Category Archives: Brexit

Eton Mess

Original Eton Rifles“What a catalyst you turned out to be. Loaded the gun, then run off home for your tea.” Eton Rifles, The Jam

Paul Weller’s 1979 song about the futility of the working class fighting against the establishment has never been more relevant. What chance have you got against a tie and a crest? And this line in particular could have been written about any of the crowd that has got us into this Eton mess called Brexit.

That arch old Etonian David Cameron set the ball rolling. He called the referendum, and also made it a straight in or out choice. Complex economic and constitutional questions were left to a public already angry with the status quo and distrustful of politicians. Why on earth did he do it? This was not some grand exercise in democracy, he offered it as a sweetener to the Euro-sceptics in his own party to ensure he got re-elected. And besides, Dave was sure he would win and then we could get back to the usual routine. When you are from the gifted elite you have the confidence to roll those kind of dice.

Then Boris Johnson joined the great game. I am convinced that Johnson is at heart pro-EU. When he decided to lead the fight against the Remainers he had one goal in mind. That goal was to become the heir apparent when Cameron stepped aside before the next election. His tactics a glorious defeat that would ensure he kept enough friends in the Eurosceptic camp, and a well-fought campaign that would keep his ratings high.

And then his side won. That wasn’t supposed to happen. And Cameron resigned to compound the shock. Boris, who is an extremely intelligent man despite his best efforts to convey a more bumbling persona, realised that not only had he brought about a catastrophe for Britain, but he would be the one who’d have to clean up the mess. One look at his ashen face on the day after the vote showed that he clearly understood the depth of the doodoo he had helped to land the country in. Imagine his relief when the slippery Gove stabbed him in the back over the leadership.  The palpable relief of a man finding himself on the outside of a burning tent, most definitely pissing in.

Nigel Farage’s contribution to the Brexit campaign was unconscionable , but then we always knew it would be. His Breaking Point poster showing a line of Syrian refugees exactly mirrored a Nazi propaganda poster and it was despicable. A low in British politics. But it wasn’t out of character. Unlike the conniving and calculating MPs at the head of government, Farage is a buffoon. A buffoon lucky enough to have hit on an issue that thrust him onto the grand stage for his 15 grubby minutes of fame. A buffoon lucky enough to arrive at a time when the British public have ‘had enough of experts’. A reality TV star masquerading as a politician, whose populist appeal is based on liking a pint and a smoke, and not knowing much about politics. He’s just like us!

But while you could never seriously call Nigel Farage anti-Establishment, he wasn’t of the Establishment, and I feel that  despite his latest attempts to withdraw from UK politics, he will not be able to crawl under a stone, and will be made a scapegoat for the lies of the Leave campaign and for the ugly outpourings of racism that it has unleashed. The public school mob will throw him under the bus. Probably a large red bus with spurious claims written in large letters on the side. He was the fag who could conveniently take the blame if everything went tits up.

It annoys me greatly that we have allowed what is essentially an age-old Tory squabble to so dominate the future of our country. For let’s make no mistake, this was a Blue on Blue fight for power within the Conservative Party. Where was the traditional left and how did they allow this to happen? The trade unions and the Labour Party had a duty to focus the debate on the effects of the decision on working people. Jeremy Corbyn I think will pay for his virtual abstention with his political career. It is no coincidence that Corbyn’s Director of Strategy Seamus Milne is in the pocket of just about the only world leader pleased that Britain is leaving the EU, Vladimir Putin. “Seamus I’m not sure this is a great idea.” Too late now, Jeremy.

I am convinced that the only solution to this Eton mess will be a second referendum. Clearly this is a decision of such importance that we should be allowed to say “Really? Are you sure?”. I don’t mean straight away. I don’t think us Remainers get to say “Best of 3 / 5 / 7…!” until we get what we want. But as consequences emerge I believe and hope that the public clamour for a second vote will be deafening and undeniable.

When people realise that leaving the EU will not mean we have full control over immigration. Or as they realise, and let’s start saying it now and often, that immigration is not in fact the cause of all of the country’s ills. When they realise that the UK’s contribution to the EU is the fee we pay for immeasurable financial benefits. That we can’t just stop paying the EU and put the money into the NHS instead. That those derided experts in the Treasury and the Bank of England were right after all and Britain is going to get poorer through this decision. And we don’t do poor well. It certainly does not bring out the best in us.

When people realise that their golden age thinking is a false nostalgia. We are not going back to a Britain of full employment, where you could leave your back door open and you’d stroll down to your local and have a chat with Pop Larkin and the cast of Heartbeat. It never existed, and if it did exist in any way it was a lot worse than you remember it.

I hope and pray that common sense will at some stage kick in, but as the main parties remain rudderless and beset by infighting and backstabbing, as confusion and anger ripples through the country on all sides, as racist attacks both verbal and physical increase fivefold, well common sense seems in very short supply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy birthday to EU

It was my 48th birthday on Friday 24 June 2016 and I was celebrating it at Glastonbury.  I woke in my tent about 6, full of aches and pains and a strong feeling I was getting to old for this lark. I flicked through my phone for birthday messages, then checked the BBC site for news. First thing I saw – Britain had voted to leave the EU. I shook my head, the news not fully sinking in. Maybe they were still counting. Surely we could not have made such a monumental mistake. Soon the chatter spread all through the camp site. The sound of people trying to make sense of something, to get their heads around the enormity of the decision and trying to imagine how life would change.

After lunch I made my way to the front of the West Holts stage to watch DakhaBrakha, my favourite group from my three years working for the British Council in Ukraine. Three years that were traumatic and challenging for the country, but three enriching and happy years for me personally. Ukraine is a country that is desperate to join the EU. And not for the chance to flood into our country and sponge off our benefits. Rather to help them to change themselves, to take on a ready made set of laws and values that bring stability and hopefully sustained prosperity.

My Ukrainian friends reacted to the referendum result with shock. The EU is a dream for them and the UK a big part of this dream. Some Little Englanders would have you believe that the rest of Europe don’t like us, perhaps because they never vote for us in Eurovision or laugh when we lose at football. Not a bit of it. We are liked, respected and admired. For our traditions, for our creativity, for our honesty, our tolerance and for democracy. I have lived abroad for more than twenty years, most of the time in different European countries, and have found nothing but kindness and friendliness, and my nationality has opened many doors and the occasional heart. We are seen as leaders and exemplars and I couldn’t understand why we would turn our backs on this.

The more I thought, the more I talked, the angrier a felt. A deep directionless anger. Just a feeling I was being taken to a place I didn’t want to go. A bleak and sad place which offered little hope. I was angry at all of those who had voted Leave, angry at the media and the politicians who stoked fears and intolerance and manipulated the public for their own political gain, I was angry at the Baby Boomers who had voted for Leave in their droves, despite the overwhelming desires of their children and grandchildren to stay in. This selfish generation who had all the benefits of free education, universal healthcare, the stability that peacetime and the EU have brought, and now they want to pull up the drawbridge without a thought for the young people who have to live in the smaller world they are creating.

The only thing to do at this stage was to go and see Billy Bragg at Leftfield. Me and Billy go back a long way. I’ve been a fan for 30 odd years and I have seen him innumerable times. Billy has a talent for articulating an experience, whether it’s through a love song, a social comment or a political polemic.There was comfort in singing along to all those familiar songs – New England, Sexuality, Levi Stubbs’ Tears – but focus too, and he’d chosen his songs well. The highlight was The Few, a song about English football hooligans abroad. Those “Little John Bullshits” who “piss in their fountains to express our national pride”. There was bitterness in Billy’s voice as he sang the refrain “What do they know of England, who only England know?”

By the Saturday however I was determined to put aside the politics and focus on the music. There are always one or two moments at every Glastonbury, when the emotion overtakes me and I start to well up. This year it happened during Madness’ set at the Pyramid Stage, as I flung my arms and head back, and sang along to It Must Be Love with 80,000 other happy souls. I looked across at my friend and saw him choking back a happy tear as well. I tried to analyse what it was that made us react in this way. For me it was a link between the past and the present. I had loved Madness as a 12-year-old kid, bought their first seventeen singles (stopped at Michael Caine for some reason) and played them to death. That was me, alone in my box bedroom, just me and the record player and my Madness records. And now here I was in a field in Somerset, surrounded by thousands and thousands of people of all ages and all backgrounds, all sharing the joy of the experience. That feeling of community, of shared experience just got me right in the gut. And it got me thinking about the EU again. That we’re better together. Despite the differences in perspectives and priorities there is more that unites us. And it’s emotional, based on a feeling not facts. That’s why I feel European. I see no conflict between this and also feeling English and British. I feel European and I want to stay that way.

I’ve come away from Glastonbury feeling politicised and determined. I dream and will campaign for a second referendum. But in reality the democratic process needs to be respected and their are few good options. The push for a second referendum should perhaps come from the Leavers. As it dawns on people the damage that will be done to the economy in the short and long term, as they realise that immigration will not be curbed to any great extent, as they realise that the benefits of the single market come at the cost of net contributions and the free movement of people. Perhaps we will get a second chance for common sense to prevail. I’m not looking for a new England, I’m happy with the old one, in a United Kingdom and a united Europe.