Westminster’s Game of Thrones

Westminster’s Game of Thrones

As media hacks pecked at the bones of Ed Balls’s political carcass on that chilling May morning in 2015, King Cameron emerged triumphantly on to the centre-stage. Through a campaign of fear-mongering and misdirection, he had slayed all of his enemies. Against all expectations and in one fell swoop, the heads of Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage and even Cameron’s erstwhile ally Nick Clegg had all been mounted on pikes outside Whitehall. Despite David Cameron’s slim parliamentary majority, the scale of his victory left many commentators dumbfounded throughout the land. Right up until that bloodcurdling exit poll had been revealed, when in my mind at least the Tory theme tune had started playing eerily in the background, many had expected a hung parliament. Yet, King Cam had simply blasted half of Westminster away. Of course, King Cam was not the only victor that day. Nicola Sturgeon’s brave forces had also helped to carve out her new, would-be independent, Kingdom in the North as well.  Having personally feared but expected this outcome, I reminded all friends via raven that: ‘When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.’ Well, actually, I think it may have been via Twitter – but you get the idea…

With what has seemed like a brutal bloodletting in British politics over the past two years, I think that I can be allowed to indulge in a little bit more unashamed geekery. As I see it, the parallels between HBO’s highly decorated TV series and recent BBC news coverage are too compelling to miss. Admittedly, the sex scenes aren’t as entertaining in the latter. But the betrayals and beheadings have been equally as fun to watch. Though, of course, they can be both soul-destroying or exhilarating dependent on what House you are rooting for.

So far, 2016 has provided political drama aplenty. In true sci-fi or epic fantasy fashion, one character was resurrected from the dead with Nigel Farage leading the charge to bring down Cameron’s cosy castle. Tory traitor BoJo bolstered the Brexit army, leaving King Cam with little wiggle room to defend his territories. In the end, however, King Cam had ensured his own political suicide by calling the EU referendum far too early. I wonder how close he came, once he heard that the Brexiters had won, to jumping out of his own bedroom window at Number 10? Poetic justice? At least he wasn’t drunk and killed by a pig… I mean a boar.

Now, Winter has truly come and not solely due to global warming. We have been set adrift from Europe and Britain has become a colder, lonelier place as a result. Worse still, Jeremy Corbyn the people’s hero has been stabbed outside the Walls of Labour HQ. We will probably have to wait until next season to find out whether he survives or not. Rumour has it that he’s already been seen on set, but these are unconfirmed.

Amidst all the high-speed action sequences, we may almost not have noticed Queen Theresa May ascending to Westminster’s Iron Throne. In scenes of butchery that would have impressed even Queen Cersei Lannister herself, Queen Theresa snatched away George Osborne’s axe in order to use it and cut him down to size. Shame. Now she sits atop her throne, imperiously gazing out across her conquered lands with eyes shrewdly fixed on Nicola of the North. We would be as foolish as Andrea Leadsom or as short-sighted as the Tyrells to assume that, like Cersei, Queen Theresa is not a tyrannical force to be reckoned with. Wily enough to steer clear of the Brexit uprising but free from European restraints or protocol, Queen Theresa is free to wreak havoc with social justice and civil liberties. To my despair, I have seen no dragon-riding Queen set to fly in to our rescue. If there is one certainty, it is that Britain’s current political landscape looks dark and full of terrors.

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A Leftie, A Eurosceptic and an Angry European walk into a bar…

A Leftie, A Eurosceptic and an Angry European walk into a bar…

Spring had sprung for the first and only time all winter. Term had just finished, the sun had been shining all day and all deadlines had either been hurtled past or were hurdles too far into next month to be anxious about. All had spent the weekend anaesthetised by alcohol to drown out remembrances of the recent assignment, and only three were left standing to carry on drinking by Monday. So, a Leftie, a Eurosceptic and an Angry European walked into a bar…

Two pints in, and preliminary discussions about the latest Tarantino had been left satisfactorily unresolved when the topic of Brexit somehow flopped into conversation like an ugly critter darting out of its burrow for fresh air but soon to be strewn asunder as roadkill. Of course, all parties involved – as university students – were naturally predisposed to being self-righteously well-informed and unequivocal in their positions. However, for once, I was happy not to be the one sitting at the polar end of what quickly became a very heated discussion to which I was but an observer.

Both combatants entered the ring with a certain degree of wariness. A few blows in, and only a few dismissive, Eurosceptic remarks about ceding sovereignty and Europe’s democratic deficit had been exchanged for equally tentative comments on Britain’s lingering loss-of-empire-complex and potential irrelevance on the world stage. Soon our Eurosceptic turned, inevitably, towards immigration and border control. This proved to be inflammatory and our European pounced on her quintessentially English counterpart with all the combined ferocity of the entire, blood-soaked continent.

If the UK turned its back on collaborating with Europe on addressing the influx of Middle Eastern refugees, she argued, it would be turning its back on one of the direst humanitarian crises – at least – of our generation. Europe’s union is fragile, she went on, with factors like Greece and austerity as well as the cross-country unease of dealing with the refugee crisis threatening to tear it apart. If Brexit goes ahead, then the economic and political ramifications could well be the final straw for the EU. Then all would suffer, Britain included, as economic and social unrest destabilised the continent.

Pfft, our Eurosceptic responded, Britain doesn’t have the infrastructure to cope with housing more migrants, there are growth economies besides Europe that we could be engaging with and what difference anyway does it make to us in the long-run if everything on the continent just goes to shit? Isn’t that what the Channel is for – to keep apart us and them?

By this point, our European had transformed into Cate Blanchett’s towering Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings – green-faced and eerie in rage, with storm clouds and brimstone singeing the pub table. I tried to wade in and steer us towards safer territory, but was quickly engulfed in the maelstrom – only to scuttle away in terror, back towards the bar. When I returned, fresh pint in hand, our Eurosceptic had clearly already been beaten down to the level of a meek, bumbling hobbit. Fortunately, it was soon last orders and he was saved by the bell.

What did I, the simpler and uninvolved Leftie in this situation, learn from the whole ordeal? Well, I don’t have any truck with arguments about sovereignty –  the bread and butter of conservative, anti-EU sentiment. There are far more all-encompassing threats to British democracy than the EU – like the pernicious effects of global capitalism and inequality, which pretty much make the whole system defunct anyway. Hearing our Galadriel Euro-Elf address the debate from an ‘outsider’s perspective’ was, I think, useful to hear. For those who care about being citizens of the world, it is important to think hard about what Brexit could mean for Europe and beyond as well as just for Britain. For those that I encounter in the months to come that are more nationalistic, I might well say to them that continental stability is something worth preserving simply for Britain’s sake out of pragmatism if for nothing else.

Does that mean I would readily revert to Galadriel’s arguments when next confronted with supporters of Brexit? Well, I hope not – but I suppose it depends on how heated the discussion gets. The one thing this chance pub encounter reminded me, is that British Euroscepticism is real and pervasive. Was it amusing to watch a European intellectually bludgeon our friend and curse all Brits for our insular island attitude? Yes, absolutely. Did our friend stumble home any more enlightened or receptive to staying in the EU? Somehow, I doubt it. For those more heartily in favour of staying in the EU, the debate has to – I think – be built around a more positive vision, reminding people of the benefits that come with sticking together in an uncertain world, celebrating with our neighbours our shared cultural heritage as well as praising the peace and civil liberties that the EU has increasingly secured for the continent at large.

Meeting Euroscepticism with a gentler Europeanism may well be the best way to go, and so may keeping my friends off too much beer…