People Will See Us and Cry…

One of the advantages of having several different hobbies is that I get the chance to look at things through different lenses. Aside from blogging I am also into reading, hiking, poetry, dance fitness, and amateur dramatics, and the last one can often feel quite therapeutic – but then, pretending to be someone you’re not for two hours a night can hardly fail to be. Currently I’m involved in a production of the musical Fame, set in a performing-arts school in New York in the early 1980s. The show has a number of storylines, but the stand-out one concerns the ambitious and celebrity-obsessed performer Carmen Diaz. As one of the 97 kids out of 4,000 who got into the school, she is not short of self-belief, but chafes against the institution’s teaching, desperate to break out into Broadway and beyond. As Carmen continues to dream of seeing her name in lights, her patience with her teachers ultimately snaps, and she drops out of school to move to Los Angeles after receiving an offer from an agent, ignoring the warning from her drama tutor that she’s making the biggest mistake of her life. Needless to say, things don’t go quite according to plan for her…

Two years into the ongoing (so far) music-free drama that is the Brexit process, it’s a fair verdict that things aren’t going quite according to the original plan. That’s assuming, of course, that there was an original plan to start with, and that it wasn’t actually an elaborate ruse by the likes of billionaires like Arron Banks and Jacob Rees-Mogg, and media moguls like Rothermere and the Barclays to avoid having their tax loopholes being closed by Brussels… To give them their due, the Brexiteers never proclaimed in so many words that we were all going to Live Forever and Learn How To Fly, but they might just as well have done. DExEU Secretary David Davis is a man who appears to see his job as daily to give evidence of how out of his depth he is; there are reports that he actually enjoys listening to Duncan Wisbey’s merciless lampooning of him as the bungling Brexit Bulldog in BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers, which suggests he may not quite be getting the joke. At one point he seemed to have forgotten that most of Ireland was no longer within British jurisdiction. Trade Whatever-Bloke Liam Fox (he of the “Brexit the easiest deal in history” claim) apparently reckons the best way of preparing the UK for its departure from the EU is to lecture experienced businessmen on how he thinks they do their job. As for that fabled popular tribune (sic), the mysteriously un-sackable Alexander Boris DePfeffel Johnson (to give him his full name), the less said about his levels of competence, the better.

A process designed to Take Back Control (which, it ought to be obvious to all by now, has never truly been lost – if it had, there would have been similarly strong and significant Exit movements in every single EU member state by now) of our Borders/Country/Destiny/Economy/Fisheries/Insert Random Noun Here is being presided over by a vicar’s daughter who is barely pretending to take control of her own small flock. The received wisdom has it that Theresa May is being forced to pursue a harder Brexit than she would prefer, by the twin forces of the pro-Hard Breixt Tories in the European Research Group (chaired by Rees-Mogg), and the suits from Arlene’s Big House in Ballymena. Yet, both those groups raised few murmurs when Mrs May agreed to the Transition Deal back in December, which included ‘full alignment with the rules of the internal market and the customs union which support north-south co-operation‘ (which sounds pretty much like a commitment to a Soft Brexit). For all their bluster, both the ERG and the DUP know that if they push their luck too far it could send Mrs May’s house of cards tumbling down, resulting in a general election that might be won by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Then again, if imperilling Brexit is their only fear here, they needn’t worry too much, as Corbyn wants a hard Brexit, while his deputy Keir Starmer appears to favour a Brexit involving a lot of fence-sitting, with both men seemingly oblivious to the thought that anyone might notice this, much less point it out to them. Both the government and main Opposition party appear to be making a virtue out of being divided and clueless about the biggest constitutional change approaching the UK since the 1920s – and yet nobody is suggesting the obviously best way forward: a 1931-style National Government to tackle what is an arguably even more serious matter than the impact of the Great Depression was then.

Yet, those of us who point out how the promises of two years ago are highly unlikely to be honoured are probably wasting our time. As befitting the age in which we’re stuck, this process has gone beyond fact-checking and inconsistency-spotting: in cyberspace and other spaces Brexit has now become a cult, an article of faith rather than reason, with patient reminders of the cock-ups, hypocrisies and lies of its adherents coming up against argument-closing mantras like ‘You Lost – Get Over It, Remoaners’, ‘What Part of “We Won” Don’t You Understand?’, ‘The EU Is Undemocratic’ (in a way, presumably, that the WTO isn’t…), and ‘If You Hate Britain Why Don’t You Move to Europe?’ I suspect that this will continue even if – as the experts of whom Michael Gove once claimed we’d had enough have insisted – the hard Brexit that his government nominally wants does lead to economic, social and political meltdown in the UK. I don’t believe for a minute that Sir Tim Berners-Lee intended this for his invention, but the World Wide Web’s relative anonymity has certainly allowed a significant chunk of its users to forget that they’re not in school any more.

Put simply, the biggest show in town is one colossal steaming mess, with the actors frequently fluffing their lines, missing their cues, singing woefully out of both tune and time, and even, every now and then, wondering out loud what show it is they’re meant to be performing anyway. To make it worse, the performers and crew don’t seem to care too much that they’re in charge of such a disaster – even though their audience (for which read, the rest of the world) are unlikely to hang around long to part with their money for repeat performances.

Carmen Diaz, the fictional immortality-seeker in Fame, knows more than a few things about the dangers of getting involved in a disastrous show, but she finds out the hard way. After being assaulted by her LA agent she is forced to work as a stripper, gets involved with a bad crowd, and dabbles in hard drugs. Limping back to New York, her dreams shattered, she succumbs to an overdose. As to whether she ultimately accepts that she made the wrong decision in dropping out of the PA school, the audience can only speculate, from the closing words of her last song:

Yes, they know how to do it in LA,
They know that somewhere up there the sky is blue,
So smile when they say, ‘It’s only a dream’
And you’ll get what is comin’ to you:
In LA your dreams all come true

As the Brexit Show begins its third year of performances, the best that those of us at the front-of-house can hope for, given our hopeless cast and crew, is that they will ultimately get their collective act together, and at the very least meet their long-suffering audience half-way, and work towards a satisfactory yet believable end. After all, when Carmen sings ‘People will see me and cry’ she is proved right – but not in the way she expected.

Based in Birmingham, Dan is a journalist, broadcaster and actor.