ON THE FIRST DAY OF BREXIT, MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME…
….A heavy dose of despair and despondency.
By the seventh day, that feeling still lingered.
These chills rattled me to the bone such that I thought nothing could be as bad. And then the realisation struck me. It could be about to get a whole lot worse. Maybe what is needed is a tincture of the kind of optimism that the Brexiteers have been taking.
A week on from B-day and the aftermath has come. Bewilderment is hanging like a fog. No one really knows where to go from here. A power vacuum has emerged. The political class is convulsed in a human drama the likes of which has not been seen since the bad old days of union-breaking in 1984, or even the Suez debacle of 1956. With emotions running wild, an equilibrium has yet to settle. A consensus on what direction the country will take seems unlikely, even in the long term. One thing is for sure, the polls reveal a nation we all knew was riven apart by the forces of class, geography, age, education and outlook, but were too afraid to face up to the fact. Now it’s official and the whole world knows. Hairline fractures are opening up elsewhere with similar socioeconomic conditions, which means everywhere in some form or another.
Believers in the European project let their despondency form dark clouds overhead. They know the corrective measures Europe has taken since the Treaty of Rome in 1957 not to repeat her woeful history of one war after another is a 60 year-old lesson in harmony about to be unlearned. The five stages of grief will almost certainly ensue. Right now the those on the side of defeat hover between disbelief and denial. The disenchanted outcasts, who were never really enchanted with anything continental, think this divorce is going to be a panacea for all their ills. And it will feel that way until many find out to their own dismay that not much will change so long as money’s moving east to the Pacific and globalisation is still outsmarting mother nature, making fools of men and gods of monsters. The fundamentals of their life will not change for the better because they will not change the world any more than the world will change them.
Brexiteers see the shackles coming off. Unfortunately, these shackles not only silenced the liberty bell, they also kept in check the primitivist and atavistic instincts that kept Europeans at each others throats for centuries. Far from a revolutionary spirit having been released from the bottle these past few days, the miasma in the air is more reactionary than anything. The majority of the rejectors snubbed the only metonym of a faceless globalisation they knew – the EU – not for radical reasons, but for deeply conservative ones. Brussels became that byword for all that was wrong in large part because the daily diet of tabloid drivel had been peddling it through decades of sniping and badmouthing, which of course stoked the latent prejudices of the home guard readership.
Left behind on the dock of change, Dad’s Army, which is basically what the Brexiteer movement is, watched their ship sail. Few boarded it; fewer still could afford the ticket. Globalisation didn’t work for them. Yet beyond the EU, globalisation will continue unabated and it still won’t work for them. And by then it’ll be too late to act on the truth that, however unwieldy it was, the EU was ultimately a force for human decency and restraint. It tried to do the right thing at the wrong time. It brought the tide of war into its refuge not because it wanted to further put a strain on already strained and fragmented communities; it did it because it wanted to ameliorate their suffering. That’s the moral thing to do. When the alternative is a Trump-like unsympathizer who considers outsiders as vermin, then even the most egregious decision made at the supranational level in Strasbourg or Brussels will somehow seem mitigated by the immensely difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves presently. Closing in on ourselves, if it’s to have any ultimate benefit, will at least expose the true ringleaders whose failures landed so many people in such a cycle of despair. The outing of this homegrown elite might level the playing field for the little man. They’re going to be sorely disappointed when the rogues who stand by and let their towns decay turn out to be their own fellow countrymen, albeit a new tiny class of merchant with their eyes on the prize from new markets in far flung places among old Commonwealth allies.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as our former French political partners say.
Some of those who were quick to announce a long overdue divorce are already sullen with regret, unsure in the light of a new day whether it was right to storm out of the marital home. Emotion has stabbed an arrow into the eye of common sense. Even the blind are beginning to see that. The more egregious the mistake the sooner the realisation dawns on people.
To be quite honest, the British were already ambivalent about a club in which they considered themselves too good to play by the rules. Like a flaky lover who stays when the going is good and threatens to quit when the times are tough, the plebiscite who would seek set the nation adrift from the continent chose a perfect moment to deliver the death knell when the EU was down and reeling from a succession of blows. The rejection was cruel and humiliating in its untimeliness. When the very idea of Europe was under threat from agents both inside and outside its border, it needed its big guns to rally to its defence with new resolve. Instead its biggest military force and second largest economy, the UK, waited until the EU was under fire to desert and form its own faction. No wonder the moderates on the Continent are seething.
Perfidious Albion! The French coined that one, too. Maybe Napoleon was right, England is that nation of shopkeepers.
So after thirty years of getting chronically dissed by the British populist media, Brussels is now free to pursue a less persecuted agenda. The chickens have come home to roost on a British Government who have been itching for this moment. It was their spin doctors, backbenchers and press secretaries, after all, that fed the tabloids with a lifeline of meretricious slurs which they knew would be gobbled up by Saxon John Bull during his tea break, further reaffirming his lingering second world war suspicions about the intentions of politicians in far off Berlin and Paris, speaking funny tongues he doesn’t understand. That formula sold lots of newspapers. It also, ironically enough, ultimately sold the country up the river.
Onto what now will the tabloids heap ridicule? Now the most visible target has been riddled with bullshit buckshot, who now will come into the cross-hairs of English public opinion? Truth is, there’s nobody left for the popular press to pillory other than the real elites. Will John Bull turn his ire on his elders and betters with their posh accents and taste for black olive paste on ciabatta?
The shires have packed up and gone, in a direction not even they can tell, and Europe will be all the better for it.
Globalisation worked for those who were willing to get out there and seek. And one did not have to be an Oxbridge graduate to sign up for that adventure. For all but the most industrious and entrepreneurial who refused to budge, only the slim pickings from globalisation were left them – the wishbone instead of the breast, so to speak. It was their rejection of something that was always over a horizon they shunned that has set in train this decline of integration, across Europe and far beyond.
Those who agitate for a renaissance of their small town, postindustrial communities, many fail to appreciate that their now moribund surrounds were once gleaming products of nineteenth century globalisation and that their ancestors followed the new money trail there from the bleak prospects of country life in search of the opportunity that the rail and manufacturing revolution afforded them. They were migrant workers in search of a better life even then. In 2016 we head for the Middle East in search of a solvent future; in 1816 it was the Midlands.
Those who got left behind have little inclination to go forward. By voting for change many, in a paradoxical sense, want the world to change for them. Though, as we all know in our heart of hearts, it is we who shape the world. Middle England has spoken. But who among them will care to listen?