Every once in a while, sifting through the New Year lifestyle advice, you find a genuine pearl. You may or may not want to spend 2018 taking sound baths, or mainlining “functional mushrooms”, or exploring the Finnish art of Sisu (“This untranslatable term refers to a mix of courage, resilience, grit, tenacity and perseverance,” explains author Joanna Nylund, doing quite a good job of translating it).
But I think we could all take something from: “Do what the f**k you want but stop dicking around,” advice issued by a nameless EU diplomat when The Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent asked him what he thought about the prospect of a second Brexit referendum. It stands alongside Michael Pollan’s dietary advice (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”) and Polonius’s “to thine ownself be true” speech in Hamlet as a classic of a genre. If I were of an entrepreneurial mindset, I’d make it into a T-shirt and sell it down Camden Market. But I’m not. So I’ll probably just dick around for a bit.
Dicking around is a popular vice among Britain’s grown-ups: dicking around with cheddar hampers, dicking around with public services, dicking around with referendums. Dicking around is the secret sauce in our productivity crisis. And it’s very much the intention of that racist jester Nigel Farage, abandoned by his German wife, on the verge of bankruptcy, now returned to England after failing to launch a puce supremacist movement in the USA.
He reckons a second referendum will “kill off” the Brexit issue for a generation, a bit like the first one did. Likes a headline, Nigel Farage. “The Remain side are making all the running,” he confesses to The Observer. “They have a majority in parliament, and unless we get ourselves organised we could lose the historic victory that was Brexit.”
This may be the most genuinely popular thing Farage has done since his microlight crash of 2010.
“Bring it on!” tweeted Labour peer, Lord Adonis, who recently resigned from a Government advisory role, essentially on the grounds that they have no idea what they’re doing. Farage can count on the support of 78 per cent of the Labour membership who back a second referendum, plus Tory grandees such as Michael Heseltine, who has vowed to do everything possible to stop Brexit, including possibly backing Jeremy Corbyn.
Still, it’s not entirely clear a second referendum would solve anything. The most recent YouGov poll found 47 per cent now feel it’s wrong to leave the EU, compared to 42 per cent who still feel it’s right – a reflection of the British Art of Bloody-Mindedness as much as any material reality (see: the first world war).
And if the “negotiating team” is still dicking around, it’s because they have failed to heed the first part of the ambassador’s injunction: “Do what the f**k you want.” Despite adult failure David Cameron’s promise to “settle the issue for a generation”, the people who run Britain are no closer to agreeing on what the f**k they want. It is hard to reconcile nostalgia for a country that never was, dog-whistle racism and bare-faced lies with reasonable people, calmly pointing out facts.
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And all the while Brexit dominates the agenda, there’s a lot that isn’t happening. It is clear after eight years of Conservative leadership that austerity is a dismal failure. Jeremy Hunt remains ideologically committed to beshittening the NHS. Chris Grayling – from this distance, the dimmest of all Cabinet Ministers? – is making a horrendous mess of the railways. The Department of Work and Pensions has been through four ministers since 2016. Wages have slowed, growth forecasts are down, the public realm is decaying.
It’s a great time to embrace the Life Changing Art of Not Dicking Around. And yet, as anyone who has tried to ditch their bad habits based on a few hungover resolutions, a half-remembered article from Psychologies and a few Instagram affirmations will know, it’s really hard to do that when you’re working from a tissue of utter nonsense.
And remember: we are still very much in the dicking around phase. Nothing has actually happened yet.