Back from the mud and pretending we’d not left the EU until I got home, I’ve been trying to rationalise the campaigns, the vote, the result, and what it means for the UK, England and the EU. Whichever way you look at it, it isn’t going to be pretty, and I very much doubt it’s going to be the ‘new Britain’ that many Leavers hoped from the mess that both sides threw around for the last few months. If we wanted our country back, what sort of country is that really going to be?
Some things to make clear: however disappointed I am in the result, and whatever bile and hatred is already emerging, all Leavers are neither racist, nor xenophobic, nor are they all little Englanders wanting us to return to the 50s (18 or 19), nor do they hate Europe, or each other, nor are they idiots. Some are some, many or all of these things, but just because some voted Leave as a protest (I mean seriously) and others regret it, that’s democracy. You can be disappointed in a result, detest those that drove us to it, even those that made that choice if you want to, but this is how democracy works. If we’re going to get angry, get angry that those that lied to us. Many voted to control immigration, save the NHS, ‘take back control’ (and what a loose and nebulous premise that was.. of what?), to make our own laws, to halt pressure on public services… all of which are admirable and sensible choices. Sadly, I very much doubt many of these things will be resolved.
The truth of the matter is – to me (my opinion, not attacking yours) – this was a referendum that no one but a section of the Tory party wanted. That section’s been there ever since we joined the EU in its earliest form. Cameron shat himself over the threat of ‘up to 10’ seats going to UKIP last May, so pledged this in their manifesto. He never expected to be in majority government, and suddenly had to deliver. All this from the threat of an ‘outsider’ who’s a former Tory councillor, stockbroker and pint-drinking middle England upper middle class Tory, Nigel Farage. This is the political mess our country has become.
Once the campaign started, you had one side (Leave) who were energised, with the EU as a punchbag, marking it out as the root of all evil – immigration, public services, economy, democracy, human rights, red tape – when much of it was created by the very govt they existed in. They had the might of the press behind them, whose lies they’d been supporting for years. They vented against the very experts that supported their last 6 years in power, as if figures just didn’t matter any more. A motley crew of Farage, Johnson, Gove, Duncan Smith, Patel and more, evoking the colonial era success of industrial Britain, an Albion that’s a figment of our imagination (we were a terrible country then) as if pulling up the drawbridge would move all our problems away, instead of merely making us having to deal with them in isolation. They preached lies from the start: 350m went to the EU every week, it would all go to: the NHS, science, arts, rural areas, defence… you name it, pluck out a populist idea and sell it. We’d solve immigration issues with a points system that already lets in 180,000 a year from outside the EU, we’d reclaim our democracy (as if forgetting our membership of NATO, WTO, UN, Commonwealth and many other climate and trade deals we don’t write ourselves) or complaining of unelected politicians (whilst choosing not to reform the Lords, which is exactly that), and then moved onto, emboldened, the rub of it all. They lost the economic argument, so they hit home on immigration. They may have criticised Farage’s posters, but did nothing while in power. The very Tories that decimated our public services in the myth of austerity now blamed immigrants for it, when they are net contributors to the economy, and have allowed the growing xenophobic and racist voices to rise and demonise them, the working classes and post-industrial communities. They caused the problem, they pushed it onto someone else. A perfect storm. They had no plan for victory (did they really expect it?) and didn’t care. They’d lie with impunity, it was never going to happen, was it? And these are the candidates for PM. Cameron was awful, but this lot… you just wait.
And Remain? Half-hearted or invisible campaigning, or simply not campaigning at all, so afraid of standing alongside they hated they sucked all momentum out of the positive message that could’ve been made. They led on the economy, supported by almost everyone, but couldn’t put out a good message. It was only one thing: DOOM. And yes, that’s what’s going to happen, but they were hamstrung on the truth. Blame the EU too much for immigration, and people will question how their austerity helped public services. Cameron and Osborne started strongly but were the only big voices that anyone recognised. Their hearts weren’t in it in the end. Then the rest? Greens and Lib Dems did work hard, but their voices were drowned out by the main protagonists, and the positivity submerged by the lies and negativity. And Labour? Split, as were Tories, down the middle, riven by an internecine war for the party. Corbyn appeared half way through to support an insitution he’s been opposed to all his career, and refused to share a platform with any other party for fear of his own reputation. His colleagues did, but the message was almost entirely negative, and positivity doesn’t resonate with fear. A half decent campaign would’ve likely won, and yet refuting all the Leave’s lies simply was ignored by the press most of the time. By the end, even after the tragic killing of MP Jo Cox, no one could appeal to compassion or sentiment. The campaign, like all politics now, seemingly, has been poisoned.
All the same, I, like many still held out hope that we’d sneak a win by a couple of percent. So, what happened? The split of age ranges said it all – 75% of young people (but not enough young people) voted to Remain, most cities did, Scotland did, as did Wales, but much of rural England and working classes voted to Leave, and this tipped the balance. Even then though, the result was a shock. Even personally, putting aside my beliefs, it’s depressing to think that we can survive in a globalised world where immigration, climate change, economics, crime and trade are all internationally formed and affected by shutting the curtains. But the supremely negative campaigns destroyed all hope in the whole referendum. Fears and worries were inflamed, division and hatred fed, to the point where many people simply saw it as the only solution. A kick against the elite? If you think Gove, Farage, Johnson and Duncan Smith aren’t elites then we are in trouble. Yes, kick Westminster, but this wasn’t a changing of the guard. It’s going to be a lot, lot worse.
So, what now? Economic shock, uncertainty, a plunging pound, and protracted battles for control of government and opposition. And what of the promises? 350m to the NHS, or schools, or public services? Just ‘suggestions’. Immigration? It ‘may well not fall’. Control is not constriction. Trade? Single markets mean free movement. Just ask Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The EU council’s made that 100% clear. So we best invoke Article 50 now. Oh, that’s not going to happen? Why? When? Because the Leave campaign have no plan, no post-exit ideas. They didn’t expect to win. They’ll crow and laugh as the markets fall, we all lose money, because it won’t affect them. It never would. They’ve got their wish? Who cares what happens now? If you believe any of their lies, that’s understandable, the country is a mess that needs many many things solved, and so you feel hope and empowerment from voting to Leave. But this was never going to happen. It’s far more complex than a Yes/No choice. It’s a modern tragedy, a vote that should never have taken place, or was supposed to, on the whims of a party riven by internal division over Europe. This was never anything but a Tory civil war, that’s resulted in the country in panic. And it’s going to be the reason for division and hatred. We’ve seen that already, and it’ll be the excuse for everything ‘well we’re just the UK now, everyone else needs to leave, we voted for it’. It’s grim. Scotland will leave the UK, maybe Wales too. And we may end up with a result that betrays everyone’s hopes – both Leave and Remain.
What will the future look like? PM Johnson? A man so much more right wing than Cameron or Osborne, a born liar who ruined London if you weren’t an investment banker or CEO or foreign property buyer, or Gove, another former journalist that finds truth a mere inconvenience. Or Theresa May, a Remain campaigner that really was 50-50 and who gave us the Snooper’s Charter. We’ll have a UK Bill of Rights, tear up so much EU legislation that protected our workers rights, environment, industry…. and unless we have a sensible opposition party we’ll allow the Tory party to steamroller this country and sell it off to the highest bidder. All while the division they stoked keeps us busy. I’m no Labour cheerleader either, and I’m deeply disappointed in the party tearing itself apart, with neither wing wanting compromise, so while they should be uniting with Lib Dems, SNP and Greens to hammer this terrible government, they’re going to be fighting each other.
It’s a mess. And it’s a mess built on a decade of lies and mistakes from all sides. The rise of the right in Europe (and many elements at the extremes of it) is continuing and we have a battle to prove we’re a friendly, open country and region. Leaving the EU can only hurt that, and for the many Leave voters that do not share that sentiment, we have to come together to try and ensure we don’t retreat into ourselves and into hatred and division, because this result is the means for many to now see their views as accepted. I’m incredibly disappointed, and sad, and angry with the politicians that lied to us all along now being at the control. The country will suffer and I have no faith they will do what’s right.
Ever feel you’ve been cheated…?