I don’t like the idea of leaving the European Union – in fact I think it’s probably a really bad idea. But, confession time, I didn’t vote.
I was at Glastonbury on June 23rd, and I was planning on cycling home to go and vote remain (it was only a half hour ride; nothing massive, but the cider was delicious, and well. It was just one vote).
So, sat around the meagre morning fire with a dozen or so others, I thought, ‘I know: if I can find one person who was going to go and vote leave, maybe we could shake hands and agree that we’d do that thing MPs are supposed to and pair off’: we’ll both withhold a vote and agree that we’re quits on that score. I figured it might take me a while to find someone to pair with, though: this was a Glastonbury crew campsite; no Daily Mail readers here! A range of sexual orientations and a variety of hair colour choices meant I was among friends! The first person I asked wasn’t going to vote, but said they would have voted leave.
The second person said the same.
And the third.
Fourth, fifth and sixth as well.
It was the seventh person I spoke to who was a leaver and was planning on heading off later. They agreed to withhold their vote to match mine. We shook on it and cracked another can.
Now it was Glastonbury, so the national political debate wasn’t exactly front and centre for any of us, but to find so many people whose intention was to get out of Europe shocked me. That feeling had kind of faded as the last two years have shuddered by, until I saw the Channel Four Brexit drama, an Uncivil War, last week.
It was fantastic, I thought, and I’m still thinking about it. But for all of it being an enjoyable drama, there were two scenes which epitomised why and how we got into this mess:
The first was the trip Cummings, Carswell and Eliot took to meet some of Carswell’s constituents: Carswell’s confession that he’d never been there was an emblematic start, as were the empty streets. The couple they went to meet sat there embarrassed by their lack of education, but justifiably angry at being left behind: they felt abandoned by politics, trained for a heavy industry which was then closed down and given nothing else. I loved the ghost town feeling of the location; the emptiness of it. And these might not have been interesting or interested people; no connection in contemporary culture or some sense of the city, but so what? Did that mean they were worthless, or that they mattered less? They were just people who had watched their lives being set aside as less important than the lives of others. Their nervousness at being seen as racists; their feelings of betrayal were exactly the kind of uncomfortable truth that liberals and media elites (and I guess that includes me) are happy to ignore because they’re not very visible from the town centre; where the bright shiny lights and mirrors of our own importance dazzle us so brilliantly. (Seriously though, aren’t we brilliant? Blogging on our phones?)
The second emblematic scene was the phone conference held by the Remainers as the campaign’s strategic head, Craig Oliver, tried to dish up dinner for the children. It encapsulated so eloquently the distraction; the lack of focus and sense that it wasn’t that important, really: of course it was in the bag (even as they were starting to discuss thoughts of it going tits up). The symbolism of the children not listening to him (because he was on the phone, distractedly being important) as he’s serving them dinner was dramatic writing of the highest standard. Them running off (like me, at Glastonbury) to play their games… gasp. The way his actions epitomised the lip service paid to the right idea (and I think it would have been, just to reiterate, the right idea to remain) he was ostensibly doing something ‘for the children’ while remaining (ouch) bound up in his own actions; in being the important thing. It was breathtakingly eloquent, If he truly cared, of course, he would have focussed on them and not on being on the phone.
Children (of all ages) can’t be expected to know what’s best of them (sitting down and eating their tea; chugging tins of cider at Glastonbury) and so the failure of his stewardship was complete: he was neither keeping the idea of a vast equality (the European Union) alive, or keeping his own house in order, for the benefit of future generations.
The truth of Brexit is that it is a terrible idea, and Vote leave/Leave EU, played a dirty game of lying to the people, but at least they recognised the people were there. The remain campaign was an Eton Mess and they (we) will now enjoy our just desserts. Sad to say, there may well not be any pudding for many of the leavers, because it could well turn out to be a catastrophic economic disaster. But, if that means the disenfranchised and the ignored-as-an-inconvenience rise up and take back some modicum of control and engage in politics to master their own destiny; send a message to the self-important stewards of the nation who have lined their own pockets and troughs for so long as to imagine they enjoy some kind of protected heritage status, then so be it.
I have zero faith in, or respect for the Farages, the Banks’s or the Rees Moggs; they are the worst of the worst, telling lies to the disenfranchised for their own gain. But they will get their comeuppance, surely. The trouble-making opportunists, the Johnsons and the Goves might well look nervous about what they’ve unleashed, because I suspect if we do go over the cliff of a hard Brexit, things will go very badly wrong very quickly, and faith in these little piggies will sour and all their lies and self-serving duplicity will cost them dearly.
We had a great deal with Europe and for a lack of knowledge, and a series of lies told over decades to the people by hard-right newspaper barons, the country has been convinced to throw it away. Leave told some absolute whoppers to get their way, and I hope it comes back to kick the campaign leaders right up their jacksie-holes.
And so to now: mid January with a deal on the table. What will parliament do? A body of elected representatives who for the most part voted to remain (as individuals, entitled to a vote). They are tasked with conducting the amputation; the removal of a limb that is an unnecessary act of mutilation. It really is not in our best interests. Instead we have the fantasies of nincompoops like Davis and Fox, whose imbecilic chanting of mantras and their soft-headed belief that because we used to have an empire, we can just pick up where we left off, once those busybody Euro-types have stopped interfering. Their vision relies on a return to an era that embodied subjugation and exploitation on an industrialised scale. (In case you hadn’t noticed, boys, the empire is no longer willing to be exploited for our benefit.)
The blame lies unquestionably with David Cameron, who lazily thought such a complex question could be turned into a simple yes/no, in/out question, and then ran away to jot down his thoughts in a fucking bijou shepherds hut. The referendum was meant to be consultative: they should have done more work on the outcome before rushing to declare they would respect the outcome. It should have been a Preferendum (Ireland discovered the risks inherent in simple referendums after years of disastrously inept yes/no polls) and examined the use of funds and data immediately. But secondly, there is a significant slice of fault to be apportioned to Theresa May, whose pig-headed insistence on doing it her way and failing to state clearly that while 17 million voted to leave, 16 million voted to stay, has backed us into a corner. Why has she insisted a coin toss must be the be-all and end-all? If she’d made some move to acknowledge in the first instance that the referendum was a simplistic and flawed debate, accepting we were leaving but that we had responsibilities rather than wrapping it all up in her bloody red lines, we might not be in such a mess now.
And so to Corbyn. It’s clear he’s made no friends among the liberal elite, but that does not mean he isn’t right: for all the artfully constructed polls which purport to say Labour would win by a landslide if they just backed a second referendum, he’s right to keep his powder dry. Labour voted at conference to follow this path: it was a democratic vote, conducted by the members, with a fulsome debate, even if we (the aforementioned liberal elite) don’t like it, how many of us were there? How many of us, beyond what we read in the Guardian or hear on an LBC phone-in show or in a twitter snippet, have thought much about the EUs dubious record on workers rights, or the lobbying machine which has seen big business gain a stranglehold on agriculture and fishing?
We are going to have to leave, but we need to do it properly, like adults. We need a general election with a clear position from Labour that those who have been stiffed for several generations can support and can at least survive. We need to introduce our own tax transparency laws, similar (if not identical) to the ones the EU are about to introduce (and a large part of the reason the Rees-Moggs are so keen to leave) and build an economy founded on self-sufficiency and environmental sustainability, not as a holiday destination or financial services and tax avoidance paradise which will serve only to make a few individuals very much richer. People voted for change; we need to make sure it doesn’t kill us.