Prologue: A Brexit Micro-Fable (AKA “The Waking Nightmare”)
Imagine the following scenario. A gang of fat cats conspire to seize power and turn the political tide in their favour: “If we leave we’ll have £100 million extra for the NHS. The same NHS we’re currently dissecting”, promise the fat cats, atop their tweed armchairs.
The unshaven sheep watching, gleefully chomped on their synthetic Union Jack-coloured grass, all the while being milked of the juices of their labour. Meanwhile the rest of the prairie looked on, sufferable and resigned.
Fast forward several months: the fat cats win. Only, now they sit atop their armchairs with top hats and bathe in bowls of full-fat cream.
The unshaven sheep continue to chew on their synthetic grass whilst the sheared sheep stand restlessly yet nevertheless resolved.
What transpires next remains to be seen, yet the fat cats loom closer over their lofty perches. Their lips soaked in the chrism of the masses.
As a charming young barrister once said, “things can only get b̶e̶t̶t̶e̶r̶ worse”.
The Morning After
Let me just start by saying that for those hoping for an Owen Jones-style assessment of the referendum result, I’m not going to attempt to launch into a full on analysis of what transpired over the last 48 or so hours, nor will I make this an overly personal account. After all, this is a suitably knee-jerk reaction to an unprecedented situation. Obviously, without seeking to sound like a mainstream media talk-show pundit, the repercussions of Brexit are not yet apparent (and probably won’t be for a considerable time). I mean, let’s be cognizant of the feels that most remainers are currently experiencing. We’re literally staring into the abyss right now, so for that reason I’m not going to speculate. Instead I’m going to reflect on what has occurred both on and leading up to this eerily fateful time, in the hope it helps to soften the blow somewhat.
Life After The EU
So, yesterday morning we were met with the reality that a change of gargantuan proportions has come (I mean, we’re still waiting for confirmation of just how gargantuan, so let’s not speak prematurely). This result is undoubtedly a sweet, sweet divorce for the nigh on 52% who voted for the UK to leave the European Union. Yet for the 48% (#The48) who most certainly did not vote to part ways with the EU, it’s a truly bitter pill to swallow. “The people have spoken” Tweeted Owen Jones this morning. He may have been right, in a literal sense. This was an exercise in direct democracy like never before. But as one of the 16,141,241 people who voted to remain, I can safely say that being beaten by a margin of around a million votes (many of which were swing votes) doesn’t exactly fill you with much enthusiasm for the democratic process. If anything, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. So much so that it makes the fallout following last year’s general election seem tame in comparison.
We The People, Undoubtedly
We the people, who had a referendum thrust upon us that none (or at least, very few) of us wanted. The result of which, clearly not that many of us wanted. We the people, who on top of one of the biggest upsets in electoral history are now faced with a leadership contest for a party none of us wanted, to appoint a leader and PM that – you guessed it – NONE OF US WANT.
Of course, I don’t presume to represent all 18-24 year olds by any stretch (too cynical). But I do count myself among the 75% of that particular demographic who backed remaining and rejected Brexit – in particular, the campaign, which had nothing to do with reclaiming so-called sovereignty and everything to do with scapegoating immigrants and Centre Right / Tory Party machinations. The reality, and you definitely won’t read this on the BBC website, is that we are effectively seeing the beginning of a right-wing power grab that’s been a long time coming (the idiom “adding insult to injury” has never been so evocatively visceral). Years ago, the sheer mention of such a development would have been almost laughable. Least we forget, the likes of Ukip and the now terrorist abetting Britain First have long been fair game for playground level ridicule, yet the reality we are facing is anything but comical (even for habitual cynics like me). How this erosion of what’s left of our democracy will pan out, we do not know. But whether it manifests at a governmental level, via new Far Right populist movements – or even worse, in unison – we should remain vigilant and uncompromising in our opposition to this encroaching threat (keep your eyes peeled for more on this in the coming months). What a legacy to leave behind eh, Dave.
As my social media ramblings attest, I’ve long been a reluctant remainer. I don’t think the idea of leaving the EU (in theory, note, not in the current socio-political climate) is such a terrible idea. Much like Jeremy Corbyn, events, more than anything else, convinced me that Remain was the only feasible option. Right wing demagoguery, rising intolerance lead by fears of “mass immigration”, the weakness of the Left and of course, the weight of the neoliberal status quo have all conspired to derail progressive opposition to the EU. The sheer hypocrisy of the bulk of the brexit rhetoric was enough to make even the most Eurosceptic leftists declare their undying support for the EU. This was about democracy, we were told.
“Right”, (cue full-throttle knee-jerk) the stock retort goes: but unless you’ve been living under a rock since birth you’ll know that we don’t live in a utopian Republic with a legislative populated by selfless democrats committed to the cause of representation (contrary to what some politicians have been saying of late). No, we live in a society with a government that achieved a 24% mandate. A government forged from the ruins of an ill-fated five-year coalition no one voted for. This is of course the same government that introduced the bedroom tax, undermined an already sub-par education system, clipped union rights and of course, gambled with the prosperity of this country by holding a largely unnecessary referendum, amongst countless other violations.
Yet, those seemingly oblivious to this campaign of austerity were communities in areas such as the North East who took the Brexit bait in one fell chomp, in full glare of the government’s continued course of undermining and defunding public services with nothing less than a vampiric fervour. If Brexiteers were so riled-up about unaccountability and democratic deficits, why didn’t they attack the Tories and their austerity programs with the same vindictiveness? Call me disgruntled, but this I simply cannot abide. Perhaps the most acute insult was the mind-numbing reality for many Brexiteers that they had in fact made a grave mistake, yesterday afternoon. Just how many of the 52% voted on the basis of lies and bigotry? We may never know the answers to this question, but judging by the increasing normalization of xenophobia we can assume that this was a sizeable portion.
Of course, as a remainer, it’s not my place to make blanket assumptions about the sentiments of Brexiteers. I’m sure there are many who genuinely believe that the EU is a lost cause, and rightly so. I’m actually looking forward to hearing their solutions to the problems we now face in the coming weeks and months – but unfortunately, this is where my spirit of sympathy ends. Most of all, I and so many others want to know why they thought it necessary to jeopardise the wellbeing of the most vulnerable people in our society, not to mention the social mobility of those burdened with enough student debt to consign them to living out their 20s with their parents.
As a twenty-something graduate and third-sector worker, I think this is a fair accusation. For many remainers, the brazenness of the pro-democracy, pro-sovereignty argument is just one of many genuine grievances. No matter how you justify the case for Brexit, it just seems completely nonsensical – no, I’m sorry, may as well go out on a limb here – indefensible, to rail against aloof European commissioners whilst simultaneously nodding along to the elitist, righteous chuntering of messrs Gove, Johnson, Hannan and a “pound shop Enoch Powell” (who I refuse to nametag because the idea of him having one less search engine entry is a tiny yet nevertheless necessary act of rebellion during this time of crisis).
Throughout today and yesterday, many brexit voters have called for “unity going forward”. Unity. Now there’s an interesting thought. If only they’d demonstrated unity and solidarity with the students of the 75% who now have to deal with even more uncertainty in a post brexit UK. If only. Again, I’m not trying to bash people for exercising their democratic rights. I’m just deeply perturbed by the imprudence of those that have decided to do so without due consideration for the consequences. Hindsight will no doubt precipitate a moral hangover for some. It goes without saying that it’s a lot to take in, for voters on both sides. Like many millennials I have become accustomed to thinking of the UK as an appendage of the EU. I’d be lying if I said that that the world doesn’t seem smaller, because it really does. I suppose such disenchantment is to be expected when being in is all you’ve ever known. Airing grievances at this stage is perfectly valid, yet I’ve been convincing since the result came in that we also have to find a way to avoid the apathy that so easily sets in in these situations.
The aforementioned Brexit camp have a lot of explaining to do, and we should be vociferous in our efforts to hold them to account. Yet whilst our anger is more than justified, we mustn’t become a solely reactionary force henceforth. We have to strive towards pragmatic solutions to the challenges that lay ahead, whatever they may be. But most importantly, we, the 48%, have to unite. Now is the time to forge even greater coalitions with European comrades. This is a major setback in many ways, but it’s not the end. It’s the beginning of a new fight. A fight that both intersects with and transcends party politics.
With the creeping threat of TTIP on the horizon, we’ve never needed people power more than we do now. Developing internationalist solutions to the problems we face is the only way forward. Surely but steadily, let us join together so that we can be ready to face whatever gets thrown our way in the months and years that follow. This strategy is our ultimate recourse.