The days have gone when the Labour Party were the party of the working people. I think this is the case now, given the huge numbers who voted for Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage’s Leave campaign and who contributed towards their majority. I’ve read a variety of slogans and opinions on Facebook and articles in newspapers, and followed TV and newspaper debates, and the one factor which seems to epitomise the Brexit Campaign is the validation of emotion over logic and fear over fact.
The Brexit campaign has gathered voters with slogans like ‘take back control’. Of course, those words don’t really mean anything, but it is meant to suggest that Britain has little control over its future prospects while it remains a member of the European Union and, by leaving the EU, we somehow have the capacity to maximise the future potential of the country we live in and move towards equal opportunity and prosperity while, at the same time, improving education, housing and the NHS.
The Labour party has failed to do what it should do – inspire, support and represent the (wo)man in the street. This has left space for Farage and Johnson to gain popularity, to appeal to ‘the ordinary person, the decent person’, despite having no clear plan and despite having propelled their campaign forward on the back of lies and bigotry.
So where does that leave us today? The people have made their choice, a marginal victory for Brexit, based on a response to debates and discussions presented on television and through the media.
Today, the day after the vote, the pound has fallen to its lowest level in over three decades, David Cameron has resigned. Although Cameron is a Tory, I came to admire his comparative integrity and liberalism, and I believe his perspective throughout the campaign was led by honesty and fairness. On the other hand, Nigel Farage has stated on TV that the early promise to divert an extra £350 million a week to the NHS, a promise emblazoned on his battle bus, was ‘a big mistake’. Showing an insensitivity which borders on indecency, he said in his winning speech that he won the revolution:
“without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired”.
So here we are on what he’s calling Independence Day, and the people of our country are bitter, divided and in shock. Holland and France have rightwing, populist politicians calling for a similar referendum. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to stay in and strongly wish to remain. We are now at the brink of an isolationist period where peace and prosperity are under threat.
England may once have been a beacon for tolerance and compassion – we were inclusive and democratic, but we are now promoting isolationism and it highlights the widespread political disaffection across the country. Johnson and his cronies know this, and their campaign of shallow truths and brittle policies, based on populist language and impossible promises,exploited ordinary people’s insecurities.
Since the campaign began, there has been a change in the tone of our debate about immigration which now legitimises xenophobia: this cannot simply have been caused by nihilistic press reports and the overt racist language and semiotics used by some Leave campaigners. It appears acceptable now to give voice to narrow minded bigotry and, so long as it is prefaced by ‘I’m not racist, but…’ it is often accepted as a valid perspective. Before the campaign began, it might have been challenged and rejected as dangerous.
I am concerned for the people who are perceived as ‘outsiders’ who live and work here, and I wonder what their experience will be now in this climate of fear and hatred. The country has been divided into so many ‘us’ and ‘them’ groups who will possibly blame each other for what happens next. It was seldom mentioned in the campaign that it is government policies, not immigrants, which have caused the problems in the NHS, housing and education. So many of the wrongly scapegoated immigrants make a really positive and vital contribution to our economy and to institutions like the NHS. Now the young are blaming older people for the Brexit vote, despite pensioners being told they will ‘rue the day’ and despite the example of Sheila Hancock’s passionate speech about the European alliance having kept peace for seventy years.
Brendan Cox and his children are bereaved now. Yvette Cooper was threatened on social media. The New Statesman tells us that even Boris Johnson has had his share of voters’ dissatisfaction, so high are emotions running:
“You’re an idiot,” one tearful passerby can be heard screaming. “Fucking arsehole!” yells another. “Fuck off Boris!” screams a third.
I have admired several politicians’ contribution to this campaign, whatever their political party allegiance. Nicola Sturgeon, Sadiq Khan and Ruth Davidson led the Stronger In campaign with the conviction, candour and rationality which was markedly absent in many other politicians’ delivery. (Jeremy Corbyn himself was markedly absent for most of the campaign.)
The best thing to come from the referendum debacle was the opportunity to observe inter-party politicians’ positive and collaborative contribution. So one of the worst things was to witness the weakness and apathy of the Labour leader who failed to offer any valid leadership on the issue. Another down side of the campaign was the transparent lies and shallow truths of other politicians who had a vested interest in Brexit and a clear personal agenda.
It will be interesting to see what happens next. The choice of new Prime Minister will be pivotal. Boris Johnson was accused of self interest, thought by many to be seeking the post for himself: his ambition may have propelled his actions throughout the campaign. Nigel Farage has called for a ‘Brexit Prime Minister’ today.
We now have a divided country where unrest and insecurity prevail. Yesterday, we were part of a European community. Today we look down into an abyss from the brink and have no idea whether a path will miraculously appear or whether we will plummet. Many voters have been persuaded to listen to empty Brexit rhetoric rather than to heed the experts who gave valid warnings of what would happen financially. And there is now a strong sense of divide which is not just about race, class or party politics, but there is a gulf separating so many people throughout the UK into different groups of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Sadiq Khan touched on this when he named the Brexit campaign ‘Project Hate’.
England is in a state of turmoil. It is likely there may be another Scottish referendum. Many jobs may be lost. The environment, the economy, so much is in limbo and under threat. Whatever happens next must not be based on fear and hatred, but on a sense of fairness and community spirit.
Liverpool, a city which understands the effects of social poverty and personal hardship, voted to remain in the EU at the referendum by 58.1%. In total 118,453 people voted to stay in the European Union, with 85,101 wanting to leave. However, Councillor Paul Brand warned:
‘Whatever the national result, all of us elected to office need to listen to people who feel left behind. Many believed (wrongly) they had nothing to lose by voting for Brexit. They are often the hardest hit as the Government cuts bite in the City.’
His comments should be foremost in our minds as we move forward to the future. I still haven’t forgotten the words of an audience member of one of the televised debates, when a man referred to the Brexit politicians as World War I generals sending their men blindly over the top towards the unknown.
I hope he was wrong but he may well have been exactly right. I’ll leave you with a song which sums up the result for me.