When David Dimbleby began to say it, we knew it was true. The British, to paraphrase Eamon Dunphy, were ‘getting out of town, baby!’
A startled world awoke to the news. Yes, we knew it would be close, but hardly anyone expected the Brexit side to actually win.
Throughout Friday, utter chaos in newsrooms, on social media, and in the streets, homes and businesses throughout the UK. ‘Did that just happen?’ millions of people asked, the entire populace now resembling a party-goer who wasn’t quite sure how last night’s party turned out the way it did.
The shock was so seismic, the implications so vast, that David Cameron’s decision to resign was relegated to the end of the news headlines, not being mentioned at all in some bulletins.
A Prime Minister falling on his sword had become a ‘Meanwhile, in others news’ story, almost an ‘And finally’ story, like when the newsreader tells us that firemen have rescued another cat that got stuck up another tree, or a baby has survived for three days in a hen house.
The fall-out was huge – it still is. With a real sense emerging that many people who voted to leave were actually sorry they hadn’t voted to remain – it begs the question, why didn’t they vote to stay? – politicians, business leaders, the people, began to try to pick up the pieces.
But picking up the pieces and making sense of all of this will take some time. This is like cleaning up after an earthquake; after all, this was a political earthquake, a tsunami and a hurricane rolled into one. A blonde man on his bike is central to it all, but not quite the hero of the hour.
Boris Johnson was loved when he was harmless; now that he, with others, has orchestrated this extraordinary Brexit, it seems people are reassessing the man they must now take very seriously indeed.
Of course he will always have both loyal supporters and fierce critics; but there is a sense now that a middle ground, rueful and upset at the outcome, are turning their ire on Boris.
It’s much the same with Nigel Farage. His influence in recent years has been massive, but is he a hero only to extremists? Many amongst the millions of people who now find themselves on his side are grudgingly in his club. In truth, Britain is a deeply divided place, and this is a turning point in its history.
It is not hard to see why people were attracted to the idea of leaving. There were some justifiable arguments for doing so, not least the sense that EU member states are now straight-jacketed and at the mercy of a dictatorial Brussels. But racism has also had a role.
There were of course also many good reasons for voting to stay. It is fascinating that the elderly – in general – favoured exiting, while the young – in general – favoured staying. The implications, not least for this island, are wide-ranging. Our own new Government, which was built on shaky ground, has suddenly found that, a handful of Cabinet meetings in, there was something very dramatic and seismic lurking under ‘Any Other Business.’
The so-called experts are all over the airwaves, the television, the internet, with their analysis of what the implications are for Europe, Britain and Ireland. I don’t think anyone really knows what those implications are, not until we live through them.
Here in Ireland, we just have to seek to respond to the challenges and – where possible – position ourselves to actually benefit from opportunities that may arise.
Back in the (now) wacky world of British politics, David Cameron remains a ‘Meanwhile Man’, relegated to lame duck status, a ‘cat-up-a-tree’ guy to the world media. That’s fine. He fought the good fight. At least he knows his fate. Jeremy Corbyn however is hanging on in a bizarre saga within the Labour Party.
He’s a dead man walking – towards his political grave. Corbyn’s problem is that he is a sincere man. He actually has principles, a characteristic which is alien to political posers and their spinmasters.
Corbyn has been undermined ever since his sensational ascent to leadership of that party, and the backstabbers are only delighted to have good reason now to get the knives out. What a week in British politics.
Twelve member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet resigned at the weekend. I am tempted to paraphrase Oscar Wilde. ‘To lose one member of your shadow cabinet may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose twelve looks like carelessness.’
Meanwhile, Boris ‘Have I Got News For You’ Johnson tosses his blonde hair back and reaches for his bike. Nigel chuckles, shrugs his shoulders and orders another pint.
And all over an emotionally fraught Britain, the bewildered, intrigued, nervous people wait, their bags backed – Brexit pass in hand – destination unknown.
They’re an exceptionally nice bunch…those country and western stars. We spent a few very enjoyable hours at the Midsummer’s Day with the Stars concert at Roscommon Racecourse.
It was a terrific success and a great day’s entertainment. I was about to say hello to our columnist, Frank Brandon, but he was gone in a flash into the distance, a single-minded mission to complete; he was heading for Big Tom in the winner’s enclosure with a speed and fleetness of foot that I haven’t seen from Frank since his glory years as playmaker with Creggs Rugby Club.
It was fascinating to observe the passion and loyalty of diehard fans, who came from all over the country to see the stars of the country music scene. A great atmosphere prevailed all day (see our coverage on pages 44 & 45).
Sunday & Monday
In Father Ted, Fr. Ted explains the ‘illusion’ to Fr. Dougal. The cows in the field, Fr. Ted explains, are not miniature animals…they are just far away. Now Dougal understands.
I think we need to adopt the same thinking to the Premier League. As in…it’s not the best league in the world; it’s the one that’s on our doorstep, the one we’re most exposed to.
That, for me, is the main lesson so far from Euro 2016. Some – the English media mainly – have for far too long hyped up the Premier League. And, even though most of its top stars are foreigners, England and other ‘home’ countries buy into the myth and this merely adds unrealistic expectations when World Cups and European Championships come around.
Just because we see guys like Raheem Sterling and Wayne Rooney and others every week, doesn’t mean they are (necessarily) world class players who will lead England to the type of success that has eluded the country since 1966. I felt sorry for the English players on Monday evening.
They are built up by their media (inevitably then hammered by them subsequently) and to some extent by the public. On precisely what grounds pundits like Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and company base their over-confidence about England in the build-up to major finals’ is a mystery.
I felt sorry for the English players because they are honest pros who are always under extreme pressure to succeed. Having said that, they were very poor in this tournament, and losing to Iceland was catastrophic.
I felt sorry too for Roy Hodgson, who comes across as a real gentleman, but the simple reality is that England weren’t remotely good enough. Indeed the sobering reality for the ‘home’ nations and the Republic of Ireland is that we are still some way behind the football elite of Europe and the world.
Scotland didn’t make it to Euro 2016; England, Ireland and Northern Ireland all went out before the quarter-finals. Wales are still there, but they beat Northern Ireland in their last 16 tie. Wales have been heroic, but some people have got carried away by their 3-0 win over a shocking Russia side; the Dynamo Rooskey team I played with in the 1980s had a more cohesive defence (on a good day) than Russia’s just now.
Northern Ireland had a really good tournament, and I was proud too of the Republic, who did well overall. We were excellent against Sweden and Italy, poor against a classy Belgian side, and heroic against France. Martin O’Neill’s lads gave every last ounce for us on Sunday when everything was against them…the fact that France hadn’t played in a week, the temperature, the derisory ticket allocation.
Roll on the rest of the tournament…the World Cup campaign…and, oh yeah, the Connacht Final.