20th April 2019
I have an inexpert fancy about our prehistoric ancestors.
It is about cave paintings.
These wonderful surviving works deep in caves, painted no doubt by firelight, are often held to be significant and representative: a key to understanding the prehistoric mind.
Perhaps they are.
But I cannot help thinking that there were probably paintings everywhere – on cliffs, on boulders, on trees, on every available surface.
It is just that the ones in the caves are the ones which happened to survive to our day.
All the others were washed off, or otherwise lost.
And in their time, the sort of person who went deep underground to paint by firelight was probably as unrepresentative as an eccentric person of our own day who would go off and do the same.
Similarly, one suspects early civilizations were not obsessed by pottery, no matter how many vases and bowls survive.
In other words: one should try not be biased by available sources.
Anyone writing about Brexit encounters the problem of the lack of reliable information from the usual sources.
The Westminster lobby – where there are many fine journalists – has only been as good as the information available to Westminster politicians and Whitehall briefers.
And because much of the process to date has been driven by Brussels, there has not been that much information available to the lobby to report.
Government press offices have been, in my view, of little use and the number of genuinely helpful Brexit documents published by Whitehall can be counted on one’s fingers.
And so the two usual sources of information for those following British politics – the political press and the government – have been relatively dry.
A Brexit historian with access only to the front parts of UK newspapers and to government publications would be like the classical historian convinced that the Romans were pre-occupied with crockery.
But there has been a great deal of useful detailed information published about Brexit, it has just not come from the traditional sources for British politics.
The European Union has published (in English!) a comprehensive set of reliable documents.
The Brussels correspondents of the British press have all been far more instructive to follow than their Westminster colleagues.
Irish journalists have given us brilliant insights into the issues which have affected and now stalled the Brexit process.
Parliamentary committees have been far more informative – especially in publishing evidence and in their witness sessions – than any front benchers, and all this is available on the parliamentary websites.
Similar praise can be made of the House of Commons library and their in-depth, authoritative and impartial reports on Brexit matters.
And on social media, a host of genuine experts – on trade, on parliaments, on the EU, on the civil service – have emerged to inform and explain in ways which more established newspaper pundits would not be able to do so.
Brexit is a complex and many ways novel phenomenon.
And so the sources of good information have been also been (in many ways) new.
There is good information out there, just not in the traditional places.
Thank you for reading me on this new(ish) blog.
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