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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.

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Sunday, 26 June 2016

Post-referendum thoughts


Reading Nick Cohen’s article in The Guardian[1] led me to look again at the images of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove in the aftermath of David Cameron’s resignation speech. They looked like they had been temporarily recalled from the naughty step. What had they expected? Quite possibly not to be in that position. Neck and neck was a good state to be in, and possibly a close defeat – it was not they who had been claiming that 48:52 would be so close that the referendum would be seen as unresolved. A close defeat by the establishment, especially with others shouting ‘Unfinished Business!’, would have given them an enviable position – tribunes of the people, the mouthpieces of a broad church embracing the protest voters alongside those who had actually thought about the EU and decided to vote Leave.

They now have various courses of action: stand as a new team, fight between themselves, or allow a ‘unification’ candidate to stand for the leadership of the Tory Party and the role of unelected Prime Minister. If the last course of action is chosen, this will be seen as running away and letting someone else clear up the chaos ensuing from the referendum, discrediting both themselves, the campaign and those who supported it. If they fight between themselves, this will indicate that the referendum campaign was little more than a platform for their own individual ambitions. So they have to stand; while part of the Tory party clearly sees Johnson as an electoral liability, others see how easily marketable he is; Gove is a bit more of a successor to Thatcher, his expert-ditching appeal to middle England likely to bring with it all those Daily Mail readers who will quickly forget the Daily Mail’s own reporting of the broken promises[2]. If elected, they will have to deal with a disturbed economy, reaction to their collapsing promises, the at least partial removal of the financial sector to the Eurozone, a rampant UKIP, the resurgence of Irish tension, the likely secession of Scotland, an EU unlikely to succour secessionism in other member-states by acceding to a desire for a relationship for the UK, and a host of other unforeseen results, including chaos for cross-Channel movement[3], and a change to the status of the English language[4].

Ian Duncan Smith can be disregarded. His apparent outrage at the pressure being heaped on the poor is blatant crocodile tears; my only direct contact with my MP has been when I asked for help in the saving of our allotments, and his response showed that he didn’t know which borough they were in. The ‘quiet man’ was obviously the Lepidus of this Tory triumvirate.

So what were Gove and Johnson hoping for? I suspect a close defeat. A close defeat would have meant the following:

·      Both would have had to be given a seat in Cabinet, and a massive power-base.
·      They would have walked into the top jobs following Cameron’s eventual resignation.
·      Cameron and Osborne would have been seen to have ‘won’ on 23 June, and would have had to deal with, and be seen to be responsible for the results of, the fallout – increased calls for a second Scottish referendum, civil tension in high migration areas.
·      UKIP could have been returned to the shadows until the next election, with a large part of its support base probably not voting or returning to the Tories.
·      Though Cameron’s gamble would have been seen to have paid off, it would have been seen as a cynical exercise in disenfranchising UKIP supporters, and discredited him as a politician.
·      Any civil strife would have been blamed on Cameron and Osborne as a result.
·      The supposed Labour heartlands who voted Leave would have felt even more disenfranchised until a General Election gave them a chance to put Johnson/Gove in power, probably with a landslide majority.

No wonder they looked as if they had lost a pound and found sixpence. They pretty much had.