‘The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.’
Briefly, very briefly, it looked as if Parliament might actually get it. Between the time MPs voted overwhelmingly to allow triggering of Article 50 and the two major parties stood on manifestos to deliver Brexit in the subsequent election, it seemed that politicians for once understood the gravity of their own situation and that Parliament was actually on notice. ‘Take Back Control’ meant that the British people wished to be sovereign, and did not simply involve a change of ownership from man to pig or pig to man.
Perhaps Orwell’s satire is unfair on pigs and men. The spectacle afforded us ever since the referendum result has reminded me of those times as a small child when you turned over stones in your garden. Exposed to the sunlight, the woodlice would scurry around manically trying to find their way back into the dark while you looked on in fascinated revulsion. The Brexit referendum turned over the stones of our politics, and underneath we saw some very dark creatures wriggling, screaming and scheming. Things whose fanaticism, ruthlessness and will to power we had long suspected but never really dared fully to imagine. This week, especially, we have seen the entire spectrum of the political class in all its twisted ugliness: the arrogance of has-beens like Major and Blair; the contempt of nonentities such as Anna Soubry; the ever-zealous but never-elected Lord Adonis; the cynical machinations of the Labour leadership.
It is plainly all going very wrong for Brexit. However, beyond that, it is going very wrong indeed for Parliament. Its treasured sovereignty, briefly on offer of restoration after we voted to leave, is surely now doomed. Even if we prevent – somehow – the reversal of Brexit in whole or in part, or the neo-Marxist ideology of a Corbyn government, we will surely not now forget its betrayal of the people.
In an age of mass education and access to information, a purely representative model of government makes sense only if the politicians genuinely respect the will of the governed. Instead, we are treated to an elite Game of Thrones by those who clearly regard themselves as better than the rest of us. Britain is now not a democracy in any meaningful sense, and one day the people will have their revenge on an institution that has so continually humiliated and tormented them.