Now the dust has settled a few observations on that event 12 days ago. Was it really only 12 days, the country seems to have changed so much already.
Brexit was a process not an event
Britain never really joined, in the proper sense of the word, this community of nations, formed just 58 years ago (1), for the most noble of purposes, to end war in Europe.
Right from the start Britain dragged its feet, demanded special treatment and opt-outs. Charles de Gaulle was on the money when he accused Britain of a “deep-seated hostility” towards European construction in 1967; de Gaulle threatened to remove France from the project if Britain joined. Here was a man who understood the British well as you might expect given his war time years in London.
Was Britain duped in 1973, convinced that they were joining a trading block; I doubt it. The direction of travel was obvious. Were they taken in by the label ‘European Economic Community’; I am sure our Oxbridge (overrated, but that’s another blog topic) ruling elite could work it out.
As to why Britain adopted this attitude I will leave to others; a few pointers.
- Loss of empire and no replacement. In a short space of time the British executive went from controlling a quarter of the globe to sitting next to the PM of Belgium (no disrespect to Belgium) on an equal footing in meetings. Must have been a culture shock.
- Lack of empathy for Europe’s bloody war torn history. It is now 950 years, almost a millennium, since the people of this island enjoyed the rumble of foreign boots
- An island race with the mentality that goes with it; that ditch between France and England more significant than most realise.
- An appalling lack of vision by our political leaders since 1945. New Labour especially culpable here; Tony Blair got it, he understood the political significance of joining the EURO, Gordon Brown did not.
Well we all know what it was and why it was held; a binary device to settle a very complex question and allow the Prime Minister of the day, David Cameron, to control his back benchers and deal with Conservative votes haemorrhaging to UKIP.
It was never going to end well; people did not have the facts, were misled by a disgraceful campaign of lies and absurd promises in an atmosphere of poison massaged by our biased right wing press. In the end many voted against things they hated. It was a confidence vote on Cameron, the Tories and 6 years of austerity.
Hardly surprising that many in the world today feel they have witnessed the greatest act of national self-harm in British history. Ouch.
But we are where we are (hate that phrase) and the vote must be respected however dubious its construction.
Metaphors are useful. So is an analogy.
Enter stage right Diabetes 2; difficult to think of a medical analogy so apt, almost perfect.
Like Diabetes 2, Brexit was building unseen for years. It is common for those diagnosed with Diabetes 2 to have had the conditions years before formal diagnosis; it too, like Brexit is not an event.
Like Diabetes 2, the silent killer, with 3 times greater risk of heart / stroke issues, Post Brexit UK can be managed and perhaps sub events like severe currency depreciation, balance of payment issues, decreased inward investment (essential to plug the gap between UK exports and imports) can be dealt with, but I doubt it.
The UK ‘body’ going forward will now be weaker, more susceptible to world events; the UK won’t be able to do all the things it could have done with full enthusiastic embrace of the European Project.
By contrast the 2008 financial crisis was a mild heart attack.
The Leavers, Racism and Take Back Control
Let’s scotch this crap about Leavers being some racist xenophobic cohort. They are in the main no less decent, no less worthy than those who voted Remain.
That a minority of racists latched on to Leave was inevitable; Brexit is their wet dream, their justifier, excuse, their cloak of respectability, it has emboldened them. They need to be dealt with and in this context liberty and free speech need to go to the back of the queue.
Take a bow, that slogan Take Back Control. It was the slogan wot won it.
But here’s the rub. If a Shakespearean tragedy can be reduced to a ‘rub’; control was taken back from The Wrong People.
Leaving aside the old who voted in large numbers for various reasons, to Leave the EU; two characteristics of growing old (exceptions exist of course) are insecurity and selfishness, fertile ground for tabloid propaganda. On the way back from Wales last week I listened to a discussion re Brexit on the radio (LBC) where one of the guests suggested that the ‘young’ get two votes in elections and the ‘old’ get just one. To me this makes huge sense.
Moving on; to the main actors in this tragedy, the broken, working class communities in our old industrial heartlands, in the Fens and on our southern and eastern shores, who predominantly voted Leave; to say that these abandoned souls have been treated abysmally, dumped, forgotten does not do justice to reality – the Bard himself would struggle here.
Many voted for the first time for years in this referendum; it was desperation.
These communities have been failed by our political class not the bureaucrats in Brussels, not by the European Project. They are still being failed by the ongoing repetitive comedy that is the Labour Party, my party, by the current crop of Conservative leadership candidates (with the exception of Stephen Crabb, watch him he is interesting).
Our political class, the expenses fiddlers (not forgotten), the vain megalomaniacs like Blair and his war, the flirtation with neo-liberalism, just an intellectual game to them, the careerists, the dynasties (both the latter more an affliction of Labour than the Conservative Party).
To stand by and watch whole communities lose their livelihood and their social cohesion, to not manage change properly (change is good by the way), you do that with a plan and investment, to throw these souls onto a benefit system that is little more that state bullying is beyond immoral and beyond stupidity.
Nothing wrong with globalisation, nothing wrong with change but it has to be managed. It started with Thatcher, it continued apace with New Labour, lack of investment, creation of a low skill low wage economy.
The immigrants are not to blame here and should not be scapegoated. If you create cheap jobs they, immigrants, are entitled to make the journey and most find work with willing employers in the UK.
I have been in a rage all week over possible loss of freedom of movement, as my colourful language on Twitter will bear witness, but I have enough sensitivity to feel for our broken communities.
It is not an exaggeration to say that our political class today represent a greater threat to the social fabric of our country than the combined forces of Daesh and a re-appearance of the IRA (likely).
So let’s Take Back Control, but from the right people.
(1) European Economic Community formed in 1958. Others might like to go back to the European Iron and Steel Community formed 7 years earlier.
The Twelfth Day Of Brexit Part II on possible implications of Brexit on Germany, Europe and peace in Europe, will follow later.