After countless months of campaigning, buckets of blather mixed liberally with vitriol, one awful murder and countless lies, the people have voted. And they have voted to leave the EU. Not, as one BBC commentator said this morning, ‘Overwhelmingly.’ It was by 51.9% to 48.1%, so, only just, though there is no question that it was a majority.
What a miscalculation by the political establishment. That reason would prevail. Watching a collection of young-ish people being interviewed on television the morning after I was struck by their bewilderment. ‘I never thought it would happen,’ one Leaver said. ‘I though Remain would win,’ said another. Like these two, the British public now has what it has, apparently, wished for. Isolation. Self-determination is what is wanted. In a globalised world of large corporations which are economically bigger than most nation states, we have just chosen to leave the most powerful economic bargaining club in the world. To do it on our own.
This reminds me of the Thatcher years. When folk like me said things like, privatising public utilities will lead to foreign ownership of British necessities ( we were waved away, there was going to be a Great British Shareholding Democracy ). Or, selling off council housing without building new stock will lead to a massive housing crisis and a rentier economy ( no-one listened ). So forgive me if I feel frustrated, it is the frustration of a logical Cassandra.
The pound has tanked. Not surprising, but getting quite a lot of value wiped off one’s savings isn’t great – if one has savings. Share portfolios are rock bottom ( surely ). There is anxiety about mortgage rates – if one has a mortgage or owns a home. I overheard a conversation between two builders in a garden next to mine ( they are working on the house ). ‘It’s great,’ said one. ‘A historic day,’ said the other. ‘Now we get to decide.’ Along the street when I went shopping in middle-class Clapham a man, who looked like a tramp, was dancing. ‘I’m on the winning side,’ he sang. ‘For once I’m on the winning side.’ Bizarre, yes, but is that how large swathes of England feel?
Is this the logical manifestation at the ballot box of the inequality which successive governments of whatever hue have allowed to flourish? So that there are now sufficient numbers of ‘have nots’ and their lives have become so divorced from the ‘haves’ that they feel they have nothing to lose by rolling the dice. Their vote is one way of exercising some control – they have little enough. They don’t see that in the new, globalised world the way to gain control is to join with others to do so. And that’s difficult and complicated and won’t make them feel better. Have people really considered the limitations of the nation-state in a globalised world? To tackle climate change? To tackle tax evasion or other crime? Or terrorism? Or have people been so blinded by the constant negative press on the EU – again, politicians of all hues have failed to make the case for Europe, it’s been an all too convenient whipping boy.
Not in Scotland and, I suspect, it is now only a matter of time before there is a second referendum. Only this time they’ll leave the UK. Something like it may happen in Northern Ireland. So, David Cameron may well have presided over the break-up of the UK, after all.
And what happens next? Well there has to be a Parliamentary vote and there is a huge majority in the House of Commons for remaining. Will there be a rearguard action? Delay, or compromise? And what with the EU do – no one has ever left before. Those young Podemos volunteers I spoke to in Jerez will be fearing the break-up of the EU. Will Brussels act punitively towards Britain, pour discourager les autres?
We will have control of our borders again. Unless the French are being generous, said borders will be at Dover, or half way through the Tunnel, not at Calais. EU citizens living here may choose to remain, if they are allowed to, others will leave and leave many of our public services denuded of staff and expertise. Who will pick the vegetable crops in those Lincolnshire UKIP strongholds? The same people who picked them last year and there will still be no more money for social services, and the CAP subsidies will go. Prices will rise. Inflation may revisit our shores, okay for those aforementioned savers, but less so for those with mortgages. Within said borders the defence of the public realm, public services and basic rights will become more difficult. How long will the minimum wage last? Even if it does, who will police it?
But enough of the doom and gloom. Maybe British, or should we get used to saying ‘English and Welsh’, ingenuity will win the day. All the more important that people now mobilise to assert just what sort of island they want to live on. That particular excuse – it’s Europe’s fault – has been removed. Now the lack of investment in public services and the low top rate of tax, the empty ‘investment properties’, corruption in public life and the wilful asset stripping of public companies will be exposed. What are we prepared to do about it?
It will be interesting to see what the result of this week’s other major vote will be. Could Spain show us how the people might really take control from the political elite?