There were not many dogs, hardy or otherwise, out this morning on the North West coast, understandably so in view of the overcast weather. Still, on a clear day from the top of Black Combe , a couple of miles away, it is possible to see Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Beyond lies Ireland and the great big wide world beyond. All those opportunities!
Just behind the spot where this photo was taken is Silecroft station, one of the few stations where you have to hail the two-carriage train to make it stop. The train travels from Barrow-in Furness up the coast to Carlisle via Sellafield, Whitehaven and Maryport, a town originally settled by the Romans and later turned from fishing village into a coal port.
All three constituencies along this coast are now represented by Tory MPs, the first – Copeland – having fallen in February 2017, a precursor of Boris’s later breaches in the Red Wall. The clues were there in the EU referendum result where between 60 – 62% of those voting voted to Leave. In 4 years there have been 3 General Elections, 1 referendum, 1 EU Parliamentary election and, in Copeland, 1 by-election. One part of GK Chesterton’s “people of England” has certainly spoken.
Have they felt forgotten? The referendum vote might suggest so, though South Lakeland, a mere 40 miles east voted to remain. The area has not been all that forgotten though. A sign on the beach edge proudly announces the arrival of Superfast Britain, funded in part by the European Regional Development Fund 2007-13, the EU flag logo next to this announcement having been carefully scratched in an attempt to obliterate it.
Will voters here continue to feel forgotten by those now in charge? It will take more than having a Cabinet meeting outside London to impress or effect real long-lasting change, even after the Brexit desired by a majority.
One of the happy side-effects of being laid up with illness is having time to read, including Dominic Sandbrook’s “Who Dares Wins” about the early years following an equally disruptive break with a long-standing political and economic consensus. There are echoes with now:-
- A PM winning unexpected voters and sneered at for being populist by those unable or unwilling to understand how voters could possibly bring themselves to vote for such a person.
- Labour in the grip of in-fighting, leadership elections and the Left seeking to get control. Two of the minor players then became party leader and founder of Momentum, a reminder that when a party’s leadership cannot say what it is for there will be plenty willing and able to fill that vacuum. Oh and Ken Livingstone was, even then, embarrassing his party with offensive comments and ignorant historical analysis.
- A Liberal leader having their grandiose ambitions squished by voters.
- A fruitless attempt at creating a centrist party or, perhaps more accurately, a “party for the people who know what’s good for the people”. TIG might have saved itself a lot of grief had it realised that a promise of a return to a semi-mythical non-ideological consensus is rarely the change people want when they are fed up with what they have.
- A nostalgic nationalism exemplified by the reaction to the Falklands War, seen by some as a welcome fight back against a sense of failure and of Britain as a nation in retreat. The need to see Britain as somehow oppressed, fighting for independence (its own or others) and regaining its pride and self-confidence through some dramatic act seems to have a long history.
There are perhaps two lessons from that time for now. Mrs Thatcher, faced with an unexpected and difficult war and the challenges it posed, rose to the occasion – and turned into a real leader – one who understood her limitations, listened to her expert advisors and backed those who did the work behind her triumphs. When she forgot those lessons to believe her own myths, the path to her downfall was set. Will today’s leaders rise to the occasion they say Brexit offers?
And the second? “A change has come about in Britain,” written – shortly after the Falklands war ended – by one politician driven mad by his obsession with sovereignty. “We are ourselves again.” It is a sentiment which might be said by any one of the many pro-Brexit politicians now in charge.
But who is this “we”? Are “we” even one people anymore? And what kind of a people will “we” now be? We shall see.