Brexit arrives: a day of sadness and grief

The arrival of Brexit is the triumph of nostalgia and folly. It’s Britain launching on a rash denial of reality with serious consequences. It’s turning our backs on an institution built to secure our future. It’s ripping us from our cultural heritage. It has dangerous historical associations. “Get Brexit done” is the political lie since the claim that the Great War would be “over by Christmas”.

As it happens I was in London on “Brexit Day” (though thought better of going near Parliament Square in the evening). I saw someone selling The Big Issue, with a front cover asking “Would the Kindertransport be welcomed now”. Yes, that is a reference to the Dubs amendment, rejected by parliament, that would have offered protection to unaccompanied children. But the xenophobia unleashed by Brexit is ugly. The stories of people who have lived in the UK for years being denied settled status brings up unsettling associations with the treatment of minorities — most especially Jewish people — in Hitler’s Germany. It’s easy to say that is “totally different”. But is it?

On a news stand I saw a copy of Le Monde. The headline “Brexit: L’Europe entre dans l’inconnu” (Brexit: Europe enters the unknown) fits with the front cover of The Economist — a ship captioned “into the unknown“. That’s a more realistic assessment than None of Boris Johnson’s crazy optimism.
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The age time bomb around Brexit

In the referendum the highest level of support for remaining in the EU was among young voters. Ignoring them sets the UK up for serious difficulties in the future.

In December 2018 I blogged a demographic analysis of the 2016 referendum result. The conclusion was that the deaths of older, predominantly Brexit-supporting voters leaving the electoral register, and predominantly Remain-supporting young people passing their 18th birthdays meant that the majority for leaving the EU would be gone by the end of 2019.

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General Election 2019: Labour’s failure dressed up as a Tory mandate

The surprise result of the 2019 General Election says more about Labour’s failure than the Conservatives’ success. It’s a mandate for not-Labour rather than an endorsement of the Tories. This is dangerous.

This was an election where Labour promised huge increases in borrowing, championing “the end of austerity” a “green industrial revolution” and a large number of nationalisations. Those with long memories will think of the situation the country was in during the 1970s. It’s a message that caught the idealism of young people. The snag is that it’s an idealism that risked also doing real damage.

On the Conservative side there was the option of Boris Johnson, full of confidence and bravado, promising an unattractive Brexit, avoiding media scrutiny and producing campaign claims which rarely survived the attentions of fact-checkers.
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Brexit party standing aside for the Tories coinciding with a Chinese investment decision — both are parts of a much bigger picture

Early in November 2019, the news that a Chinese company was buying what’s left of British steel injected some reality into the seriousness of Brexit party’s decision not to stand candidates against the Tories.

Jingye Group: buying British Steel

Sometimes the coincidence of what happens to appear in the same news broadcast is startling. 11 November 2019 saw the news that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party was not going to stand candidates against the Tories, and that the Chinese Jingye Group was to buy British Steel.

In the past many people voted Conservative because they saw it as the party of stability, and have had a rude awakening recently as it has abandoned that position for a strongly pro-Brexit and economically reckless position. It was looking as if the Conservatives’ chances would be reduced by Brexit party candidates siphoning off the pro-Brexit voters. Standing those down removed that threat and, by focussing on Labour seats, put pressure on Labour to support Brexit.
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Repercussions of a sadness around Brexit

The People’s Vote march on 19 October 2019 had a sadness to it — akin to depression — and which should be taken seriously.

People’s Vote march, 19 Oct 2019

A friend commented that she was struck by the sense of sadness. There was also fear, but much less of the carnival-like atmosphere of previous marches. One of the hallmarks of emotions in groups is that, if they affecting the whole group, they are less obvious because people don’t look around and see others in a radically-different space. My friend’s words called my up short, and made me wonder.

Freud’s essay Mourning and Melancholia suggests that the big difference between the two is that, in mourning there is real grieving for something that has been lost, such as after the death of a loved one, but in melancholia, though the sadness is real, but it’s not so clear what has actually been lost. That’s part of the territory of depression.

19 October 2019 was a day of high drama in Parliament — in its first Saturday sitting since the Falklands invasion. The media has been awash with speculation and interpretation — often adding more heat then light. Perhaps that’s justified, but I wonder if it was also a distraction from something much harder to name.

An un-nameable loss

I could point a finger at both the Conservative and Labour parties, suggesting that they’ve both lurched to extremes, leaving many of their traditional supporters with a sense of abandonment. I could point to the serious threat of Brexit, in both economic and cultural terms. But these have all been around for a while. They don’t adequately explain the sadness now.
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The sinister side of expecting people to produce ID in order to vote

The Tory proposal to require photographic ID to let people vote is a cynical attempt to stop some people voting and undermines trust in democracy. Both help Boris Johnson. Both are anti-democratic and erode trust in elections.

The Queen’s Speech on 19 October has been dismissed as an exercise in electioneering rather than a programme for government. Usually the Queen’s Speech outlines the government’s legislative programme, but as Boris Johnson seems very keen for an election in the very near future, this Queen’s Speech seems more getting the Queen to outline a Tory manifesto than a serious programme for government.

The inclusion of an item to require people to produce photographic ID in order to vote could sound innocuous. Turning up at a polling station and simply giving one’s name does sound like something that could be abused. But the Electoral Reform Society points out that there were just 8 allegations of voter impersonation in 2018, so this is hardly a problem.
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Avoiding Boris Johnson’s “People v Politicians election” trap

There is a very real risk of Boris Johnson’s newly right-wing Conservatives winning a snap election by the same distortion of truth and pedalling of fantasy that enabled Leave to win in the referendum.

Boris Johnson, making statement after Commons returned from unlawful prorogation

News of Dominic Cummings describing the present Brexit chaos as “a walk in the park” nails the idea that what’s been going on recently is an inept Prime Minister making a mess.

Boris Johnson has been talking of a “People v Politicians” election soon. He could do well, especially if he gets to dictate the timetable and force an election this autumn (as he seems to want).

Horror at his conduct is causing a surge of support for the Liberal Democrats, and there is the temptation to support an election because it will almost certainly produce many more Liberal Democrat MPs, but the real risk is that they will be opposing a deeply dangerous Johnson-majority government. Continue reading “Avoiding Boris Johnson’s “People v Politicians election” trap”

Brexit and the blindness of ambition, through the lens of the Mahabharata

The ancient text of the Mahabharata seems to speak into the latest craziness of Brexit — speaking of the folly that comes with blind ambition, and the price paid by the next generation.

Death of Duryodhan

For some time now I have been working my way through the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, serialised on Indian television in the 1980s, and now on youtube. At its core is a huge war between two sets of cousins. It’s sometimes cast as a war between truth and untruth. Like all wars, its causes are complex.

Part of the explanation is that king Vichitravirya’s elder son, Dhritarashtra, was born blind, so his younger brother, Pandu, was named Crown Prince. Dhritarashtra succeeds to the throne after his brother’s premature death. That contains the seeds of a deadly for succession between the sons of Pandu and of Dhritarashtra — not helped by Dhritarashtra’s blind loyalty to his son Duryodhan, despite his obvious rashness, which stands in marked contrast to the wisdom of Pandu’s elder son Yudhishthira.

This evening I’ve been watching episode 92. In which Duryodhan, the last of Dhritarashtra’s sons died. There is a telling exchange between Dhritarashtra and his courtier, Sanjay:
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Taking the government to court (again) over Brexit

Gina Miller has said she’d take the new Prime Minister to court if he tries to prorogue parliament, so it can’t debate or vote, to stop it blocking a “no deal” Brexit. The backlash says a lot about the dangerous forces that have been unleashed.

Proroguing parliament for political reasons didn’t work out well for Charles I

In the normal course of events, there is a Queen’s Speech at the start of each parlia­mentary session, and a prorogation at the end.

But there is a more extreme precedent: an unpliant parliament led to Charles I doing this. It produced a period of “personal rule” (1629–1640) — fuelling the resentments that led to civil war and his own execution.

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The People’s Vote needs to ask a different question if it’s not to be a re-run of 2016

It’s not enough to campaign for a People’s Vote: for people to vote differently the question needs to be different — and unambiguous-enough not to be mis-represented.

A piece by Otto English in the Byline Times in March made the point rather well:

“In 1931, eleven years after jailing Charles Ponzi for defrauding millions of dollars from ordinary people, the state of Massachusetts set about reimbursing his victims. In order to be compensated, all investors had to do was hand over proof of assets, for which they would be repaid 30 cents on the dollar. This meant a substantial loss for some but the alternative — was nothing. The state advertised the scheme widely and waited for injured parties to come forward.

But very few did.

Some were simply too embarrassed. Many more were determined to hold out, believing that somehow – despite facing multiple counts of larceny — Ponzi would come good on his promises.”

The People’s Vote needs to offer something new

People were offered something that was too good to be true — and were reluctant to give up on the hope they had brought into.

The parallels with Brexit are stark — a raft of promises which also turned out to be “too good to be true” fired people’s hopes. As with Ponzi, it is hard for people to admit that those hopes were false.

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Remembering the liberty message of the Liberal Democrats among the Brexit madness

The Liberal Democrat result in the European Elections has shown that the #BollocksToBrexit message has finally got through. But my twitter feed in the last couple of days makes me think that our position on civil liberties is also very relevant to the chaos around Brexit and all that this stirs up for people.

Recently there was an article in the Telegraph about secret talks between some Tory donors and Nigel Farage with a view to a pact to avoid Tory Brexiteer and Brexit Party candidates standing against each other.

My twitter feed had a string of comments from people alarmed at this. The sharpest I saw was from @bulshdetector on 16 June 2019: Continue reading “Remembering the liberty message of the Liberal Democrats among the Brexit madness”

Leave.EU (wrongly) blaming fallout of referendum on Sadiq Khan

Leave.EU’s latest recruitment advert tries to blame Sadiq Khan for the socially-destructive fallout of the referendum. It’s time to call out this this hypocrisy.

Sadiq Khan

A recruitment advert from Leave.EU turned up in my twitter feed this morning which shows an extract of an interview with Sadiq Khan quoted out of context, and a transcript of part of that, giving an impression which is not just wrong, but fascinatingly and revealingly wrong. It reads:

WATCH: “Gun crime is up, robbery is up, knife crime is up, rape is up… and you think honestly that London is more safe now than when you took over as Mayor of London?”

@SadiqKhan: “I do.”

The stone cold loser is dangerously delusional…

Support us at (and links to the “get involved” page of their web site)

The London Assembly web site does indeed provide information on an increase in crime, but the levels are low. There’s not much chance of an individual being directly affected (unless they are already involved in drugs or other criminal). As a frequent visitor to London, my instincts echo Sadiq Khan’s comment — it feels safe.

There are some big “buts”… not least, the fact that I am white and have a British accent, so I’m not likely to be the target of xenophobic attack.

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