In the aftermath of the United Kingdom’s referendum on it’s 43 year old EU membership, confetti settles and tears dry on a new Britain. The decision we were asked to make is so seismic that it has driven many otherwise balanced individuals on both sides to a uniquely single minded fervour. The result of the vote will have a total and direct impact on every aspect of the way we legislate, judge and do business; there will be nobody who is not affected in some way, however small. Therefore, having lost, many Remain voters feel aggrieved, that they have had their agency removed and their voices rejected. This is understandable. What is unfortunate is the bile that has spewed forth both on social media and in parts of the anti-Brexit press. It has been an unhappy combination of ageism, illiberalism and plain bad sportsmanship. The vote was fair and the parameters equal, the turnout 72 percent and the majority clear. In my view, nobody has a right to call the result into question.
During the long campaigning, the populace was whipped up into a fury. Politicians were compelled to throw their full weight behind one of the two sides and provide a river of uninterrupted and by nature, biased information. In a binary debate with so much at stake, lies were told and fear was spread; both saturated the public discourse. Boris Johnson’s campaign bus was emblazoned with the £350 million he claimed could be saved from the EU and given to the NHS every week. This figure has since been reduced and then retracted. In addition, David Cameron had no compunction in raising the petrifying and irresponsible specter of war on the continent. To some degree however, the severity of the debate did justice to its import. Regardless of this, we were asked to marshal our critical faculties and come down on one side with certainty and faith based on increasingly feverish conjecture. There is no doubt this was a lot to ask of an electorate and the passionate segments of either side now stagger deliriously with either despair or joy.
It has to be a priority now to take a step back and remember that more unites us than divides us. During the coming reconciliation, it is of paramount importance that we take careful note of the voting patterns across the country. They have highlighted a chasm between the haves and the have-nots, the cities and the provinces. A wound has been opened that begs for attention, let’s act quickly to prevent infection, stem the bleeding and stitch it together. To do this we could find use for a word not often heard recently: compromise. Compromise on both sides will be what gives birth to our successful, united future. Think back to a time a few months ago when sober dialogue reigned, remind yourself that it is possible to have an opinion that doesn’t make you boil inside when challenged. It will be demanding, but as we reshape our politics and our national identity we will have to be accommodating and open minded with one another.
Going forward, Remain voters should do their best to abandon their doom-laden conclusions about the nation’s new direction. They now have a duty to put their shoulder to the plough of collective endeavor and help shape the coming years as we all need them to be — balanced and representative. Many seem not to realize that though their opinion was on the losing side, their voice is undiminished. Among left wing commentators there is growing fear of the rise of a Johnson-led right wing hegemony. This fear is unfounded because there will always be a right and a left. Yes, the change we are experiencing is probably unprecedented but we are part of a political cycle. Our constitution remains ironclad and our institutions ultimately unshakeable, we are navigating a storm that will pass. New left-wing leaders will emerge to tip the equilibrium back and will most likely oust a probable Johnson premiership as and when Conservative power wanes. What I am saying is that I concede that for some, British politics might look unfavorable, but think how the right wing felt when Labour leader Jim Callaghan had the reins in the late ‘70s. The cycle will complete itself and the machinery of government will serve you, have faith in that.
Claims abound that now Brexit has happened, Johnson and his stripe conspire to strip this country of human rights, workplace protections and environmental protections that we instituted through the four decades of progress we experienced alongside the EU. It seems to me these concerns are part of the post austerity demonization of the Tory party and should be taken with a pinch of salt. Let’s not be seduced by the idea that all things Europe are socially and morally infallible or that the EU was the guarantor of safety that stood between the government and its people. We have indeed progressed alongside the EU in these matters but I wonder why it is thought this progress will dissipate. Is EU legislation the white knight of all things honorable? Until a legislator tries to undermine these strides forward in the coming restructuring, it is surely reasonable to assume that our leaders believe they are positive things worth retaining in our enshrined law.
The majority of London voted to Remain, standing in stark contrast to the rest of England. The consequence of the vote has led to some considerable dissatisfaction. MP for Tottenham David Lammy called today for parliament to block the referendum result, urging it to ‘stop this madness.’ The ‘madness’ to which Mr. Lammy refers is the will of the people. The same process that gave him his job as a politician would be trashed if what he is suggesting came about. His hypocrisy is blinding. He is joined by 3.2 million signatories of an increasingly suspect petition demanding a second referendum and another petition calling for London to become a city state but remain in the EU.
What worries me is that he and the others might be serious. The carping in evidence leads me to suggest to Londoners something I have never suggested to anybody before; to check their privilege. They are incredibly lucky to live in what has ballooned into a super capital, able at least to hold itself alongside any other city on the planet. They have enjoyed billions in foreign investment and a surfeit of skilled and willing workers. London’s citizens must be cautious not to alienate themselves further, since the rest of the country has enjoyed nowhere near the same benefits of globalization. George Osborne knew this when he instituted the investment program known as the Northern Powerhouse. That initiative is to spread the love that London seems to have enjoyed unconscionably. We need to see many more projects like it in order that the rest of the country can come up to speed with the modern age to the greatest extent possible.
An aspect of this cosmopolitan resentment has been to question the intelligence of voters. The fact that graduates were more likely to vote Leave has provided a convenient segue for features on news websites including the Independent and the BBC of befuddled voters who ‘didn’t understand’ or ‘thought their vote didn’t count.’ Just a handful of these were posted and shared widely in an effort to discredit the result. The extension of this narrative is to denounce the votes in favor of leave as having been cast by simian fools, too stupid to comprehend what was asked of them.
This is a clearly a disgrace because a persons’s democratic voice is sacrosanct. A Churchill quote in this vein that was also shared widely read: ‘the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.’ The contempt demonstrated here is a symptomatic of the yawning divide between the people with the least in our society and everyone else. Not only is it naked snobbery to dismiss the voice of the majority in this way but it is also to call into question the integrity of democracy as a whole. Yesterday, I had a chance encounter with a relation of mine who has been a Eurocrat for most of his working life. I asked him how the Union prioritizes democracy and he confirmed for me that ‘it comes after economic unity.’ Some may agree with him but for me, hearing this from a true insider, I breathed a sigh of relief for how I voted.
So let’s echo the humor of our newly outgoing Prime Minister in saying that we have had a ‘referendum and not a neverendum.’ Brexit is not the end of the world, it is a wake up call. It has served to alert us to the plight of globalization’s victims. Our country will be much more of a force if we go forward together at the same pace, leaving nobody forgotten in the doldrums. London should do away with moral and intellectual superiority and engage with the unlocked potential of the rest of the country by investing in it. People speak of fragmentation now but the UK can use what it has learned about the extent of popular grievance to rally and consolidate, united for the modern age as never before. With a blank slate, nothing is impossible.