A year ago the political earthquake that was Brexit happened. Now our political leaders seem determined to push us over the cliff despite many reasonable voices telling us not to go. Sitting talking to friends last week, most of us said that given the chance of being able to earn a decent living we’d emigrate, such is our despair at what is happening to this country. It’s not just Brexit but the lack of investment in education, social care, health and essential services like the police and the fire brigade that also concerns us. My children too often talk of going to work in a different country once they are grown up. They don’t feel that their future lies here.
Here’s a reminder of the post I published a few days after Brexit. Once my exams are over, I’ll write something more.
Going to bed last Thursday, I was complacent about the result of the Brexit vote. I knew it was going to be close but I still thought the Remain side would win. Stumbling downstairs to make a cup of tea the next morning, this quickly turned to shock when I looked at the news headlines: “What on earth have we done?” I thought.
Until now, I’ve never taken much notice of politics but the result of this vote has finally shaken me out of my middle-class bubble. Yes, I exercise my right to vote but being a Labour supporter in a Tory heartland, I genuinely feel that my voice doesn’t count for much; I just go and vote on principle. Last Thursday felt completely different though: this time my opinion would actually matter and after dropping my son at school, the first thing I did was walk across the park to the polling station.
Why did I vote to stay in the EU? Because although the institution is a bit of a lumbering behemoth, I thought the positives strongly outweighed the negatives and because staying in felt like a vote for co-operation, tolerance and diversity, all values I hold dear. The only way to change the EU for the better is to stay in it, went my reasoning. And as the Leave campaign had been totally hijacked by fears over immigration and nationalist slogans like “wanting our country back”, any sound economic, social or political reasons for leaving hadn’t reached me by the time I cast my vote and they probably wouldn’t have swayed me, such is my dislike of Nigel Farrage and Boris Johnson.
And what do I think nearly a week on? For the first time ever, I’m fearful for the future. The country may go into recession again, racist attacks have increased sharply, prices will probably rise, jobs will go and the surprise result has created political turmoil, the likes of which I have never seen before.
I didn’t vote for David Cameron but I didn’t expect him to resign immediately. Maybe I’m a bit naive, but to me this effectively says: “I’m not man enough to sort out the crisis I’ve plunged us into, someone else please do it.” And Labour? If ever there was a time to stand united and show what they can do in a time of turmoil it’s now. But what do they do instead? Turn on their leader, who was elected by an overwhelming majority of the party membership. Yes, I understand the argument that we’re heading for a General Election and the party don’t think Jeremy Corbyn will win, which is why Labour MPs are trying to force him out, but to me it feels like the country is leaderless just at the time when we need a firm and decisive hand.
And what kind of message does our decision to leave the EU send to the rest of the world? It must feel like a kick in the teeth. Sorry we’re just going to sweep 40 years of co-operation under the carpet because a small minority – 36.4% – have decided that it’s in the country’s interest. “Hang on a minute,” I hear you say, “that’s the wrong number, it was 52%!” No, the turn-out was 70% not 100%: do the maths. My feeling and it’s only a feeling, don’t shoot me down, is that most of the country didn’t want this result and yet to the outside world my opinion and my values don’t matter. “Democracy” has happened and we have to live with it. I think one of the reasons the Remain camp are so upset is because Brexit has been a PR disaster – British people now come across to the rest of the world as racist and inward-looking, and that includes those of you in the Leave camp who I know aren’t.
Thinking about what to write today, I came to two conclusions. The first of them is that many people didn’t understand the repercussions of what they were voting for. There aren’t many people I know who could give you a coherent and convincing argument as to why we should’ve stayed in or left, and I have friends who cover the whole spectrum of society, young and old, rich and poor.
Not many people seem to know how much we benefit from EU funding for example. I found it ironic that the areas where the Leave vote was the strongest, were the ones who have most benefited from regeneration funding given to them by the EU. Did you see that report in the paper about people in Cornwall worrying about losing their EU funding, when their county voted to leave? I think you’ll find the phrase is: “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”
In all honesty, I believe that we ordinary people shouldn’t have been allowed to vote on such a complex issue in such a simplistic way; just a simple yes or no majority, without a second or even third vote was foolhardy. Yes, really. “Oh but then you’re denying people their democratic rights,” I can hear you say. Maybe but if we’re going to have such a vote, surely it’s better that we really understand the issues before deciding what to do. I think the campaign on both sides failed to educate people properly, it just tried to scare them into doing what they wanted. And I suspect this vote had little to do with the EU really but was a protest against the failures of successive governments to tackle the serious problems our country has had for decades (like lack of housing and under-funding the NHS) and the gulf between rich and poor, which is widening again.
The second conclusion, which is a far deeper and more serious issue, is that what has happened is down to the repeated failure of politicians to listen to their electorate. Now lets keep things in perspective, EU immigrants make up a mere 5% of our population but because the amount of resources we have in terms of schools, doctors and housing etc hasn’t kept pace with this influx of people, these facilities are being stretched and people quite rightly are complaining.
I have myself, when I’ve rung the doctor 10 times on redial only to be told I can have an appointment in a month. Milton Keynes has one of the fastest growing populations in the country and the health service around here is on its knees because it cannot cope and many local schools are oversubscribed too. We need more resources for our growing population, but all the time funding for things I consider necessities continue to be cut. The complaints of ordinary people have become louder and louder over the last decade but they haven’t been listened to and of course people blame immigrants; they are an easy target. It feels like we’re just told by most politicians, “this is a time of austerity and we all have to tighten our belts”, and yet again the problem is swept under the carpet.
Like many of my friends, I have watched with alarm and not a little fear as Ukip has risen to prominence: they target people’s fears and fill them with false hope. And we aren’t the only country in Europe where the Far Right is gaining support – look at Poland, to take one example. Nationalist pride like that is what caused all of the wars of the last century: it is one of the reasons the EU was set up, to prevent us from repeating the mistakes of history and why I feel it is a tragedy that we have decided to leave.