A week is a long time in politics, as they say, and my gosh what we’ve managed to fit into the last two. The continuing political earthquakes and aftershocks have demonstrated in a rather practical manner the meaning behind that well worn phrase, that a lot can happen in seven days because the nature of politics – power – is about as shaky as the foundations of the Palace of Westminster itself. Any outward semblance of stability masks a daily battle to maintain, and overthrow, the status quo. A house of cards, you might say.
So that the entire edifice ought to come crashing down in the wake of the Brexit earthquake should not really surprise anyone, nor that its aftershocks – the prime minister’s resignation, the evaporation of the shadow cabinet, the political assassination of Boris Johnson, the departure of Nigel Farage, the unlikely rise of Andrea Leadsom and Angela Eagle, and even the splintering of the Labour and Conservative parties – will continue to be felt for months, possibly years, on end.
The Brexit vote and what it has unleashed is nothing short of a revolution. It was, in some instances implicitly and in others explicitly, a revolt against the Establishment and a ruling class. And, like all revolutions, it has opened up a power vacuum into which some of the most unlikely elements are seeking to fill – among them crafty members of the losing side who have hidden their past associations well, and idealistic amateurs from the ranks of the revolutionaries.
I won’t lie. After the euphoria of the vote itself (I cried the entire journey home from the East of England count), I took immense pleasure in watching the political tremors I and 17 million others had helped create. I had, as Boris Johnson described his tenure as the Telegraph‘s Brussels correspondent, thrown a rock over a fence and listened with glee as it smashed through the greenhouse windows. I watched heads roll and was animated with a sense of schadenfreude. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, Wordsworth wrote in 1789, and to be young was very heaven.
But how quickly the great poet’s heaven descended into the deepest mouth of hell. As Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservative philosophy, wrote in his Reflections on the Revolution in France the following year, “Good order is the foundation of all good things.” Oh, but how fragile those foundations are, and what terrible depths they expose when broken. Whatever disagreements this group has had with David Cameron – and they have been legion – there was never any doubt he was a steady pair of hands, a collegiate manager, and a well-rounded individual who will probably not miss the trappings of power too much.
But, in the vacuum of revolution, his departure has presented us with an unsavoury choice of Theresa May, an authoritarian of the old guard who does not believe in the revolution and may well betray it, and Andrea Leadsom, an inexperienced, idealistic revolutionary who could just as easily betray it through incompetence if not by design. Not for nothing did Burke, writing on the Glorious Revolution of 1688, note that “it shows the anxiety of the great men who influenced the conduct of affairs at that great event, to make the Revolution a parent of settlement, and not a nursery of future revolutions.” Burke believed the same of the Americans’ founding fathers, which was why he supported their revolution against his own king in the 1770s.
I fear we do not have such great men today. What have they done in the wake of our own glorious revolution? Schemed, intrigued, and stabbed each other in the back. “Follow every twist of the knife”, the Spectator has taken to encouraging us. How sordid. Yes, like the French in 1789 we have won our liberty with a revolutionary act, but are facing up to finding ourselves with a set of immediate rulers even worse than the ones we had before – even putting the very gains of the revolution themselves at risk.
But does this make me a remorseful Brexiteer? Absolutely not. Yes Brexit, like all challenges to established authority, has created uncertainty and division – but like the American revolutionaries, I consider these trifling sacrifices where our liberties as freeborn Britons are at stake, because they cannot be maintained at too high a price. The troubles we find ourselves in should also serve to remind us of why we are conservatives in the first place – because a cornerstone of our philosophy is that order, society, and civilisation are intrinsically yet deceptively fragile things which, like the parliamentarians of the 1640s, the architects of the Glorious Revolution, and the founding fathers of the United States, we dare upset only with the greatest apprehension, the heaviest of hearts, and the most noble of principles.