What has all this shown us?
What was the actual question that the public answered, when they placed their vote in the referendum?
The government may have asked them the question: do you want to leave or remain in the EU. I believe the answer the people gave was:
We don’t want to be ignored anymore.
We don’t want austerity anymore.
We don’t want to be left behind any more.
And for these people, the decision to leave was already settled; it had been discussed in the 80s when the mines were closed, on the battle lines between the picketers and the police, when the state ripped the heart and soul out of close knit communities, taking away the means of living but giving not very much in return.
It was taken during the periods of economic recession in the early nineties when negative equity hit home owners and failed businesses spread like a rash across the North when the pound was forced out of the ERM.
It was lost in the recession of 2007 and 2008 which triggered a round of austerity which led to mass redundancies in cities such as Hull, where the government had been the main employer. And while it reduced budgets for the NHS, froze teachers’ pay and pensions thus beginning a squeeze on the middle classes, it sent those already on the narrow line between living and surviving to the food banks.
How many of us in the UK said OK – this is necessary for our country and got on with it, waiting for the promise of a return to prosperity at the end of a period of privation? How many of us are still waiting?
Could it be those people who watched as the banks got shored up by the tax payer? Who watched those same bankers go on to reward themselves with bonuses which were the equivalent of a year’s wage for some of us? These people who gambled with the country’s wealth and lost, and failed to be put into prison for stealing? Why is it that people during the riots who nicked TVs met with the full force of the law, but those who stole millions got bonuses?
Could it be those people who watched as politicians, often so absent from the houses of parliament, turn up en masse to approve a pay rise for themselves? The same politicians who told us austerity was necessary and then squirreled off their money and put it in trust funds in the Cayman Islands? Those who failed to demand tax from large corporations? Who decided that rather than invest in education, in the NHS, in infrastructure, that Britain is better off with Trident? Who used their veto in the EU to stop China from dumping steel on European markets, thus leading to Steel works folding in the UK and the loss of UK jobs?
The thing is, this was not the conversation anyone cared to have. When people who voted out stood up and said: How can I get a job in this country? They were answered with “But with freedom of movement you can go anywhere to work!”. When they asked “Why does the EU make it so difficult to run a small firm?” They were answered with “The EU makes sure workers’ have rights and you can ship your products abroad, and it has brought lots of business here.” These answers are all legitimate – but they do not answer the questions that people – angry people – tired people – frustrated people – were asking.
And when these angry, tired, frustrated people were told they could take their country back, that the EU was for the elite, that the have’s would want them to stay in and the have nots would want to be out, that they paid and paid and paid money into the EU and never saw a penny back – and anyway, money from the EU went to pay actors to go on courses and scientists to develop more things that no-one cared about and all the other side had to offer was one irrelevant fact after the next – well. Who would you vote for?
Did it matter that there wasn’t a plan? That there were obvious lies written on the sides of busses? That self-interested zealots were running the leave show? “What do I care that the UKIP poster resembles Nazi propaganda from the 30s,” they thought. “Immigration is only part of my troubles – not that anyone is listening to me.”
Because it is so clear for some of us, not living the life of the 5% who are out of work, that the EU has brought phenomenal wealth to the UK, and amazing opportunities for those who live here. Socrates for students to go abroad, funding for cross cultural school projects. Broadband in Cornwall and protections to trademark the Cornish pasty. It has attracted large firms bringing jobs with them, such as Siemens in Hull, Nissan and many others. But what does it matter to you that your country is the 5th largest economy in the world, if you live in one of the most deprived areas in Europe. 9 out of 10 of the most deprived areas in Northern Europe are in the UK. Just let that sink in for a minute. 9 out of 10. That is more than cats who prefer Whiskas. Places where unemployment is a life term of deprivation, and education is pointless. Where your skills are not good enough and never will be for an economy that has decidedly moved away from manufacturing and has turned towards services and finance. Where the wealth is not shared, but hoarded up and siphoned off.
Is anybody really surprised by this almost bloodless uprising?
In a world where globalisation is a maelstrom sucking in countries and spitting workers out it is natural that people want to jump ship. In a glorious past, Great Britain was the author of her own destiny, and the dictator of many others. It is unfortunate that our decline was caused by the greatest moment in our history, those days when we spilled blood for the freedom of others and for peace in our time.
However, those days are gone. We have forgotten the hardship, we do not know what it is like to receive a telegram telling you to send your children to war. We have a professional army whose job it is to carry out politicians’ whims and power play. We do not know what it is like to have our homes bombed and to be powerless to stop it. It is so far in our past that many of us cannot even sympathise with people who are going through this every day – who have left a country torn on all sides, bombed by many disparate groups, who have risked drowning to live in the mud of Calais. These people are heroes, but we talk about them as parasites. The same way that Hitler talked about the Jews. We have forgotten so much, and enjoyed peace for so long, that we have forgotten that peace is not a given. That struggles between nation states can only be managed in union and through trust. That there is safety in solidarity and numbers. We have lost the clarity of vision that tells us that safety is something you gain when you open yourself up to working with others, not by closing your borders and bellowing bile at your fellow man.
And while I know the above to be true, what difference does it make to the 28 year old living on a housing estate in Mansfield? Who can’t see a future beyond benefits? To the struggling business owner who has to comply with business regulations that are bearable for larger companies but impossible for smaller companies to cope with? Who is going to tell these people that they will have to skill up or get off the bus, because this economy no longer provides for them?
Leaving the EU is an economic minefield. We are badly equipped for it, and we have, Trump-like, offended many of our allies and we have destroyed our reputation in a deleterious political mud fight where the press not only hung out all the dirty washing, but added extra sh*t for effect. Some foreign countries still believe that we are exercising our quaint sense of humour and at some point we will return to normal after our monty-pythonesque / little Britain-like hiccup of the last few months.
Ironically, we have put ourselves in a position where we have to talk it up – as presenting the situation as how it truly is would probably make not only the people panic, but also the markets. The money markets who are skittish, but desperately do not want more of the financial turbulences this ill-fated century has already seen. They are willing to accept the hype for now. For how long? Who will blink first?
Only in a broken system can a man gamble his country’s good and lose and then retire to his 14 million Notting hill house, instead of being called to account. No, it is not enough that Cameron resigned. It is not enough that history will remember him as the man who potentially condemned these emerald isles to irrelevance. It is not good enough that Farage, the man whose stated aim it was to take us out of the EU and to break the institution itself can retire with a golden handshake and a ridiculous pension, while many pensioners watch the value of their pensions disappear as a result of his actions. It is not good enough that Johnson, the mop-haired muppet whose ambition has now found him in office is going to have to face all those leaders and countries he insulted and hopefully meet with the contempt he deserves.
It is not good enough that the con artists who composed the unaccountable propaganda machine that was the leave campaign pushed through a manipulative and damaging agenda, thinking only of the price they could charge and not the damage they could cause. The more I look at it, the more I come to realise that this democracy is broken. That this democracy is demagoguery. That while globalisation is destroying jobs while creating others, this democracy is failing to serve the people because it can be so easily hijacked to serve the interests of the few.