be more exciting than pulling into 19 separate forecourts in the futile hope that just one of the pumps might not be roped off?
As it happens, while Sunak was speaking, The New Yorker published a long investigation about a town in northern Yemen that has a decaying oil tanker containing a million barrels of oil parked in the sea next to it, which could blow up at any second. So maybe the UK isn’t the most exciting place to live just yet, but it’s early days and no doubt we’ll get there in the end.
They queued out the door to hear Sunak, by the way, for no greater reason than the fact that he was speaking in a very small room. In a break from usual proceedings and basic sanity, the Tory party conference is taking place in about 60 per cent of the space it usually does, because around half of the Manchester Conference Centre has been converted into a special pseudo-rally space for Johnson’s speech on Wednesday and will remain closed until then.
So you had to be one of the lucky ones to even get in to hear Sunak’s stirring words. “I remember, over five years ago, being told that if I backed Brexit my political career would be over before it had even begun,” he told them.
“Well, I put my principles first and I always will.”
They clapped like mad. For a while there, Rishi Sunak’s own career had been in real jeopardy. For almost two months in 2016, he was awake at night worrying about what would happen to him. If the referendum had gone the other way, he’d be out in the wilderness with just a few hundred million pounds’ worth of private wealth on which to get by.
Mercifully, not many broadcasters carry this stuff live any more. One wonders if it would have played that well on the radios of cars queueing up the slip roads to the local Esso.
If you did happen to miss it, and can’t face trying to find it online, you can recreate the mood just as well by digging out that bit of The Office where David Brent tells four people he’s just made redundant that he’s just got a promotion.
And that, truly, is the slogan the Tory party 2021 conference is really reaching for. “Renaissance Britain: You’re still thinking about the bad news, aren’t you?”
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