Like many people, it's taken me a while to get my thoughts together post-Referendum. It's been four days and no, I'm still not over it. It's hard to get over it when all around seems to be crumbling.
And it really doesn't feel like I'm the only one who is feeling unhappy. Even the leaders of the Brexit campaign have been looking miserable, as if the very thing they craved has turned into something poisonous. Our German neighbours would probably make a "Gift" pun around now. You might have thought Boris and Mike would have planned for this eventuality - that Brexit would win and Cameron would leave and someone would take control but no, no-one has a plan. The economy is wobbling, the Leave voters are wobbling and no-one is getting any hospitals built, let alone one a week.
I think we maybe all got confused with that other European competition that's going on right now - the one where there are battles and heartbreak but ultimately, there is a clear winner, who gets to cheer and throw victory parades while the losers slink away to lick their wounds. Everyone who didn't win has to feel depressed for a while but dya know what? It blows over. You get another penalty shoot out in a couple of years. And, if you're England, chances are you'll screw it up yet again and add yet more years to those thirty of hurt (which is already fifty, but who's counting?) But life continues as normal. No one dies.
In contrast, the Referendum has more in common with the First World War which is an overused example but I'm going to channel Britain First and go with it. The Referendum campign was bloody, complicated, grim and by the end no-one really knew what the big vision was any more. The foot soldiers battled each other daily, on social media rather than in the trenches, but it was all being controlled by Public School boys who were sticking pins into a map at random. And there have certainly been casualties already - Cameron, most of the Shadow Cabinet, RBS' share price - and there will be more. I can't say I'm looking forward to living in the United Kingdom of England, Wales and the Isle of Wight and now it seems my plans to retire to Spain may be put in jeopardy so I'm stuck here for the foreseeable. !Ay Caramba!
So, who did win? No-one really. Even the most jubilant of Leave voters has probably felt the victory soured a little by the general feeling of malade . The only winner is all of this has been an abstract noun - its name is scaremongering.
And it's done really, really well over the last few weeks, on both sides of the campaign. Politicians and journalists alike have been fuelling fears of swarms of immigrants, a desecrated NHS and a 2000AD-esque future in the European Superstate. It was a campaign characterised by ugly stereotypes - from Farage gurning in front of his "Breaking Point" poster to the outcry against the older generation who voted to Leave but who wouldn't have the decency to live fifty years and see how it panned out.
I don't blame anyone who voted out of fear. I have fallen for scaremongering tactics more times than I care to count - there was the scrubbing of my newborn with antibac gel during the Swine Flu "epidemic" , there was the sharing of posts on Facebook about their gross and, it turns out, non-existent privacy violations. The messages coming from the right-wing wing of the media were carefully calculated to create panic in the heartlands of England - you may not have any immigrants in your town now, they say, but wait till you have hundreds of thousands of extra Eastern Europeans pouring into the country. Even now, after the result has been announced, they're still at it - 500K are still expected apparently. It's striking that the areas with fewest immigrants had the highest proportion of Leave voters - look what happens when you place an immigration map next to the Referendum map (and apologies to Northern Ireland and Scotland for their absences on the first map):
Of course, there were other issues entwined in the EU debate but immigration/multiculturalism was certainly a headlining act. And if the multicultural hubs of London and Manchester voted that they were quite happy with all these immigrants flooding in, then why was anyone else even bothered? Because of a kind of misguided patriotism? Because of an innate mistrust of anyone who looks or acts differently to you? Or because of the constant refrain from the media and from the right wing parties that Britain is losing its identity, that Sharia Law is going to supercede our own laws, that the open borders of the EU are facilitating a flow of refugees that will eventually bankrupt this country? All these things played their part, but it was fear that drove many to hand our country's future over to the likes of Johnson and Farage. I'm not saying that every Leave voter was a racist - and for the record, no one in the history of this referendum has ever said "Every Leave voter is a racist". I have no idea why I keep having to refute that. But I would be confident in saying that a large proportion of Leave voters had fears and at least some of those fears of some of those voters involved immigrants.
We on the Remain side had our own fears - we worried about the rise of aggressive nationalists. Some of us even witnessed the EDL marching through Walthamstow last year, on the hunt for Muslims and recalled with a shudder the blackshirts of the 30s. We were concerned about the economy. We were afraid that the the tabloids would whip up such a storm of hysteria that a Leave vote seemed like the only way to protect our national identity. We feared that the end result would be the absolute opposite of that - not so much a renewed sense of national identity as a completely broken one, with huge bits of the Union missing and the government in tatters.
The Leave side may well feel that their fears won't now come true - although the Brexiteers are U-turning on promises so fast that next week may well see Boris piloting his own yacht over to Syria to pick up a boatload of refugees. Whether our fears are justified remains to be seen, but the clouds of a financial apocalypse are gathering fast. Whatever happens, fear has scored a huge victory in British hearts and minds...but that's the only victory I'm seeing from here.
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