You may have heard that the UK had a referendum on whether or not to stay in the European Union.
Over here the build up seemed to have been going on forever, as one establishment figure after another, or representative of enormous organisations, stepped up to tell the British public to just say no to leaving the EU. The government itself used public funds to distribute leaflets to deliver that message. All mainstream party leaders united in telling the public to just say no. The president of the United States made a point of telling us that we had better not leave the EU, otherwise we would be at the back of the queue.
There were threats and dire warnings, and then came the stereotypes. People who wanted to leave the EU were thick, xenophobic, racist, foreigner hating, old white men. They weren’t the young generation, and they were selfish, and old. They hadn’t seen the coke advert. Then tragically, an MP was shot dead by a right wing lone wolf extremist (terrorist is not too strong a word to use in principle, though a context of a pattern of attacks helps to clarify such phenomena), and this was shamelessly exploited to turn her into a martyr for the EU, and an indictment of every wish for British independence from the EU.
Basically, the emotion was ramped up and every possible figure was wheeled out to tell the public how they should vote. It became an identity thing for some people. You can’t vote to leave the EU, because it would make you that kind of person. Consequently, if you did want to leave the EU, you were automatically classed as that kind of person. At least in media world. Shiny people versus old, fat slob world down the pub, or shopping at Lidl. That kind of thing. Tellingly, it seemed to be the “left” that had the greatest disgust for what were basically working class people. Just the people in fact, that the EU couldn’t give a shit about, when it came to the interests of globalised capital. Just ask Greece.
Unusually for this country, the referendum was an instance where every vote counted. And it was a referendum where the information wasn’t a matter of easily digested facts and choices. There was a lot of exaggerated claims on both “sides”, and people had to look for the information themselves, and make independent decisions. That made it a very interesting exercise in popular democracy. And people really did engage, in terms of both interest and voter turn out (though not so much in the case of the young apparently, until it came to complaining after the fact on social media).
Come the morning of 24th June it was clear that the public had chosen, on balance, to leave the EU, by a margin of just under 4%. So it was close, but what made it significant was that this was a decision made against every threat and discouragement from establishment figures, and no support from any mainstream political party leadership, and a pretty clear media bias against it. People had been told they would very probably pay for this decision at least in the short term, and had been expected to be fretful and anxious and play ball, but they didn’t. It turned out they care about some things more.
The response to this has been howls of rage, bitterness, and paranoia from some of the people who didn’t get their way, which has been echoed by the spurned media and professional opinion formers. What could they have cared about more?! Why, racism, fascism, hatred of foreigners, obviously! It wouldn’t, it couldn’t occur to these observers that people might actually care about something positive, and be seeking to ensure its well-being. That old people might not just be stupid and selfish. That the Leavers weren’t actually white supremacists. That a bureaucratic, all too unaccountable political project wasn’t “Europe”. That we were always going to be part of Europe, just like Iceland, and Norway, and countless other bits of the non-EU. That there were “foreigners” outside of the EU that we had always had relations with, thanks very much.
They’ll get over it, once they’ve stopped calling for old people to be banned from voting, or London to declare independence from the UK. They’ll get over it.
I’ve never seen the country as a whole be this involved in thinking about and participating in political decision making. You can’t run everything like this, as a referendum on everything, but it has been a dose of medicine for the sense people have that nothing they care about matters, or is taken seriously, or given credence by the political and professional classes. And that is a good thing, and probably one of the best inoculations against the kind of far right populism that the left claims to despise, but only encourages through its disgust for the common people it once said it would serve, as it hands the concerns of ordinary people over to the far right, as something dirty, unworthy and unenlightened. As it busies itself with identity politics and virtue signalling. As both left and right choose globalism over most people’s lives.
Well done Britain. You honoured something of your own.