Why did Boris throw the towel in?
When he dropped his bombshell, I had that feeling I’ve experienced countless times when I’ve taken a history from a patient who is holding something back. The history just doesn’t make any sense, and you realise that a vital piece of the jigsaw is unavailable to you, so that you are unable to create a complete picture of the predicament in which the patient finds himself. The contrast between Boris and Mr Corbyn could not be greater. Almost the entire Parliamentary Labour Party, and all the Labour grandees, want Mr Corbyn to go, and he’s not budging. But all Mr Gove needs to do is tell us that Boris is not a leader, and Boris collapses. Why? I listened to Mr Gove making his pitch, and something very odd happened. He said – I paraphrase – something like “I never wanted this to happen”, then, almost as an aside to somebody in the room, “Believe me, I really didn’t!” – this, greeted with a knowing ripple of laughter. That’s when I thought, they know something we’re not privy to. It was ever thus, in the corridors of power.
Another contrast very evident this week has been between Westminster and Holyrood. On Saturday Her Majesty opened the fifth session of the reconvened Scottish Parliament. It was a happy occasion, full of music, poetry, and laughter. The Presiding Officer made a genuinely witty speech. He cracked a joke that made the Queen and even the po-faced Duke of Edinburgh both burst out laughing. The First Minister’s speech reflected the sense of purpose, the self-confidence, the sense of identity, and – at least for a day – the sense of unity of those who had taken their seats. Young thespians declaimed the words of makars old and new. There was a rendition of Burns’ For A’ That. I recall this was sung at the opening of the first session in 1999. Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord… I wonder what the Duke of Hamilton made of that. And an MSP played the pipes, most sweetly.
And a third contrast – in the European Parliament – between Alyn Smith and Nigel Farage. Mr Smith, SNP MEP, literally begged the parliament not to abandon Scotland. “Chers collegues…” He got a standing ovation. Mr Farage stood up to rub salt in the wound. He might have said (he nearly did), “They all laughed when Christopher Columbus…” It was the most extraordinarily brazen display of schadenfreude. Whatever you may think, you have to be in awe at the sheer brass neck of the man. President Juncker said, “Why are you here?” Mr Farage told the parliament that the UK would not be the last to go. I thought, that’s why he’s there. He doesn’t just want the UK out, he wants to destroy the European project.
Meanwhile down in Westminster, anarchy reigns on both sides of the House. I confess during this past week I’ve become something of a news junkie, switching on the telly every hour on the hour to catch the latest episode of the soap opera. Each revelation is more cataclysmic than the last, as if a team of script writers are aware that an addicted audience needs a stronger hit every time. The thing about a soap opera is that you have to remember, it’s not real. What are we witnessing in Westminster? Is it history, tragedy, tragicomedy, comedy, or farce? I seem to recall that ancient Brian Rix productions were actually called Whitehall Farces. It seems to me we have even moved beyond the farcical realm into some kind of surreal alternative universe. Harold Pinter once said that the thing about tragedy is that it is funny, and then it is no longer funny. On Sunday morning I watched the Andrew Marr Show. Some of the cast still think the play is a history, but they have entered the Theatre of the Absurd, and they don’t know it.