It is probably an ill-advised gesture to write about feelings that occurred on Friday morning. I have typed it and hastily reread it, but I am sure there will be errors in grammar and logic. I post it rapidly before I lose faith in it. Hopefully this is clearly not about all campaigners on one side or the other, but with so much read into everything on the referendum, I am sure some will take offence where it is not meant.
I have woken up cross, bothered, bewildered and worried after elections, but I’ve never had the same sense of confusion as I had when I woke this Friday after the referendum. I was in the same place where I had fallen asleep, but the territory felt utterly changed.
It was the increasingly pungent stench of snake oil that made the last few weeks of the BREXIT campaigning so dizzying.
Not good dizzying, like a happy child spinning in an orchard, bad dizzying like when you are middle aged and realise that even three full rotations on a dance floor makes you nauseous.
Something wasn’t quite right.
Were we being sold an illusory emancipation?
Maybe the reality will not matter, like the memory of a long removed arnica molecule in an apothecary’s kit bag, some psychosomatic effect will make people happier and lighter around the ankle.
I have never seen a victorious group distance themselves from their propaganda with such haste. They could have at least kept the myths going for a month or so. They didn’t need to reveal that immigration could well be unaffected or that the NHS promise wasn’t really a promise at all.
It seemed like those conmen who set up scams in empty shops, selling mystery boxes that could well contain a state of the art telly or your other electric dreams. The first bidder wins something great (in on the scam obviously), then everyone else thinks, “it could be me, I’ve never seen a TV so flat, like a THX after dinner mint”, and they win a box containing a melted hair dryer and some rawlplugs. Usually, the con would not be revealed the moment the cash was handed over, but like a panicky Ponzi, they blurted it all out.
By the end, the EU referendum barely seemed to be about the EU. The horror for many when they were woken up at 6am by panicked calls about the UK voting out of EU didn’t engender panic or despair because of love for the European Union, it was because over the weeks, the Leave campaign started to stir up something nasty. (Here, I better make it clear that what follows is not about all 51% of leave voters being cruel, vicious or xenophobic, it is that the nature of some of the campaign has given a hand up to those who were waiting to spread hate more loudly. Somewhere among the sanctioned stories and spin, permission has been given )
If you wanted to know why you hadn’t got what you wanted, and many people haven’t, you were reminded it was because of people who were not from around here. Both sides resorted to names that made the whole thing sound as fictional as possible, we’re all in a movie or video game now, it was “Project Fear” and “Project Hate”. That’s fine for something you’d by at a Computer Exchange, but not really good enough for political debate, but that’s me and my fuddy duddy twentieth century mind.
On streets, in pubs and on social media, something loveless, destructive and self-obsessed was swelling and pulsing.
Farage’s poster made it clear, “they are coming for you”. I understand those that say Labour shouldn’t fear talking about immigration, to be fair, they even put it on last year’s crockery, but there doesn’t seem to be enough mainstream discussion that understands how much people’s lives are impoverished by immigration and how much by other factors including corporate greed, poor government planning, and the building of investment housing over building affordable housing for people to actually live in.
The murder of Jo Cox will unquestionably remain the most terrible event during this campaign, and yet even then, when you’d hope it was a simple, human act of coming together and mourning this human filled with compassion, there was a nastiness uncaged.
After the death of Jo Cox, there was a feeling of outrage among some that the REMAIN campaign had been give such an unfair advantage in having one of its campaigners brutally murdered by a mentally ill man who may have been pushed to the point of brutality by the drip feed, and occasional gush, of toxic “patriotism” which flourished in some corners of the campaign. (friends who campaigned for REMAIN had abuse shouted at them about Jo Cox, this is not just something I’ve read). Not only were the usual homes of despicably cruel words on social media spitting, but an East Riding councillor offered an “opinion” of such base unpleasantness that it is almost impossible to understand his mind without the correct qualifications. These were the moments that hung in the air, that made some question where this agenda was taking some people.
It wasn’t the leaving of the EU that has upset so many, there are good reasons and good arguments that could have been made, but rarely were, both on the right and left, it was the sense that the campaigning had started to show up a viciousness in people. This is not surprising. As someone who has played hundreds of towns across the UK in the last few years, I’ve been to places where chipboard seems the only industry, and by the time the last shops is boarded up, even that industry will be dead. The economic divisions in the UK get more extreme every year, and many people feel totally unrepresented by Westminster. After the last election, sitting in pubs post gig, I’d talk to older people who’d explain why the Labour party didn’t seem to connect with them anymore.
Yet the “mavericks” who were campaigning for LEAVE were insiders and architects of government plans that were enhancing this division too.
Oddly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, for campaigns about the necessity of sovereignty, the most trumpeted British values, being able to laugh at ourselves and a sense of decency, were often missing.
The fear, and I hope it is soon proved wrong, is that this last few weeks has vaildated the worst of Britishness, a mean spirit, fear of outsiders, island mentality.
As a British astronaut returned from space, a human who had spent six months on an international escapade, able to look out of his window and see the whole of his home planet in his field of vision, the vision on the ground seemed to be getting narrower.
Are we really freer humans than we were on Thursday, or will we find the owner of the manacles merely changes to other business and financial institutions who will play harder ball as they see loopholes of restrictions to shareholder and CEO profit?
I hope everyone hasn’t been sold a lie. I hope that a post EU country is able to prosper and also work out and solve the problems of why so many people have felt marginalised and bruised.
I worry that it will be like Iain Duncan Smith’s tears at that Glasgow estate some years back, immediate, but once evaporated, it’s back to business as usual.
These are times when we must work hard to combat cruelty, bitterness and hate with compassion, kindness and understanding, not just as words, but as actions. If only kindness was as potent on the podium as vitriol and fear.
I am at the Chippenham Comedy Festival at Old Road Tavern this Friday.