MOST of us can remember where we were on 9/11. Some of us older ones will even remember our own precise location when Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon 50 years ago (I can’t, for the record). And my parents know exactly where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot in 1963.
Such moments define an epoch and are seared on to the consciousness. How then will we remember the tortuous exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union? Not with a bang, but a whimper. We are living in a long, slow purgatory from which the only escape seems to be a no-deal Brexit, a general election or both. And in short order of perhaps a matter of weeks.
Everyone I speak to seems at a loss to comprehend, yet alone explain and accept, what is happening. Life goes on but in a strange kind of suspended animation; children go back to school, hospital appointments are made and kept, major life events occur, but in the background is the constant thrum of political turmoil.
Revolutions aren’t meant to feel like this, I’m sure. Shouldn’t there be a precise moment which crystallises forever that acute awareness of one way of life ending and another beginning? The two-party system is dead, for a start.
One Nation Conservatism, that most benign of right-wing philosophies which has more or less kept Britain going for decades, has been stamped to death. Tory grandees such as Kenneth Clarke and Sir Nicholas Soames now find themselves ostracised from the political party they have belonged to all their lives.
For generations there is something very serious going on when Sir Nicholas – the grandson of Winston Churchill – is no longer welcome in the Tory party.
In some respects, we should be thankful that we are still – by and large – a civilised country. While the shouts of protesters can be heard over any news broadcast, we are still free from serious insurrection.
In our very British way, the most that we can muster up is deep frustration or a kind of anxious bemusement. Everyone I speak to – from despairing Labour-leaning, Remain-supporting friends to dyed-in-the-wool Tories who are bewildered and hurt – shakes their head in collective despair.
When Boris Johnson took to the podium outside Downing Street on Monday evening to announce a tick-box list of things his Government was going to invest in – hospitals, police officers, education – before launching into some mind-melding psychobabble about the prospect of a general election, I was at my parents’ house.
They are old enough to remember not only President Kennedy being shot and the Moon landing, but also (just) the celebrations at the end of the Second World War. “It’s not us, it’s the young people I feel sorry for,” said mum, as she watched ‘‘the clown’’ as she calls him, perform. “What kind of world are they going to end up living in?”
If not for ourselves, then – for our children – we cannot afford to turn the other way and hope that the horror show ends soon. While the big players do their turns in Westminster, we must accept that we all have a part to play. It’s said we get the MPs we deserve, so let’s not let them lead us like this ever again.
The EU referendum taught us many things about ourselves as a country, but the one thing that should stand out is the fact that our communal political instincts and the House of Commons system, comprised of MPs we vote for supposedly to represent our interests, has undergone a catastrophic disconnect.
This had already happened before the referendum in 2016, thanks to questionable business interests, cash for questions, the expenses scandal and career politicians who failed to understand ordinary people.
A cleverer, and more compassionate Prime Minister, than David Cameron would have realised this in time, and had the foresight to anticipate the possible fallout. The narrow but significant ‘‘Leave’’ result crossed all previously-ingrained political boundaries and gave ordinary voters free rein on a single issue which polarised opinion.
In turn, many MPs have found their own views on Remain or Leave at odds with those of the majority of their constituents. This has fractured completely the already-fragile accord of faith to represent our interests in Westminster. When all this is over, as it eventually will be, and we face scorched earth, our politicians should learn that they must forge a new modus operandi – truthful, committed, transparent and entirely accountable to us, the people.