It’s been a good week for adjectives. The abrupt end of Liz Truss’s premiership, positioning the country for its third Prime Minister in two months and worryingly fifth Chancellor (finance minister) in four months, has given political writers and pundits plenty to say. But what do you say when a country and its leading political party are in meltdown that doesn’t sound cliched or as inarticulate as pub-speak on a Saturday night? I was hoping for some colourful metaphors but have mostly encountered adjectives.
I’m not a great fan of adjectives. Their overuse plagues student writing, genre fiction and celebrity memoires. But today I make an exception, noting that the weekend papers have resurrected the adjective in good form – at least for now. Among those used to describe the actions of Liz Truss and her cabinet include ill-fated, calamitous, demented, brexity, Gonzo, eye-popping, chaos-churning and career-serving (though obviously careers at the top of government have crashed to an ignominious end, these clown ministers will likely have high-paying jobs in the private sector for years to come). The best stacked-modifier award goes to Patrick Cockburn of The Independent who described Boris Johnson, who is bizarrely a contender for PM again, as having a career with ‘a comic opera Gilbert and Sullivan feel to it.’
But it hasn’t all been about adjectives. The -ism nouns haven’t done too badly either. Several pundits have stepped back from the immediate circus that is the British government to ask what this means for the ideologies that have gained prominence in the West in recent decades. Could the fall of Britain in such a way trigger the end of neoliberalism, of libertarianism, of populism, of nationalism? As these ideas have been put into practice and have disastrously failed, one does wonder. Writing in The Independent, Adam Boulton, remarked that the Conservative party, which is likely to reign for another two years, will continue with its factionalism and the instability it creates. That is, some of the aforementioned isms aren’t likely to go away overnight, or quietly for that matter.
Oh, yes, I did stumble across one metaphor from Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer that brought a smile to my face for its sentiment as well as its creativity: ‘… the polls suggest the Tories will be disembowelled by the voters when they get their hands on them at the polling stations.’ Nothing beats a good metaphor.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been writing about Brexit of late. My last Brexit tagged blog was in early May, and you have to go back to March to find Brexit in the title. Unlike a lot of people in the UK, I can’t with hand on heart say that I’m tired of Brexit. The topic is complex and multi-layered. It can be looked at from the standpoints of trade and economics, climate change and the environment, human rights, shared research or cultural exchange. Brexit can be seen as a phenomenon of voter and media manipulation or as the catalyst to end party politics as we’ve know it in Britain. That is, for someone like me who enjoys reading and problem-solving through deconstruction, Brexit has been the gift that keeps on giving.
Writing about it has become another matter altogether. As soon as I get an idea for another Brexit blog, I read about it in a newspaper or magazine or hear that a book has come out with the same thesis. Among my favourite Brexit writers – I think this is a start of a genre – are Andrew Rawnsley, Nick Cohen and Will Hutton from The Observer, Polly Toynbee from The Guardian, Stephanie Baker from Bloomberg News and Steve Richards of The Independent and The New European.
Only a few days ago, I stumbled across the perfect quote for what I was going to write about in this blog – another failed attempt. Roger Cohen of the New York Times wrote: ‘The fantasy voted for in 2016 is not the reality of 2019… Democracies are exercises in constant reassessment. The core reason nobody has been able to deliver Brexit is that it makes no sense.’
It’s hard to improve on that.
All I can offer are a few reports gathered from my academic life. I’ve been hearing directly from researchers based at UK universities (many of them not British themselves) who have been excluded from funding applications because Brexit makes them ‘too risky.’ In another case, an academic organisation has changed its plans to have a British university host an international conference over worries that EU27 citizens might need visas to enter the UK. Underlying these examples, as with all changes to our lives brought on by Brexit is a sense of anxiety – sometimes it’s about the unknown, and at other times it’s about losing the good things that we do know have come from our EU membership.
As I struggle to find words to describe this anxiety – a vapid and overused word – I appear to be not writing about Brexit again.