They say that a week is a long time in politics. This last week has surely proved the saying true. Who could have predicted the roller-coaster ride we’ve been on since we cast our votes last week?
One of the things that has emerged throughout the referendum campaign, and since, is that many of the British people don’t understand debate and reasoned argument. Once their stance has been decided, whether through emotion, anger, or some other reason, they will metaphorically stick their fingers in their ears, to save having to listen to the alternative arguments, then shout very loudly so that no one around them can hear those opinions or facts they have rejected. If all else fails, they resort to shouting insults and abuse at anyone who doesn’t agree with them, because they have to be in the right. Unfortunately, it seems that sometimes this approach isn’t just applicable to the general public, some of our politicians are seen to use it, too.
As a writer, I have found it intriguing to watch the responses of the authority figures as the dealt with the result the British people delivered. The EU officials, steely-eyed, challenging ‘well come on then, get it over with’, as though they couldn’t wait to be rid of us. Angela Merkel, looking very weary and worried. The Conservative politicians, who were largely responsible, suddenly very quiet and, after David Cameron announced his resignation, suddenly it seemed that no one wanted to take the next step, no one wanted to go down in history as the person who led Britain out of the European Union. And of course we discovered that no one had a plan. They hadn’t expected to need one. Of course there are some politicians who are ever happy to talk a lot, and were only too happy to fill the void: Nigel Farage, crowing, gloating, even though he’s about to lose his job; Nicola Sturgeon, furious, determined, trying once again to tell Westminster now to do their jobs and threatening action from Scotland if they don’t do as she says; Alex Salmond, back from obscurity to add his comments. But where was George Osborne? It almost turned into a ‘where’s wally’ competition to find the most obscure suggestion of where George was hiding.
And what of our loyal opposition? At a time when the country is gripped by its worst political crisis for many years, they decide the way to deal with it is…to stage a coup, split their party, and try to oust their leader! What planet do they live on?
The rest of the world has watched in astonishment as, in one short week, this once Great Britain has torn itself apart in a tide of in-fighting, xenophobia and, at times, outright racism.
So where does the blame lie?
Obviously, it was David Cameron who set up the referendum to try and settle the divisions in his own party. He was clearly confident that the British people would see the benefits of being part of the EU and support him in laying the argument to rest – after all, they had returned him and his party to power only last year (albeit with a slim majority), when he hadn’t expected to win. Unfortunately, he misread this support. It now seems clear that a substantial number of people only voted Conservative because he had promised a referendum on membership of the EU and because they wanted a chance to escape its clutches. Why? For years the media – particularly the newspapers, have blamed the EU and its regulations for everything they felt was wrong with the country. They have exaggerated the problems way out of proportion and whipped up public opinion to almost hysteria in recent weeks. (It seems that some of the strongest myths about the EU – for example the straight banana story – were, in fact begun by none other than Boris Johnson, when he was working as a journalist, years ago.)
When the date of the referendum was first announced, the Leave campaign was very quick off the mark to try and influence the public and spread their opinions and scare stories, so that by the time the Remain side began to try and counter these stories, it was already too late – a large proportion of the population were no longer prepared to listen to what they saw as excuses. Added to which, every time anyone spoke in public in favour of Remain and present an outline of what might be the consequences of leaving they were shouted down and accused of scaremongering, by the side who had been scaremongering all along!
All through the campaign members of the public asked and almost begged for more facts on which to base their decisions. In the last few weeks there were TV programmes which tried to present some of the facts and possible consequences, but by now many people had switched off mentally from any discussion on the referendum, fed up with hearing all the hype and emotive rants. There were also informative article in some of the more serious newspapers, and online, but most of these seem to have been by-passed by the bulk of the population. It was all too little too late.
Another thing that has emerged through this exercise is the continuing influence of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, and particularly her view that there was ‘no such thing as society’ it was ‘every man for himself’. (This apparently worked so well that much later when David Cameron spoke of the ‘Big Society’ no one knew what he was talking about.) In interviews on how they were making/ had made their decision on how to vote, most people spoke of how it would affect them personally, or at most their children/grandchildren. Some spoke of not being able to get doctor’s appointments, or places in schools, but it was still very personal. Very few people seemed to be looking at the bigger picture, of how it would affect us all as a society – because most seem to have forgotten, or in the case of younger people, never learned what ‘society’ is – and that is Thatcher’s legacy.
The current turmoil in the Labour Party also ties in with this theory. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) politicians who have rebelled, appear to be largely career politicians who believe that their jobs and opinions are more important than those of the public they were elected to represent. They claim the party cannot win an election with Jeremy Corbyn as their leader, when in actual fact, the reverse is more likely true. They totally ignore the thousands of people who not only joined the Labour Party to vote Corbyn into the leadership, but also all who have joined (or re-joined) since and all the crowd who gathered outside parliament in his support at the very time they were telling him they had no confidence in him. Who do they think is going to vote for them? They have exposed themselves as being self-seeking and out of touch with public opinion just as much as the Tories, more anxious to preserve their cosy way of life than represent the public as they were elected tp do. They need to be taught a brutal lesson.
Of course we all know the real reason for this attempted coup. We’ve known it was coming for months. It is an attempt to control and cover up some of the findings in the imminent publication of the Chilcot Report on the Iraq war. Many of the coup’s leaders are likely to be implicated in this report. They also want to avoid action being taken against their leader at the time, Tony Blair, who stands to be the most damned by the report. Well, I’m afraid that if it is found that Tony Blair committed crimes, he should pay the price, just the same as anyone else would. And that goes for any other politician who commits crimes, too. No one is above the law.
The British public have shown they are tired of corruption, cover-ups and dishonest career politicians, whether that be connected to the EU, phone-hacking, expenses scandals, alleged paedophilia rings, or covering up illegal wars. They want a different kind of politics. More honest, serious, sober, caring, concentrating on getting the job done rather than playing to the media. In the last few years television coverage has allowed us to see inside the parliaments of several other countries as they dealt with problems. Nowhere else appears to engage in the showmanship, yah-boo, schoolboy-style jibing and hollering of the House of Commons. In the 21st century it is an irrelevant anachronism. Why is it allowed to continue? Politicians who have grown used to dealing in this way clearly don’t understand that Jeremy Corby represents a different kind of politics, and a form of politics that the public is crying out for. The politics of honest debate, sober discussions, and above all a politics that cares about and looks after the weakest in our society.
The Conservatives came to power promising to ‘fix broken Britain’, instead, they have caused the deepest divisions in our society in living memory. This in turn has caused frustrated pockets of communities to seek someone to blame, attacking the disabled, foreign worker, and anyone else who looks different and so might be a threat to them. Many people living at the lower levels of society are now terrified of the future, of how they are to find the basics of life, how they are to survive. To these people, Jeremy Corbyn is a beacon of hope – the only beacon of hope in what has become a frightening and uncertain future.
However, there is also one good thing that has emerged during this last week. It is the growing re-discovery of people-power. Some have realised for the first time that their vote does count for something, others are discovering that that there is a way to show self-centred politicians what they think of them and their opinions and perhaps though this they are beginning to rediscover that such a thing as ‘Society’ does exist after all.
It looks like we’re going to need a more caring society to survive in a post-EU Britain.