I understand why we voted to leave, but it is still an awful choice
So here is my brain dump about what has happened in the last 24 hours.
This is around 2000 words, and will take you a good 10 minutes to chug through, but hopefully it’s worth some of your time and will give you food for thought. This piece shows my thoughts throughout the day that Great Britain voted to leave to EU, and how my views evolved and changed. I woke up angry, blaming and cursing at the stereotypes that I, and my friends, had formed about the Leave majority areas, but by mid afternoon, I had developed an understanding of why such regions had voted to leave, and I don’t blame them despite it being awful for our economy. I am fully aware of some of the sweeping generalisations made throughout, which are not completely representative of regions or demographics. Additionally, I wouldn’t recommend only half reading this post as I round off by stating which of my earlier thoughts were naïve and wrong. Anyway, here we go — hope you enjoy it (or at least it makes you think).
In a moment of half-consciousness at 5.30am this morning, I rolled over and switched on my TV. Expecting to see the Remain campaign comfortably in the lead and drift off back to sleep, I was suddenly wide-awake as I realised that Brexit had won and Great Britain had voted to leave the European Union.
Glued to the television, I watched in dismay as result after result came in with Brexit majorities running throughout England and Wales. The results showed that Scotland, Northern Island, London and parts of the south stood alone in their solidarity with the EU, whilst vast seas of Brexit swept through the midlands, the north and Wales. I went to bed in Great Britain and woke up in Little England.
As with any politically significant event, my generation took to social media. Only a handful of other disbelievers were already awake, stating their disgust for their nation — xenophobic England — which had been conned by a factually inconsistent and manipulative campaign. I became angry, genuinely angry, that such an opportunity had been taken away from me.
I wasn’t too fussed about the economic arguments. Granted, the benefits of the UK probably exceed the net costs of £160 million a week with access to the single market, confidence, certainty and much more, but it was the social and political arguments that convinced me Britain had to not only be, but lead in the European Union.
By leaving the European Union, we were turning our back on a force for good: an organisation that had kept peace in Europe for half a century, an organisation that enforced standards, an organisation that was helping the environment and so much more. As a collective, we had the ability to try to solve serious humanitarian problems, like attempt to resolve the refugee crisis, and we could really affect the world — our world. But here we are, on our own, turning our back on all of those issues because a some people, well actually a majority of an electorate, were scared about immigration.
I spent the morning digesting what had happened, tweeting any mini-rants that came to mind, and scrolling through my Facebook timeline. I engaged in a series of keyboard warrior fights with a few misguided individuals, but regardless of whatever points I made, I just could not get through to them. I began to give up when they replied to one of my comments that outlined the lies on the Leave campaign’s propaganda with “the only part I am gunna respond to is your last little paragraph,” essentially disregarding the preceding paragraphs that had outlined the known facts and costs of leaving. To me at this stage, this epitomised the Leave campaign. I soon gave up after he spoke about the “immagration” and he told a girl to go “make yourself sick”.
However, opinions like this were such a minority on my timeline — with no apparent university student Brexiters. Facebook was an overwhelming sea of disappointment, with some of the most relatable posts including one friend’s use of Leo Tolstoy’s quote “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it”, and another’s “What a sad day to be British.” But on the bright side, my standard ‘disappointed Facebook status’ earned me an unprecedented one hundred and fifty likes and reactions, whilst my tweets got the occasional retweet.
I was part of the generation that had never really known ‘good’ economic times: a recession on the scale of The Great Depression during our prepubescent years, the introduction and then trebling of tuition fees, the expectation for us to fund the baby boom generation’s pensions and the government’s extortionate debt during our careers to name a few, and now the turning of our back on the European Union. Our voice had not been heard and we had been outvoted and ignored at every stage.
The bad news just kept on coming: the Conservatives had lost a liberal leader in Cameron, the prospect of PM Johnson was looming, Scotland had the momentum to separate from the rest of the UK, Corbyn still looked disinterested but ready to stay, the pound had fallen 10% and Britain had gone to the dogs. Regardless of where you sat on the political spectrum, Cameron leaned against his party far more than any of his peers would have and genuinely tried to promote positive change.
The BBC reporters just looked empty inside, but were unable to express their opinions and I was just furious that the old and the uneducated had made such an ill-informed decision. And yes, I am aware of how sweeping such statements are, and although I knew this did not apply to every Leave voter, this was the thought process I, and many of my peers, were going through in the heat of the morning.
By 11am I’d realised it was time to calm to hell down and start to rationally think things through. My personal starting point is to always try and find the right questions to ask myself. So,
Question 1 — Why did we have such a referendum in the first place?
Well, because Cameron. I feel he didn’t often put a foot wrong despite regularly rolling the dice of luck. He essentially got scared once he lost a few voters and a few peers to UKIP in the run-up to the general election, and he decided, rightly or wrongly, that this was the best action to take to prevent further defections. The referendum was called as a form of political appeasement, but one cannot believe anyone seriously thought the result would ever be so close, let alone in this direction.
Question 2 — So why did we even lose the referendum then?
Well, the Scots, the south and London had all demonstrated their solidarity with the UK: Scotland stood with the European Union as this was seemingly where the country stood socially right now; and the south and London because these educated and affluent individuals were able to really comprehend what was going on. Sure, I blamed Cameron for calling such an election, but it was Labour under Corbyn that loss it.
The Labour hotspots — Wales, the industrialised areas, the north — were unanimously Leave, defying the polls. Effectively, the Remain Tories MPs managed to galvanise the Remain Tory voters, but the Remain Labour MPs, failed to engaged with their traditional supporters. Corbyn had been passive, uninspiring and guarded throughout the whole campaign and even when the result was published, he just didn’t seem to care.
Yet, as the day went on, as I just laid in the garden reading The Economist, I realised my answers were, to an extent, naïve. 52% of British voters, seventeen million of them, had voted to Leave. This surely could not actually be because they had all be conned, even tricked, by clever marketing and false promises. It had to be something more. To label all Brexiters as “old” or “out-of-touch” or “uneducated” is some form of prejudice. So, I found and answered my final question.
Question 3 — Why did seventeen million people, typically older generations in certain geographical areas, vote to leave the European Union?
There was a reason the turnout at this election was the highest in my lifetime. I believe individuals saw this as an opportunity for them to show their anger with the political class, with the institutions, with London, with the south. Since Thatcher, these areas have been the economically unfavoured step-child of successive governments. They had continually been promised reform, growth and jobs but have never witnessed them. They sat and watched as the rich south became richer and hosted fancy events like the Olympic Games, whilst building thriving service, research and development and technology industries. It didn’t matter that every expert, every political leader (but Farage), every university and every big cheese businessman said it was a bad decision to Leave, these areas voted leave as a fuck you to this system — whether consciously through choice or subconsciously by listening to charismatic fools like Johnson and Farage.
And I get it, I get why they voted to, and I’m incredibly pissed off they have done so, it will impact not only me (the south) negatively, but millions of humans in Europe and across the world, but I get it. This was their opportunity to get their voices heard and boy did they take it. This was the product of the backlash of successive governments ignoring the needs of this demographic. When they see the headline of 2,000 jobs leaving London from Bank X, they will not be very disappointed, they will think “there you go, that’s what it feels like, to just have an industry taken from you, to have your world turned upside down.”
Globalisation can do a heap of good for this world, but governments need to ensure everyone benefits. For years, London and the south had stolen (and perhaps earned) a significant majority of the benefits of globalisation felt in the UK, without sharing it. The Leave areas do benefit enormous amounts from the EU, they are in fact the areas they receive the most EU funding, but they don’t actively see their situation relative to the rest of the UK improving. And that is the key point — they saw being closer to Europe as beneficial to their wealthier southern counterparts. Imagine that, for your whole life you have sat and watched another region grow and prosper with opportunity after opportunity whilst you still struggle to find employment. They must have felt alienated, and this was their opportunity to show their discontent. What an unfortunate accumulation of events. After reading this article, one of my friends framed this nicely: “On that piece of papers, voters saw two options. The first option was a vote of the status quo, a vote that things are working for me right now how they are; the second was a vote for change, a vote that signified the current system was not working for them.”
Leaving in the EU is an awful decision. Britain has turned its back on Europe which sets the precedence for many other nations to follow and Union to dissolve. I predict that the EU will attempt to give the UK a damning deal and the process will be dragged out over numerous years, but eventually a deal similar to that of Norway will ensue — without the common labour market but similar in every other way. I predict that the transition years will be categorised by economic stagnation, or even decline, as other nations attempt to follow our lead. Scotland will almost certainly leave the UK and attempt to join the EU, probably creating a “Scottish pound” (spound?) in the process. Gibraltar will become ever more willing to tie links with Spain. Yet, Northern Ireland will probably not have enough momentum to follow Scotland’s footsteps and will remain in a scenario with grim economic prospects.
Johnson will win the Conservative lead (praying for May though), and will win a slim majority in the next General Election if it is called early. Corbyn will probably stay and may prevent the Labour party from being taken seriously and moving forwards, whilst extremist parties gain some momentum. I believe that effects of Leaving won’t be obvious, it’ll be the loss of a % here and the loss of a % there and they will failure to deliver on their promises of £x million a week extra on the NHS, lower immigration a serious change in our ability to rule our nation and keep lower prices. This will provide enough noise and opacity to hide, or at least mask, the consequences of Brexit.
So there we have it — the generation that had never really known ‘good’ economic times: a recession on the scale of The Great Depression at age 12, the introduction and then trebling of tuition fees, the expectation for us to fund the baby boom generation’s pensions and the government’s extortionate debt, and that left the European Union and must deal with the consequences. However, there are two silver linings and one lesson to learn.
First, the lesson. Equality and inclusion should be at the forefront of political decision-making on national and international scales. The inability of the government to take serious action in Wales, the midlands and the north has been a major factor in prompting Britain to leave the EU, further reducing equality and inclusion on a global scale. I understand why these areas made such a decision — to finally be taken seriously — but it’s devastating that they’ve done it at this one in a generation vote that represents so much. If they were not ignored so much, making them feel so distant from those who were elected to represent them, we could be in a very different situation.
The first silver lining comes in the form of a movement. The Liberal Democrat leader, Farron, has spoken well in the aftermath and appears to be brining the party back from the ashes of coalition. He cleverly, and correctly, labelled parts of the Remain campaign as responsible for Brexit due to their continual use of the EU as a scapegoat for British issues. Hopefully the Lib Dems can come out of this with renewed support and an ability to have a voice in the next general election, and some sort of chance in the one after that. This will provide the electorate with a serious third party alternative that has a moral compass, and can hopefully help Corbyn to plug to hole that has grown on the left.
And finally, I take encouragement from how my generation voted — around 75% remain. It shows that my generation know what is right for society and the direction we need to take our nation. It shows we know that we are better together, stronger together and safer together, and I pray that if we get another chance again, a few decades down the line, that my generation remember how betrayed they felt during this election, and that we will vote in the best interest of our future generations. Today was a bad day, a historic day, and this referendum was a seismic event. I am as angry as the next person that this has happened, and we know where the Leave votes have come from, but the generalising and stereotyping of these voters, as I did until about 2pm, is part of the reason we have ended up in this scenario. They felt like London and the South did not care about them, and they wanted to show they have a voice. The government is now listening.
To move forward, we must begin to bridge the social fractures that have ripped through our country. It is well known that the European Union has loss its unity, and that this is the direction the United Kingdom is heading — but has this all just stemmed from an Ununited England?