These are uneasy times. We have a global virus pandemic, one which threatens lives only selectively, but which is nevertheless deadly on a massive scale, and has in its process halted business as usual. We live in hope of a vaccine that might restore a semblance of normality, though there are legitimate questions about how much of the old normal we want back.
That’s because the pandemic can be feasibly seen as a harbinger of the environmental crisis humanity has brought on itself. A vaccine might give us some respite, but if the pandemic is rooted in an increasingly unstable relationship to the natural world we urgently need to be thinking about how we manage that relationship, how we change it for the better.
This is a change governments have paid little more than lip service to for year after wasted year. There are no votes in addressing problems not felt in the present. So across the western world we have a crisis of democracy too.
In the UK this crisis of democracy is also bound up with the catastrophe of Brexit. Brexit is catastrophic not because membership of the EU is the only feasible way forward for the UK, but because the arguments that delivered Brexit were rooted in a cynical deployment of known lies and fantasies, by people who apparently prefer a chocolate box version of Britain to the hard complexities of 21st century life. The fantasy is now being painfully exposed for what it always was, and yet those with a vested interest in it are trying to pretend things will be better. The fundamental harm here is that Brexit has detached British politics from any sense of responsibility to the truth. The trend was already in place before the Brexit referendum, but it has become our new norm.
It’s why the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s 2016 election are mostly seen as two sides of the same populist coin. As I write with the US election only days away it seems increasingly possible that the Trump era will become an aberration, and we’ll see a turning of the tide that will drag the UK a little closer back to the real world. But that’s by no means a certainty. As 2016 showed all too painfully the polls can be easily wrong.
I’m painting this big picture to explain why I want to talk about the process of buying a house in France, or more accurately, how I want to talk about that process, and what follows it. The political world is the backdrop for all that we do in our lives. Sometimes it intrudes more forcibly than others, though it’s apparent that many, perhaps a majority, would rather not think about it unless absolutely necessary. That’s understandable in some ways, though it makes it easier for politicians to manipulate opinion. However in our particular circumstances government action (and inaction) has become very hard to ignore, its effects palpable.
That’s clearly, painfully the case with the pandemic, though I should say from the outset that so far at least I’ve been less affected than most by the impact of the virus (I have long worked from home and I live in an area where infection rates are relatively low).
So this is not going to be yet another diatribe against Boris Johnson, however tempting that might be (it’s being done after all by many others in the mainstream press).
But the other great change of the moment is Britain’s departure from the EU. Since the Single European Act was ratified in 1987 we have enjoyed virtually seamless access to the rest of Europe: quite apart from the benefits to business and trade as individuals we’ve been able to travel freely, live and work much as we would at home. The big lie of the Brexit campaign was the idea that life would go on pretty much as before (unless you were an immigrant) but we’d no longer have to listen to Brussels bureaucrats or pay them money. In this blog I want to talk about what’s actually happening and the real impact on everyday life as we finally pass out of the transition period, while trying to cope with the pandemic.
The French house became mine last Monday. I haven’t been to it since the beginning of the month. It’s habitable though it needs work. I’ll be talking about the practicalities of doing that work, and reflecting too on how life in England seems from a distance. I’ll add entries as things happen. Bear with me.