Perhaps such gods as exist have put the Brexit debacle on earth for all of us. It's a nasty disease the UK has to battle through in order to remind us of lessons in history that we seem to have forgotten. If you were writing a political drama for streaming television it has every nuance of political stupidity and bastardy know to man. One might get lost in the plots and sub-plots.
Around the world, political aficionados along with the people who really work for a living are struck by the never-ending saga. Some are bewildered by it, others are enjoying a touch of schadenfreude as the once mighty empire seems to be imploding. I don't pretend to know where it will end but I do know one thing. The British people have a grit and resolve that should not be underestimated. We saw it when they stood up to Hitler, later to be joined, thankfully, by the Americans. We have subsequently seen it in their response to horrific attacks of terrorism. I'm hoping for their sake that grit and resolve will get them through this. The western free world needs the UK.
What they are going through might be an ugly mess but it is a reminder that in free countries we can argue like hell, test the limits of our powers and finally resolve an issue. It's rarely a tidy process. In authoritarian dictatorships neither the people nor any facade of their representation get a say at all. Boris Johnston wants to play the strong man but he can't ride roughshod over parliament.
Churchill is apparently idolised by Boris Johnston so in his battle to be the strong man and push parliament around he might choose to remember what Churchill said about the parliament versus the strongman. Johnston quoted it in his book on his idol. As a reminder of the value of the messy process of parliamentary democracy Churchill said, "This little place is what makes the difference between us and Germany. It is in virtue of this that we shall muddle through to success and for lack of this Germany's brilliant efficiency leads her to final disaster."
To say this process has been a muddle is an understatement. It's the very messy face of everyone having their say.
It all started when the UK signed up to be a part of the European union. Clearly not enough consideration was given to an exit clause.
Then the European bureaucracy got out of hand. No wonder. The people with big ideas for their country stand for the parliament of that country. The European parliament with its lesser light politicians and divided constituency is in reality answerable to no one. Bureaucratic creep runs rampant and a bureaucracy designed to do one thing does what every bureaucracy does ... spreads out into more work for itself. Overly intrusive bureaucracy always niggles, to the point that it can blind you to all the beneficial things that bureaucracies do to improve our lives. Overdo it and you've put a stone in the shoe. And that's what you'll be judged by. The worst not the best.
Public resentment at being told what to do builds because they see that the decisions are being made by people in a faraway place with a different agenda than their own.
Enter former Prime Minister David Cameron, who gave in to populism with a simple referendum: "Would you like to leave?" No one I know suggests this was an example of quality public debate. The managerial class were so sure the vote would be "no" that many didn't bother to vote. Now they complain that the right information wasn't available to the people and if it had been they would have voted differently. Maybe. But whose fault is that? Not the people who voted yes.
Some now want a second referendum in light of the difficulties of leaving being much clearer. Brexiteers say this is a travesty of democracy: there was a vote, the turnout was high and the result clear. That's all true, but if you trusted the people once it's a bit rich to not trust them again.
The then new PM Theresa May wasn't in favour of leaving but dutifully took on the task. Europeans didn't make it easy, they're worried that other countries might get the same idea and further weaken the EU. Neither did many UK parliamentarians help. Some set out to block her at every step. They were either remainers, or just ruthlessly ambitious.
In one sense we shouldn't be alarmed to read of battles between the Prime Minister, the parliament and the courts. It's just confirmation that there are rules by which we play out the battle of ideas. Rules that protect us all. You can't really have a battle of ideas without the different ideas and the battle.
- Amanda Vanstone is a former Coalition minister and SMH/The Age columnist.