On the afternoon of this now forsaken referendum, my 8-year old declared that he had voted at school. I was pretty taken aback – mostly because he hardly volunteers information about what he has been up to, but also because it showed just how big a deal this referendum to leave or remain in the European Union (EU) was if 8-year olds were getting involved. He didn’t hesitate to tell me which way he had voted – to stay, and ‘my friends did too,’ he added – this was really information overload for me today! His reason to stay: so he can go and visit his French child-minder anytime he wants, after she goes back to France…fair enough.
I too voted to remain. The referendum race was going to be tight of course, but so sure was I, and I guess so was everyone else in the remain camp, that we would edge across the line first, it didn’t even occur to me get up early and watch the results. And besides, if 8-year olds could get it right, surely the rest of us, or rather the majority of us could too, right?
Watching our dear veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby read out the results on the morning of June 24th, my first thought was that he looked absolutely battered. Not battered in an ‘I’m-77-years old-and-it’s-way-past-my-bedtime’ kind of way, but more in an ‘I-can’t-believe-what-I-have-to-tell you…and-in-my-golden-years-at-that’ kind of way. When he actually announced the leave majority, I felt the way he looked, and the words ‘but the 8-year olds got it right though’, rang loudly and repeatedly in my head. The United Kingdom had voted to leave the EU – the Brexiters had won.
‘Gripping political drama and a nation in turmoil’
One week later, and the whole nation is in turmoil. It’s true to say that no one expected this outcome, not even the Brexiters themselves; those who say they are not surprised are only able to say so with the help of the good old retro-scope. Who would have thought that within 96 hours of the vote, we would have bloodless coups left, right and centre, no Prime Minister (PM) as David Cameron was quick to jump ship, a crumbling opposition party thanks to a grand total of 17 Judas Iscariots, a Chancellor missing in action, a far-right leader in Nigel Farage now with a licence to offend in even greater proportions, a looming general election between rudderless political parties, and the real prospect of the bumbling blonde ex-journalist Boris Johnson becoming our ‘leader,’ someone who is unlikely to command any international respect. Answer: no one. The only man standing by his principles, is the Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, and at this rate, who knows how long he can remain so loyal to his cause. This is the kind of drama that no seasoned political playwright or screenwriter could have ever conjured up.
‘The false science of politics’
I admit that, though by nature a remainer, in the days leading up to the polls, I did think about what it could mean to leave. As an immigrant myself though, I just couldn’t get past the misdirected anti-immigration rhetoric – surprise, surprise. This and the false claim that £350 million saved per week by leaving the EU could rescue our National Health Service (NHS) meant my flirtation with leave lasted all of 30 seconds. The decline of the NHS was obviously not going to be reversed by phantom cash. When politicians brandish numbers about without clear calculations, we must be very suspicious. Besides, the mind-set of those that manage the health service is now so thwarted, mismanagement of funds, fictional or real, would be inevitable. One advantage of being an immigrant from a non-EU state is that you know very well the very tall tales that a government can spin. We all wish our fellow Brits would have figured this out a while ago.
And, I will also admit, that at times I felt that the evidence for the reasons to remain were largely speculative. In recent times, it seems politics has tried to pull itself off as some sort of science, brandishing about terms like ‘evidence-based policy’ and using statistics and data inappropriately, because it rhymes in a slogan or evokes the right ‘feelings’ in the electorate. If real scientists or ad-men and women were to use the same methods, they’d be slurred by the media that dutifully reports this BS, and fined to oblivion by the bodies that regulate those professions.
My vote to remain was really about safe-guarding, as best as I know how, the future of the next generation of Brits – both descendants of natives and immigrants. We can no longer argue that Britain, a nation with no real industry can sustain itself. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is, like everywhere else in the world, wider than ever, with no signs of that gap narrowing. The class system prevails mightily here and will continue to do so for generations to come, meaning that if the have-nots want to ever move up, they will need to move sideways, then up. To move sideways, you need to have the option of moving across borders open to you; whilst some Brexiters are lamenting the invasion by not just the Polish but also the Muslims and the Africans and the Syrians (I know Muslim or African is not a nationality, but a certain brand of Brexiter doesn’t function at that level), they forget that there was a time they too had to move to foreign lands just to survive.
‘The great social divide’
The nation’s wealth is concentrated in London where it is largely in the hands of the dreaded foreigners. And in that capital city are politicians that will happily sell out the masses to those foreigners as long as their own off shore accounts are kept flush. The tragedy is that even the opposition parties that are supposed to represent the masses have joined in on the pimping. When I first came to this country nearly 30 years ago, you could easily tell the difference between a politician that was ‘Labour’ (left-wing) and one that was a ‘Tory’ (conservative; right-wing): the content of their ‘speak’, their manner, their way of dress – these were clear differentiators. Today, I’m sure I am not the only one that struggles to tell members of either party apart – they have all morphed into one mass of privileged men and women, who are nothing but career politicians that now don’t even pretend to aspire to be servants for their electorates. And the few with a remaining whiff of social conscience, can attest to this. They exhibit varying degrees of pomposity, but what they all have in common is a clear disdain and disregard for the working class. Some of them repeatedly chant ‘we need to reach out’ and ‘reconnect with the grassroots’ but the hollowness of those sound bites has become increasingly nauseating. With the results of this referendum, and whilst shooting themselves in both feet, the grassroots has made it clear that no amount of reaching out, in the current form anyway, is going to reconnect anyone.
The working class, most of whom occupied the leave camp of Brexiters, are not entirely blameless though. Left behind whilst globalisation, and all that comes with it, marches ahead, they seem to lack the will and appear powerless to change their circumstances. When I lived in one of the most deprived parts of England, I was shocked that in families with 2 generations of unemployment, it hadn’t dawned on either the 2nd or 3rd generation to start thinking laterally, and perhaps exercise their right to, for example, a free university education. At the same time, the goal of many immigrant parents whether they came into this country illiterate or overqualified 5 times over for their jobs, was to ensure that their children were qualified to the hilt.
One of the most painful open secrets in education is that underachievement is by far highest amongst working class white boys…and it starts at a young age. The current term ‘white male privilege’ should be revised to ‘white male of-the-ruling-classes privilege’ because it certainly does not include the rest. Recently, it was reported that race hate crimes against Muslims were now at a level 3x higher than last year and the most likely perpetrators were white teenagers. A lot of the reasons for this underachievement and bad behaviour are socially and culturally based; yet no one speaks about this as it doesn’t fit the political agenda of the day. The result is a perpetuation of a culture that can neither articulate its needs nor organise itself sufficiently; a culture that will find it difficult to produce an effective leader, one that can spearhead the drive to rebuild a nation, particularly a nation isolated from its neighbours. These skills are vital if the working class intends to contend with the ruling elite in London… and in Brussels.
And as for the middle classes…well, we now exist only in name. Many have long relinquished any combination of bi-annual foreign holidays, two cars, school fees, nannies and cleaners.
‘Let’s do what we do best’
With events unfolding as they are, the actual reasons why many of us voted to leave or remain are rapidly becoming redundant. We now find out that the results of the referendum themselves are not binding. Someone needs to invoke Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty, a law that outlines the steps to take should a member state wish to leave the union. Who that someone is, we don’t know as we don’t have a leader. Our recently departed Mr Cameron says we won’t trigger the process yet. Mr Johnson wants informal talks before we start proceedings. The EU response to Mr Johnson: ‘the computer says no’. And Nigel Farage continues to offend, and gloat, here and in Brussels.
So far the single most important result of the referendum has been to give our current social and political structure a badly needed shake-up, forcing us to come to the table to start our 12-step programme to rehabilitation. The first step is in acknowledging the facts and confessing: ‘Hi my name is Britain and I am no longer Great’. Our Britain is indeed no longer great, not in the way that it used to be, nor is it great in the way it needs to be to function alone. The way the world is evolving won’t allow for this parochial and insular mind-set.
Whichever way we voted, we all took a risk, and the thing about taking risks is that you don’t really know what you’re going to get. A change is something we all wanted, we didn’t know how we would get it, but to get that change, we absolutely had to go out on a limb. As the MP Sir Eric Pickles said on the day of the referendum results, ‘I’m sad and dismayed, but that’s democracy. Now we need to get on with it.’
And as Brits, that’s something we are still very good at it – getting on with it and making the very best of a bad turn of events.