Fairy tale of Westminster and Brussels

They’ve got cars big as bars, they’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you, it’s no place for the old
When you first took my hand on a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me Broadway was waiting for me

Even though I wrote this, it strikes me that it makes probably more sense than anything that is coming out of Downing Street at the moment.

Indulge me if you will, and allow me to share this fairytale with you. Alas, it doesn’t have a happy ending…or even any sort of ending yet, but it does have a couple of villains. Not many heroes though…

Once upon a time, there was a village that was run by a Lady who wasn’t really all that popular, but she was, most of the villagers agreed, better than the other options. The problem was that she was surrounded by a lot of people who thought they could do her job a lot better than she could, and they were really more concerned about getting their own way than with helping the Lady run the village.

Now just before the Lady had taken over running the village, just over half the villagers had decided that they no longer wished to be a part of the Local Market in the nearest town that they had been a big part of for a generation. Instead, the wanted to be able to shop and sell their wares to the much bigger County Market. Some of them had even been persuaded by two of the Lady’s most-trusted colleagues that they would have a lot more money to spend with the village apothecary if they didn’t have to give it all to the market. This, it turned out wasn’t quite as accurate as it could have been. In fact, there was a real possibility that much of the goods that the villagers relied upon day in day out would cost them a lot more. Still, the decision was made and the Lady had no choice but to go to the leaders of the Local Market and tell them that the village would be leaving but would still want to do some buying and selling there as well as at the County Market.

The problem was, it turned out that no-one, not even the people who wanted to leave, let alone those who wanted to stay, had any idea how best to make it work. It was all made much more complicated by a Second Lady in the village suburb, whose land bordered the Local Market and who had a public footpath from the village to the Local Market. Secretly, this Second Lady wanted to put the fence back up, but to do so would break a very solemn vow that her predecessor made to the people who used the footpath every day. This Second Lady had helped the Lady to remain in charge of the village and she was not happy with the arrangements that the Lady made with the Local Market leaders.

Some of the Lady’s other colleagues were also unhappy with the arrangements she made and they tried to stop her being in charge but she just about held them off, by promising to stop being leader once she’d sorted out the deal with the Market. When he heard this, the Village Idiot, who was one of those who fibbed about the money for the Apothecary (keep up at the back), but who’d been quite quiet since then, perked up as it turns out he really wanted to the Leader more than he wanted to leave the Local Market.

In the meantime, the Local Market leaders were starting to get a bit fed up with the Lady and the entire village and many of them refused to renegotiate with the Lady.

Like most fairy tales, this one is told from one point of view. Allow me, in the interests of balanced reporting and to avoid being told off by my Leave-leaning readers, therefore, to add a different slant, a Maleficent versus Sleeping Beauty, if you like.

The villagers wanted to leave the Local Market because they were fed up of being told by the Market leaders what they could and couldn’t do and what they could sell and buy to and from whom. They reasoned that if they were allowed to decide for themselves who they could trade with and at what price, including both the County Market and the Local Market, then the Villagers would all make more money and would have more jobs and, eventually, more money to spend with the Apothecary.

So they, eventually, decided to support the Lady, who managed to persuade the Market Leaders that letting the Village decide who and how to trade, whilst still allowing the footpath through the woods to be used without any problems, would be the best outcome for all the Villages.

All the Villages then traded with each other and with others at the County Market and everyone lived happily ever after. Except, maybe, the Second Lady and the Village Idiot who never did get to be Village Leader.

Alternative ending as of December 19th: the Lady, despairing of ever getting anyone to support her ideas decided that she would just go ahead with leaving the County Market without getting any agreements from other Leaders so she went to the Village Bank and took out a huge bag of money (which could have been spent with the Apothecary) to help her  Villagers to cope. Once the deadline had passed, lots of Village businesses found that they couldn’t trade with the County Market at all as there were no rules. It all got very bad, very quickly for a lot of businesses and no-one wanted to trade with the Village for a while and lots of people lost their jobs. Then it got better…..eventually.

Who’s going to win this game of political chicken? You tell me.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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