The tail that wags a very big dog
Our new Prime Minister famously said “brexit is brexit”. The general media responded straight away with “but what is brexit?”. OK, they’re onto the troubles with it. No need for me to say anything more. Right?
Well, something less than half-right. They’ve grasped the Humpty Dumpty nature of the word “brexit”. But they’ve failed miserably to follow through and consider the implications. Dammit!
So what’s the problem? Brexit is a coalition of differing views, ranging from on the one hand some who see it as an opportunity for more trade and more immigration (like Tim Martin, who had “vote leave” messages printed on beer mats at Weatherspoons, a chain of about 1000 pubs, predominantly big ones in city locations), right through to outright racists and xenophobes who won’t be satisfied until their streets are purged of anyone speaking foreign. Plus of course a general protest vote. No outcome is going to satisfy all the brexit voters. Indeed, it seems unlikely even to satisfy a majority.
So now a majority – the 52% – have a sense of victory and entitlement to their agenda. Among them, the outright racists have been making the most noise: within 24 hours of the result they’d screamed “traitor” at Boris (who had been so bold as to hint that brexit didn’t necessarily mean closing the doors to all immigration), and even at Farage. There were also posts in public fora prophesying blood in the streets if any doors remained open. How things have changed since Enoch Powell!
That’s an agenda claiming – and believing they have – a 52% electoral mandate, yet not really representing even the whole of the BNP/UKIP. Give them their isolationism and we can rapidly slip back to poverty, and with less food or energy security than even in the 1970s. Deny it to them and it seems most unlikely they’ll shut up.
Even the Tory party’s internal troubles, which the referendum was intended to deal with (hence the gerrymandering in favour of Out), seem unlikely to go away. Mrs May is making a valiant attempt by putting brexit leaders in charge, but some of the backbenchers will surely be back on the warpath as soon as there’s any whiff of compromise in the air.
Thought experiment. UK general elections give us a choice of several parties and candidates to vote for. A party that gets 40% of votes cast becomes a clear winner. If we voted 48% for the status quo (Tories) and 52% for all other parties, that would give the Tories the biggest landslide victory of any party in our history. And that’s how the referendum campaign was conducted: on the “in” side a lacklustre status quo, on the “out” side a coalition of different agendas each with utopian promises they had no expectation of having to deliver.
Well, we voted 52% for the array of promises that were “not the status quo”, and could be handing that 52% not to the mainstream opposition (Labour, or perhaps the SNP – the opposition party with a real mandate in its home turf) but to a loony-fringe party that happens to shout loudest.
And perhaps the worst of it? Whereas Tim Farron (libdem leader) promised to make it an election issue for positive reasons, Labour hopeful Owen Smith is doing exactly the wrong thing jumping onto that bandwagon with an entirely negative and condescending “you got it wrong” message. Cameron already alienated enough people to tip the balance, and Smith is consolidating that alienation. I hope Corbyn firmly beats him.