Four days on from the EU referendum and the demolition ball of ‘Vote Leave’ continues to smash through the established order.
The People have spoken. We have seen what’s called “the settled will of the British people”.
Settled? We’ll see about that in a minute.
Meanwhile, the UK is without a leader. The Conservative Party is split. The chancellor is on his way out.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has suffered a crippling mass walk-out from his shadow cabinet.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has thrown a spanner into the works with talk of blocking the referendum result. Pressure mounts for a second independence referendum
Oh, and despite attempts at reassurance from the Bank of England and the Treasury, the pound and the stock market continue to fall.
How the pundits, the opinion pollsters, the betting magnates and the cognoscenti got it all so wrong.
And never more wrong than in the markets. Those cock-sure hedge funds that thought they were on a winner went into immediate panic mode and rushed to unwind their positions. Little wonder there’s been market mayhem – much of it self-inflicted.
David Cameron says: “I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.”
What destination, what captain what boat? It’s an unholy mess. We’re caught between a collective political nervous breakdown and the potential break-up of the UK.
Anything else? Oh yes. The head of the Europe Commission wants us to press the button on Article 50 and leave ASAP.
Little wonder a backlash seems to be setting in with three million (apparently) signing a ‘Remain’ petition and talk of a Tory left-Labour Right alliance to lead a pro EU fightback.
As for the BBC, one of the top stories on its website yesterday morning was “Glastonbury Remain voters ‘devastated’ at the Brexit vote”.
How that should put those jubilant Sunderland Brexiteers back in their box.
Time, surely, to step back from the hysteria and look ahead as best we can.
I make no apologies for being a Brexiteer. I do believe the EU is undemocratic, unaccountable, and its economics blind to reality. The Euro has inflicted appalling pain on the economies of Greece and the southern Mediterranean.
But this vote has proved the trigger for a mighty burst of gunfire, not just against the shortcomings of Brussels and inability to control immigration but the wider political establishment and the many features of modern Britain that frustrate and infuriate people.
The disconnect between the established political order and many millions of voters is plain to see.
For all the evident mayhem, it’s clear we DO need change. And we DO want to break out from a miserable stagnation that has settled on our politics and our economy.
And for that, the referendum vote may prove a necessary if traumatic catalyst.
Heartland England is often portrayed as a placid, bovine country, slow to react and seldom minded to change its opinion. Here, surely, “is the settled will of the people.”
It is not prone to somersaults and sudden reversals of view.
But is this accurate? Here’s one seemingly unlikely scenario: we don’t leave the EU after all. The combination of Article 50 complexities, political realignment at home, a change of thinking in Brussels about the EU’s direction of travel and the foundations for a second referendum are put into place. And in this second referendum, the UK votes “Remain”.
Absurd? Look again at the phrase before which we are supposed to bow: “the settled will of the British people”.
This is the country, remember, that voted for peace in 1936 and clamoured for Churchill by 1940; that cheered Churchill through the war and threw him out by a landslide in 1945; that hailed the advent of the welfare state – and threw out Clement Attlee in 1951.
Didn’t we all hail cheer when Tony Blair won the 1997 election by a landslide – and now revile him as one of the worst prime ministers ever? David Cameron won the general election barely a year ago. And Corbyn was elected Labour leader to loud acclaim only last autumn.
Look further back in history at the concept of “the settled will”.
England was the country that rallied to Oliver Cromwell, fought in his New Model Army, cheered the execution of Charles 1 and in 1653 raised Cromwell to be Lord Protector. But by 1660 Charles 11 was invited back to be king and Cromwell’s body was dug up, his disinterred remains hanged in chains, his head severed and impaled on a spike and what was left flung into a pit.
Beware “the settled will” of the people.
Now consider the outcome of the referendum. We may have an emphatic result. The outcome may be something else.
Scotland, of course, is different. But for all the First Minister’s interventions and determination to frustrate the result given that Scotland opted heavily for Remain, voter fatigue is setting in.
Two loudly fought Holyrood elections, voting for the European parliament, a bitter Scottish independence referendum battle, an EU referendum vote – and now clamour for a second Scottish independence referendum: you can’t run a country like a students union in perpetual session.
How can business plan and invest? At this rate the only businesses left in Scotland would be sandwich bars, charity shops and Greggs.
We’re too dominated by what governments and politicians think and do, when our welfare more critically depends on enterprise and allowing our entrepreneurial spirit to flourish.
The referendum aftermath may be messy, disruptive and unsettling for many. But an outcome will emerge and from which we can move forward.
It’s not the “settled will” that conquers all and before which we must bow – it’s our inexhaustible capacity for change – that, and our own enterprise to make the best of it as we can.