I am not a political creature. I have always shied away from politics and, more generally, economics. I always felt that both were very separate from me as an individual.
I understood that The System was there. I understood, sometimes in broad terms, sometimes in detail, how The System worked. I felt that The System was both too complex and horribly over-simplified; full of people that I didn’t care for. I didn’t bother engaging with The System. As long as The System mainly left me alone, then I left it alone too.
The past few weeks have made me want to smash The System into pieces too tiny ever to knit back together. I feel more than just anger. I feel an urgent and overwhelming need to fix it.
So I need your help. This post is TLDR, so feel free to skip to the end to find out how you can help. And please share this as widely as you can.
Let’s just be absolutely clear. The EU referendum, has, for many, many people who voted Leave, got fuck-all to do with the EU and everything to do with a more general sense of unfairness or resentment. They have, either unwittingly or two-fingeredly, set in motion the equivalent of a hunger strike. A protest, yes, but one which leaves you starving and withered.
We have opened the mother of all Pandora’s boxes. I’ve been through all the emotions in my range. So I’m going to channel my disbelief and anger and write down my take on what’s happened.
Here are the questions I’ve been asking myself and anyone else who will listen:
Question 1: How did UKIP get to set the agenda?
You have to hand it to UKIP and (its now former leader) Nigel Farage. Here is a party set up for a single purpose – to get Britain to leave the EU. A party that for the first 15 years of its existence was so far on the right-winged fringes that they had to draft in permatanned daytime smooth-talker Robert Kilroy-Silk to get any attention whatsoever. A party that appealed to the blue-rinse, bonkers brigade element of the Conservatives and to no-one else at all.
Because no-one actually cared very much about the EU. Sure, The Express or The Sun would sometimes fill a slow news day with a headline about the EU stopping us having curved bananas, but none of us cared. We just let the EU do its thing.
But when Farage took over the UKIP leadership for the second time in 2010, he changed tack. He wasn’t happy on the fringes. He needed mainstream. He’s an ambitious guy and was not content to be seen as a no-mark.
So Farage reinvented UKIP as the party for the white working man. Never photographed without a pint of beer in his hand, Farage made UKIP into the straight-talking, no nonsense, “I’m not afraid to say what’s wrong with this country” party. And in hundreds of pubs, and working men’s clubs and Sun readers’ comments, the pissed off white working classes agreed with him in droves.
They didn’t care about Britain’s membership of the EU. Eh?? They cared about how shit they felt their lives were, how left behind they felt. How impotent. And UKIP harnessed their impotence and their anger at being ignored and it fed them on a heady mix of fear (the immigrants are taking what’s rightfully yours) and hope (here’s your chance to wrest back control).
Cameron’s faustian pact
The effect: the remaining hard-right within the Tory party (and there are many, many) turned the heat up on Cameron. They were terrified that UKIP support would cost them the 2015 General Election. Cameron was worried about losing his job, so he made a monumental miscalculation. You see, he didn’t realise that most of the new UKIP supporters didn’t care about the EU (not in any sense of sovereignty or economic trade terms). They just wanted some fucking respect.
So Cameron made his faustian pact: a referendum to appease the Eurosceptics in his party and save his own neck.
You can see why Cameron panicked. Easy to dismiss as frog-faced, spittle-foamed loons, but UKIP won 12.6% of the votes in the 2015 election (meaning 3.8 million people voted for them – for scale, that’s more than the combined population of Birmingham and Greater Manchester). No small thing when you consider that Labour got 9.3m votes and the Conservatives 11.3m.
So, a one-issue political party with only one parliamentary seat has forced a referendum on that single policy issue. How did they do it?
Farage: a willing gambler with other people’s money
Remember, Farage started life as a metal trader in the City. In his 2015 autobiography, he says:
“I love a gamble, I love stacking up the odds, and it has only been through taking enormous risks that the party and I have got to where we are today… Not only did trading in the City help whet my appetite for taking a gamble, it taught me how to get out when the trade started to go wrong, and to brush yourself off when the losses started mounting up.
One morning in the early 1990s – by then I’d been working in the City for a decade – I lost a seven-figure sum in the course of a morning on the zinc market. Not a good day, and it was only lunchtime. Contemplating the sobering loss I had just run up, I grabbed my jacket to head out into Broadgate, with the aim of being less sober while I considered just how much I was down.”
Ok great. Here is a man comfortable with taking extreme risks and losing other people’s money and very adept at running away if it all goes tits up. Here is a man who hated the opening up of the stock markets to foreign companies and investments and hated the increased regulation that the EU imposed.
Presumably to stop cavalier traders like Farage losing vast sums of other people’s cash and regulating themselves with a blow-out drunken lunch.
Farage had a personal agenda against the EU, because it stopped him and his City chums feeling like Billy Big-Bollocks.
And now Farage has stepped down as leader of UKIP: “I now feel that I’ve done my bit”. Because what is UKIP for now? It’s achieved its single aim and Farage can be brought back in the Tory fold when the new cabinet is formed.
Question 2: Why was something so complex treated as binary?
The suggestion of putting Britain’s membership of the EU to a simple IN/OUT vote is an act of astonishing naivety and gross negligence.
I confess that, until I saw the levels of propaganda and bile that characterised the campaigns, I thought it might be a non-event. That our traditionally conservative (small “c”) country would either not bother to vote or would vote to stay in. Because, as I’ve said before: who actually cared that much about the EU? Who really gave it that much thought?
But apparently, it’s as easy as In or Out. Remain or Leave. It reduced a mind-bendingly complex analysis (constitutional, legal, economic, future-forecasting) to instinct.
And the campaigns, knowing that the nuance and complexity were overwhelming, boiled it down to rhetoric, slogans and over-simplified claims (or lies, as more commonly known).
All of which meant that at least 10% of people still didn’t know on polling day which way they were going to vote. It may as well have been decided on a coin toss.
Which is why countries which regularly use referendums (like Switzerland) insist on special rules, like making sure people know what they’re voting for and majority thresholds.
What they don’t do is big up a “once in a lifetime chance to have YOUR say on the future of the country” and then hope for the best.
Question 3: Where the hell were the facts?
“I think people in this country have had enough of experts.”
Well thank fuck for that, because I suspect a great number of those experts are EU citizens and they’ll probably have to go home now.
I lost my shit a few times during the campaigns. This was one of them. When I don’t know the answer to a very serious question, that will have a profound effect on my future (like, is that lump benign or should I have it removed?), I like to get an expert opinion, maybe even a second or third expert opinion. But Michael Gove of Vote Leave (now gunning for the PM job, having royally stabbed Boris Johnson in the back) thinks we “have had enough of experts” and should all just trust our gut.
“There is only one expert that matters,” said Labour MP Gisela Stuart, also of Vote Leave, “and that’s you, the voter.”
Here’s where it went wrong for Remain. They led with facts and stats and experts. They appealed to rationality and reason. That doesn’t stand a chance against propaganda and emotion.
Question 4: Where is the line between propaganda and hate crime?
The descent seemed to happen so quickly that I can’t remember how it started.
First there was that big red bus of lies about giving £350m/week to the NHS (it’s not £350m and it’s not going to the NHS – oh right then).
Then Nigel Farage proudly unveiled a poster showing a queue of refugees and the words “Breaking Point” which was almost identical to Nazi propaganda from the 1930s.
And a man (not a terrorist, the papers were quick to say, but mentally ill: i.e. white, non-muslim) stabbed and shot MP Jo Cox (a prominent supporter of Syrian refugees) in her constituency and stated his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”
I mean, no words. And yet it was strangely, shockingly, almost understandable how things could have got so bad.
Because we have allowed free speech to blur into hate speech and our print media, in its fight for survival and in the hands of amoral puppeteers, plumbs lower and lower depths for the attention of its audience.
Did you know that The Daily Mail/Mail Online (23m/month) and The Sun (14m/month) are the most read papers in the UK? Even accounting for those who only visit the Mail’s Sidebar of Shame, that is an enormous reach. Even more so when you consider that 74% of Daily Mail readers do not read any other national newspaper.
The Daily Mail and The Sun, along with The Express, have spent years whipping up hysteria, fear and blame. Terrifying, screeching headlines ALL IN CAPS. Scant regard for facts – they get in the way of the story – scaremongering sells.
Let’s not forget the Katie Hopkins’ column in The Sun in April 2015 about 400 refugees who drowned when their boat capsized. Where she described migrants as “cockroaches”, recommended military force be used against them and said “NO, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.”
Now, you may dismiss this as standard shock and schlock tabloidism, but I don’t agree. It is deliberately, calculatedly designed to stir up hatred and fear amongst readers who get all of their news and opinion from a single source. It is (despite the CPS deciding ultimately not to prosecute Hopkins) my definition of incitement of racial hatred.
And freedom of the press should not mean freedom from prosecution, nor freedom to push an agenda of xenophobia and propaganda in the guise of journalism. Free speech should not trump hate speech, yet this is what we have allowed to happen.
Influencing the ill-informed
The average age of a Daily Mail reader is 59. Two-thirds of its readership are in the ABC1 demographic (characterised as those who have done very nicely for themselves, thank you very much – middle class with money to spend on nice food, they fuelled the buy-to-let market to top up their pensions).
In other words, they are the least likely to be directly impacted by a tanked economy, migrants, or any of those pesky potential fallouts from Brexit (except the catastrophic depletion of their pension schemes – oops).
Millions of Britons living in towns and villages, terrified of “the other”, terrified of life marching on, terrified of what lies beyond what they know. Cocooned and myopic and desperate for something or someone to blame for their terror.
Their personal experience of, and exposure to, the issues that The Mail, The Sun and The Express scream at them, is so limited that they believe it all as gospel; for they have no real-life counterweight. And difficult to muster much sympathy for their Bregret, when the papers finally told them some truths.
A generational experiment demonstrating the bloody tragic efficacy of propaganda + confirmation bias.
Question 5: Who let the racists out?
Seriously, I’m talking about all the racists who were apparently cryogenically frozen in the 80s and have all been thawed out as the result of the Leave campaign’s state-sponsored fascism.
I know it’s them, because they are using words like “paki”, which officially went into extinction in 1989.
I’m sickened, but not surprised. They were always lurking. It’s just that they’d been overtaken by multiculturalism, so they’d had to STFU.
But now they’re out and proud. Looking around them like it’s the fucking Rapture and all 17.4m Leavers are their aryan brethren. My sister stepped in to break up a fight on Friday night between a white British guy and a mediterranean-looking guy and heard the Brit say “I thought we’d sorted this – go home”.
If that is the Britain that people want to get back, then I vote for the people’s republic of London, and pressing the button that turns the M25 into a moat.
Just to put this into context: Austria is looking at a possible far right president (shivers of history) and Marine Le Pen’s popularity in France has been boosted by Brexit.
Truly odious times and we need to put a lid on it. Fast.
Challenge the racists, report them, mock them, spread kindness. Wear the #SafetyPin if that’s your thing (especially because Hatey Hopkins denounces it). Do whatever you have to do actively to show that you are not one of them and for fuck’s sake say something if you overhear racial abuse – do not stand by, do not stay quiet. This is our collective problem and we need to stamp on it hard.
Question 6: Where the hell are our politicians?
In many ways, the least of my concerns. They are, as always, self-serving and diabolical. The collective noun is “fucktards”, so what did we expect?
I get why people in areas like Doncaster and Sunderland, who have been left to rot in the shift from industrialisation to service-centric globalisation, want to stick it to The Man. What the duplicitous, conniving, and frankly desperate manoeuvrings (on both sides) have shown is that they are right*. Westminster and all who sail in her could not give a toss about the people they serve.
The media has been comparing it to Game of Thrones and House of Cards. People, please. This isn’t even up to the standards of The Thick of It.
Absent, cowardly, ruthless, pathetic, mealy-mouthed, brazen, belligerent and revolting. To a man and woman, left and right, no-one comes out of this clean.
And right there in the thick of it sit Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre, anointing their preferred candidates and keeping the propaganda machine churning.
No more. There is no excuse, with the technology available to us, for not insisting on transparent government, with evidence-based policy and data-driven accountability.
Enough of the froth and the spin and the game of politics. Enough of it attracting Machiavellian types or blind ideologues with no real-world experience.
Just do your fucking jobs.
*The grievances are real, but they are mainly the result of domestic policy and neglect. The referendum wasn’t the right forum, but I do understand why they took this opportunity to say fuck you to both main parties. The Tories who have cut them open and Labour who have failed to staunch the blood loss.
The saddest thing for me is that the referendum, result and fallout all mask the real issues that need to be openly discussed and resolved. There are legitimate concerns around immigration and its local impact in terms of integration and employment. There are legitimate concerns around the ability of the NHS to cope with an ageing population. There are legitimate concerns around the chronic under-investment of great swathes of Britain outside of major metropolitan areas.
Question 7: What does Leave even mean?
Because I sure as hell don’t think it means the same thing for everyone who ticked that box.
I don’t think that those who voted Leave because they’re concerned about the increasing federalisation of Europe, or because they believe we can do better trade deals outside the EU, want to be lumped in with the Britain First racists. But they are. And that’s what happens when you reduce the vote to an In (which exists already, so people know what it stands for) or an Out (which doesn’t exist, so it can be whatever you want it to be, however vile that prospect may be).
Take Control. Take control of what? Does anyone, anywhere, look like they have any ability to take control of anything?
Question 8: What do we do next?
I’m tired of this already, so I’m going to do something about it. This is bigger than party politics (which seems antiquated and coy now) and more than any of us can do as individuals.
We need your help.
Please, please get in touch if you can help, or you know someone who could (we want to hear from all of you), particularly:
- Constitutional lawyers, media lawyers and criminal lawyers (specialists in racial crime, in particular)
- Developers / UX designers
- PR / Marketeers – digital and print press
- Market/data analysts – we want to track the fallout from the referendum, from £GBP value, to GDP, unemployment, racial hate crime etc etc
- Political lobbyists / civil servants – we need people with a good understanding of Westminster and contacts within the main political parties.
- Influencers / people who can mobilise large groups of supporters
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help. And please share this widely.