I have a horrible feeling that the balloon is about to go up.
I have a vague recollection of a surreal film by the director Luis Buñuel – I forget which one – in which a couple move around their world conscious that acts of violence are taking place in various distant lands. They pass a shop window and see through it a television showing the carnage following an act of terrorism. Wherever it is happening, it is elsewhere. Throughout the film, the depictions of destruction move closer towards the protagonists until eventually, they too are swallowed up by it.
Another film image: Darkest Hour begins very ominously with a panning shot, screened in silence, of mile after mile of tanks, presumably assembled at the German – Polish border. It has the look of footage that has been retrieved from an archive. It looks real. I think of that shot when I see pictures of troops, arms, and matériel assembled at the Russian – Ukraine border. The fact that the US has ordered families of embassy staff to leave Ukraine is surely very concerning. Yet Ukraine, some might say, is “a faraway country of which we know nothing”. That’s what Nevil Chamberlain said about Czechoslovakia in September 1938 at the time of the Sudetenland crisis. Twenty months later, in the Commons, Leo Amery echoed the words of Cromwell to the Long Parliament when he said to Chamberlain, “You have sat there too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, go.” And of course, last week David Davis resurrected these words once more and directed them at Boris Johnson. Mr Davis said Mr Johnson would be familiar with the words, but Mr Johnson said he didn’t know what Mr Davis was talking about. This, considering Mr Johnson has written a biography of Churchill, I find hard to believe.
The thing is, we’re not prepared. We are preoccupied with other matters. I wonder if Sue Gray’s report will be published this week in time for the great Wednesday lunchtime soap opera that is PMQs; and, if it is, how much of it will be open to public view, and how much redacted. Over the last couple of weeks we have grown used to the endless repetition of this exchange across the floor of the Commons:
“When is the Prime Minister going to admit that the game is up, and resign?”
“I think you should be patient, and wait until the civil service report, which will detail all the facts, is published.”
“Why does the Prime Minister need a report to tell him that he went to a boozy party?”
“I am concentrating on bringing the country out of the pandemic, through our world-leading scientific research that created and mass-produced an effective vaccine, oversaw its roll-out, organized a furlough scheme made only possible by utilising the full resources of this broad-shouldered United Kingdom, which can now boast the fastest economic recovery in Western Europe.”
It’s a deflection tactic, to answer a question about Partygate by bragging about governmental achievement. It’s a non-sequitur. But in any case, is it true? Did the government do any of these things? Vaccines were created by scientists, they were mass produced by pharmaceutical companies, and they were delivered into arms by the National Health Service. What did the government do? It printed a lot of money. It introduced lockdown legislation which apparently did not pertain to itself.
We have other preoccupations. We are preoccupied by issues of gender. Does a woman have a cervix, or is womanhood merely a state of mind? If you think the former, should you be cancelled? Should Lord Dundas’s statue in Edinburgh be removed because he delayed the abolition of the slave trade? Should the BBC make “woke cuts” to comedy reruns containing politically incorrect jokes? (This, I recall, was the work of one Syme, in Orwell’s 1984 – to rewrite history. Syme himself of course was erased. Cancelled. Disappeared. He never existed.)
Are the party whips bullies? Duh. A Tory grandee on Any Questions said (I paraphrase), “The whips need to maintain discipline. If everybody voted according to their conscience, government would grind to a halt!”
Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.