I’ve not noticed much rejoicing on the winning side of the EU debate, such as you might expect on an ‘Independence Day’. Are they having second thoughts? Waking up thinking, ‘Fuck, what have we done?’ as the pound plummets, Cameron falls on his sword, a clown is set to take over, Corbyn (the only one who put a rational case for the EU, if only the press had bothered reporting it) is stabbed by the Brutuses in his own party, the UK breaks up, region turns against region and generation against generation (I’m embarrassed meeting young people now; I must get a badge: ‘I may be an old fart, but I voted Remain’), Trump and Putin start rubbing their hands in glee, other foreigners laugh at us (see the cover of the current New Yorker: http://nyer.cm/OSpSXcg), racists and neo-fascists are encouraged all over Europe, and the rest of the EU looks about to disintegrate? (That’s why it won’t give an ‘independent’ UK an easy ride in trade talks with it – pour décourager les autres.) Brexit leaders are now back-pedalling on their most persuasive arguments during the referendum campaign: no, immigration won’t fall, we’ll just be able to (theoretically) ‘control’ it; no, the money we save won’t go to the NHS – we never said it would. (Oh yes they did; it was on the side of their battle bus.) None of the leading Brexiters had the least idea what they wanted to succeed Britain-in-Europe, apart from some woolly abstractions – ‘control’, ‘freedom’, ‘greatness’, ‘the good old days’ – and some totally inappropriate models elsewhere – Canada, Norway, Switzerland. Apparently no thought at all had been put into this. As you would have expected there to have been if they’d really believed they could win.
Perhaps they never really wanted to win. Is that the answer? Like utopian socialists and fundamentalist Christians they never expected to prevail, and rather liked this position, for the freedom it gave them to criticise others on socialist or fundamentalist grounds. Europhobia in particular was a terrific cause, so long as it remained just that: a one-size-fits-all scapegoat for everything that went wrong, a way to bond people together, giving them a warm feeling of collective injustice, and a means of getting at the toffs and ‘experts’, at the top – without any danger that their wild alternative might be tested. For Boris it gave him the opportunity to win over the Right of his party to his succession to Cameron – but not yet, for God’s sake! And think of all the fun conspiracy theories its defeat might have spawned – indeed, was already starting to: MI5 doctoring the polling returns (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/eu-referendum-brexit-how-to-vote-own-pens-polling-station-polls-live-latest-mi5-conspiracy-fears-a7097011.html), murdering a young Remain woman MP to get sympathy (http://alternative-right.blogspot.com/2016/06/conspiracy-corner-killing-of-jo-cox.html.), and running the ridiculous Nigel Farage in order to discredit his side. (Actually that last one’s mine. But I’m sure they would have thought of it.) Now the cause is about to be tested. And within twenty-four hours it has come to look far more complicated and difficult than they had assumed – or had fooled their followers that it would be.
And really, no-one anticipated it. Who would have thought that such a very little stone flung into the water by a saloon-bar bore like Nigel Farage could cause such ripples – a tsunami, almost? The reason, of course, is that the water, however smooth it had seemed on the surface, was seething underneath. British society was a reactionary, deeply undemocratic, divisive mess. It had been that for some time, but recent ‘Tory cuts’ hugely exacerbated the problem. The scale of distrust of and hostility to the ‘establishment’ was – is – unprecedented since the time of the Chartists. Of course the smooth, superficial Cameron, privileged, sheltered, and trained in deception (‘public relations’), couldn’t see that. Hence his richly-deserved nemesis: one of the great historic ‘failures’ among British prime ministers (following Chamberlain and Eden). And hence also the appalling, scary mess we’re in now: Britain certainly, Europe probably, and possibly the wider world. As Michael Gove’s derided ‘experts’ had predicted all along. Even for the winners, this is hardly a time to rejoice.
I’ve never before heard of a popular referendum, especially one as close and as confused as this, deciding the fate of a country and a continent without some further consideration. (Scotland, perhaps.) Doesn’t the ultimate power to withdraw from the EU rest with Parliament? Couldn’t the elected government override the ‘will of the people’ – at least until another referendum could be held, once Farage’s ‘decent people’ have been faced – as they are now – with the reality of an ‘out’ vote? It’s been all too willing to disregard the popular will in the case of ‘austerity’. I suppose Cameron doesn’t want to appear a ‘bad loser’. You can be sure that the Brexiters would have had no such qualms, if the vote had gone the other way. Perhaps the Queen could step in. (Wait a bit: she’s an even older fart than me.)
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Oh come on…if you haven’t written clearly you can’t blame the reader.
This correspondence is now closed.
Unfortunately, i feel that your comments are spoken from a rather remote (geographical, age-wise, intellectual?) position: here in London (yes, the City,) I found that the level of referendum debate surprisingly high – I suspect that the bile you project towards Farage (whom I also loathe) is more towards him as a a tote than anything else. I would ask that you look at Anthony Hilton’s column: (http://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/anthony-hilton-the-country-has-voted-against-the-london-economy-with-brexit-a3280231.html) I think the first five paragraph remarkably succinct.
The basic problem in your views is that you are are falling into the Brecht construction (that the government should choose another electorate) – like many of those that lose elections, referenda, etc. you seem to feel that the electorate have let you down. I appreciate that your blog is for your own views but you really must think deeper into certain matters, the EU referendum being one or of them. Quite simply, the electorate cannot have got it wrong and thence wake up saying ‘what have we done? The electorate’s choice is its choice, should the electorate vote to be, say, economically worse off, then that is their right. To sit on the sidelines hectoring and smirking at all the yahoos(?) that voted to leave the EU really puts you in line with the generation of chivvying politicians that we have at present who merely nag and cajole their electorate for not living up to the politicians demands and expectations (with acknowledgements to David Hare). D+ can do better.
Dear TB (I don’t usually respond to contributors who don’t give their full names, but I’ll make an exception here): I’m afraid I don’t recognise myself at all from your description. I was criticising the leaders of the Brexit campaign, not what you call (I wouldn’t) the ‘yahoos’. It’s Johnson and Co – not ‘the electorate’ – whom I imagined waking up wondering what the hell they’d done. They it seems to me have exploited the very reasonable concerns of working people to their own ends, quite cynically in the cases of Boris and Gove. An earlier blog of mine on this site (https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/) gives my view of the real and understandable reasons behind the ‘out’ vote. (I wavered myself for a while.) I object to being accused of ‘smirking’. And everything that’s happened in the last week confirms my main point: that the Brexiters (apart from Farage) didn’t actually want to win.
Really, really? Please re-read your post. Take the first line: ‘Fuck, What Have We Done?’ Who are the we (the electorate) that done (voted to leave the EU)…and that’s about it really. Ideas that the Brexiters did not really want to win are, to say the least, jejune. You’re heading down that very crowded road of those who feel that the electorate should be voting as you feel and that, by not doing so, they have let you down, (led by the bad faith of the Brexiters, say or the biased media coverage, say) and so, you are left on the sidelines,smirking (yes, smirking) that you know better. No doubt, you feel that the referendum result will lead to neo-facists gloating, economic ruin, plague of frogs, etc. but to start at the beginning: really, really?
Keep on blogging….
To ‘TB”: I stand by my interpretation of what I wrote. You shouldn’t presume to read my mind better.