Post-Brexit: What Kind of Change?

27/06/2016 15:54

Having taken some days to reflect on the consequences of waking up in a post-Brexit nation last Friday, one thing has been absolutely clear from the outset: this country needs a change. One other thing has been perhaps clearer still: the most necessary change isn't any of the available outcomes of the referendum, but in the way we conduct our political conversation.

There's widespread agreement on both sides that state of the discourse on this subject since campaigns began has been shambolic. On the 'remain' side, it's been flabbergasting to hear the 52% who voted to leave this country praised, at the very least, for their engagement with a tricky political issue.

On the Rightist Brexit side, we've seen the assimilation and galvanisation of a form of nationalism - one that's gotten very good at pretending to be pluralist, whilst shovelling in second-helpings of outrageous spin and fear-narratives about immigration through the back door.

We were told by every reputable economic source that the GBP's value would likely fall dismally post-Brexit. Now it has: we all watched it with folded arms as it crashed to its lowest exchange rate since 1985. What's been the response from the 'leave' opposition? "Well, who knows what's going to happen now? It might go back up."

We were told by every reputable source that GDP would plummet almost instantly. Now it has. What's been the response from the 'leave' opposition? "Well, maybe it'll go back up."

We were told by every reputable source that the FTSE100 would resemble a Shakespearian bloodbath by midmorning on Friday if we were to leave the European Union. It did. What was the response from the opposition? "Well," (after the tiniest share increase) "look, we told you it'd go back up".

"Well, no one really knows what's going to happen," has been the mantra of this nationalist ideology - and, given that every tangible piece of data and information of the negative consequences of Brexit have either simply been ignored or obfuscated with fabricated figures, and that the only other motivation to leave has been immigration, that's what it must be. Well, I'm sorry. You were told extensively and with clarity, if you'd been paying attention, what the socioeconomic forecast was like and, so far, we've seen it borne out like some script for a twisted parody.

Whatever leave campaigners and their electorate have been engaging with, they haven't been tracking politics, much less any information that could give them any insight on the consequences of leaving the EU. And the remain camp have had the audacity to praise this, with a nod of the head and a "Good show, old chap, eh? Well done on a political issue well-engaged."

It seems that two mechanisms have informed this, providing cover for these views based on lies to spread like a contagion: first, the 'remain' side's apparent reluctance to moderate xenophobia from the opposition, or at least criticise them for it; second, their willingness to stamp on anyone who tried because, if you do, "well, now you're just being irrational".

This is a failure which has had terrifying consequences. Generic attitudes represented by statements like "I'm not a Little Englander, but..." followed up by something that sounds suspiciously like overt, institutional racism just won a national referendum because the Left has failed to respond or even communicate frankly about the infantile, tribal intuitions about foreigners that have fuelled this debacle, in spite of all the evidence that shows them to be false. Films from directors with track records of misrepresentation and obfuscation have been allowed to gain serious purchase and, in many quarters of social media, go viral.

Driving your car full-kilter towards a cliff face because giant winter bats might appear and echolocate you to safety is not the way to conduct your journey planning, and we have to be able to criticise that thought process honestly, based on evaluation of its consequences and call it what it would be - stupid. So too should we be able to unreservedly moderate our discussion on polarising issues and call dangerous ideological motives, unashamedly uninformed by evidence, by their right name without pretending them to have noble causes just for the sake of civility, or because it's easy.

With the feverish nightmare of the voting over, it's high time for both sides to start being honest.