Just to clarify from the off.
As an Irishman, I willingly confess to two things: firstly, I’m no kind of nationalist. I just don’t find the concept of nation particularly affecting; and secondly, I’m a bit of an Anglophile. This second admission seems to me to be in direct contradiction with the pleasure I take in England’s failure on the sports’ fields of the world, and none more so than the football pitch. But this strange antipathy I find rising inside me for all teams English is more about the repeated arrogance of the players and the press as regards their place in world football than it is about history or nationhood. I like to see the English football team fail in the same way I enjoy seeing all rampant egos fail. But this antipathy is almost exclusively saved for the English football team, the thuggish fans, and on occasion England’s tennis players during Wimbledon season.
But in other regards, as I say, I’m quite the Anglophile. Many of my favourite writers are English. There are a lot of TV programmes, particularly BBC and Channel 4 productions, that I feed voraciously on in whatever downtime I have available to me. Music? The Rolling Stones, The Smiths. And I lived in London for five years and retain fond memories of the place and the people. As an Irishman – that being a man with an Irish accent and therefore identified as something other by those around me, as opposed to any sense of national distinction I felt within myself – I can remember only two or three occasions when anything remotely racist or sectarian was said to me. But love as I do the repeated failures (ironic italicisation here is to indicate the bigger story, to be saved for another time, regarding whether these performances are actually failures or simply a falling short of unrealistic ambition), I like the English. I like England.
And having lived among the English (as if they are all the same, each one of them), I concede that the vote to leave the EU inching over the line did not come as a great surprise to me. In the swagger of that nation’s gait there lies just enough deep-seated colonial delusion for this to happen. It’s not rampant but it is a significant trait. A trait that finds its’ origins in blind faith, unquestioning acceptance of what their history books tell them. There is a strange contradiction screaming from the English psyche, in my experience; on the one hand suspicious of Johnny Foreigner and yet proud of the history that brought him to England in the first instance.
Brexit, to me, is unfortunate but no real surprise.
I think it unfortunate because on a quasi-ideological level my intuition tells me we are better off together than working in isolation. I don’t want to sound like a new-age guru or a medium for frilly liberalism but the move towards integration and unity and compromise is one that speaks more loudly to me. I think we as individuals and as a society are better for being in the EU. And while I sympathise with those who see the failures and the undemocratic nature of the workings of the EU, fundamentally I believe by staying together we can improve our living standards and the peaceable nature of European and world politics. And by staying in we can influence and improve the EU itself.
But this has not solely been a racist, elitist, little-Englander vote either. I blame the national governments and the EU politicians for this vote too. Because this is a protest vote. It’s a Fuck-you to the system. A political system that has marginalised large tracts of society, imposed austerity in the areas of public health, education, social welfare and often targeted society’s most vulnerable, while saving the rogue speculators whose ideology and practises did most to cause our most recent economic catastrophe. The political system championed by the EU and the national governments of our respective countries has created structures that favour economy over society, that have demonstrably punished the poor and the vulnerable, squeezed the middle and let the wealthy elite off the hook. It has been said before and I’ll repeat it here – what we have seen in the last decade is not capitalism, it is not the market regulating itself. If it was, then all those banks we bailed out, all those big money companies that were allowed to survive, would have gone down too. Like the ordinary people who gambled. But they didn’t, did they?
This fundamental unfairness has deprived national governments of the moral imperative required to take whatever steps are necessary to re-balance society. And it has fostered a suspicion and a resentment towards the EU. The effect of all of this has been to cause widespread dissatisfaction, distrust of politicians and politics, and big business, and the very mechanics of the European and world economy. Hence, the protest vote.
Rightly or wrongly, the perception is that the architecture of the economy, national and international, is designed to protect the rich and exploit the poor. We don’t need many facts and figures here either, we just have to look around our own lives to see the disparity, to see who is paying for the mistakes and who is not. Just turn on the radio, listen to whichever mouthpiece of a minister the government puts forward on any given issue, and observe how they respond to the difficult questions. Observe how they squirm and regurgitate the platitudinous and vacuous bullshit contrived by their PR consultants. Meanwhile hospitals and schools go underfunded as the banks get back on their feet and squeeze the pips from all those who managed to just about hang on through everything. For those who survived, who dug in deep to get through it, this is the reward: to be kicked again with higher interest rates and premiums, with rising property prices and lower standards of living.
In light of all this, and there certainly are questions for the EU to answer here, and the ingrained sense of national greatness that often exists in England, it is hardly surprising that you get this kind of protest vote. The irony, of course, is that the very demographic who pushed Brexit through, the working class in the comparatively poorer areas in of Northern England, the squeezed middle, or the disenfranchised North of Ireland, are the ones who will suffer most as a result of Brexit.
A Tory party, a political party born of and interested almost exclusively in protecting the privileged, whose leaders and leading thinkers speak openly about free-market policy and their beliefs in organising society around the economy, the agendas of big business, will be no friends to the poor and the disenfranchised when the economic shit hits the fan. That’s for sure. They never have been. They never will be. In fact, it is more likely that Brexit will serve to neuter these vulnerable groups still further. Beyond the censure and influence of EU labour law, the poor and the disenfranchised are wide open for unbridled exploitation.
Which brings us to Noam Chomsky. As Brexit was breaking, I happened to be watching a documentary on Netflix and these words of Chomsky leapt out at me. They seemed chillingly apt, especially in light of the lies and misinformation that Farage&Co peddled in the run-up to the vote:
“The public relations industry, which essentially runs the elections, is applying certain principles to undermine democracy which are the same as the principles that applies to undermine markets. The last thing that business wants is markets in the sense of economic theory. Take a course in economics, they tell you a market is based on informed consumers making rational choices. Anyone who’s ever looked at a TV ad knows that’s not true. In fact, if we had a market system, an ad, say for General Motors, would be a brief statement of the characteristics of the products for next year. That’s not what you see. You see some movie actress or a football hero or somebody driving a car up a mountain or something like that. And that’s true of all advertising. The goal is to undermine markets by creating uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices and the business world spends huge efforts on that. The same is true when the same industry, the PR industry, turns to undermining democracy. It wants to construct elections in which uninformed voters will make irrational choices. It’s pretty reasonable and it’s so evident you can hardly miss it.” – Noam Chomsky
All I can think is, what awful commonality could bring this motley crew together: Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin, the Austrian Far Right leader Norbert Hofer, and then the trump of all trump cards – the Donald Trump.
Politics right now is a borderless asylum (the irony in this metaphor is delicious, of course) and there are lunatics everywhere! Tread carefully, I say, for your ire, no matter how just, may be turned against you; you may be destroyed by your own anger.