Winner of the 2014 Editorial Intelligence Independent Blogger of the Year award

Friday, 24 June 2016

The referendum earthquake

It was nasty, brutish and long, and now it’s over.

My overwhelming emotion is of sadness.

Not just because the referendum result is not the one I wanted, but because for the next several years, British politics will be dominated by endless negotiations, rows and crises over how to recalibrate our relationship with our neighbours. And because as our economy sinks back into stagnation, our major trading partners will themselves descend into political and economic turmoil. If you thought the referendum campaign was ugly, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

So many uncertainties have been created by yesterday’s vote that it is hard to know where to start. It is the biggest shock to global politics since the collapse of the Soviet empire more than 25 years ago.

First, the United Kingdom has never been less united: England (with the exception of London) and Wales voted to leave the EU; Scotland and northern Ireland voted to stay. In Scotland, the SNP says the vote again raises the issue of Scottish independence; in northern Ireland, Sinn Fein is talking about Irish unification.

Second, we are now in the constitutional absurdity of having a prime minister, as well as a Cabinet and House of Commons, the majority of whose members disagree fundamentally with the verdict of the voters. How on earth can they claim to be the right people to negotiate the UK’s exit from the EU, a course of action that they have been warning for months will spell national catastrophe?

Third, there will now be growing demands in other EU countries for similar in-out referendums. President François Hollande of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel both face elections next year – they will have their own political constituencies to take care of while simultaneously dealing with the UK’s demands for a favourable new deal. Guess which will be the higher priority for them.

But what saddens me most of all is that many of the people who voted Leave yesterday will be the ones who suffer most as a result of their decision. The foreigners who they believe have taken their jobs and houses will not suddenly be deported; the over-crowded schools and GPs’ surgeries will not suddenly empty; the out-of-touch elites whom they blame for their misfortunes will not suddenly hand over power to people’s tribunes.

The referendum was a roar of anger from voters who grabbed the opportunity to demonstrate their fury at the economic and social changes they have observed around them and which they neither welcomed nor accepted. ‘We want our country back’ is a powerful motivator; but what no politician had the courage to point out was that the country they yearn for has gone forever.

It is no surprise to learn that the nation is divided, but what the referendum has done is expose the divisions in painfully stark clarity. The haves have done very nicely out of the changes of the past 30 years, but the have-nots have not. Their jobs vanished, their pay stagnated, and their children have little chance of making a decent life for themselves. The rich got richer, but no one else did. Why did anyone think that was a sustainable way to run a modern economy?

What we need now is a leader who can heal the referendum wounds and speak across the national divide. David Cameron’s days as prime minister are clearly numbered; Boris Johnson will never be a convincing leader, however hard he tries, any more than Jeremy Corbyn will be. We enter an age of uncertainty, cast adrift into turbulent waters with no one at the tiller.


And the people with the biggest smiles on their faces are Nigel Farage, Neil Hamilton, Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump. Somehow, I can’t bring myself to share their delight.

19 comments:

David Love said...

A disastrous vote. I feel very very bitter, and I shall do so for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the impact of this decision in the next while leads to questions over national security, then the vote may actually be overturned!

Jonathan Maitland said...

Very good Robin. The paragraph that starts 'But what saddens me most of all...' hits the nail right on the head. The phrase 'this is what you voted for' will be trotted out more than once in the coming years I suspect...

Chris F said...

Spot on. Effectively this is a right-wing coup that shamefully exploited the millions it duped. And now it seems the perpetrators have no idea what to do next except to ask Cameron to stay on which he predictably refused to do, thus neatly getting out from underand on to a new career. Boris blathers, Trump cheers, and Putin laughs.

Ron White said...

Perfectly put. I feel numbed by what has happened. Many of the people who were duped into voting did so at what will prove to be great cost to their own well being -- a sad instance of false consciousness. The people who encouraged this false consciousness by playing on people's grievances have much to answer for.

Lynne Rees said...

Thanks you for expressing everything I feel so eloquently.

haggis said...

So easy to create a false consciousness when people are fed false images of the EU over time. Never informed of the benefits and the quiet good things achieved via our EU membership.

soulman1949 said...

Couldn't have put it better myself. This is what I've been saying to people since the horrendous news started to become a reality. "Take back control" was a snappy slogan that fooled the gullible who either didn't understand the consequences of their voting actions, or were duped into thinking that "Great Britain can do it alone" without realising it's an interconnected global economy. Today's 10% drop in Sterling and the massive falls on the stock market were predicted by dismissed as scaremongering by the Brexiteers - now we have to pay for it with our reserves.

Those who think that the £350 million will be miraculously redirected towards the NHS have a rude awakening in store - the Tories and UKIPers in the Brexit camp have no commitment to the NHS, never have had, so what makes anyone think they will have a Damascene conversion overnight? It started with Thatcher and her "there is no such thing as society" and now we will have a true Darwinian "survival of the fittest" economy. If you're rich then good for you, if you're not then tough luck.

I am 66 and cry for the younger generation that's been worked over by the Brexit camp and sold down the river by the over 50s. Right now, I wish I wasn't in the UK.

Peter Moore said...

I agree with everything in this article. Yesterday, 16 million people woke to find they had been sold down the river by self serving right wing politicians. Over the next weeks and months 17 million people will come to realise this as well as they begin to lose their jobs, face higher mortgage repayments and cope with a privatised NHS.
I am 69 and I am ashamed of my generation for letting down their children and grand children. The generation which experienced the message of peace, love and reconciliation in the sixties has betrayed it's own legacy and the youth of Britain.
Sadly I am also ashamed of being English.

Jane Turner said...

You've articulated my feelings perfectly. Yesterday I spent the day at a University Open Day with my 17 year old daughter and met others, like her, who were furious that they had been deprived the opportunity to vote on their future. These well informed, engaged young people have now got to live with the consequences of a 'duped' public many of whom won't even be around when the exit negotiations and trade deals have finally been re-negotiated.

Jane Morris said...

I like your writing very much and I agree with your view, but I'm a bit disappointed about "England (with the exception of London)". Manchester (61:39) didn't, neither did Leeds, two of the most important cities in England. And neither did many other places outside London, though a lot of places on the edge of London did. The divide isn't London/the rest, it's more complex. I don't expect you intended to cause trouble, but Londoners are a bit inclined to think they're unique. They're not, and we don't need any more divisions ....


Merv said...

You have articulated my feelings exactly on the subject too. I went from feeling shocked and saddened when I first heard the news to anger and frustration that such an important relationship is being ended in this way.

Anonymous said...

Hey Robin.... You are so ugly!

Peter Village said...

A superb analysis. I would merely add that the failure of the labour leadership to persuade their constituency to vote to remain was a major factor in the result

Anonymous said...

Thanks Robin ,agree with you an ft most of the others responses .this helps me fell not so alone .
You are not ugly by the way!,

NSW said...

Yes - slightly more grown up than @I told you so'.

Ivor Gaber said...

Iconoclastic thought: are we approaching a 'Norway' moment when MPs of all parties united to replace Chamberlain Govt with coalition led by Churchill. Can the overwhelming majority of Remainers vote, in good conscience, for a move that they believe (rightly in my view) will be disastrous for the future of the UK?

Chris F said...

Of course! Boris -- Man of Destiny.

Tim Simmons said...

Here's my best shot at explaining why this is fantastic news https://www.facebook.com/ProsperWithDemocracy/