I was listening to the Liberal MP Vince Cable give voice to an idea that has surfaced a time or two before in this column, most recently just two weeks ago, and since then I have been wondering if it is an idea whose time has come.
What I’m thinking is this: in any assessment of the array of tools in the Westminster toolbox, a lot of people would agree that Mr Cable is one of the sharper ones. So unless he had heard something, some hint of a rumour, some slight scratching of a straw in the wind, why would he go on national television and say he thought a scenario could arise that would mean Brexit would not happen?
That the difficulties would simply prove too difficult, that the price to pay was not worth paying, that the prospects for a post-Brexit Britain were just too appalling? I’m paraphrasing now but that was the gist.
Even as he floated the possibility, you could hear the incredulous, off-camera interjection of Andrew Marr: “Really?”
I’m sorry it was off-camera, for I imagine his eyebrows arching up to his hairline and I would like to have seen that.
Bear in mind that only a couple of weeks ago, the Netherlands Prime Minister, Mark Rotte, had delivered a remarkable rebuke given his pro-British credentials: “I hate Brexit from every angle.”
Then bear in mind what happened next. European Council President Donald Tusk quoted John Lennon at us, a quotation political historians may well judge to be the point at which the Brexit process revealed its first irreparable crack: “The EU was built on dreams that seemed impossible. So who knows? You can say that I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one.”
And now Vince Cable – almost certainly the next Lib Dem leader – has become the first senior Westminster politician to say out loud what a great many more MPs are surely whispering behind closed doors and across bar tables. A few more significant raised voices and the whispers will become a clamour then a roar. Brexit is an idea that has already run out of ideas, run out of steam and it is blindingly clear to even the weary footsoldiers of Britain’s considerable army of political illiterates that it never had a strategy in the first place.
This did not have the air of a speculative foray on Mr Cable’s part. I don’t think he was flying a kite on the off chance that it would tell him which way the wind is blowing. I think, perhaps, he knows already which way the wind is blowing and that it is gathering strength.
So what next? He has posted the idea of a coalition with like-minded Tory and Labour MPs. I imagine it would be worth talking to the Nationalists as well, and while forming a coalition with the Lib Dems has been out of favour as a political strategy these last few years, perhaps that is also an idea whose time has come, just this once.
Forces could gather on both sides of the North Sea, both sides of the Channel, a pincer movement with the British Government caught in the middle, bereft not just of ideas and strategy but also of stomach for the political struggle.
Mr Cable cited the Lib-Dem election policy of a second referendum, acknowledging that while it failed to electrify the electorate then, it was designed as “a way out when it becomes clear that Brexit is potentially disastrous”.
Idea number three whose time has come?
I concede, of course, that all of the above is not the informed opinion of a political insider, rather of an amateur political wishful thinker. You could even say I’m a dreamer but it becomes more and more clear as the weeks pass and the noose the British Government originally fashioned for its European past begins to tighten around its own neck, that I’m not the only one, either.
Meanwhile, you might like to consider the following three observations, all of which strike me as relevant to the situation:
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” (A lot of people dreamed the EU together).
“You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are.” (In the case of the country called Britain, we are European).
“Life is what happens while you are making other plans.” (No comment necessary).
The bits in parenthesis are mine. The quotations are John Lennon’s.