I enjoyed watching Brexit: The Uncivil War on Channel 4 last night. I thought it worked as a drama, and had some comic touches which leavened the unwholesome nature of some of the characters. Lucy Mangan, reviewing it in the Guardian this morning obviously mistook it for a documentary and gave it only two stars. One of her criticisms was that it portrayed Nigel Farage and Aaron Banks as buffoons. Perhaps it was a documentary then. I suppose many of the words spoken by the Cummings character were extrapolated from interviews the playwright James Graham had with him and others. But in one of the final scenes, I assume the words that issued from Cummings’ mouth in a select committee hearing were taken from a verbatim transcript of those proceedings. If so then they neatly summed up the whole sorry affair – a burst of anguished incoherence aimed at the establishment’s inability to take Britain forward (into what?). From the man who worked with scions of the establishment that got us to where we are now.*
One irritating little irony watching this was the continual interruption, every 15 minutes in fact of adverts. It was one reason I avoid commercial TV – it’s just too bloody irritating. The irony is in the fact that with the advent, made clear in Brexit of targeted individual advertising and messaging facilitated through the likes of Cambridge Analytica, this blanket approach must be a waste of money. Why do they still do it?
Co-incidentally, I’m about half way through Yanis Varoufakis’s excellent book Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment, first published in 2017. So I’ve come to it a bit late, but given that the government he served in is shortly to hit the buffers, not that late. Syriza is going to be trashed if the polls are correct about this year’s Greek parliamentary elections. The Greek conservative party, the New Democrats seem to be the favourites to win. Such a result has an inevitability about it, representing the likelihood that the electorate feel very badly betrayed by Alexis Tsipris and the false hopes he raised. Swing one way and then the other, what else does the electorate do? What else can it do? I do hope Corbyn understands the lesson. I do hope that Adults in the Room is compulsory reading for all Labour’s shadow ministers.
I’ve just got to the point where Varoufakis has made it to being Greek Finance Minister and is embarking on his first great tour of European capitals to drum up support for the restructuring of Greek debt. His arguments are unimpeachable in my view, and what is interesting is that many of the finance supremos he meets agree with him. In private. But in public they toe the line, which is to say that social democrats (for it is they) are fearful of upsetting the conservative apple cart which I paraphrase as the ideology of ‘sound money.’ Varoufakis tells of one conversation after another in which common sense proposals for progress on the Greek economy were simply sidestepped in order to maintain a pretence of order in the financial system. He is confounded by people like Sigmar Gabriel, then Germany’s SPD leader and vice chancellor in the then Merkel coalition government agreeing with his analysis but then immediately on a public platform rebuking that analysis. That of course is because his position wasn’t dependent on agreeing with Varoufakis. His position was within the Merkel coalition – Varoufakis mistook social democratic politicians for their potential for solidarity. However, in his meetings with the Eurozone’s all-powerful and hawkish Eurogroup of finance ministers and Eurocrats, Varoufakis is cheered by messages he receives from France’s finance minister – one Emmanuel Macron. I wonder if they’re still in touch.
So I’m looking forward to the final half of Varoufakis’s book. It’s like one of those murder mysteries where the murderer(s) are introduced at the very beginning. And yet there’s still a mystery to be solved. Why? In this case the mystery is still being played out, at least for the Greeks. What a shame that with Brexit we’ve all lost interest in this Greek tragedy and the lessons it has for us. Which are? I’ll have to have a think about it.
* I've now learnt that this part was fictitious - Cummings has never appeared before a select committee. I'm still prepared to believe his contribution to history stemmed from incoherence.