Jayne Dowle: Our MPs need to grow up and show leadership

WHATEVER happens over the next couple of days, politicians have some serious lessons to learn about the British public over Brexit. Instead of plotting, they should turn their gaze outwards and consider what the shambles tells us about our country and, yes, those who govern it.

Can Theresa May survive her Brexit humiliation - and is she getting sufficient support from MPs?
Can Theresa May survive her Brexit humiliation - and is she getting sufficient support from MPs?

Watching and listening to our elected representatives of late has been like witnessing a horror show, not the mother of all parliaments. On the far right is a creepy Lord Snooty, looking askance down his long, narrow nose – which he can’t see past the end of. To the left is an angry, bitter man in an anorak who spits out words which sound good until you realise that they’re all about him.

And somewhere in the middle is a very anxious woman. She’s the Prime Minister, the one supposedly in charge. And all around her bizarre characters jump up and down, clamouring for attention, shouting, booing, pulling faces, jostling.

This is Parliament. Not a horror show, or even a school-yard, as Attorney General Geoffrey Cox pointed out on Tuesday when the chamber swelled with unruly chaos in anticipation of the Brexit vote.

“What are you playing at?” he boomed, in a voice of such carrying authority that the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, mistakenly promoted him to “Sir Geoffrey”. “You are not children in the playground, you are legislators.”

Unfortunately, as the sad events of this week have proved, the vast majority of our politicians have indeed behaved like children. It goes deeper than the booing and shouting; it’s about the ego, the ‘me-first’, ‘I’m right/you’re wrong’ attitude which has brought our once-respected tradition of democracy to its knees.

The fate of the British people has been forgotten, shoved aside in the rush to be heard. However, let’s not forget that self-interest has governed the entire Brexit fiasco from the moment David Cameron, the former Prime Minister, fled when Leave narrowly won.

Unlike a war, it has not called for esprit de corps. In fact, it has demanded the very opposite. Every adult – and plenty of young people, who have re-run the referendum in schools and colleges – has been forced to put the personal before the political.

In retrospect, this was the last thing we needed. To impose a stark choice on a country still shaken by the 2008 global financial crash, and threat of internal devolution, was a huge mistake.

The EU debate simply served to crystallise discontent. The result tore the country in two, determined by the kind of fierce individualism which transcends class, geography and economic background. And modern mass communication, in particular social media, has given everyone a voice. Good for political engagement, it has been a disaster for national solidarity.

In hindsight, a less hidebound and more visionary Prime Minister would have engendered and overseen serious cross-party collaboration to steer the process to a less tumultuous conclusion; the humiliation of Mrs May and the prospect of a no-deal exit are the worst possible outcomes.

Yet, let us not forget that she had the job pretty much foisted on her when Cameron walked away. And let us also remember that a Prime Minister needs a united Cabinet and ideally, a largely-agreeable Parliamentary party behind them.

Mrs May has enjoyed the support of neither and was badly-advised to hold a snap election in the summer of 2017, thus compromising her majority and forcing her to rely upon an ambiguous alliance with the DUP.

And she has been bullied, hectored and punished for it since. Surely our great nation deserves better than this selfish, self-righteous default stance?

It is most definitely not in the national interest and is already costing our country dear. Economic productivity is stalling, house prices are falling and hospitals, schools, councils, businesses and all the things that make the wheels turn round are holding their breath and waiting. For what? We still don’t know.

What politicians should really do as we wait is to spend some time in contemplation of what every vote cast in the EU referendum actually meant. Only by doing this will they begin to reach an understanding of what really motivates the electorate.

In this, both major parties need to act responsibly. The Conservatives should call a ceasefire to the infighting and remember why people once regarded them as the party they could trust. And Labour should free itself from the shackles its leadership has imposed and reach out into the regions, taking strength from the grass roots support which is still there – if only it was prepared to look.

Above all, politicians should find out why we, as a nation, were so desperate to find something to blame. Until we learn to love ourselves, we can’t find our place in the world. Our leaders must therefore put their own arguments aside and show us a way to do both.