Three years on from the Brexit vote, what best crystallises where we are? Perhaps that nowhere even close to 326 politicians can unify on what would constitute a government of national unity. The Liberal Democrats will do anything to stop Brexit, except for the things they won’t; Labour would love to stop the Tories’ version of Brexit, but first they just want to look busy and set this quick trap for the Lib Dems; the Greens want the headlines for a day and they’ve got a plan just batshit enough to secure them; and so on. Dominic Cummings must be cackling. The only worse form of unity was a Mitford.
So while it’s positive to have had leadership of the prospective government of national unity whittled down to just under 16 million candidates, it does feel a little bit near the business end of things for politicians to be indulging in the weapons-grade wankery we’ve seen this week.
Robert Altman’s 1992 movie The Player opens on a fictional Hollywood studio lot, flitting between offices where a whole host of wishful pitches for movies are happening. “It’s a planet in the future with two suns.” “Who plays the sons?” “No, suns. Large solar discs.” The camera tracks to another office. “It’s a band of human survivors.” In another office, someone is trying to sell a comedy. “Goldie goes to Africa. She’s found by this tribe. Of small people. She’s found and they worship her … It’s Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman.” We move to another office. “The Graduate: Part II. Listen, the three principals are still with us: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross. Ben and Elaine are married still, and they live in a big spooky house … And Mrs Robinson lives with them. The ageing mother, who’s had a stroke, so she can’t talk …” Anyway, Ben and Elaine have a daughter who’s just graduated from college – 22, 23 – “like a Julia Roberts”.
It goes without saying that this plot is ridiculous, and that Roberts is now 51. But I do want to stress that this project – The Graduate II – is still more likely to happen than any of the governments of national unity currently being pitched. And you should bear in mind that Anne Bancroft is now actually dead. Doesn’t matter. Still more likely to happen. You are going to see Avatar 3 before you see a government of national unity.
If politics is showbiz for ugly people, this week in Westminster has mostly been lavished upon a series of indulgent LA poolside pitches by people who should never eat lunch in this town again. Everyone’s got a pitch. Caroline Lucas wants an all-female reboot of the cabinet. Jeremy Corbyn is touting a vanity project called The Caretaker. And Jo Swinson … Jo Swinson was elected Lib Dem leader about 15 minutes ago, in one of those misplaced instances of hope in which the party has long specialised. She now joins the long, long list of people in British politics who can do one.
Jo Swinson has genuinely spent some of this week attempting to pitch a Harriet Harman/Ken Clarke vehicle. Are either of those stars formally attached? “I have confidence that they would be up for that,” Jo kept saying on Channel 4 News, looking for all the world like an aspiring screenwriter who handed their script to Tom Cruise in a valet parking line, right before his security wrestled them to the ground and it all went black. I mean, I have confidence that Tom would be up for playing the lead. Sure. I know he got the script, so …?
Alas, stars whom the Lib Dem leader won’t work with currently include the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. Maybe it’s because she became an MP at the age of 25 that Swinson has been denied the requisite amount of time slumped in a multiplex to comprehend the basic concept of “a ragtag bunch of misfits” who have to pull off a difficult job. So let me summarise. Jo, you don’t have to like the other misfits. In fact, it’s very normal for you to hate most of them. Iron Man can’t stand Captain America. Murdock drives BA up the wall. I know you ain’t getting on no plane with Jeremy, Jo, but look: Sarah Wollaston has a delicious burger for you! When you wake up, you’ll be in Brussels with an article 50 extension.
Except not. Because the unfortunately obvious point is that, like most conversations in Hollywood, all of this week’s posturing is hot air. The numbers aren’t there for any of these pitches. Opponents of no deal would be better off spending their time trying to force Boris Johnson to extend article 50 by legislation, with a no-confidence vote maybe their last slim chance. Even some of the most thoughtful remainers are now offering the analysis that used to attend dire performances by the England football team. Namely, the other side simply want it more. It’s showbusiness, not showfriends.
Not that the forces of remain haven’t spent the best part of three years on largely performative politics. National unity governments are merely the latest act, and if we do crash out without a deal, it won’t just be leavers who have questions to answer about how they spent the time since the referendum, and most particularly since the 2017 general election.
There’s that slightly questionable statistic that claims that if Donald Trump had simply invested his inheritance in a tracker fund, he’d be richer than he is today. I wonder if all the big hitters and strategists for remain had simply said and done nothing for the past three years – at all, in any TV studio, or in any Westminster back room – we would actually be in a better place than we are now. Let’s face it: Boris Johnson is prime minister, we are likely to crash out of the EU without a deal, and even the Lib Dems are refusing to come out of their trailer. How could it have gone worse?
• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist