There was no greater symbol of the political climate we live in today than that of the Vote Leave battle-bus. Paraded around the country plastered with a giant lie, it was proud of its falsehood. It simply did not care, as if the line between a truth and lie no longer matters. We are now entering an era of 'post-truth' politics. It is here that the loudest liar can become King. It's in this climate that the dire economic warnings from institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the Bank of England, the OECD, can be dismissed as 'project fear' -- a simple sinister collusion of vested interests against the masses.
The rejection of rationalism is an infection spreading on all sides of the political debate. I've see this phenomenon on both the Left and the Right. Michael Gove saying that "people in this country have had enough of experts" is the same as Paul Mason crying to the crowd at Glastonbury to "switch off the TV and trust internet networks and each other". The rise of the internet and social media has meant voters can easily access information from sources tailored to reflect nothing but their own views back to them. It makes for a toxic environment in which discomforting facts can be waved away as lies of the 'mainstream media' or 'elites'.
Boris Johnson has made a career from anti-intellectualism and is a very British demagogue. He has shown that he'd send his country down the river with blustering aplomb if it would further his political ambitions. His response to independent experts and institutions warning against Brexit was to delegitimize, dismiss and smear them. When it was pointed that the Leave campaign's promise to spend £110billion on replacing EU subsidies to the arts, science, farmers and deprived regions would leave a £40billion hole in our economy, their response was illuminating. The Institute for Fiscal Studies were liars, in the pocket of Brussels, and therefore cannot be trusted.
Hearing the reasons why Leave voters chose Brexit has left me with a bitter taste my mouth. I cannot help feeling my nation has been played for a fool. Many Brexit voters wanted a strong welfare state, solid communities, and fairer share of our metropolitan wealth. But the Brexit Leaders such as Gove, Hannan and Carswell had no plans for these concerns. They are a bunch of renegade free marketeers tired of trade regulations. They are fantasists who hold a romantic image of a tax haven Britain, free from the shackles of a European Social Chapter. These are not ardent social democrats fighting for your NHS.
Many people who supported Brexit did so because of genuine concerns with uncontrolled immigration. The slogan 'take back control' was a dogwhistle we all heard. When Nigel Farage unveiled that chilling poster, the silence from Johnson and co was deafening. The Leave campaign leaders were happy to stoke up the fears over immigration, to turn on their own principles, and knowingly paint a false impression of what a post-EU Britain would look like.
The leading Brexiteers wanted us to stay in the EEA or to be in a similar arrangement with our European counterparts. Doing so would mean we would have to sign up to the principle of free movement of people. Voting Leave was never going to lead to a reduction in immigration. Only hours after the referendum result was announced the Leave campaign began to row back from their immigration 'pledges'.
I felt dismay at how many people felt that sabotaging our economy will only hurt 'the elites' and politicians, but I can see where this feeling comes from. There are those in Britain who have never experienced the 'recovery' of our economy since 2008. There are many stranded in low-pay transient work who feel adrift and alienated from our wealthier metropolitan centres. What weight does rational argument have when you feel like you've got nothing to lose?
Gove and Johnson's big trick was offering a populist lie that leaving the EU was going to cure all our governments' failings over the past few decades. Yet voting Leave was never going to reduce inequality and our country's 'Londoncentricity'. Areas such as Cornwell and Western Wales will be massively harmed by the loss the EU regional development fund. Wealth will continue to pool in The City.
The Brexiteers led us down this path knowingly and here we are. Within hours of the referendum result the pound had plummeted and our economy had already fallen behind France's. I fear this is an indicator on things to come. When you take a knife to our economy, you don't just harm City traders and 'elites', you harm us all. It was Grayling, Gove and Johnson who fanned the flames of populism, offered all things to all men, and handed us the knife.
As Gove, Johnson and Hannan rode forward on the waves of Farage's fearmongering and bigotry, I wonder if they thought about the consequences. Now they'll be free to play with our country's course; free from pesky bureaucrats, regulations and tax, but they'll do so in a country whose soul has been torn in two.
The concerns of Leave voters will not be addressed by this referendum result. Over the next few years it will be these voters who will end up more angry, disengaged and disaffected than ever before.
I fear for our country. I look at our lack of faith in institutions and the mainstream media with great trepidation. If you want to see where this new rejection of rationalism and intellectualism has taken us, cast your eyes across the pond. Idiocy is celebrated by no one but the populist. Throw into the mix 17 million Leavers who will soon find themselves betrayed, and we have a society ripe for a beast even greater than Boris Johnson.Suggest a correction