When you’re the odds-on favourite with the weight of the global elite behind you, you ought to be magnanimous.
Like a lot of keen games-players I’m a stickler for the rules. This is not because I’m an especially honourable person; merely a recognition that without a rigorous structure and a sense of fair play, a game can be no fun and winning can afford no satisfaction.
I feel much the same way about politics. Take Hilary Benn’s recent contribution to the Brexit debate, wherein he professed to have taken grievous offence at Boris Johnson’s use of the word ‘Hitler’ in an article about Europe. As was perfectly clear from the context, the reference was dropped in lightly and unhysterically in the service of an unexceptionable point. So the game Benn was playing there definitely wasn’t cricket. It was more like diving in the penalty area and appealing to the ref when the player who supposedly fouled you isn’t even close.
Is this a sensible way to fight a campaign? Possibly: we won’t know for sure until the votes are in. But if I were an undecided wondering where to place my X, I think the thing that would swing it for me would be the marked difference in tone between the two camps — with the Remainers coming across as shrill, prickly and bitter, and the Brexiters surprisingly sunny, relaxed and optimistic.
This isn’t what you might have expected at the start of the campaign. Really, it makes no sense. When you’re the odds-on favourite with the weight of the global elite behind you — Obama, Lagarde, Goldman Sachs, the BBC, Ed Balls — you ought to be able to afford to be magnanimous, jolly and decent. It’s the anti-EU rebels, the spoilers, the malcontents, you’d imagine would be most afflicted by rage, spite and peevishness.
But it hasn’t turned out that way. Yes, there has been some vicious factional backbiting between the different Brexit camps, I can’t deny that. The tone of their campaigning, though, has been almost weirdly upbeat: Boris larking about with Cornish pasties and angle-grinders; Gove batting off Marr with his effortless good cheer; Farage with his pint-and-fags common touch; Martin Durkin with his insightful, inspirational and often very funny crowd-funded documentary Brexit: The Movie.
Brexit: The Movie. With a title like that you’d know exactly what to expect: mostly middle-aged and elderly men, banging on about how much better things were when the atlas was coloured pink, all jingoism and xenophobia and thinly disguised racism. Except that’s not the film Durkin has made. (It’s free on YouTube or Vimeo, so see for yourself.)
Yes, the empire is referenced: but only to make the point that, contra the Remainers, our tiny rainswept island is quite capable of making its mark on the global stage without the help of its continental neighbours.
Read the rest in the Spectator.