My wife will always give me a straight answer to a straight question – although not necessarily to the question I have actually asked:
‘What time are we due at your sister’s?’
‘I have to go to the supermarket to buy some nail scissors.’
Clearly the answer to a question. Obviously I have just asked the wrong one. Although my wife is the complete antithesis of a political animal, this is truly politics in action.
It strikes me that every time I see a politician on TV, they are very keen to answer all questions fully and honestly – just not the questions they are being asked. They enter the interview with a shiny set of answers that they are determined to deliver and they crowbar them in however they can. How often do you hear, ‘With great respect* I think you’re actually asking the wrong question here. What you should really be asking is the question to which I have already prepared an answer.’?
Now, if we’re honest, we all go into conversations from time to time with a predetermined schedule of what we want to say. Often the twists and turns of dialogue can rob us of the opportunity to get our point across and we are faced with the decision to ‘sheath the knife’ and sit on our opinions for a while or to steer the discussion, by hook or by crook, back along the path into which we can throw in our own two penn’orth. The sensible thing is to let the conversation meander on wherever it will; to be swept along by it; to be absorbed by the sinuous inanity of inconsequentiality and to bask in the glow of going precisely nowhere, although by the most decorous of routes. Rational argument is so overrated. No-one will be persuaded to abandon their own point of view anymore than you will be persuaded to abandon yours. Argument, although occasionally fun, is generally fruitless.
Time is what makes the difference. Time is what gives us the space to reflect upon own mistakes, and it is this reflection that leads to new realisations and possibly allows a change of mind – especially if nobody else can remember what you said in the first place.
I would refer you to my article Brexit (November 2018) as an example of how it is possible to be simultaneously so wrong about so many things on so many levels.
We have all realised by now that all arguments about Brexit are spurious: that in Brexit we have actually created a sentient beast. Brexit is no longer a means to an end: it is itself both means and end. We can only look on, confounded, as it goes on its merry way. Arguing ourselves around corners will get us nowhere. That horse has bolted. Its stable door cannot be closed – it has been made into a fashionable table-top for someone who has become tired of eating from glass and chrome and is in need of something so impractical that it just oozes wealth. It is impossible to make sense of something that can make none. I now realise that Brexit is like all other mythical beasts – everyone knows what it looks like, but in no two imaginations does it look the same. Like the legend of Dracula, we all vaguely believe in it, even though we know that it is utter nonsense. The rules that make its existence a possibility do not themselves exist. In centuries to come it will be viewed alongside witches, mermaids and unicorns. Like Brigadoon it will rear its ugly little head every hundred years or so, unchanged and unfulfilled, before disappearing once again, taking everyone that gives a monkey’s with it.
Anyway, the reason that this has all come to mind is because of the sheer volume of ‘Brexit Interviews’ I am currently being force-fed in which the interviewee will answer any question put to them, provided it is the one for which they have prepared the answer. And, since nobody truly has the answers to any of the questions we all actually want to ask, what is being replayed a thousand times a day, is a series of interviews in which the interviewer and interviewee do not actually need to be sharing the same planet, let alone the same studio, so disassociated is the input of one from the other.
And for those of you who do not live in the UK I can only say ‘yes, it clearly is some form of mass-hysteria and, in answer to your question, the nail scissors are in the tin on the garage windowsill…’
* To be precise, with absolutely none at all, obviously…
Hello, I am from Britain, you know, the one that got tricked by a bus – Ahir Shah