I Can’t Vote
But I’d like to Remain.
The polls will open shortly. The rain, they say, isn’t good for Remain. Which suggests to me: those that see hints of the inhospitable reckon it’s better just to stay in. Even if the house is a fucking wreck. I am, in fact, staying in today. It’s very bad weather indeed (indeed), and I shall be quite cosy at my desk. But, after all, the polls aren’t open for me.
In fact, there is no one in my building, I believe, who is eligible to vote in this nutty referendum. Out of eight families, none (except maybe the Canadians who have lived off and on in London for a decade) has a vote in whether the UK stays or goes. All up and down our road in North London are spectacular homes, empty of residents. Parking garages for foreign wealth. Homes of migrants, but not the sort of migrants that are implied by the cassandras of Brexit. I rather wish it was the SaudiRussianIsraeli filthy dirty owner of the £63 million house down the road from whom they “want their country back.” But it’s not. Nor is it from me. They don’t know about me.
It’s interesting that while back in the US, the anti-immigration crew bemoan that the Mexicans are taking all the jobs, here in the UK the refrain is that new, non-British families, are a stress on housing and on schools. I’ve got it good here. I live in a desirable neighborhood, (along with half the former population of Paris and a sizeable contingent from Connecticut) and my kid is in private school for the first time. I also have it bad — I can’t get a job for the life of me. Though that has more to do with my age, my skills and my gender than my point of origin. If I were a Polish plumber or a Bangladeshi Uber driver I’d find a job. But I’d have other problems.
Were I to go out in the rain I would vote to stay in. Because when AA Gill fulminates about “snorting a line of that most pernicious and debilitating Little English drug, nostalgia,” I snicker and nod, knowing that I share a secret taste for vicars and tarts and yes, marmite. But also because last night I attended an evening of “refugee literature,” at which poets of all persuasions held forth for too long but during which one very eloquent activist named Rita Chadha burst through angrily to say simply: “We have lost our compassion,” and also “who are we to say they cannot dream?”
The referendum, I have to agree, is not about the right to buy super-charged hoovers or single bananas. It’s about closing the doors.
I’m not, I promise, thinking of myself. I’m an expat, not a migrant, and I will struggle, in either outcome, to stay in London once my partner with his tier two visa says it’s time to go. I would like to stay in either version of London next year. European or no. To be honest, the curious historian in me would like to see a Brexit outcome, if only to see how the hell the government would get itself out of such a scrape. Because let’s face it, if Brexit comes — it will be because David Cameron vastly misjudged. There was no need for it to come to this. The thunderstorms of today? They’re nothing compared to the European political shitstorm to come should the UK quit the EU.
And that’s the fascinating thing. That the UK stands on an existential brink of a landscape that was horizonless just a year ago. When I moved here, the referendum was a pointless wager for political gain. Now it’s the highest stakes game of our time with “everything to lose.” WTF happened to steady on and all that?
(Not that America can be said to be without its wild cards.)
The polls are now open, and the rain has abated. The downpours could hold off for an hour or all day. It still feels like appropriate weather. For the last two months, those who spoke loudest about the historic necessity, the crucial decision, the critical importance of choosing IN, could not come up with a better rationale than if you can’t make up your mind, go with the status quo. The outters, meanwhile, natter on about the tyranny of Brussels. There has never been the promise of sunshine ahead.
Last night, as I took the tube to the literary evening, everyone on the train held the same free paper. The Evening Standard (owned by a filthy rich Russian whose politics and spirit I admire) made a full court plug for Remain: Four spreads of big-name celebrity endorsements, bullying a single photo of Boris Johnson’s last public proclamation of Leave. Boris loves English pike.
Key to the Standard’s 11th hour coverage were the photos and tributes for the murdered MP who would have turned 42 yesterday and whose words were quoted more than once at the literary reading I attended, which was also a fundraiser for a shelter for asylum seekers: “We have more in common than what keeps us apart.”
It is a maudlin sentiment, and also grammatically sketchy. I’d like to believe that Jo Cox had sharper words than these platitudes. Words like those Rita Chadha had for the Home Office: what the hell are you doing? I’d like to think that Jo’s death, at the hands of a racist extremist, might seal the deal for Remain. If so, it will be in spite of David Cameron’s bumbling and sometimes nauseating tactics. (It will also forever conflate him in my mind with the diabolical Francis Urquhart, though it may be faintly libellous to say so.)
I woke up this morning to rain and the realization that I have been living in history’s realtime. It’s hard to take notes riding a wave, but I thought I would leave these as we crest.
Someone less fortunate than I at my cosy desk just called to say that the tube was flooded, making for a nasty commute. Please go out anyway, London. The polls are open — make sure the doors stay open too.