Sitting quietly at a table in a French gite, the day after Britain voted to leave the EU. It is early morning, pre-coffee and possible croissants. I am listening to the birds. I find myself in dismayed contemplation of the crassness of my own country. Voting ‘Leave’ was not really a vote to leave the EU, but a protest against ill-defined grievances. A vote for ‘things’ to change for the better. No one understood the arguments of either side, which were in any case biassed by the self-interest of those who spun them, and no one can forecast the exact consequences of this throw of the dice. A day later, and chaos has already nudged the pinball onto a danse macabre that has already stirred the unstable socio-political edifices of the world. Yes, Britain, we are part of a bigger and much more complicated world. Yes, the UK is part of the machinery of the world, it cannot be sealed from it. Nor can it be seen as a microcosm for the rest of the planet, because what is seen as ‘better’ by other people does not correspond to what the average Briton thinks as an ideal. We can’t even agree on that amongst ourselves.
I am not going to attempt a political analysis – that is outwith my acuity. I will remark upon the consequences of a nominally democratic vote, so narrowly won by the ‘Leave’ campaign, upon the country as a whole, and not representative of what the country as a whole wants. I will remark that those who will bear the burden of this action for the long-term future had a limited opportunity to vote. They had to be over 18. Frankly, the adults of Britain had limited acuity to make such a decision. Adults, who are supposed to have experienced a process of formal education, and presumably as a process of continuing self-development, attempted to absorb some of the material so readily available to them about the ‘facts’ of the situation with the EU. It seems not. That is not how it works in real life. People get locked in their personal vision of the way things are. Many were frightened by the vision they had of their country, or angry at feeling excluded. For them, it was a protest vote. Others, I fear, looked no further than the end of the street they live in, no further ahead than the day after the plebiscite, when the magic wand would suddenly change everything. When they had taken back ‘control’. They were manipulated by leaders whose self-interest for their political careers and ambitions for ‘independence’ closed their vision to the wider consequences. None had a realistic expectation of Brexit actually happening. There was no exit plan. It was a ploy to curry favour with the electorate for business within the EU as normal after the vote. Control is now well and truly a thing of the past. The demon is nudging the ball.
The vote should have been extended to younger people, probably even younger than 16. Much of what I have heard from youth heartens me far more than the stuff I am hearing from the frothing right-wing old guys, whose main reasons behind Brexit are to serve their own career ambitions. Yet people have listened to them offering easy and populist sound-bites. Already, they have had to back-track on the truth of some of it, the very a day the result was announced. These are not the leaders in whose hands I would wish to place the future of my country, nor the safety and well-being of my children. There are no plans for a general election, which is now the only conscionable course of action. Given the enfeebled and dysfunctional state of the party political and electoral system in Britain, and quality of our politicians, this will not be a magic solution.
It seemed that the stability of British politics was anchored by the ballast of institutions, which added inertia into the system and prevented crazy lurches between political settings. Simply offering folk a yes/no on whether we should leave the EU with no exit strategy was a crazy idea in itself, like taking the gearbox out of a running engine. It becomes a criminally crazy idea when it was used as a political incentive (one that was never actually expected to pull the plug on our membership, but a matter of gamesmanship). It is an act of utter cruelty to the young folk of Britain that they had no say in this. We need change to the way things run in Britain, but this is not the right way.