11.30 p.m. – Here we are then. The polls open in a few hours. No more time for Farage to mouth his obscenities, Johnson to crack his tasteless jokes, Gove to bring up the Nazis again, Cameron to wriggle, slug-like, out of the traps he’s set himself (‘no ifs, no buts’), or Corbyn to argue his reasonable case unreported. Just a few moments for people to recall their frustration and anger with politicians, especially the posh boys at the head of the Tory Party, and to blame it all on ‘Europe’: the only target offered them to attack just now.
Whichever way it goes, this has been the most divisive, duplicitous and bruising debate in British politics since circa 1910 (Ireland, industrial anarchy, protectionism, the House of Lords, suffragism). It has done immense damage to the Tory party – one hopes – but also to Britain’s reputation abroad. There have been many markers along the road of Britain’s post-imperial decline and fall since 1945 – I’ve written about them; this is the latest. My country still has, I believe, some good sides, typified for example by the reaction of the majority of its people to Jo Cox’s murder last week. (Apart from the East Yorkshire Tory councillor who tweeted yesterday that his contribution to the appeal launched in her name would be ‘the steam off my own piss’.) But in this controversy it’s our worst sides that have risen, like scum, or the steam off Councillor Peacock’s piss, to the surface: small-mindedness, narrow nationalism, reaction, racism, straight stupidity, personal ambitions, perfidiousness, lies. Which is not to say that there aren’t some perfectly good, moral, socialist, even internationalist arguments for leaving the EU; most of which, however, have been drowned out by the dirtier water that has been dredged up.
What will happen now is anyone’s guess. If Remain wins, as I still expect it to do, though I’m not at all confident, it certainly won’t be over. Brexit will be back, claiming ‘we wos robbed’. If Brexit wins tomorrow, the waters are entirely uncharted. We can start speculating on that later, if and when it happens. But in any event, and quite apart from the eventual result, it is widely acknowledged that the ‘political discourse’ has been dreadfully coarsened by the ‘tone’ of the debate itself, from which it’s difficult to see any easy road back. As I’ve written more than once, it’s not Europe per se that has provoked this, but the shocking failings of our political system: a fundamentally flawed electoral system, a perverted press, bought governments, anti-democracy. (https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/.) The failings of our system, note; not of democracy itself, though this may well be the lesson drawn by many of those on the Right of politics, as it was on the Continent in the 1930s, and seems to be in the USA today. That’s the real danger: the monster which Cameron, by his inane decision to call this referendum, has released from its cage. Either that, or socialism. But I can’t see that happening, can you?
Off to bed now, to vote tomorrow, and then to follow the count through the night on TV. The following morning I’m having an eye operation. With any luck that will be a distraction. And if both the referendum and the op go badly, I’ll have the consolation of never having to see the self-satisfied grin on that awful Gove’s fishy face. In any case, I’m unlikely to be able to blog again for a few days.