Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld series, once argued that a more fitting name for us than ‘homo sapiens’ (wise man) would be ‘pan narrans’ – or storytelling chimp. Humans understand the world more intuitively through stories than unstructured information and while we aren’t all wise, we all tell tales – some of them tall.
Many of the storytelling chimps within journalism have spent the last few years plotting a neat narrative throughout Western democracies. The saga has suspense, plot twists, chapters, cliffhangers, heroes and villains, though who qualifies for which position has been hotly contested.
This newsletter’s readers will probably be more familiar with the story that pits Donald Trump as the arch villain in a political insurgency that has stormed much of the West. In this tale the forces that explain Trump’s capture of the White House are said to explain Brexit too, as well as Viktor Orban’s premiership in Hungary and the Law and Justice party’s rise in Poland.
As it happened, the two main threads of this story wound up in the first week of this year. Britain left the European Union, perhaps successfully, then mere days later a mob literally stormed the Capitol Building in Washington DC to seize power, as well as take a few selfies for the gram.
Future biographers of Trump’s presidency could only have got a better denouement if nuclear war had been declared. But Brexit barely even occurred with a whimper. Had it not been scheduled for the turn of the year, would you have even noticed? (Actually, did you even notice?)
The fates of Britain and America’s ‘populist’ revolutions look equally dissimilar in the long run. While Washington has chewed up and spat out Trumpism, the current government in Britain is a Brexit government, and the Conservative party has digested another revolution.
Nobody can reliably tell you whether Joe Biden will heal the United States as he takes the presidency later this month. Nor can they say whether Britain will reposition itself as a global actor. The risk is that accurate answers to such questions will prove less interesting to the chimps than a pleasing resolution to their stories.
Chinese democracy. One man not accepting being written out of the script is Nigel Farage. Earlier this month the Electoral Commission approved the rebranding of his Brexit Party as Reform UK, which had an anti-lockdown tilt when it soft launched in November.
Bemusingly Farage released a video at the start of the year saying his next focus would be on China. While China did not enhance its reputation last year in its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, I cannot see a big constituency for an anti-Chinese political movement in the UK.
The Anglish are waiting. It would be cheap to joke that Faragists might enjoy removing all the foreign-sounding words from the English language, but that hasn’t stopped me. Having stumbled across the Anglish project it struck me as politically suspect and aesthetically unappealing, if a logical extension of George Orwell’s famous advice to writers.
Podcast double. Readers of last week’s email will recall my own advice to copy Louis Theroux’s Grounded if you are planning on starting your own podcast. Another model to follow is the excellent Irish podcast What Am Politics?, where Steve Byrne and Richie Nolan recently invited me and my regular co-host Jazza to discuss Brexit.
Should you fancy more Brexit, more Trump and more Covid-19 you can listen to the latest Right Dishonourable podcast as well, chimps included.
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