I am staying with friends in Italy and we are walking around in a state of shock at the news of the Referendum. It’s like waking up in a bad dream. We have, indeed, woken up in a different world. We feel sad and somewhat ashamed at the impact the decision that only 52% of our countrymen came to. And, speaking personally, I feel angry at the way the Referendum was conducted and feel that the nature of the campaign, together with the media coverage, has much to answer for in having led us to this point.
People did think about the issues. I spoke to bankers, plumbers, hairdressers, taxi-drivers. I spoke to Jamaicans, Latvians, Lithuanians, Angolans – it was not just the white English who voted for Brexit. It was not necessarily about racism though it might have been about spacism for those living in areas where they can’t get their children into schools or find it difficult to get an appointment to see their GPs. There were plenty of thoroughly intelligent people who voted out but perhaps the majority of those voting Leave were in areas where the speed of change in their environment had most impacted them on a daily basis.
Either way, I think the votes for Leave had very little to do with individual feelings about any one European or another. It was an anger with Brussels and our Government. I suspect the majority of us in the UK acknowledge the benefits we have enjoyed from closer relationships with our neighbours and appreciate those who have come to our country to live and work.
One thing I heard frequently was a lack of trust in authority figures or institutions. Prime Ministers, MPs, the IMF, the Bank of England have, over previous years, proved to be wrong on one score or another and cases of excess or expenses fraud have left a bad taste. The media are viewed with equal scepticism. And it is dangerous when people don’t feel they can trust anyone because, quite frankly, the majority of us in England were really not equipped to understand the complexities of what the EU membership represented. Each side bandied figures about but we all knew they couldn’t be certain about any of them – as the first day of market turmoil has shown. In truth I think the issues raised in the Referendum should have been handled in Parliament. Yes, it was democracy at work but without sufficiently objective explanation of facts and consequences it made the decision extremely difficult for many. On the day before the Referendum I met two charming and intelligent young girls in their twenties in my local deli, one English and one Latvian, still thrashing out the issues and trying to decide. After all the television and media coverage they were still confused.
From the various conversations I had, I think the result in some areas of England had more to do with the alienation of a certain class who felt unheard than it had to do with Europe. The anger was at the Government, at austerity, at a feeling that they had no voice and that successive governments have simply called them bigots rather than listening to their concerns. At some point, like Paris in 1789, the people rebel and throw their toys out of the pram – and everyone around has to face the consequences.
But the campaigns did not, in my view, help them choose carefully, nor help them fully understand the consequences to Europe and the world of coming out of the EU. The Remain Campaign did not reach the people and misread the feelings bubbling up in the heartlands of England. I did not receive any information leaflet from the Remain campaign whereas I received three from Leave. The only thing I received from Remain was a poster but it only arrived one day before the Referendum.
In the countryside there were Vote Leave posters everywhere. On the days before the Referendum they popped up on cars parked on roundabouts, in laybys and in windows. I only ever saw one Remain poster – where were they? It seems to me that the Remain campaign were only speaking to their own – to the professions, the City, the financiers. They didn’t get on their Battle Bus to reach out to people and if they did speak they seemed to speak in negative terms rather than to explain to people what actions they might be able to take to ease their problems if we did stay in. Plenty of people were wavering up until the last minute: perhaps they could have got out there and talked to them on their terms. And where on earth was Jeremy Corbyn to rally these troops to Remain?
The debate between the two sides generally ended in shouting and ranting. Getting to the truth of the impact of a decision was very hard.
It takes two to tango. Any divorce is instigated by two parties. So I believe the EU leaders also need to take responsibility for their part in this outcome. I feel angry that it is only now, after the event, that European presidents are saying “yes, I can see we do need to reform the EU…” and “perhaps we should now revisit the Treaty itself”. Why did it take this desperate and tragic situation to get them to understand that it is not just the UK that has been urging them to reform.
Angela Merkel’s open invitation came at a bad time for the lead-up for the Referendum and fired fears of uncontrollable immigration that our infrastructure could not cope with. The increasingly federalist tendencies of Brussels also concerned some. In the likely review that those in the EU leadership will conduct I hope that they will analyse these problems honestly because they cannot be pushed under the table now. Otherwise the Far Right, or Far Left, will take over – they are waiting to do so.
The world is in a fragile state. Putin may well be delighted by the destabilisation of Europe. ISIS warlords will be watching our vulnerability. We need to pull together. In any divorce there is a period of shock, rejection, anger, sadness but, as I said in my last blog, I hope that the leaders of the world rise above hurt, ego, punishment or revenge and put the good of the world first. I hope there will be a willingness to cooperate and overcome divisions as fast as possible as it will benefit all nations to do so. Above all I hope all parties will apply their wisdom to this sad situation.
Call me an optimist (my business was called Positiveworks!) but could this possibly be a Hegelian moment where the thesis (EU creation and history of 48 years) has been challenged by the antithesis (UK voting Leave) which could potentially lead to a synthesis that enables all countries to review treaties and alliances and bring them up to date to last a further fifty years into the 21st century in an optimal and transformed state? I sincerely hope so.
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We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60% based a turnout less than 75% there should be anot…
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