Bernard Ingham: Boris Johnson will ditch defeatism over Brexit and show faith in the future – who else can?

WHAT has changed in the national psyche in the last 40 years? Not a lot. The Brexit mess exemplifies it. Let me explain.

Boris Johnson speaks with the passion that the country needs, says Bernard Ingham. Do you agree?
Boris Johnson speaks with the passion that the country needs, says Bernard Ingham. Do you agree?

Soon after I was sent to No 10 as Margaret Thatcher’s Press secretary in 1979, she confided she was fed up with people telling her “Oh, you can’t do that, they won’t allow it”.

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Her problem was clear: the Establishment’s loss of confidence. Her job: to defeat the defeatism of the era.

Theresa May's language does not inspire, says Bernard Ingham.

This was so deeply ingrained that all the Establishment, now called the elite, were felt to be good for was managing national decline. They were not even good at that.

During the 1970s, official figures show that there were nearly 26,000 strikes costing 128 million working days. No wonder we were going downhill. The knock on effect was to give management a nervous tic and a propensity to capitulate when they never knew when they would be hit by a strike.

It is true that, after the Falklands campaign and the taming of the power-abusing union barons, things looked up a bit.

But Mrs Thatcher was up against a major handicap: our membership of the European Community, as it was then known. We did not enter it with great enthusiasm, though, like me, two-thirds backed entry in the 1975 referendum.

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Instead, we went in because we felt we needed to be a member of a more successful bloc. By then, Ted Heath, reflecting a desperate Establishment, 
had sold us down the river – economically and constitutionally.

This demonstrated a national defeatism that is at the heart of all those who are trying to frustrate Brexit, first by successive injections of Project Fear and then by the use of Parliamentary devices, aided and abetted by a travesty of a Speaker.

Insultingly, they do not believe we can as nation succeed on our own, notwithstanding our distinguished service to mankind in the Second World War.

If they had any faith left in their country’s ability to thrive in a blessed state of independence, they would make an impassioned case for it. They never do.

It would certainly be an uphill struggle to argue the internationalist case for
EU membership since Britain, 
freed of Brussels’s yoke, would play 
a far more influential hand in world affairs.

It is a measure of the virulence of the defeatism disease that a majority of our Parliamentarians are trying to keep us in an EU that dictates to them.

Their willingness to have themselves outgunned by an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels shows how far they have lost their nerve – and with it their national pride – and are unfit to lead a prouder populace.

The much abused and maltreated Theresa May conveys some of the optimism for what sovereignty could do for Britain but not, as usual, in inspiring language. Only the shambles that often is Boris Johnson is ringing with faith in the British people to prosper out on their own.

The EU has become a crutch for mediocre politicians. Too often they have something – Brussels – to blame or excuse them.

We need to kick away that crutch as soon as possible. March 29 is not too soon. We need to set the people free to earn us a better health, welfare, education and law and order systems and to motivate those who run them to accept responsibility for much improved management.

Letting loose a national will to 
succeed would also act as a deterrent to those jobsworths, defeatists such as the chief constables and useful idiots in academia, who bow to every wet political correctness.

It would also tell bloated plutocrats and over-paid industrialists that their ramp is over. They had better do more for Britain and less for themselves.

The unspoken message would be an adaptation of John Fitzgerald Kennedy: “Never ask what Britain can do for you; only what you can do for Britain.”

I believe – in line with my New Year resolution to look on the bright side – 
that we can put defeatism behind us 
and generate a new and glorious 
society where people accept their responsibility for their own and the public good.

We would all be happier, safer and more prosperous for it. And we would end the besetting sun of defeatism of always blaming someone else. It is not governments who make a country. It is how people respond to optimistic leadership that goes with the grain of human nature.

It is about time our politicians realised they were elected to lead, not duck and weave and fratch among themselves.