Brexit “gets back” what was never lost — Boris Johnson has set up himself (or his successor) for failure when this becomes obvious. The consequences will be serious.
The vox pops in my social media feed on 31 January sent a shiver down the spine. There were comments on getting back “our freedom” (that we never lost), “our independence” (that we never lost), our “sovereignty” (that we never lost), our “democracy” (that we never lost) and “our industry” (that we have lost, but not because of the EU).
That’s a heady mix. On social media people were quick to lampoon these positions — with good reason — but people are believing them.
To bring over people who supported Brexit we need to expose the failings of the Johnson government as it unravels, so that “Rejoin” is the response to LeaveLies coming into focus.
Nothing has emerged since the start of the referendum campaign to suggest that Brexit promises anything more than serious harm — to the British economy, British culture and Britain’s standing in the world. That didn’t change at 2300 on 31 January.
But the way forward is more complicated than switching from #RevokeArticle50 to #RejoinEU — and not just because the process for rejoining is not so simple.
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. Continue reading “Brexit arrives: a day of sadness and grief”
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.
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.
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.
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.
The People’s Vote march on 19 October 2019 had a sadness to it — akin to depression — and which should be taken seriously.
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. Continue reading “Repercussions of a sadness around Brexit”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.