Last Thursday Britain went to the polls. Everyone assumed that the Brexit vote would go like the Scottish independence vote. Everyone was wrong. In what many have been described as a protest vote, the U.K. ended up shooting itself in the foot and possibly starting a process that will lead to the demise of the U.K. This is now a kingdom that may not stand united for long
By now, everyone is aware of the situation. The British held a referendum and surprised everyone, including themselves, by voting out of Europe. They are now scrabbling to try to find a way to mend fences with Europe, to hold another poll, to have a "redo" of the vote. But there are no redos in politics.
Populism played a rampant part in this vicious and mendacious election campaign; as always, such populism has taken its toll.
Turkey had a similar rampant populist election last June, with a number of twisted truths being used to distort reality and confuse the voter. Fortunately, by November, things stood much clearer. Turkey had a second chance; it seems unlikely that the U.K. will have a chance to change Brexit to Breturn...
There is no question that populism drove the leave vote in the Brexit referendum. Michael Gove and Boris Johnson ran a campaign that was neither accurate nor truthful, again reminding us of the opposition campaign in Turkey in 2015. How telling that this dastardly duo has fallen out once the campaign came to fruition. Gove has shaken off the burden of Boris and is striding ahead alone.
An example of the twisted truths used in the leave campaign is the red bus that claimed: "We send the EU ₤350 million every week... let's fund our NHS instead."
Sounds great...This is an argument that would convince me. Junior doctors in the U.K. get a starting salary of 22,600 pounds, which rises to 30,000 pounds in the first four years. Not bad, you might think. But if you look at the rent map for London, (which is dated last September, so the rents are bound to be higher now), the cheapest rents - those on the very fringes of London - are around 1,300 pounds a month. This does not leave our poor doctors much to live off. And nurses and other staff in the NHS are less fortunate. And it is not just the doctors and nurses who need an injection of hard cold cash. The hospitals, the equipment, the NHS as a whole is in need of more money.
So, hey yeah. Let's stop paying Europe this ridiculous amount of 35,000,000 pounds a week and feed our doctors. Works for me.
Until you do the research.
First of all, the math is wrong. Britain does send something like 35 million pounds a week to the EU. In theory. In fact, the EU gives Britain a rebate. The net amount that the UK actually pays is much less. To quote ITV news: in 2014 the U.K. sent around 14.4 billion pounds to the EU, or 280 million pounds a week. But the money is refunded. The U.K. receives money from Brussels in the form of grants and payments which go, for the most part, to farmers and poorer areas of the country.
So that's the math. In fact, this dodgy mathematical calculation is dodgy on both sides. Both sides played fast and loose with the truth.
But putting the math to one side. The fact is that there is a certain amount of money - quite large by any calculation - going to the EU on a daily basis. If Britain leaves the EU then this amount can subsidize the NHS right?
Well, Nigel Farage did a quick back track when challenged with this question on the morning after. First he said it was a mistake, and made it clear that this was a mistake not by his Leave.EU campaign, but by the official Vote Leave campaign, run by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
So, this money cannot be given to save the NHS. So many people were misled and voted the wrong way. They thought they were voting to save the NHS. But they weren't.
Add to this the effort to recoup by the Conservatives; one approach is to split hairs. Cameron earlier stated that UK will in fact not leave Europe, but will leave the EU. Well, yeah, of course the UK will not simply pack up and move to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It cannot abandon continental Europe. Like it or not (and many Brits do not like it) the U.K. is part of Europe.
Such obvious statements are perhaps being made to pacify the large number of people who had voter's remorse on the following day; in fact, the number of people saying "I didn't think the way I voted was important" makes one wonder what has happened to the minds of the British public. Did some alien force come and zap them during the night of June 22? Or is this just an indication of how the majority of the public today sees their votes. That they don't count anyway? That your vote will have no effect? How sad.
And then there is the quote given by John Simpson of the BBC, who called the Leave campaign "careless and vicious."
Simpson compares the campaign to the referendum of 1975, held to see if Britain wanted to join the European Communities (predecessor to the European Union). To quote Simpson, "Forty-one years later, the sheer nastiness and mendacity of the 2016 campaign was, by contrast, stunning. So was the careless way many people wandered into the voting booths to vote on the entire future of their country. "Oh yes, I voted Leave," a specialist at a big NHS hospital told me. "Well, I couldn't make my mind up, it was all so complicated, so I plumped for No because I thought it'd make life more interesting."
Make life more interesting... this sounds like what people who support Trump say... They want Trump to be president because they want to watch the great meltdown of America... it will be entertaining.
Voting is no longer a civic duty. It is a way to blow the establishment out of the water because it will be more interesting. However, I for one am all for a stable, reliable and boring government.
Michael Gove, who is now running for leader of the Conservative Party, uttered a Trumpism last week. When asked why people should trust him rather than all the economists and international authorities who warned the country about the dangers of Brexit, Gove replied "People in this country have had enough of experts."
True, I am wary of experts. You can always find an expert to back up any idea you hold. But if an economic expert tells me that an action will cause harm to the country's economy, I for one, will listen. But those who did not want expert opinion are even now paying the price. There has been a drop in the global and British markets, with the British pound at its lowest point in decades. Standard & Poor's have given the U.K. another demotion in credit rating.
Other people had slightly better reasons for voting to leave the EU. Some said it was because "Britain should be free to make decisions for Britain."
But as John Oliver so succinctly said: "Britain was already independent. In fact, it's what many other countries celebrate their independence from." But there are other reasons that 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU last week.
Many people voted in this way in an effort to tackle immigration.
Lord Ashcroft carried out a poll of over 12,000 voters. The findings of this poll were that one-third of those who voted to leave did so as it "offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders." This was second to the FREEDOM cry ("Decisions about the U.K. should be taken in the U.K.").
And in the wake of the vote there has been a 57 percent increase in racist hate crimes. A Polish cultural center has been spray painted with racist graffiti. Over 100 Islamophobic incidents have occurred. In less than a week. And this is the country which prides itself on multiculturalism, which congratulated itself for electing a Muslim mayor to its capital London. What has changed? Perhaps now those who are made uncomfortable by immigration feel that they have been given the thumbs up to express their racist ideologies... They now feel entitled to act out.
To return to the idea of freedom. Why is the U.K. so obsessed with remaining untrammeled by European bureaucracy?
Margaret Thatcher summed it up best in the 80s: "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels. "
When the voting patterns throughout the country are examined, some interesting facts come to light. This revolution, this cry of freedom did not emanate from the capital city. Rather it came from what were previously industrial towns, the hard grafting areas of the Midlands, the north and the suburbs. This was a rebellion against London. It was a rebellion against the elite. It was a rebellion by the older generation against the younger generation (75 percent of 25 and younger voters wanted to remain). It was a rebellion of the rich against the poor.
As in all rebellions, both sides lose. After the carnage and blood shed there is a scrabbling to re-establish normalcy and both sides find themselves in trouble.
In the U.K. both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are suffering. The Conservative Party is trying to tread water in the political vacuum caused by the "future" resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron. Future resignation? It is not often that we hear someone say "I will resign. But not tomorrow, not next week. I need a couple of months and then I will step down." David Cameron had the decency to resign... but only after he steers the country through these troubled waters. Yet, it was Cameron who steered the UK into the troubled waters... He should actually just hand the rudder over to someone else. He is no longer trusted. At the same time, the Labour Party is not reaping any great benefits from the Brexit vote. There has been an open revolt in the Labour Party against the leader Jeremy Corbyn. A large number of the shadow cabinet either resigned or were fired and Corbyn has sworn to stand against any coup attempt.
The question as to why the Conservative Party has such problems is easy to answer. They had a great deal riding on the Remain vote. But what has happened to Labour?
Labour supported remaining in the EU. However, more than 30% of those who voted for Labour in last year's general election voted for Brexit. These were voters from safe Labour seats in the north of England and Wales. That is, Labour's voters deserted the party during this election.
There are some predictions that if Corbyn continues to refuse to resign the party will split. Such an event could herald the reshaping of British politics.
The Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has stated that Scotland, in order to stay in Europe, could hold another referendum on secession from the U.K., described what was happening in the two main political parties as "utter chaos, shambolic and frankly disgraceful."
"At a time when the whole United Kingdom needs leadership probably more than it's needed leadership in any part of the postwar period you have got the Conservative Party and the Labour Party completely abdicating responsibility."
This is the disaster of the Brexit vote in the U.K. Perhaps it will be best for the U.K. to quietly depart, without attracting too much attention.
However, it is unlikely that the EU will allow this. What is more likely is that the 27 other members of the EU will want to punish the U.K.; how dare the U.K. want to leave? And more importantly, there is a need to dissuade other countries, many of which have been proposing their own referendums, from contemplating such an action.
What happened on June 23 was the culmination of a long period of disillusion with the voting system, with democracy in the U.K.. From the era of Thatcher people have become more and more convinced that their vote did not matter. They woke up on June 24 to find out that their vote did matter.
As November approaches and the U.S. gets ready to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, one can only hope that the American voters take heed of what happened to their cousins across the Atlantic. A vote is a serious thing. It can change so much. One vote does matter, it does count. There are no redos... Get it right the first time.