Where to begin? What’s happening in UK politics right now is, to be honest, way over my head. However, since I spent so much time and energy trying to convince people to vote remain I feel like I should just unleash the deluge of thoughts floating around my brain right now.
I awoke on Friday at Glastonbury to the devastating news that the UK had voted to leave the European Union. My immediate reaction was overwhelming grief and anger that we could let this happen. When we really inspect the two referendum campaigns closely, we can see that the “leave” side presented no real facts at all. No plan for a post-Brexit UK, no tangible case for leaving the EU. The referendum was won largely on jingoistic rhetoric and a false sense of “smashing the establishment” (even though the leave campaign itself consists largely of establishment figures who have no intention of delivering more power to the average citizen). The official Stronger In campaign was run very poorly, but at least the arguments for staying had a little substance behind all the scaremongering.
The majority of our elected parliament (who we voted for only a year ago, and trust to make important decisions for us), world leaders and international allies, the biggest trade unions, our top scientists, some of the biggest business leaders and a majority of economic experts told us we were better off staying in the EU. The average person, including myself, has nowhere near the amount of expert knowledge required to make an informed decision on EU membership, and yet 51.9% of the population have ignored the overwhelming expert consensus and voted to leave.
I was consoled by the outward-looking solidarity and internationalism on display at Glastonbury. EU flags flew high all weekend, along with the national flags of many EU member states and other countries beyond. Most of the acts were openly critical of the result, and urged us to reach out not only to our European neighbours and Syrian refugees, but also to those who had voted to leave to show them that there is another way. This was always met with an uproar of approval from a majority of the crowd. At a panel on the implications of Brexit on Saturday, a young French woman raised the point that she now considered herself to be unwelcome in the UK. There was an immediate, unanimous reaction of love and reassurance from hundreds of people in the immediate vicinity. My emotional reaction tamed, I was primed to approach the result in a reasonable and sensible manner. Until I got home this morning and caught up on the news from the last three days…
The state of the UK
It’s bizarre to be out of the loop for just a few days and arrive back in the middle of such a colossal shitstorm. The Labour Party is absolutely imploding, with Corbyn and his team apparently taking the blame for Brexit, when it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain cell that Labour voters were disillusioned with establishment politics long before Corbyn was elected. At a time when the political left should be seizing the opportunity to set the post-Brexit agenda, the official opposition have descended into all-out civil war.
On the political right, prominent leave campaigners are suddenly more subdued than they were during the campaign. Quietly back-peddling on their lies and useless nationalistic rhetoric as the case for Brexit unravels and doomsday predictions about the Sterling, the FTSE and the break up of the United Kingdom appear to be coming true. David Cameron’s resignation has left his successor with the awkward task of initiating the withdrawal process, something Boris Johnson and Michael Gove seem reluctant to do now that the UK’s future is their responsibility. Could it be that, like the bookies and the stockbrokers, they didn’t think Leave would actually win?
The only party leader that comes out of this mess well, the only person with a real plan for Brexit, is Nicola Sturgeon. Scotland looks set to engage in a second independence referendum, and the EU may welcome it back with open arms if it breaks away from the rest of the UK. I, for one, can see myself returning to live there permanently if events work out that way.
Whatever happens now, whether the Brexit actually occurs or whether parliament desperately makes a u-turn, it’s clear that something needs to change. There is an appetite for a new kind of politics in the UK. The people want constitutional change, and we should seize the opportunity and the precedent set by this vote to begin a radical overhaul of our own governance. We should now seek to implement proportional representation for the whole United Kingdom, using either the STV or AMS voting system. We should question the need for a hereditary head of state in this day and age, and we definitely need to reform the house of lords. Unless we implement these changes, with or without Brexit, the UK will continue to be run by an out-of-touch elite fostering further hatred among the working and middle classes.
We should also look at the rise of hatred and anti-intellectualism in mainstream politics. Division, lies and intentional over-simplification do nothing to help the public make informed decisions at the ballot box, and do everything to nurture the growing rift between left and right, old and young, and people of different ethnic backgrounds. The current path we’re on is dangerous, the next steps we take need to be carefully considered and completely free of the personality politics we’ve grown accustomed to.
Let’s try to make this work for all of us.