Some thoughts on the Referendum aftermath: Leave vs Stay
The morning after the referendum results I woke up not knowing whether to laugh or cry. If Facebook was to be believed there was an apocalyptic armageddon on its way, quite possibly before dinner.
That being said, after the dust of David Cameron’s self-combustion had settled, I found myself rather worried. I believe that this referendum could be the catalyst for a division of the country, not only of Brits vs Foreigners, but Brits vs Brits. We are already seeing the beginnings of a potential break up of the United Kingdom as a result of the vote.
The reason I decided to write this was not because I wanted to contribute to the festival of belittling those that voted to leave (I’ve regrettably already engaged in a bit of that, but more on that later). It is the opposite: it is unproductive to patronise the leave voters, to brand them as racist, to use them as a vessel for the frustration about not getting our way in what we thought was the obvious answer. Not all of them voted for the reasons we accuse them of, and for those that did, demonising their views stifles debate, stems the exchange of ideas, and sustains subscription to dogma and views based on misinformation.
I am petrified of what the reactions of the aggrieved stay voters is going to do to the beliefs of the more extreme leave voters; attacking an ideology, with words or bombs, does not help to eradicate it (see Radical Islam). And neither will condescension and mockery. Name calling and insults serves only to exacerbate an already widening gulf in opinions. We must also recognise that this vote was was much of a ‘FUCK YOU’ to the establishment that has under-served so many in this country than it was for any thing sinister.
The first thing to note was the disparity between London and the rest of the country in the pattern of voting. As Londoners we need to understand that our experience of life in the UK is not always indicative of the many. As a participant in a democracy I think it’s necessary to put yourselves in the shoes of people who are not like you. At the moment it’s tempting to think that they are a band of ferociously rabid animals, but do you think someone would willingly vote for their own demise, like we all assume they have done? Over half the voters believed that leaving the EU would benefit their lives, and we must understand why, especially if we think they have erred. The blame, I suggest, does not lie with them.
Why did we leave?
It is not possible to deduce the exact reason for each leave vote, but in most cases it boils down to either the economics, sovereignty or immigration. This post will not concern itself with the first two issues. No one understands the economics. Even the economists don’t understand the economics, and that goes for both sides. I want to focus on an (albeit unquantifiable) number of voters whose motivation was to take their country back from foreigners. Clearly not all leave voters are racist, but all racists are leave voters. You can argue it’s a big or small percentage, but it exists and the reality is, it’s a fire that will only be stoked by the decision to leave. I am not blaming the legitimate leave voters for lacking the foresight to see what a leave vote could open the country up to. I am calling for everyone in the aftermath to treat each other with respect and patience to prevent this issue from snowballing into something ugly — which is what dismissive and arrogant behaviour will do.
The capacity for feelings of racism exists in us all, it is in-built tribalism, and it is seemingly more readily inflamed in the uneducated, the unprivileged and the disenfranchised (this by no means suggests the rich and uneducated are incapable of racism by any stretch of the imagination). The approach the leave campaign took and the ‘facts’ they decided to promote showed that they understood and exploited this fact. Why do the public readily embrace misguided, poisonous and dangerous propaganda?
There has been an incredibly guided distraction campaign by politicians, the media, and generally anyone part of the ruling elite to dodge blame for the economic downturn the nation has suffered. Greed and negligence led to the financial crisis. This in turn led to austerity. This is why people are angry. The rich took risks to try get more rich and they failed, and then we all paid for it. They cleverly deflected the attention away from themselves by providing an endless stream of misleading information about immigration in the UK and making poor people blame other poor people for their problems.
In this context, with constant bombardment of such vitriol, you can understand why anyone would believe it. They rely on the media or the government for their information, and why shouldn’t they? It isn’t obvious to the best of us where to find unbiased information. The media are providing both answers and solutions for their problems. Blame culture is appealing.
The leave campaign also focussed on returning Britain to its former glory. This is nothing more than a manipulative device to instil some fantastical notion of a dreamworld that for all intents and purposes, has never existed and will never exist. It implies that someone has taken our old Britain away from us and has directly caused our misery— I wonder who they mean.
What is this dream version of Britain? And why do they want it back?
Imagine walking down the road in the old east end, knowing everyone on the street. Perhaps playing a spot of cricket. Going to the pub for a roast. Having a local Ale. A gin and tonic. Fish and chips. Baked beans. Full English breakfast. Not a tanned face, a polish builder or a Romanian beggar in sight. Assumedly this is what they have in mind. This isn’t what Britain looks like, it is what stagnation looks like. It is what lack of progress looks like. This is what Hitler’s ideal vision of Germany looked like. It is a manufactured idea, based on the golden age fallacy (that everything seems better in hindsight) to create a desire in the disillusioned, to return to an ideal which can be achieved by removing something from society. Immigrants in our case, Jews in Nazi Germany’s case.
“Our ancestors didn’t fight for this country in World War II to see it overrun with foreigners”.
We fought to defeat the fascism of the Nazis. Now we’ve voted to leave the EU, under the guidance of the infamous fascist, Nigel Farage. We fought to protect our allies in Europe and for peace. Now we want to divide ourselves from the agreement we’ve had for some 40 years which promoted unity and kept peace. We fought to protect a race of people, different from our own, from being brutally murdered out of existence. Now we want to distance ourselves from other countries and cultures and blame them for our homegrown problems. When they say that want to take our Britain back, where exactly do they want to take it back to? In most cases it will be back to a time they never even experienced. To medieval times perhaps? Back to bubonic plague and tyrannical kings? I think people have been watching too much Game of Thrones.
Why did people vote for a mirage of an ideal that has never and can never exist?
Has democracy heralded in a new dawn of Fascism? Are we reacting to it correctly?
My biggest fear is that it has provided anyone who was harbouring ill-will towards foreigners, closet racists, and the easily manipulated, that Britons across the land support them in their views. We could see increasing tensions between Brits and Foreigners. But even sadder for the country is the wedge it has driven between those who voted in and voted out. Quite frankly, some of the reactions from the stay voters to the leave voters ranged from the ill-thought out to the downright appalling — showing the very same intolerance and ignorance that many projected onto the leave voters in the first place. It is understandable to some extent, there was so much at risk, emotions ran high. The vote threatens isolation from the rest of the world, the last thing we need is further internal division. I am not perfect. I myself implied the leave voters were wildlings from Game of Thrones — a bunch of uncivilised barbarians. Whilst I could dismiss it as a joke, to get a laugh or a like, a generate some camaraderie between my cocksure, like-minded followers, the truth is it came from a place of frustration. It’s no different to using the word nigger or faggot, without giving a thought to the underlying division the circulation of these words serve to perpetuate, to single out people who are different from us to demean them and to promote our superiority. In this case, it promotes a class-divide.
We live in democracy meaning we must accept and abide the decisions of the masses; leave voters will say we won, accept it, move on. To sit back passively and accept it when it was a campaign filled with lies projected onto the vulnerable by a dangerous elite with a vested interest is, in my opinion, to degrade the real power we have in a modern democracy. This referendum was a vote on a complicated issue, with monumental ramifications, settled merely by a yes or no, driven in most cases by emotion. If that is our only participation in this democracy then quite frankly it’s a pile of shit. This doesn’t mean I am refusing to embrace the decision, it means that as a citizen of a democracy I believe our duty to the country goes beyond turning up at a voting booth and ticking a box and living with the consequences. It is our job to unwind and expose the lies, hypocrisies and inconsistencies that have been fed and accepted to the country by the media and by the government before we take our Britain back — back to the dark ages. Democracy is traditionally synonymous with forward thinking, fairness, justice, tolerance, freedom, togetherness. This result threatens to do just about the opposite in every way, unless we approach the issues on both sides with respect, civility and most importantly, fair debate using facts.
Politics is bloody hard. Even politicians are bad at it. That the country was made to vote on such a delicate issue is an abomination, especially given that it was not issued in the interest of democracy, but to further certain politician’s careers. We weren’t qualified for this. We were sent into an operating theatre, with no medical training, and told to make an incision. Meanwhile, Cameron, Johnson and Farage leered over the bedside, all shouting different ideas at us. These are the people we should blame, not the voters.
At a time when everyone is looking for answers, there are none, and I certainly don’t have any. I believe that as a country we have taken a step in the wrong direction. Some of you will disagree. What is absolutely imperative is that the next step is not in the same direction. That is what will happen if we further exasperate class divisions, and if prejudice and racism begins to rear their ugly head. What we need to do is keep an open mind, treat differing views with respect and understanding, and don’t fight hate with hate. We need to concentrate on making the next step forward, to re-establish Britain as the accepting, tolerant, peaceful and prosperous nation that we all benefit from. The only way we can move forward is if we are united.