Brexit – or Will They, Really?

David Cameron. We will remember that name all our lives. The walking, talking embodiment of the deluded, ivory tower dwellers of Downing St and Westminster. Never has a Prime Minister been so comprehensively out of touch with the people he represented. He has lived a life surrounded by the rich and powerful, fêted by big-time CEOs and sitting at tables with mighty world leaders. His wife comes from the élite landed gentry, and everyone knows it. When he went out and bought her second-hand Nissan Micra for £1,800 to get around in, I doubt that twenty people in the entire country actually believed she would even look at the thing. That’s how out of touch he is. Up till the last couple of weeks before the referendum he never seriously considered the possibility of a Leave vote, because he, personally, didn’t know anyone who would vote that way.

I imagine he thought he was popular. No. What he was was less disliked, less distrusted than ‘the other lot’. Virtually every well-known politician in England has completely lost contact with that bedrock of ordinary British folk who don’t trust politicians, don’t want foreigners pouring into the country, just want to have a job, drink a couple of pints at the pub, watch Eastenders and not have to worry about anything more serious than how well their football team is playing. On one side, Cameron and his ilk. On the other, beige neo-libs and the oddball, Corbyn, who thinks that the average Briton has five kids, lives on welfare and eats out of food banks. God help us, Nigel Farage is probably the only prominent English politician who reads the great unwashed accurately, which is why he has his triumph.

So where will it take Britain? Two likely scenarios. One: Cameron’s legacy, the destruction of Great Britain. Scotland gone within the year. Less likely but very possible, a united Ireland in the EU, leaving a ‘United Kingdom’ of England and Wales. A struggling, isolated and desperate little country shaking its head in disbelief. A simmering wall of hatred between the educated and the stiff-necked plodders who have pulled the house down around their ears.

Two: the revolution that is already underway. 36 hours after vote Leave, a petition demanding a parliamentary re-think has 800,000 signatures. Cameron said this had to be a oncer, but nothing he said or says matters any more. In New Zealand company law, presumably mirroring the UK’s, major financial decisions such as selling off more than half a company’s assets have to be authorised by a special general meeting of shareholders and need a 75% majority. This is obviously the model Cameron should have applied, perhaps at a lower level, say 60%. But in his delusion that the referendum was a foregone conclusion he quite possibly never thought of it.

If I had to bet, it would be on the second option, but I may be tainted by wishful thinking.

The immediate, interesting question is this: where will the new politicians come from? Politicians who see that those who spent their time entertaining themselves in Parliament in childish point scoring off the opposition were a mob of well-paid Neros fiddling while Rome burnt. That all that shouting and laughter has earned them the contempt of the man and woman in the street and simply has to stop and will too, for a time. It will be a brave and foolhardy politician who roars with laughter at a cheap shot at the other side in the weeks to come. Quiet days in Westminster, at least.

If this sudden disaster were to result in the end of ideological experiments and the emergence of sober, collaborative and responsive government, it might even have been worth it. Sadly, that is not a bet I would back.

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Brexit – England’s Culture Bites Itself Hard

Well, they’ve done it. Privately, I always thought they would, because I understand why.

I lived in the UK for 3 years. The most conspicuous characteristic of English culture for me was its fundamentally unwelcoming, closed and reserved nature. I spent the last three months living in a backpackers among young foreigners and the sense of ease, of bonhomie, even towards someone much, much older than them, was palpable, refreshing. Generally they liked much of the quality of life in England but none – no, not one – ever said they liked the English people. Cold. Mean. The most common descriptors. Actually, they are not. Not really. Among themselves, their friends and peers, they can be warm, generous, and relaxed. But the face they turn to the world they see as ‘other’ is resistant, unwelcoming. I began to notice, out at night in the streets of Bristol, that groups of young people out about town were either all English or all foreign. I’m a friendly guy, but I had enormous difficulty making friends in England. I left largely because of loneliness. (I have to say, in fairness, that if the English are slow to make friends with foreigners, once they do take that step they are intensely loyal.)
This is what has driven the Brexit vote. An Englishman’s home is his castle and when, and if, you enter it you had better watch yourself. When an English man or woman says ‘Make yourself at home’ they mean ‘Make yourself at my home’. That microcosm applies en large to the country as a whole. And most English people, deep down, genuinely believe they are superior to ‘the rest’. (Mind you, they’re not alone in that, certainly not in Europe.) Make no mistake – this wasn’t about economics, or even the contorted, domineering and dictatorial Brussels bureaucracy. The older, less educated English who swung this vote simply will not have anyone else telling them they have to make foreigners welcome. Bugger off!

Now they will pay for it.

Of course, you can’t blame a people for their culture. Culture is the product of circumstance over time. During the industrial revolution the majority of English people, costume dramas notwithstanding, struggled in poverty. And they were cold. Freezing, starved of warmth and sun during a mini-Ice Age that peaked in the 18th century.

So they spent their lives in dark, cramped rooms, huddling over small fires. Their home, their space, became enormously important. Their refuge. The class structure stoked the fires. In the streets, at work, the English commoner had to bow and scrape, tug his forelock, in the presence of his betters. But once he closed his door behind them …

So, in their homes the English are, to this day, lords of their preserve. New Zealand has a shameful slew of regulations and laws allowing a host of various breeds of official to enter our homes without warrants. Customs officers. Immigration officers. The police, as long as they cite the right formula – drugs, terrorism, whatever. Not in England. They simply wouldn’t stand for it. Admirable, that.

In time they came to extend this attitude to their persons. The English are physically isolated, almost neurotic about touch. Any inadvertent touch, even a near miss, is occasion for an instant, ‘Sorry.’

So twenty years of strangers, foreigners, perceived to be ‘flooding’ into their collective castle had become too much to bear. Even in communities with a tiny percentage of foreigners UKIP polled strongly. Sadly, ironically, the cities with most immigrants voted Remain. The ‘problem’ was largely illusory, fueled by sensational media stories, but it was sensed as real. Real enough to provoke this reactive spasm, a throwing off of this oppressive sense of invasion.

What now? Actually, I believe that, relieved of this fear, the English will make a go of it. They will work it out. They are tough, determined and capable. Don’t write England off any time soon. But how it will play out will be fascinating. An example: I know someone who runs a business that needs workers prepared to start at three in the morning and work hard. All the workers are Polish, because the owner has found it impossible to find English workers who measure up. The big question: who will do the hard, dirty work in the years to come?

We’ll see.