I’ve been staring at Twitter like a gambling addict at a slot machine, pressing refresh and hoping to recoup my losses – maybe if I get three cherries in a row they’ll cancel Brexit? I haven’t done much else this week. I look at the GBP USD graph like I’m reading tea leaves. It’s (kind of) related to my PhD, I’ve written on the connection here and here as a kind of therapy. I need to stop living my life in suspended disanimation.
But my mind returns to it constantly. If you have a delicate phycological constitution like I do, it’s the perfect subject for rumination. It plays into your pet theory that everything is getting worse – even as you try to resist such an obviously false idea. Just as you scratch a mosquito bite to get a moment of satisfaction while knowing it will prolong the itching, thinking about Brexit will work you into a gratifying self-righteous rage, but you pay for it with a lingering downer. It’s the most potent kind of self-righteousness too – because you are so obviously and objectively correct (in your filter bubble). It’s an addiction – relentlessly rephrasing my already watertight arguments in my head, making them stronger, confirming how right I am to myself. And there are the endless permutations and outcomes to mull. It’s all legit, because thinking about politics is what engaged, upstanding citizens do, right?
Let’s be honest, a lot of what I’m doing is driving cyclical, impotent rage, distracting myself from the issues that I should be dealing with and over which I actually have control. It’s a total cop out.
We forgot that that bad things happen. Most people in the world live in a country with a government that everyone knows is malicious, with natural disasters, plague or famine real possibilities. Even in developed European countries stupid legislation that is transparently useless is passed by incompetent leaders who dupe citizens with dog-whistle politics. Look at Berlusconi. People who live in those countries have to get on with their lives, and so do we.
I think once, on some tragic level, I was once proud to be British, or at least wanted to be. Let that go and it’s all so much easier. Britain is just one among many countries benighted by an exploitative short sighted elite. Get used to it, make the best you can. Leave if you get the chance to go somewhere better.
That’s where this post could end. The rest is my cathartic, bile-venting, attempt to set down, and therefore vanquish, my endlessly looping ire.
As Alberto Cottica recently pointed out to me, what’s unusual about the UK is that we think our leaders give a shit. They do not. This is going to make me sound like an idiot, but I truly believed that when push came to shove, when it was about the really important stuff, British leaders would act on behalf of the British people. This is my school boy image of how the world wars worked; the same albion infused esprit de corps, in my patriotic delusions, made the empire possible (whatever you think of it). When things got serious, I truly thought the political class would behave in our interests, even if day to day politics didn’t quite live up to those standards. I’d never say something that naive out loud, but Britannia rules deep beneath the waves of my conscious thoughts.
It’s a bizarre synchronicity that we are about to get the Chilcot report, confirming what a total disregard for anything other than himself one particular politician showed – an episode far worse, in terms of human life lost, than anything we see today – and about nothing more than ego.
What we are currently witnessing is just another episode of a power-hungry, self interested elite treating the country like a game. Why did Gove and Johnson greet the result with that overly earnest funereal air? I am quite certain it was because they were worried they wouldn’t be able control their snickering. They’d done a naughty prank, now Sir was telling them off and they didn’t want to enrage him by laughing. Japes! They will be legends with the rest of the upper sixth…
Literally within hours we had a smirking Farage saying that he thought promising to spend on the NHS was “a big mistake”, and Dan Hannan (funny name! funny repulsive guy!) creasing up while delivering the news that he had actually not promised a big change in immigration and everyone had misheard him. By Sunday, presumptive leader Boris wrote an article in The Telegraph (for which he is paid) outlining his plan. Except it was total bollocks, and he subsequently had to claim he was ‘tired’ when he wrote it. This fully 72 hours after the campaign had ended – how was he tired? Because he’d been so busy jockeying to position himself as next PM that he hadn’t had time to do his homework. Which is pretty stupid because billions of dollars of market decisions potentially rode on his article. That is some next level not giving a shit about anyone else.
Nigel Farage’s appearance in the European Parliament was at the expense of the entire country. Having got what he wanted, what could the benefit in antagonising his future negotiating partner possibly be? It’s almost like his passion for UK ‘independence’ is just an affectation to serve his larger goal of getting people to pay attention to him…
Everyone was delighting in the idea that Boris had ‘zugzwanged’ himself and had no options – apparently not noticing that the man is a shameless liar, which should give us a hint about how he would have tried to meet those contradictory referendum promises: by shameless lying. Then he didn’t like it, and decide to take his toys home.
I predict whoever leads the Tory Party will find the most superficial, cosmetic fudge imaginable to claim that some tiny concession on the part of the EU constitutes an end to freedom of movement. A concession they will have won at a cost of whole percentage points of GDP.
I didn’t care about the EU only for economic reasons. It meant more than that. It’s a project that’s successfully overcoming human’s natural and destructive tendency to be tribal, and especially to be nationalistic. The pay off was enormous – culturally and economically; overall, everyone is miles better off. Within living memory, Europe ripped itself to pieces in terrible wars. The EU has seen us through several serious situations in almost unblemished peace, not least the fall of the Berlin wall.
When people point out the difficulties the eurozone now faces they often neglect to mention that the catastrophic financialisation that caused those problems originated the US and UK – countries where the government is captured by sectional banking interests to which the EU has proved immune.
It came undone when we didn’t divide the spoils fairly, the benefits went to the middle classes, and even more to the very rich. Poorer people outside of big cities weren’t getting their fair share. They looked at the recent wave of immigration and stagnating living standards and quite understandably (if incorrectly) put two and two together.
A win for remain was a vote for more of the same, and that would have been wrong – we have to start sharing more fairly across the country. That’s the single good thing we’ve learned. We can only wonder at what mechanisms a Tory government might use to deliver increased equality. I’m certainly guilty of not realising how bad it was, blithely wanting to extrapolate our current trajectory. I can only hope that we do something to bring the rest of the country the benefits that have accrued to the metropolitan middle class.
But the press took that justified discontent and turned it into virulent nationalism. You can’t sell newspapers with economic theory, or by reminding working people that they are relatively impoverished.
Democracy relies on the press to inform the people. In the UK toxic tabloids refused to report on anything about the EU except false and exaggerated claims of it’s ineffectiveness. By never running stories about voting or MEPs, tabloids prevented UK citizens from engaging in it’s democratic processes. Then, inevitably, the gutter press turned around and said the EU was undemocratic as well as ineffective.
Opportunistic politicians got in on the act, and worked together to spread lies about the EU. They have potentially torn apart the world’s most humane system of cooperation for the flimsiest of gains.
We cannot change politicians, they’ll always respond to the incentive of power. We can change the press, which is in flux anyway. We’ve read the tabloids, and they are disgusting. We’ve seen the filter bubble, and we’ve seen what it does, and we should reject that too. Everyone’s quoting Churchill telling us not to waste a crisis. The opportunity here is to sort out our press – which is more important to democracy than anything about voting systems or the bureaucracy of the Houses of Parliament (or Brussels). Newspaper barons out, decentralised infrastructure for national debate in.