I don’t think us British have much of a sense of what effect our recent domestic wranglings have had – and will have – on the global stage. Some of us do, but I suspect not enough, or we wouldn’t have got ourselves into the state we’re now in. So we’ve got ourselves into this massive political tangle, our economy has crashed and needed some quite fancy footwork to get back on its feet, and that small element of our society who thinks racial hatred is OK has felt validated in its actions. Add to that the economic and political shockwaves felt in many other countries by our decision, and to me it feels like we’ve got a lot to apologise for.
For a start, our ruling party has unleashed a beast that they had little idea of the size of, and next to no idea of how to contain. The beast is fear, conceived in an uncertain economic climate born of too many years of austerity, that have made the poor poorer, and are now rocking the economic stability of the middle classes.
And so we, as a nation, voted to raise the drawbridge and seal ourselves off from having to confront the politics of difference any more. Those who are already here can stay – they’re just about OK – but no more foreigners for us, thank you. It’s dreadful indictment on our political classes that they managed to sell us the lie that immigration has caused our economic vulnerability. Not just because of the rift such discourse opens up in our own society, but also because it has a huge impact on our interactions with the rest of you.
My burning question in the midst of all this mess is whether our political establishment will ever apologise for its role in all of this. Sadly, I’m not sure it even recognises the full extent of its culpability.
To begin with, a referendum should never have even been held on British membership of the EU. I realise that a lot of fellow Brits will now stand up and shout ‘oi! We had a right to reclaim our sovereignty!’ But the fact is that until David Cameron decided to placate the small but powerful right-wing element of his party by holding a ‘safe’ referendum, most of us didn’t know what on earth the EU was or what our relationship was with it. Most of us probably still don’t have much of a clue even now. What we were fed in the campaign was an indigestible mess of spin, propaganda and ideology that bore very little relevance to the actual costs and benefits of EU membership. Costs and benefits that we exercised our sovereignty in agreeing to.
So in effect, David Cameron placed a bet on a sure thing in order to unify his party, only to find that his horse fell at the last jump. Boris Johnson also thought he was quids in, expecting to raise up a large army of disappointed leave campaigners to support his bid to become the next prime minister. His morning-after face on June 24th was very telling indeed. Then, of course, every Tory MP who went along with this charade is also held culpable, if they placed more importance on their own position and power than on the welfare of those their actions have an impact on.
And talking of placing more importance on one’s own position and power than on anything else brings us neatly to the Labour Party. Imagine what they could have achieved, if they had made even the slightest effort at some kind of unity. Jeremy Corbyn, adept as he is at opening up dialogue in conflict situations, could not sway the intransigence of the Labour right. It seems clear now that from the beginning of his leadership, minds were set against him despite his strong mandate from Labour party members. What we’re seeing now is rank opportunism at its absolute worst, played out at a time when Britain desperately needs a strong and unified opposition party. I shouldn’t need to point out that unity does not require all members to agree on everything, it simply needs the grace to concede with one another and to compromise. I had hoped for so much better from the Labour Party.
And there you have it. Our political establishment in all its glory. Its campaigning on both sides of the argument was breathtakingly inward-focused, appealing predominantly to British self-interest. It didn’t seem to matter what the rest of the world thought or felt, even though plenty of politicians knew that a decision to leave would create economic shockwaves across the globe. Nor did it matter if we sent a message about the strength of fear and xenophobia, because whose business is it what we get up to? Well I believe we have as much global responsibility as we do local, and so you, dear world, have my apology, for what it’s worth. I’m just not sure you’ll ever get one from the people most responsible for bringing all of this about.