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Nigel Hastilow: Keep calm and carry on

Nigel Hastilow | Published:

As the Westminster soap opera lurches from crisis to crisis with one dramatic plot twist after another, the strange thing is that life in the real world goes on as normal.

For all the cries of woe, it’s just another ordinary week in the ordinary world.

If we weren’t all glued to the news – and polls say 80 per cent of us are – we’d be talking about the weather as usual as we go about our daily business.

Brexit may be a huge constitutional, political drama which keeps on delivering new stars in supporting roles as other heads roll, but it increasingly feels like a fiction staged for our entertainment, ‘Game of Thrones’ without the dragons, perhaps.

For most of us, as Theresa May might say, ‘nothing has changed’.

Incredibly, we are still worrying about the climax of the football season and anticipating Wolves’ FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. We still managed to book tables at pubs and restaurants for Mothering Sunday. We still have plans for the Easter holidays.

Some of us are even proposing to venture across the English Channel into Europe because the planes are still flying and Eurostar remains in operation, apart from the occasional protester on the roof of St Pancras Station.

More bizarrely, the economy is still chugging along quite nicely thank you very much. Unemployment is a modest 3.9 per cent compared with, say (let’s take somewhere at random) France where it’s 8.9 per cent.

The number of households where nobody is in work has fallen by one million since 2010.

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The economy has grown for the last nine years and is expected to do so for the next five at least, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Wages are rising at their fastest rate for a decade and, even though prices keep going up, what we earn is increasing faster than inflation.

Government debt is falling and tax revenues are rising.

Even more astonishing, British manufacturing is actually doing not just better than anyone predicted but better even than Germany.

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According to the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index, Germany stands at 44.1 while the UK is higher than forecast at 55.1. Anything above 50 is good news; anything below it suggests things are getting worse.

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And while these things are not infallible, the index is widely seen as a good indicator of the future health of a country’s economy.

Of course not all is sweetness and light in this country. Knife-crime, for instance, would be the top story day after day if it hadn’t been swept aside by Brexit.

The performance of some of Mrs May’s Ministers would come under much closer scrutiny. For instance, Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, surely wouldn’t have still been in his job if it were not that he is loyal to his Prime Minister.

But the great thing about Brexit is that it remains a political and Parliamentary issue and scarcely impinges on our daily lives.

It makes many of us angry. We all have our devils and angels, though who they are depends largely on whether we are Leavers or Remainers.

We can speculate not just on the outcome of all these tedious deliberations but on their consequences. Will the old Labour-Conservative clash be replaced by new parties and politicians fit for a 21st century democracy? Or will the old two-party system re-assert itself eventually?

We can entertain ourselves placing bets on who will be the next Prime Minister. One friend of mine has money on Michael Gove, another joined the Conservative Party months ago just to vote for Boris Johnson when the time comes, as it may not in Boris’s case.

But what our political masters may eventually learn from all their shenanigans is that what goes on in Westminster is of very little relevance in our daily lives.

By rights, this political ‘crisis’ should have brought Britain to a horrified standstill. If it were really as earth-shatteringly awful as every political pundit seems to think it is, the crisis would be felt in every home, on every street, in every office and factory.

But it’s not. We go about our daily routines with half an eye on the Westminster soap. It’s good for a laugh. It’s a source of gossip, debate, anger and frustration. But it is largely irrelevant.

Of course, MPs would argue that if they get it wrong, for instance if we were to leave next week with no deal, the consequences would be utterly hideous.

And it is true the decisions they make, assuming they ever actually make any rather than simply bickering about everything, will have an impact on the world outside Westminster.

Government decisions do change lives, sometimes for the better, often not. Brexit, if it happens, may affect our lives at some stage.

We may be gripped by the political dramas and crises – we might even miss them when they’re gone. Meanwhile, though, most of us just keep calm and carry on.

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