A few days over 200 years ago in May 2019, a young, impecunious and terminally ill poet sat writing poetry in Hampstead on the north road out of London. The rented house where he lived still preserves the sensitive stillness that pervades his poetry. The stillness of truth.
There is something outdated about the way that Boris Johnson is to be parachuted into the vacant seat of the British prime minister by the votes of 160,000 or so predominantly elderly and female paid-up members of Britain’s Conservative Party. Two contenders have been voted by their fellow Conservatives MPs to be offered to these Party members for their final choice in what has been dubbed ‘the blond versus the bland’: Boris Johnson versus Jeremy Hunt. The result will determine their divided country’s future relationship with the European Union, in short, its economic future. Is this the best way to choose the leader of the country that is, for now, the fifth wealthiest nation in the world?
Blond Boris is known for his blunders and his inability, as foreign minister, to obtain the freedom of a British-Iranian citizen and her daughter who were imprisoned while in Iran to visit relatives. Bland Jeremy, is making all the right visits to ‘meet the people’ and vague reassurances as circumstances require. Those Conservative members will choose one of them to be our next prime minister while the rest of us look on, powerless. The result is certain. Boris’s dream will come true. It has become known as the contest between ‘the blond and the bland’. Blond Boris, renowned for his blunders and emotive responses to the truth, has been kept out of the public eye, appearing only on carefully orchestrated occasions such as a short interview on BBC News. Asked about shouting and sounds of violence which his worried neighbour had reported to the police, he said that he refused to talk about family affairs on TV. The neighbour was later rebuked for ‘interfering in private matters’ even though he had been concerned and feared violence. During Boris’s ITV interview, the charm was unable to escape the firm ‘blunder control’ imposed by Boris’s election team to the point that the blond became almost as bland as his rival, Jeremy, who needs no minders.
Mr Hunt is working his predictable way around the country visiting farms and factories where he is dutifully filmed and interviewed. There may, or may not, be TV hustings when they will have to stand side by side to answers questions from the viewing public. Bland Jeremy i. Back in June 2016s willing, blond Boris is, or was, not going to appear. The situation changes by the hour sowing havoc, I imagine, in TV scheduling. In that brief appearance on a BBC News bulletin, Boris was asked how he would manage the Brexit he had kickstarted in June 2016 proclaiming in huge letters on the side of his campaign bus, the lie, untruth, or whatever you like to call it, that after Britain left, the 364 million pounds sterling that the country paid weekly to the European Union would be channelled back into the National Health Service, the most popular institution in the country. And the huge poster that Turkey was about to join the EU so thousands of Turks would stream into the country to steal our jobs Just another lie – does it matter, even if they could be charged with changing the fate of Britain?
Should candidates to lead a country have impeccable moral hinterlands? The bland Jeremy is married, has a family, lives in a comfortably modest house in a friendly suburban neighbourhood – would that render him a more authentic leader able to lead the country into the promised, but unfocussed highlands after exit, or the charismatic, fun-loving, huggable Boris who is desperate to achieve his life-long ambition? If he does, he might go down in history as the prime minister who led the first country that voted democratically to become poorer and become an insignificant island on the edge of an economically powerful Europe, desperately trying to find new trading partners. Nobody seems to know what the nation’s fate is to be after 31 October, except that Scotland wants to remain in the EU and will clamour for independence. It will be the first step to break up the 1707 Act of Union.
Boris and his team are silent about the fate of Britain’s crucial financial services in the EU and our response to the inevitable trade barriers. Everything imported from our neighbours will be more expensive, food especially. The same goes for our exports bearing tariffs. For a nation that relies on trade for its economic survival, more than half of it with the EU, the prospect is scary.
What will happen after October 31? If I leave to pick olives in Italy in early November, will I be stopped at the borders and have to go through slower immigration channels? Boris has airily stated there will be a deal (these take a long time, years even, to set up) and no tariffs placed on what we import and export to our neighbours. Impossible. The truth is that economic unions only allow free trade between nations abiding by the agreed rules of the union. Outside the Economic Union, behind there will, inevitably, be tariffs and restrictions. Boris should not evade this truth with seemingly plausible assurances otherwise. Really, Boris, what would be the point of an economic union if a member could leave and still enjoy all the benefits of membership? Britain outside the EU can make its own trade deals with the rest of the world. True, eventually. I think it was Barack Obama who said that would mean Britain, with a population of 66 million, would have to wait at the end of the queue while the rest of the world struck trade deals with the 450 million population of the EU.
Where lies the truth in the jungle of claims and counterclaims and fake news? Sitting at a table in Hampstead precisely two hundred years ago, John Keats wrote:
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’