It’s a shame I’m penning my update for the three most dramatic days of cycling under the cloud of the EU referendum result. I couldn’t bring myself to write yesterday on my rest day as I usually would and even now can only do it because I’m going to go on a diversion first to write about the result as I need to clear my head of it before I can write about the ride.
I gave up trying to sleep at 4.45 yesterday morning and decamped to the television to watch the results come in. At around 5.40 (I think) the BBC called it as leave. For the rest of the day I went through cycles of shock, anger, disbelief and sadness.
It was clear from the moment the result was called this was not about the EU. This was a proxy vote by a disenfranchised electorate against “the establishment” as many people have called it, but more obviously against the chasm between the poor and the more well-off. It was captured most vividly in the immigration argument. Many people blame immigration for all their problems: lack of jobs, housing, pushing down wages, infrastructure bursting at the seams. This is obviously not the fault of immigration but is easy to convince people it is. It is the failure of successive governments to plan, invest and legislate for employment rights. Being abroad, I didn’t manage to see much of the campaigning, but from the little bits I saw it seemed that the remain campaign shied away from this argument, focusing on the more abstract “immigration is good for the country”. They should have specifically addressed the challenges that immigration poses, or is perceived to pose, head-on and talked about what needs to be done to address them: more money. Bearing in mind immigrants are net contributers to the Treasury, this should have been an easy argument to have. It seems they were scared to talk too much about it, though.
Some blame must be apportioned to our parliamentary voting system too. First Past The Post means that people are used to their votes not counting, so them being used as a protest vote. The idea that every vote matters is an alien concept when we are so used to either having wasted votes or having to vote tactically. This was captured brilliantly by the now-famous Adam who, when interviewed, confessed he was shocked that leave had won even though he’d voted leave, and didn’t think his vote would count.
And, of course, the lion’s share of the blame is reserved for David Cameron and Boris Johnson. Without the former, we’d never have had the referendum, and without the latter it may never have gone in favour of leave. I don’t see how the nation can unite in a time of need under a prime minister who callously used the campaign to get the keys to Number 10, and who history may decide was responsible for the beginning of the end of the European project, a project that has seen the longest period of stability in the region ever.
I’ve heard some people say this was “democracy in action” and “the people have spoken” so we have to respect it. I’d rather not live in a democracy if this is the face of it. Both sides executed campaigns of fear and sometimes resorted to downright lies. The fear exploited the vulnerabilities of communities that have been neglected for generations, where it’s easy to peddle a story that their problems are down to immigration. Even though it’s not the result I wanted, I would respect it if I thought those who voted to leave did so in possession of some facts, rather than having been exploited. I don’t think the vast majority of those who voted to leave did, so I can’t respect or accept this result.
The UK now faces many challenges. Quite aside from the economy tanking and the uncertainties around the deals that will be struck in the exit, the most worrying is the effect on the young. Not only will they be the worst affected in any slowdown, they also feel cheated by the old inflicting this on them, and taking them out of a union they wanted to be part of. A great way to create an entire new generation of disaffected youth who struggle to get jobs, neatly following those that started their working lives during and in the aftermath of the 2008 recession.
Of all the votes to have as a vote of no confidence in our political system, we’d have done better to choose one without such devastating ramifications.
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