I, like many others I know, feel a very deep sense of loss and sadness a hundred times worse than losing a general election. So many people have said that it feels like someone has died. So what are we mourning?
I think we are mourning our citizenship. In our wordy literature we failed to punch home that it was all about citizenship and not sovereignty.
Citizenship is part of who we are. Our passports define us as British and European Union citizens. Having both worked and holidayed in Belgium, Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Finland, I value that EU citizenship. We are being stripped of our European Citizenship against our will by deliberate liars, xenophobic thugs and people who simply didn’t understand the implications of what they were being asked to vote.
I was most proud of my British citizenship when we untied and waved the Union Flag for Team GB at the 2012 Olympics. Britain felt good and so united that people even spoke to each other on the London tube trains. More to the point, we stood on the international stage as a great inclusive country.
Today I feel sickened rather than proud. What a different and divided place Britain is now. In spite of all the work Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and the Labour Party put into persuading Scotland not to break away from Britain in 2014, it is now probably going to happen anyway. In another referendum the Scots will have every reason to leave, especially if they can remain in the EU. The awful Leave union flag-wavers who now want to tear down all EU flags on our soil may well soon have to watch their union flags being dismantled as Scotland leaves us.
The divisions don’t end there. Younger people on average feel let down by cynical, older voters. Cities like my home town of Bristol, where 63% voted Remain, are angry and depressed about having their EU membership taken away from them. Londoners feel the same way and Boris Johnson (deservedly) may never be able to cycle again in London as so many angry Londoners want to get to him.
The referendum was not something that was universally wanted but came about only because of the deep divisions in the Tory Party. The issues are difficult and complex, the campaigning was lying, deceitful and hate-filled. While we in the Labour Party clearly have divisions and know how to tear ourselves apart, ours are not so toxic as to split our country.
“Project Fear” was accused of outrageously predicting things that were unimaginable. However, only a few days after the vote and before exit has begun our country is in meltdown, the wheels have fallen off our political system, major companies are freezing investment in the UK while they decide whether to exit Britain altogether; billions of £s have been wiped off the value of shares (Virgin Airlines lost a third of its value) and the pound, which UKIP and the Leave mob branded as their big symbol, is already worth far less than it was last week. With the threat of Scotland leaving then people must begin to realise that many of the worst case scenario claims of “Project Fear” are actually bang on the money.
Leave made much of immigration; while in reality it was not the real issue. It served as a dog whistle to the hyped up “I hate foreigners” brigade. Taking back our borders (a Leave claim) in truth will have no positive effect on immigration and might mean that the French will now let Syrian refugees out of France and over the channel. The real effect of “taking back control” will only be to end the booze cruises and cheap drinks and fags, which many I suspect don’t realise that they have voted to end.
We were told that the immigration backlash was nothing to do with racism. However this week we see horrendous news footage of white supremacist thugs in places like Canvey Island, an eastern European working single mother being harassed to “go back to where she came from” by a white thug with swastikas tattooed over his arms, and an 11 year old Polish school boy being handed a letter warning him to leave the UK or else. Racist attacks and abuse are on the increase and some parts of Britain are now very ugly and frightening.
For years there has been a growing right wing anger simmering away. Fortunately this hatred was so divided that it lacked any focus to amount to a coherent force. This ill-conceived referendum has provided just that focus. A truly great anti-hate, pro-European MP has been murdered for her tolerant views. Not I think an isolated act of a lone lunatic, but the very extreme edge of this evil.
I can make many observations about telling at a polling station on the day. So many people commented that they didn’t understand the issues and how difficult it was to reach a decision. The following Saturday our local radio carried interviews with some Leave voters who said that they really didn’t think that Leave would really win and that they are now really scared about what will happen next.
In canvassing I met an old woman voting Leave because life has become so much more complicated since computers, the Common Market and so on – she thought if we Leave, life will be simple again. Many older people simply said that they didn’t like foreigners having any say as to what we do in the UK and at the local elections a Conservative teller asked me if as a white Brit don’t I feel like I am in a minority in my own country.
Some people from Leave turned up to vote brandishing biros, and shouted at me that because they were using pens and not the pencils that the council provided, that now they had thwarted election officers from handing ballot papers to let “my lot” rub out their crosses and change their votes. This is a perfect illustration of the breakdown in trust between some ordinary people and the establishment (MPs and councillors of all parties, banks, business leaders, trade unions, all economic think tanks and any council worker or civil servants). Simply, they felt that the word of a stupid troll on a Facebook page carried more weight than the whole establishment put together.
Nigel Farage was seen as the person on their side because he is the “bloke in the pub” who hates everything European and is of the great British working class; a man who hates bankers and only recently got into politics in order to fight for the ordinary people. None of these opinions can be changed by knowing that Farage is in fact a public schoolboy stockbroker and career politician since the age of 16, married to a German wife, and is about as establishment in his background as you can get.
In the end, with so much anger and distrust of the establishment, the referendum presented the EU as an irresistibly exposed piece for these angry, discontented people to kick. It was enough to make so many usual non-voters register to vote, turn out in the rain and actually vote.
Ignorance manifested itself in other ways. Some voted Leave because they thought that they were voting to give the NHS an extra £350 million per week, and others (largely because of Labour Leave) thought they were voting out Cameron and Osborne and by so doing were automatically ending the last six years of austerity.
Many UKIP voters were convinced that we can exit the EU and still continue to get every benefit of EU membership, an idea based on nothing.
So with the gap between 48% and 52%, we are split almost down the middle and taking into account what has actually happened in only a week, I am sure that a rerun of the referendum would tip the other way. What I am very sure of though, is that it is us, the reasonable people, who need to take back our country from the very brink.
Cllr Jeremy Preece, (Wellington Ward, Aldershot, Rushmoor Borough Council).