Who duped the Labour Party?

House of Parliament

The Labour Party three times voted against Theresa May’s soft Brexit, closely aligned to Europe, which was very much like the Labour Party’s manifesto policy on Brexit. They joined with the Tory Brexiteer rebels to deny the government a majority and paralyse the House. This collapsed May’s government and ushered in Boris Johnson’s much more hard-line Brexit, which is nowhere near Labour Party policy, and has most Labour MPs shrieking with horror. Why did they do this? Why did they vote against their own interest, and against the national interest, not once but three times, on a three line whip?

In all the terrible and confused Parliamentary wrangling of the past two years, with the Scottish Nationalists, Ulster Unionists, Lib Dems, Remain Tories, Leave Tories, Remain Labour members and Leave Labour members all manoeuvring plotting and counting votes, the party that has won has been one of the smallest, the European Research Group, which only has between twenty and forty hard core votes. How did they persuade the Labour Party to lend them two hundred and sixty more votes and to vote against their own interests? On the face of it, the Labour Party has scored a spectacularly stupid own goal. Were they persuaded by circuitous reasoning that they would gain some political advantage by destroying May’s government? Did some cunning ex-military intelligence officer (surely, they are the sort of chaps who lurk in the ERG) lure them into a trap, with a fantasy future outcome? Or did the Labour Party manage this great cock-up all by itself? Whatever, when indignant people of the left protest furiously about Boris Johnson’s right-wing takeover, the proper response is to say, “Well, it is all your own work.”

Boris Johnson arrives back in UK after supreme court ruling

The Image of Britain Part Deux

William L Wyllie had a successful exhibition which made his reputation, called The Tidal Thames, in 1884, but this etching is from 1924. Presumably he had seen the Monets exhibited in 1903 (see my previous post). Did he rework one of his Tidal Thames images? Or remember the Monet series?

He has drawn the Parliament much more beautifully than Monet (with two towers, Victoria tower added behind Big Ben), whilst rendering it mistily, like a great idea: the historical framework. In the foreground, solid and dirty, is the industrial present, staffed by straining workers heaving at a monstrous barge. There is a bridge, but otherwise the view is of a maritime democracy, an island at flood tide, just as Monet portrayed us.

It took a Frenchman to make the image of Britain!

Claude Monet came to London in the early 1870s to escape from warfare in France, fearing that he would be conscripted. He returned to London thirty years later at the turn of the century, now a successful sixty year old, to stay in the Savoy hotel and paint the Houses of Parliament. In 1899, 1900 and 1901 he painted them again and again, particularly fascinated by the effect of light on fog and fog on the precision of one’s perceptions. He thought that, “It’s the fog that gives London its marvellous breadth.”  Oscar Wilde said that the painters “invented fog,” a typically striking exaggeration. As my friend Francis points out, Dickens did fog very well in Bleak House half a century earlier.

Monet painted parliament in sunrises, and in sunsets; he tried to find the place on the South bank from where he could get the sun to shine directly above the parliament, reflected on the water. He continued working on the whole group of canvases on his return to France and in 1904 exhibited thirty seven of them in Paris. The exhibition was a great success.

The central image is of the Houses of Parliament, blurred by fog into an archetypal fortress shape, with a tower. Parliament is apparently surrounded by water, as if an island in the middle of the sea. As a portrait of Britain at the height of its imperial pride, the pre-eminent naval power in the world, reduced to its essence, it could not be bettered. And although the first impression is of solidity, the massy structure enduring the blasts, the aftertaste, of course, is of the strength of democracy and ancient inherited freedoms under the people’s law made in parliament.

French painters paint the quaies of the Seine, but as promenades, not as a surrounding sea. English painters paint parliament, but as a piece of intricate architecture. It took Monet to make the image and reduce it like a French chef to its intensest jus. Boiling off the steam, he repeats it into significance, its aroma arising, its resonances ringing: the sea, the parliament, the fog! In his sixties he wanted to “sum up…impressions and sensations of the past.” No doubt the idea of parliament in London’s marvellous breadth of fog, seen across the river from St Thomas’ hospital, had stuck in his mind from the 1870s.


The image for France is Liberty leading the people, with Marianne the embodiment of French liberty.

Liberty Leading the People. 1830. Oil on canvas, 260 x 325 cm.

If I look for a great portrayal of Britishness I think of The Monarch of the Glen, Rowlandson’s Portsmouth Point, or a crowded Hogarth print, perhaps The March of the Guards to Finchley.



 Turner painted all around the British coastline, but perhaps the image that sticks in the mind is The Fighting Temeraire, a sad piece of nostalgia for a Britain once great. It took an obstinate, repetitive Frenchman with an outsider’s eye on our weather, to spot what was right in our noses.