Westminster chaos affords preview of Britain standing alone with its demons
The Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole explains what he thinks is driving support for Brexit in the UK, during a recent lecture at University College Cork. Video: UCC Ireland
"The alleged aptitude of the English for self-government," wrote Bernard Shawin his preface to Androcles and the Lion, "is contradicted by every chapter of their history." Shaw was, of course, parodying British imperialist rhetoric and its insistence that lesser peoples - including his own nation, the Irish - were not ready to govern themselves. He was being naughtily provocative, which only the most irresponsible of commentators would dare to be in these grave times.
But there is nonetheless some tinge of truth in his words. Aptitude for self-government is not what comes to mind when one looks in from the outside at the goings-on in Westminster last week, when, as Tom Peck so brilliantly put it in the London Independent, "the House of Commons was a Benny Hill chase on acid, running through a Salvador Dali painting in a spaceship on its way to infinity".
Let's just say that if Theresa May were the head of a newly liberated African colony in the 1950s, British conservatives would have been pointing, half-ruefully, half-gleefully, in her direction and saying "See? Told you so - they just weren't ready to rule themselves. Needed at least another generation of tutelage by the Mother Country."
There is a surreal kind of logic to this. If, as the Brexiteers do, you imagine yourself to be an oppressed colony breaking away from the German Reich aka the European Union, perhaps you do end up with a pantomime version of the travails of newly independent colonies, including the civil wars that often follow national liberation.