Sulky MPs and death penalty nostalgia show Britain is far from united



It’s not just the fact that Scotland is demanding a second independence referendum, Northern Ireland is in political deadlock and the Welsh are becoming steadily more disaffected that makes Theresa May’s claims the country has never been so united sound increasingly deluded. The problems start rather closer to home in parliament. One of the unexpected joys of being a sketch writer is getting to observe the 21 MPs on the Brexit select committee at close quarters. The committee is split roughly 50/50 on highly partisan remain and leave lines and as a result is almost entirely dysfunctional, with the remainers only ever asking questions likely to elicit answers that show Brexit is going to be a total disaster, while the leavers are only interested in ones that predict everything will be fantastic. Just this week, the chairman of the committee, the generally fair-minded Hilary Benn, produced a 154-page draft report of the evidence they had heard so far and the leavers were outraged it had not been given a more positive spin. After an hour of trying to persuade Benn to make the report less gloomy, six of the leavers stomped out in a sulk.


Twenty years ago, I saw a therapist who insisted I lay on a couch while she sat out of sight beside me. It wasn’t a great success as I never really managed to get past my fear that she was not paying much attention as she frequently said almost nothing during my 50-minute sessions. Other than “time’s up”. Whenever I questioned her about why she was saying so little, she would take an age to reply before suggesting my real problem was that I was angry with her. By which time I was, of course. Her solution to this was to recommend I see her more frequently. It was only when I was up to three sessions a week and my analyst was pushing me for a fourth, that I decided enough was enough. Within months I was in hospital being treated for anxiety and depression. I mention this, because this week I discovered something about that therapist that would have completely changed my view of her. Quite by chance, I discovered she was on her fourth marriage in her 40s when I was her patient. Given that one of the reasons I was seeing her was to help me be able to form lasting relationships, it really was the blind leading the blind.


On the day Theresa May triggered article 50, YouGov published a survey of the things people would like to see brought back after Britain has left the EU. Top of the list was the death penalty, with 52% of those who voted leave wishing for its return. Just as well we didn’t have a referendum for that, otherwise we might be up there with China, Saudi Arabia and the US for killing offenders. Other things that leave voters were significantly more keen on than remainers were the return of dark blue passports, pre-decimal currency, imperial measures, incandescent light bulbs, smoking in pubs and restaurants, and corporal punishment in schools. The idea that voting to leave the EU was a vote for an exciting new world of 21st-century British sovereignty rather than a desire to head back to a nostalgic, rose-tinted vision of 1950s and 1960s Britain is becoming harder to sustain. The mystery is why anyone who actually lived through 1950s austerity Britain – I write as someone born in 1956 – would want to go back there. As far as I remember, it was all a bit rubbish.


It’s not often I find myself too young for something these days, but it turns out I still have a year to go before I become the average BBC1 viewer, who research has revealed to be 61. Given the amount of TV I watch – too much – I can only imagine Sky Sports, Channel 4 and ITV are bringing my average down. My current top watch is the third series of Broadchurch, in which almost every male character appears to be under suspicion of rape. Curiously, though, the one male character who disturbs me the most is the one man – other than David Tennant – who almost certainly is innocent. I’m talking about the vicar. I’ve watched all three series of Broadchurch now and I’ve never once seen the vicar smile. Or even look remotely pleased about anything. Mostly he appears to wander around the town in a state of controlled fury that none of his parishioners are in the slightest bit grateful for his efforts to save their souls. My Dad was a country vicar and I distinctly remember him being happy once or twice.


The first 86 acts of the lineup for this year’s Glastonbury festival have just been announced and I can already picture 100,000 people singing along to Night Fever as Barry Gibb plays on the Sunday. But they will be singing along without me. Not because I think I’m too old for Glastonbury – I’d probably be near enough the average age: much like I am for BBC1 – but because I hate camping and I hate large crowds. Three years ago, I did go to Glastonbury for the day as I had been asked to speak at a tent called the Free University and I reckoned this was about as close as I was ever going to get to being an academic. Never again. I arrived at about 9.30am on Sunday to find the site looking like the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse with almost no one around apart from a few zombies wandering in circles. More people began to appear as the day went on and though my event was reasonably well attended by a mixture of people who hadn’t yet gone to sleep, people who hadn’t yet woken up and those who weren’t sure and had come to the tent by mistake, it wasn’t a total success. I left just as Dolly Parton took the stage. Perfect timing. There was no traffic at all.

Digested week, digested

727 days and counting.