Well, the time has come to talk of Brexit, there’s no avoiding it. It’s clearly madness, the result of a massively flawed referendum, and a readymade disaster (see below), but I don’t altogether blame the people who voted for it. I blame the rightwing ideologues who treat politics as a game that doesn’t affect real people, I blame the media moguls who spread the lies (the front page of the Daily Mail carried fantasies about a flood of immigrants Every.Single.Day in the run-up to the referendum), and I blame our MPs, almost all of whom have shown themselves to be spineless and lacking integrity. Of course I blame David Cameron, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson, and have no idea why anyone would vote for them – it was Tory austerity that broke Britain, not Europe. Any admiration I once felt for Jeremy Corbyn long since flew out of the window. And I blame Vladimir Putin, who is undoubtedly waging a cyber-war against liberal democracy and international groupings such as the EU.
The people who voted to leave, however, had their reasons – like many of those who voted for Trump and Le Pen and Bolsonaro and other populist leaders, they were protesting about the changes in the world economy that have worked well enough for me and many others but have left them stranded. This has to be tackled, as many commentators and politicians are saying, but I go further back in time than most of them in tracing the causes of the problems – I date them from the 1980s when we started exporting our industrial and manufacturing jobs to China and elsewhere, and replaced them with call centres and video games development.
Virtually everyone I know voted to remain – I live in Cambridge which has benefitted hugely from foreign talent, and where the university stands to lose at least a fifth of its research income as well as many talented researchers. Almost the only Leave voter among my friends is ex-military, and the military still have the concept of sovereignty (they took an oath to defend it, after all), which means nothing to me – sure, the Queen is a national treasure, but I wouldn’t go to war to defend her divine right. Personally, I don’t care who governs me – City, County, Country, Continent – as long as they do it efficiently, and at the moment they don’t. The dysfunctional divide between Cambridge City Council (Labour/Lib Dem-voting), Cambridgeshire County Council and the Greater Cambridge Partnership (both run by rural Tories) is one of the reasons our roads, for instance, are falling apart – but British politics have been dominated for far too long by short-term thinking and penny-pinching tax-cutting that has not only given us ten years of awful austerity but also a longer tradition of poorly constructed infrastructure that cuts corners and soon falls apart at the edges. No, I want to be governed the way the Dutch and the Danes are governed, with their long-term sustainable thinking, and their great public transport and cycling infrastructure. This probably requires proportional representation and coalition government, but the British seem wedded to their two-party confrontational system of politics, in which a new government first of all undoes whatever the previous gang achieved. We have a centrist party, the Liberal Democrats, which I have supported all my adult life and which had no fewer than 57 MPs in 2010 (including the excellent Julian Huppert here in Cambridge), but which has since been virtually wiped out. There are specific Cameron-coalition-related reasons for that, but in the big picture it does seem to indicate a reluctance to think beyond a two-party dichotomy. And to get back to Brexit, both parties have failed – in particular, we need a Loyal Opposition, which has been totally missing in action.
Why is Brexit a disaster? Yes, there’s the economic side, cutting ourselves off from a huge market and entrusting our future to the tender mercies of the US and China instead, but it has also unleashed torrents of xenophobia and misogynistic bullying – this began with the government’s ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants and the Windrush scandal, and the government and the Tory press have done nothing at all to rein it in, not even when an MP was murdered. Social media is massively to blame as well, and Mark Zuckerberg is actively avoiding doing anything to tackle the problem – and Putin’s troll farms are exploiting this for all they’re worth. (See the sainted Carole Cadwalladr’s TED talk, if you haven’t already.)
Hearing of someone who grew up in a white working-class culture and is now the only white person on the street, you don’t have to be a racist to understand how hard it is to lose your culture and be surrounded by others you don’t understand. But why controlling migration from around the world should require leaving a European customs union and seriously damaging our economy I fail to understand… I’m a believer in the European project, which should make it easier, not harder, to deal with multiple cultures – not just new migrants, but also eg Scotland, Catalunya, the Basque lands, Hungarian Transylvanians etc. Whereas Northern Ireland has been sold down the creek and the Scots are being dragged into a situation they certainly didn’t vote for.
After a month in the Balkans in mid-2019, I can say that I am very proud of what the EU is doing there to support prosperity, stability and democracy, and it’s money well spent to avoid future conflicts. People who want to leave the EU because of this kind of spending and to axe the foreign aid budget are ridiculously selfish and short-sighted.
I do hope that the Brexiteers actually get on and try to make it work, but they’ll probably go on blaming the EU and anyone who disagrees with them for undermining the project. Or perhaps they will shut up when they see what their brave new world of trading with the Faroe Islands and New Zealand and eating chlorinated chicken while the NHS is ripped apart is really like. I dare say we will eventually rejoin the EU, but certainly not on the advantageous terms we’ve enjoyed until now, with all our opt-outs and rebates.
So there you have it in a nutshell – and if any post deserves the ‘unravelling’ category on Unraveltravel.org, this is it – although in fact we originally meant it to mean something more like unwinding.