The Possessed

Not having written anything political since the third of this month, I have to say that the last couple of days have shaken me to the core. Two heads of state, for totally different reasons, are at the point of having lost credibility – namely Mrs Theresa May and Monsieur Emmanuel Macron. The only difference is that Brexit is supposed to be a national populist movement, led by an establishment figure, and the Gilets Jaunes is a spontaneous popular movement against the establishment for reasons that go beyond fuel taxes and low wages.

I listened to the speech given by Mrs May to the Commons yesterday, the reply given by Mr Corbyn and a few hours of questions. I only heard later about the Mace representing Royal authority being picked up, which is a scandalous gesture in Parliament, akin to sacrilege in a church. How Mrs May has been able to commit several acts of contempt of Parliament is one week is beyond me. How can she as a human being take the immense pressure and stress, and persevere against the pressure to resign? She is fighting a Zweifrontenkrieg against both the leavers in her own party and the remainers in the opposition and minority parties.

Why the title of this posting. We truly reach a point that seems to be akin to the political and moral nihilism of the period preceding the Russian Revolution, therefore the novel by Dostoyevsky The Possessed (Бесы, Bésy). Something I found on YouTube has impressed me with its apparent clarity of thought, a discussion between an American and an English former lawyer and editor of a journal and website called The Duran. These two gentlemen do not hide their affinity with Putin’s Russia, another subject of obfuscation and confusion in the western world. They don’t discuss Dostoyevsky, but the associations came together in my mind. Here is the interview:

My thoughts go way beyond the romantic idealisation I entertained of the European Union to the real threats we face in what little remains of this year and 2019. What I have understood from yesterday’s debate in the Commons and this dialogue between two pro-Russian pundits is that Mrs May knows she will never get a deal through Parliament, yet she refuses to resign or come to a compromise. She kept repeating herself and evaded all awkward questions coming from the Scots or the opposition. The hypocrisy and emptiness came over to nearly all the MP’s present and us watching it from afar via television or internet. The reason given of seeking “reassurances” from the EU and European heads of state lacks all credibility. Only two possibilities remain: the hardest of hard Brexits with no preparation made for anything. If this is not a nihilist agenda, I don’t know what is. Are all those men and women in Parliament and the Government complicit to the destruction of our country and some kind of revolution we can’t yet imagine? The second possibility is that it will be a war of attrition, une guerre d’usure – bore us all to death through the hopelessness of it all, and quietly rescind article 50 and hope those who voted “leave” in 2016 wouldn’t mind too much.

Conspiracy theories are possible, namely Mrs May being an instrument of some kind of dark state consisting of bankers and all sorts of creepy people in league with the Devil. I read all that kind of stuff in association with Hillary Clinton on the other side of the Pond. I am reserved, but we would be naive to think that Mrs May is in this mess all alone with a good part of her own Party against her and then with the constant threat of a motion of no-confidence, a general election and Corbyn in power. The problem is that a motion of no-confidence at present would fail. The gridlock has rendered the political establishment incapable of acting. Of course, there will be protests and emergency debates, but there will be no answers before late January 2019. By then, only two months will remain until 29th March 2019, unless article 50 gets extended and we go Norway. That too would have to be approved by Parliament, which is unlikely.

Europe itself is in crisis. This side of the Channel, Greece is in a mess, right-wing populism is spreading and we see the spectres of Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain. Even Germany has its crowds of fanatics. Just after Macron promised a number of concessions to help low-earners (I am one myself) make ends meet, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, scarcely more intelligent than Peppone in the Don Camillo films, called on the Gilets Jaunes to continue their revolution next Saturday (15th December). “I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization“.

Je crois que l’ de la révolution citoyenne dans notre pays samedi prochain sera un moment de grande mobilisation. Mais bien sûr, comme tout un chacun, je m’en remets à la décision qui sera prise par tous ceux qui sont dans l’action.

At this point, more than 54% of people surveyed recently were of the opinion that Macron had given enough for the demonstrations and riots to be stopped. Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally (previously National Front), the populist right,

accused the president’s “model” of governance based on “wild globalization, financialization of the economy, unfair competition.”

We seem to have the parallel in England with characters like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage! There is also the caricature of Lord Snooty with his top hat. Are these the ones who would make hay out of the utter failure of the political establishment like the Soviet Union in 1989?

My own certitudes have been rocked and they continue to sap my energy and creativity. It goes much further and deeper than Brexit or no-Brexit, cheap diesel to continue to be able to move around despite living in the countryside. It is the prospect of knowing that we “had it so good” (remember McMillan in the 1950’s) and that the party is over. This may be a hard time for a all, probably short of a war or something more apocalyptic. It has happened before in history and will happen again.

Dostoyevsky saw the writing on the wall in 1870 with events in Russia and the Paris Commune. They used live ammunition in those days! Communism existed long before the Russian Revolution and has changed its form. Unlike some Americans, I don’t fear a revival of Communism, neither in any European country or the EU. Maybe the EU can be influenced on more cultural and humanist lines, maybe even some notions of Christian culture, spirituality and morality. The current regime, however, is the very force Marx thought his system would conquer, that of money, capital and inequality. The Marxist system discredited itself, but some elements of all historical revolutions had genuine grievances against the wealthy elites, be they Tsars, kings or vulgar billionaires. I notice the collusion between May and Corbyn, Le Pen and Mélenchon, perhaps a new kind of populism that seeks to avoid the errors of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler.

Somehow, the Kingdom of Heaven will triumph over this darkness and evil that is falling down on our world like a leaden cloak. We seem to be at the stage of France in 1789 and the Terror of 1793, the run-up to the revolution in Russia a hundred years later. Some of the Gilets Jaunes took a mock guillotine crudely made of pieces of wood to a demonstration, and a Photoshopped image portrayed a real beheading machine in a square in central Paris. The symbolism is shocking as comparisons are made. Another comparison can be made, however, that of the peaceful work of Pope John Paul II in solidarity against Communism with the shipbuilding workers of Gdansk in the 1980’s. I remember December 1989 when a university friend came to tell me that the Berlin Wall was down. Now what is collapsing is the neo-liberal capitalism that thought it was the end of history and nec plus ultra after Перестройка (perestroika) and глaсность (glasnost) Indeed, we all yearn for openness and transparency, two things we lack in my native England.

It is too early to tell what is going to happen, whether our future will be peaceful or violent, whether it is possible to bring Christ into such a confused and uncertain world, at a time when the Church is seen as complicit with the wealthy and unconcerned for ordinary people. Christianity is possible only in new ways that we have not yet learned. The alternative is Islam or Evangelical Christianity with their messages of theocracy, bigotry and simplicity to those who are unaccustomed to religious culture. Something is changing…

I stay far away from the rioting. It is pointless and shows what collective humanity does best – insane destruction and hatred. I understand the American’s need for weapons in such incertitude and fear, but I remain a pacifist. I see no point to the fighting. Maybe things will get really bad and we will lose our freedom and our homes. We can only deal with that if and when it happens. Perhaps Macron will hold out here in France and learn more about populism and the devotion we all have to our countries and cultures – pro aris et focis, for homes and hearths, as the old Romans used to say. I am more doubtful about Mrs May and her nemesis on the other side of the Clerk’s Table and the dispatch boxes. I am as much in the dark as our two pro-Russian friends who had the discussion.

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Palmar de Destroya

Update: His former Holiness is going to court – El ex papa de El Palmar, procesado por intentar robar su antigua iglesia con una careta de payaso. Markus Lundberg is quoted on Facebook as saying –

The trial against the Palmarian ex-pope and his wife will soon begin. But when trying to rob the church did they really use clown masks? Dressed entirely in black but with clown masks in the middle of the afternoon … They are certainly not the brightest of people.

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Here’s some more juicy stuff about the totalitarian cult in Palmar de Troya in southern Spain. They have put up a website for their “true church” – which is only a caricature of other Churches calling themselves one-true-churches. Here it is – – – ta-daaaa!

Iglesia Catolica Palmariana – English page

Some might remember that the predecessor (Gregory XVIII) of their present pope and his wife (a former nun) tried to get into the enclave to steal things, got beaten up and arrested by the police and are in prison. See Ex-Pope and Wife Attempted to Rob Basilica (with links to articles).

Indeed the Spanish press has described this cult as a monument of human madness

El Palmar de Troya es considerado por los especialistas un monumento a la demencia humana.

Their church is very impressive for those who like elaborate baroque styles.

A word of warning to those attracted to flamboyant Spanish churches and old-time popes: this is a totalitarian cult that has left many people’s lives ruined through psychological manipulation and exploitation of the vulnerable. It is possible that the whole thing was founded as a scam to make money as suggested in the film Manuel y Clemente.

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Sarum Calendar 2019

The Sarum Calendar for 2019 has been added to Dr William Renwick’s Documents page. You can download it from there. It begins from 1st January, so if you need the current Advent, you need the final month of 2018. It is in English and follows the Gregorian calendar.

I warmly recommend the rest of this valuable site which is completing the resources we have for the Use of Sarum and its chant.

Dr Renwick’s site is sometimes inaccessible for technical reasons. If this is so, the text in question is as follows:

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The Kalendar appearing here contains in the third column the information provided in the printed Sarum Kalendars such as that found at the front of the Breviarium 1531. In the fourth column appears the information found in the Pica which appear scattered throughout the Breviarium. Generally speaking the latter takes precedence over the former where they differ. This Kalendar is provided firstly as a guide to those who wish to follow the Sarum Liturgical Kalendar throughout the course of the year, and secondly for those who wish to gain an understanding of the nature of a typical Sarum or pre-Tridentine liturgical year. These Kalendars follow the Gregorian or Western calendar rather than the Julian calendar.
Kalendar 2013
Kalendar 2014
Kalendar 2015
Kalendar 2016
Kalendar 2017
Kalendar 2018
Kalendar 2019

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Saint Claus

This says it all. It’s his feast today. The name Claus comes from the German Klaus, meaning Nicholas.

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French Revolution II ?

I have in my life seen demonstrations (the 1984 protest against the abolition of private education) and even a little rioting from a safe distance, but nothing compared with these scenes from Paris. Tear gas is horrible, through its effect of violently irritating the eyes, nose and throat of anyone who gets a whiff.

This second video is from the press in France, hoping I am not forbidden from linking to it via YouTube without copying it or hiding its character of someone’s intellectual property.

I am out in the country, so I see little gilet jaune activity. I attempted to go to Rouen a couple of weeks ago by car, but had to turn round because the way was blocked. I sympathise with this movement against excessive and arbitrary tax hikes by President Macron, but I have nothing to do with any violence and I take no part in blocking roads and punishing the ordinary population. What good does that do? I have a folded yellow vest on the dashboard of my van, symbol of solidarity with the majority of the movement that is peaceful and respectful of law and order.

The scenes in Paris are terrifying. The police are using non-lethal weapons like tear gas and water cannon, no guns. The rioters and looters are using cobblestones picked out of the road and any throwable object. An old lady has been killed in her house because she was drawing her curtains just at a moment when a tear gas grenade went through the window pane and hit her on the head. There has been a number of deaths, hundreds of injured – both police and rioters – and hundreds of arrests.

The unrest began in mid-­November to protest rising costs of essentials like fuel for motor vehicles and electricity. It is definitely a populist movement without any leadership or organisation. Thus it could be infiltrated by groups of anarchists and “professional” rioters and hooligans of both extreme right and extreme left ideas. There is a Facebook page that has been “liked” 54,399 times. The movement spread from the issue of fuel taxes to a wider protest about French economic policy and the growing difference between rich and poor, and the apparent indifference of the establishment elite to ordinary working people.

As I said to my wife this evening, I see things internationally and in the light of history. It isn’t just France. There is the for and against Brexit in my country, fascists in Italy, a revival of Franco’s integralist Catholic ideology in Spain, Alternative für Deutschland in Germany. All of a sudden we have an embryo Axis. One by one, other European and non-European countries are going the same way: Brazil, Poland, Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium. How long will it be before budding wannabe dictators tap into the popular energy and hatred to rise to power? I have sometimes read some horrible hateful things written also by Americans on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet. In a way, I understand the blowback against liberalism and the kind of capitalism that doesn’t care tuppence about the poor and homeless. On the other hand, it is all so dangerous, an erupting volcano.

What is the political alternative to Macron, if he is prevailed upon to resign? It seems to be down to Mme Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon. Perhaps we have less to fear from the populist right in France than Brazil or Spain. Who knows?

It is worth reading this Guardian article Paris rioting: French government considers state of emergency over ‘gilets jaunes’ protests. What do I think with my experience of French life? The future of this unrest is uncertain. The police and security services will find out (or already know) who the violent rioters are and what unites them. Hundreds of them have already been arrested and will be sanctioned by the law. There seems to be no real ideology or agenda other than violence and destruction for their own sake.

President Macron seems to make the vital distinction and has said he would listen to the legitimate concerns of ordinary people.  Will he revise his policies? The ball seems to be in his court to show concern for the people and realise that poverty is for real.

Elsewhere in France, there have been blockages and tyre-burnings in most towns. Shopping centres, roads and toll booths and government buildings have been the main targets of disruption. All the gilet jaune people I have met have been peaceful.

Obviously, the rioters would like to light the flames of revolution to incomprehensible ends. People have been killed, and there is talk of allowing the army on the scene with guns and live ammunition if the rioting continues. There was a state of emergency caused by Islamic terrorism, and there is talk of another, but no decision so far has been made.

Macron seems ready to listen and negotiate the taxes and means to raise money for environmental projects. It is unjust to punish low income people living outside towns having to drive to work because there are no other forms of transport, with a patronising exhortation to “change their ways”. This will cause long discussions about environmental politics. You can only get people to stop polluting when affordable alternatives are offered like electric or LPG cars and reliable public transport. The infrastructures are not in place, even though the railways here are a lot cheaper than in England.

I don’t think we will see the guillotine reinstated in the Place de la Concorde any time soon! I see Macron as the last bastion of neo-liberalism in France and what separates us from the consequences of populism that would sooner or later become a dictatorship. On one side, I want to avoid being alarmist, but on the other, I cannot help wondering how much is going to be consumed in this raging fire.

Here is a sobering analysis of the situation – Why Macron has France in revolt.

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Sol Invictus and the Rite of Spring

We Christians usually come out with the same gripe each year when supermarkets start selling Christmas goods in October and Easter eggs and chocolate for children are on the shelves before the Epiphany Octave is over!

Perhaps there is something that will put things into perspective and give us more peace of mind. Before Christianity, there were feasts around the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, as there are for the autumnal equinox (harvest rites) and St John’s Fire at the summer solstice. In the early centuries, the Church was able to Christianise these celebrations of the four seasons, and thus to evangelise the population. In recent years, the reverse has happened as Christmas has reverted to its Yuletide origins and Easter leaves place to the rite of spring, of fertility – when it is not forgotten entirely. Going the whole hog, the winter celebration is entirely commercialised and simply brings in money from consumers to business.

The Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”) was a mystery cult in the late Roman empire, instituted by Aurelian on 25th December 274. Some scholars believe there were earlier roots. It seems to have been popular until about 387 but St Augustine still found a need to preach against it in the fourth century. This date of 25th December corresponds with the VIII Kalends of January in the Roman calendar. One very strange thing about the Gregorian calendar of 1582 was keeping the date of 25th December with the two-day difference from the solstice on the 23rd of the month. The whole idea of Gregory’s calendar was to correct the discrepancy between the dates of the solstices and the increasing error factor in the Julian calendar, and I refuse to enter into Old Calendarist polemics.

Why was this date chosen for the birth of Christ? The connection between Christ and the Sol Invictus has been a popular theory, but is far from proven. There is a considerable amount of speculation about the birth of Christ. The Gospels give clues but no real information. Luke and Matthew associate the birth of Christ with the days of King Herod. Luke places the birth during the Census of Quirinius, which only happened ten years later in AD 6 as described by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. We have a rough ballpark of the year, which would be 6-7 AD. For the month of his birth, some speculation suggests mid-September to early October. A winter birth seems highly unlikely.

We thus have the use of a pagan feast to be understood allegorically as Christ growing in our lives like the lengthening days after the solstice. The old Roman feast Saturnalia took place on 17 December (old style) and later expanded with celebrations to 23rd December. As was customary in the early Church, the idea was to remove the pagan meaning of these feasts and replace it with Christ. It was very early in the Church’s history when the Epiphany was introduced on 6th January. Christmas became generalised as the winter feast by the fourth century. 25th December also refers to the Jewish feast of the Dedication on 25 כִּסְלֵו (Kislev).

There is another influence in the pagan winter feast, that of Yuletide connected with the god Odin and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht. Christmas-tide came from this influence. Some modern pagans have revived this feast, but our secular feast has retained the yule log (usually a chocolate cake in the form of a log) and the Christmas tree.

Many Christians bewail the reversal of the Christian meaning of the pagan winter feast. Cribs are disappearing from public places. Traditional carols are replaced with songs about Santa Claus and winter in general. Santa Claus is of course based on St Nicholas of Myra, and has been deprived of his episcopal insignia and Christian meaning. We arrive at the modern pagan winter feast. It goes beyond paganism in most of our society, and is reduced to banal marketing and the consumer culture.

Some village mayors here in France have the courage to set up a Christian crib in view of all passers-by. After all, we still have calvaries and statues of Our Lady and the Saints. We should do all our best to be Christian witnesses in all this noise and hubbub of commercial Christmas, Noël, Natale, Weihnachten, etc. It is an unpleasant experience to find supermarkets in full Christmas marketing from as early as October. As the feast approaches, we have Black Friday and the blinding brightness of the lights, tinsel, decorations, packets of chocolates and bottles of booze in special packets. It becomes quite sickening to see the piles of turkeys, many of which will remain unsold after Christmas. From Boxing Day, the first Christmas trees are thrown out of people’s homes, the ageing pine needles having messed up their floors. From January, the first Easter eggs begin to appear.

There’s not a lot we can do as Christians. We have to go inwards as with living our faith in this world in general. The liturgy is of the highest importance with Mattins / Lauds and the three masses: In Gallicantu in the night, daybreak and Puer Natus. The significance of the night is very powerful, away from the drunken parties, for the night has its own sacredness as attested in the writings of mystics like Jakob Böhme and Novalis. The night is a symbol, as attested by Christian mystics like St John of the Cross, of suffering, authenticity, truthfulness, our longing for our return to God. The night is very powerful in Germanic paganism, and was lamented and lived to the full by Von Hardenberg’s Hymnen an die Nacht. It is not accidentally that monks sing Mattins in the night or the small hours of the morning. These hours of darkness and silence are of great importance. The famous German carol Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! is full of this symbolism.

Then we have the Officium of the Mass of the sixth day of the Octave (Sunday in the Octave in the Roman rite):

Dum medium silentium tenerent omnia, et nox in suo cursu medium iter haberet omnipotens sermo tuus, Domine, de caelis a regalibus sedibus venit.

For while all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, thine Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne.

Thus Christmas is a time of quietness and silence. One of my finest Christmas days was spent alone in that cold December of 1995. I did my duties as a deacon for Bishop Hamlett at his church in Staffordshire, but I was not invited anywhere. I spent the day alone, ate some roast duck and drove up north to my parents the following day. It was at the same time sad but illuminating.

We cannot do anything about the secular feasts, but they are no longer the celebration of the Incarnation of the λόγος of God, that admirabile commercium of God becoming man so that man can become God. We have our churches, our catacombs, our quiet corners in our homes. On Christmas Day, everything is utter silence as people still sleep. Whether it is snowing or whatever the weather is, the silence is deafening as it extends from that holiest of nights. This is the gift of Christmas. Certainly we contemplate the family of Joseph and Mary with the newborn infant, but above all we contemplate a much deeper mystery of the new creation and redemption of the fallen world.

In the meantime, we live through Advent and prepare for that time of utter peace and silence through the great prophecies of Isaiah and the eschatological dimension of our liturgy.

I would like to leave my readers with this quote from Dom Odo Casel (Das Christliche Kultmysterium, Regensburg 1932, tr. London 1962, pp. 67-68):

When, therefore, the church year celebrates historical occurrences and developments, it does not do so for its own sake but for that of eternity hid within it. The great deed of God upon mankind, the redeeming work of Christ which wills to lead mankind out of the narrow bounds of time into the broad spaces of eternity, is its content.

Yet this content is not a gradual unfolding in the sense that the year of nature naturally develops: rather there is a single divine act which demands and finds gradual accustoming on men’s part, though in itself complete. When the church year fashions and forms a kind of unfolding of the mystery of Christ, that does not mean it seeks to provide historical drama, but that it will aid man in his step by step approach to God, an approach first made in God’s own revelation. It is the entire saving mystery which is before the eyes of the church and the Christian, more concretely on each occasion. We celebrate Advent, not by putting ourselves back into the state of unredeemed mankind, but in the certainty of the Lord who has already appeared to us, for whom we must prepare our souls; the longing of ancient piety is our model and master. We do not celebrate Lent as if we had never been redeemed, but as having the stamp of the Cross upon us, and now only seeking to be better conformed to the death of Christ, so that the resurrection may be always more clearly shown upon us.

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Additional note: Dr William Tighe pointed me to an article, Calculating Christmas, The Story Behind December 25, which does show up a lack of critical thought on my part – by failing to notice that the Sol Invictus feast in ancient Rome was instituted only in the third century. We could almost say that what has happened in our own time happened then: Christian Christmas was replaced by a pagan feast. The 25th December was already celebrated as the liturgical day of Jesus’ birth.

December 25th as the date of the Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine’s time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.

And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians. The Christians, in turn, could at a later date re-appropriate the pagan “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the “Sun of Salvation” or the “Sun of Justice.”

We could attempt to re-Christianise Santa Claus, as is done in some parts of the world where the cult of St Nicholas of Myra is pronounced like in Switzerland, Germany and parts of Italy. But, that is unlikely to have much of an effect on the modern secular Christmas or whatever non-religious people want to call it. We Christians would be wasting our time.

We live in a plural world as at other times in the Church’s history, and life brings us to have a foot in two camps at the same time. I too will certainly have pretty coloured lights on the outside of my home, and we will have a Christmas tree, of which my wife is particularly fond – since she collects decorations and baubles. On my side, I try to keep the prophetic and contemplative notion of Advent and follow the liturgy through to the great silent night and day of the Nativity.

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I fell asleep and had a dream….

Actually I read this Independent article – Voting down the Brexit deal could lead to the Queen forming a new government of Remainers – here’s how

The idea is that if Mrs May’s deal gets voted down in Parliament, the Queen would spare her country the perils of the no-deal Brexit. She would form a coalition government and have it work for the common good and not for the sake of political parties knocking spots off each other. This journalist seems to think it would be possible.

The fledgling administration would then seek to achieve a majority for a confidence vote. Its platform on Brexit would be to pause Article 50, while it ran a second referendum on the choice between Remain and a hard Brexit. On the basis of previous statements, the EU would willingly grant a postponement for this purpose.

But resolving the Brexit imbroglio in this way would not be the only prize. A coalition of the centre would have been created in government. It could then constitute itself as a new party. Once the European issue had been sorted, it could seek the authority of a general election to reshape British politics for a generation, rejecting both extremes, and based on a free market economy but not a free market society, combining responsible capitalism with social justice.

The electorate could then make a positive choice, rather than voting either Conservative or Labour because of the deficiencies of the other.

Crises beget opportunities. This is a big crisis, and an even bigger opportunity.

Once again, national unity could be brought back to my blighted native country, and freedom of movement for both British and continental Europeans would survive the bungled stupidity. Maybe this would be Her Majesty’s swansong and greatest gift to us her loyal subjects…

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