Shortly before the referendum, the journalist Paul Mason said that he was minded to vote Leave but was swithering because of the people it would mean getting into bed with. Mason was worried. He would just have to hope that the description of Jacob Rees-Mogg as fur coat with no knickers was only a metaphor.
In the end, the prospect was so terrifying that Mason voted Remain. This was a loss for he has qualities which political groupings could always do with: he is not a slippery dissembler, nor a blowhard, nor an Oxbridge graduate educated beyond his abilities. It is the shortage of qualities like Mason's that has turned what is, for the moment, the UK into something resembling the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. The Duchy also got itself into a terrible mess. Its solution was to declare war on the US and then lose quickly in order to be rescued by American largesse. The British approach is broadly similar, except that its current rulers would be more likely to apply for statehood than declare war.
The two main parties, the only ones with the numbers to fix this, have instead surrendered their immense power to minority fringes of cranks and crackpots. The result is that Labour with its cult of idolatry has rotted itself away into nothing. The Conservatives, retaining power only by the votes of their Scottish MPs, have hastened to fill the void. Headed by a Trump tribute band, it is now the Conservatives who nurse the magic money tree that would be paying for their promises.
To consider how this state of affairs has come about, it is necessary to turn to Joseph Stalin. The story goes that Stalin was baffled and dismayed at the news that Churchill had been beaten by Clement Attlee in the 1945 general election. He was baffled at the people's rejection of a leader who had saved them in wartime. He was dismayed because Attlee was an uncompromising anti-communist with a succinct view of the Soviet Union as a neurotic country. Perhaps, Stalin observed, instead of the people electing a new government, it would have been better if the government had elected a new people.
Regrettably, this story is untrue. The bit about electing a new people is in fact from a Bertold Brecht poem about an uprising in East Berlin in 1953. I was at first unhappy at this discovery because I wanted to use the Stalin version to illustrate a point and it would be better if it came from an iconic figure like Stalin rather than from a tiresome playwright. But then it occurred to me that in politics these days, it doesn't matter if something is untrue. Anything needed to make a point can just be made up.
Besides, the Stalin story is more true than most other things in modern politics. First, it sounds as if it could
be true. Second, Brecht was a Marxist. Third, his poem mentions a street in Berlin called Stalin Street. And fourth, Brecht won the Stalin Prize in 1954. In British politics today, these facts alone are more than enough to elevate the Stalin story into a branch of physics.
So, equipped with this true fact, here is the point. According to politicians, something called The British People voted in a referendum to leave the EU. Thus, parliament received instructions from The British People, and MPs had to follow these instructions even though most of them thought that The British People were wrong. Accordingly, a large majority of MPs voted in parliament to endorse the referendum result. MPs said they had to do this because it was the Will of The British People.
Although what constitutes The British People is obvious in absolute terms, it is not clear what it means when politicians use it as a bludgeon. Strictly speaking, it should mean all of the UK's 65 million people, but it can't mean that because only 27% of them voted to leave. It could mean the 45 million who are eligible voters, but it can't mean that because only 38% of them voted to leave. It could mean the 33.5 million who voted in the referendum, but it can't mean that because only 52% of them voted to leave.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that The British People is an invention convenient for MPs of the two main parties who are frightened of their own constituents. By inventing The British People, these politicians have done the Stalin thing and in effect elected a new people, a people more suitable for their own requirements. Some Conservative MPs have even made this explicit by stating that the survival of their party comes above all else. In other words, a ruined country would be fine, provided it had a Conservative government. And right enough, they seem to be doing rather well in this.
There are parliamentary dissenters, but such is the power grabbed by the notion of The British People that the dissenters have been threatened with civil unrest if they persist. Theresa May went further when she made a public announcement during a visit to Brussels in which she incited The British People against parliament. It went down badly, though not as badly as it had earlier gone down for Charles I.
It was startling, too, because May was a Remainer who had experienced a sudden conversion to Leave coincidental with the occurrence of a prime ministerial vacancy. In doing this, she, along with many of her parliamentary colleagues, displayed another Marxist inclination, albeit of the Groucho variety: You don't like my principles? I have others.