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Best in Show
The Friday Speed Read
Every week The Friday Speed Read is published at 3pm as long as the author isn’t distracted by some important bit of business or the thought of what he might have for dinner in which case, it’s published slightly later.
Sometimes you just don’t feel it. At the end of a ridiculous, unprecedented (once again) week in UK politics, the consequences of which are largely unfathomable to even the most seasoned of political geeks, then all we really feel like doing is shutting off the news pipe, pouring a large glass of Malbec and sliding under the duvet with a classic piece of late-20th Century electronica. If you pushed us for a choice, we’d recommend Moon Safari by Air, but there’s plenty of equally worth alternatives.
The truth is we’d had an opening section for this week’s Speed Read sketched out in the notebook from Wednesday onwards. It would have been fairly decent; a big baggy perhaps, with too many sub-clauses and an overarching idea that just about held the whole thing together, but you’d have likely enjoyed it. However, after a wearying week, we didn’t feel glib or perky enough to pull it off. So we didn’t try.
And then this morning, we woke to the news that as-yet-uncertain number of people have wandered into two New Zealand mosques with machine guns and, randomly, arbitrarily, murdered 49 people for presumably no other reason than they were Muslim. Oh yes, one of the attackers reportedly live-streamed the massacre to the internet via a body-mounted camera.
This is the world we live in now.
And yes, there have been shootings with higher numbers of casualties and if you’re reading this then you’ll have lived through attacks on a much more horrifying scale (and of course there’s no hierarchy of terrorist atrocities); maybe most of us living on the other side of the world from New Zealand will, in a few months’ time, need to be reminded that the dreadful events of this morning even happened at all. But at the end of a week in which the Brexit debacle has elicited a panoply of capital-lettered adjectives (“meltdown”, “chaos”, “horror show”, “contemptuous” to name just a handful) then this morning suggests that what we really need right now is not adjectives but a noun:
There was a point on Wednesday evening at which the Guardian’s live text coverage of the Brexit carnival sat back in its chair, puffed out its cheeks and admitted that (and this is a direct quotation) “I have absolutely no idea what is going on”. They weren’t alone. Fans of medieval Dutch painting (and we know that there’s a LOT of you out there) will have noted that the infernal scenes depicted by Hieronymus Bosh, with their burning towns, deformed, wide-eyed animals gorging on rotting human flesh and syphilitic lovers being tortured on spikes, are a picture of Marie Kondo-eque order and harmony compared to scenes played out in the Palace of Westminster this week.
Votes came and went. TM the PM’s voice almost gave up the ghost completely (“The Croaky Horror Show” – The Sun) and Brexit as a concept was twisted, pummelled and fought over like a particularly covetable piece of box-fresh play-doh plonked down in front of sugar-pumped three-year olds. So where on earth are we?
On Tuesday, TM the PM’s second attempt to get her Brexit deal through the Commons was not quite as big a failure as her first attempt. But you know, still a pretty massive failure.
On Wednesday, several of TM the PM’s senior ministers joined opposition colleagues in voting fairly conclusively that the UK should not leave the EU without a deal. This was a non-binding vote, i.e. not law, but people who know about these things suggest that it’s unlikely that the will of parliament would be contradicted.
And then on Thursday, MPs, by this time their clothes soiled and ragged, with ties around their heads like a scene from Lord of the Flies, decided that extending Article 50 and thus delaying Brexit was probably pretty sensible in the absence of any shred of a coherent alternative. Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay briefly assumed the role of poster boy for the week’s nonsense by standing at the despatch box and arguing in favour of the government’s proposal for an Article 50 extension saying that it was in “the national interest” and then promptly voting against it.
The EU still has to agree the Article 50 extension and there’s been a lot of European grumbling that the UK patently doesn’t know its arse from its elbow right now but the 27 nations are still likely to acquiesce. And Brexit will be delayed. But for how long?
In a funny (and certainly not in the traditional sense of the word) sort of way TM the PM might, despite everything, emerge from all of this with some sort of victory. The threat of an extended extension to Article 50 might scare Brexit supporters into agreeing to her deal (which seems to have more lives than Doctor Who’s cat) and if not, well, Brexit might not even happen at all and TM the PM will be able to retire to a pretty, shuttered house somewhere in the Dordogne where she can sip local wine, free to live in France for as long as she wants, consoled by the knowledge that she had tried her best.
And that folks, is where we are. Goodness knows where we’ll be by the time you read this, maybe Michael Gove will be King or a bloody coup led by a loose collation of swans, money spiders and Hereford cattle will have overthrown their human overlords and installed a new government with a focus on nest maintenance, web deregulation and veganism. Don’t rule it out.
But, of course, other news happened this week. And so did a lot of other things. Two old friends met in a Newcastle pub for the first time in a decade; a group of primary school children from Belfast went on a school trip and laughed as their teacher fell asleep on the coach; a woman in Exeter was annoyed with herself for blushing as a man she liked said that he liked her new haircut; an old couple went for a walk in the Cotswolds for the first time since the man had been discharged from hospital – their lunchtime G and T in the local pub had never tasted so good; people loved; people cried; people did the big shop and people put the bins out.
Everywhere you looked, life went on.
See you next week.