So why did Theresa May choose to make an already difficult path more difficult still?by Paddy Ashdown / March 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
Oscar Wilde said “In a democracy, the minority is always right.” This thought has given me much comfort during nearly half a century fighting for liberalism.
But the post-Brexit debate has been different. A minority we still remain—but only slimly so and that has been wonderfully comforting.
I am fairly certain (Liberals don’t do certainties) that history will marvel at Brexit as the most bewildering act of national self-harm knowingly and willingly committed by an advanced nation in full possession of its faculties. And yet that is the decision we took and we must now enact—at least for the foreseeable future—unless and until the worm turns.
But the Brexit decision is only one of the puzzles we have had to deal with these last few months.
The other is why did Theresa May—again willingly and knowingly—choose to make a difficult path much, much more difficult?
Any good prime minister inheriting a country so at war with itself as we were after the referendum would have placed healing national division as their first priority. But from her first unwise Conservative Conference speech with its demonisation of the “liberal elite” and the assertion that those who see themselves as citizens of the world are citizens of nowhere, May has, quite again deliberately, sought to widen the divisions between the 52 per cent who voted “Leave” and the 48 per cent who voted “Remain.” She followed this divisive rhetoric with divisive action, choosing a Brexit that puts the country as far away from Europe as it is possible to get (for which she has no mandate whatsoever), moving her party onto policies indistinguishable from Ukip and attempting to bully her way to her chosen destination by steam-rollering a by-pass around parliament—until the Supreme Court gave her a lesson in what it is to govern in a democratic country.
And so, our country launches itself down May’s Article 50 path to exit more divided even than it was during the referendum. The public discourse is uglier, the entrenched positions are deeper, the level of vitriol is higher and the hate crimes grow and grow. For these divisions at such a difficult time, there will be a price to pay—including in the end, by May’s government itself.
So what now?
As an exercise in whistling…