I wasn’t going to write about Brexit mainly because, like so many others, I felt and still feel truly fatigued by all of the talk about it, and I had perhaps rather presumptuously thought – like so many other ‘Remain’ voters and even Boris Johnson himself – that the polls on the evening of the 23rd were going to be reflective of the result in the early hours of the 24th and that the noise would die down soon after.
Britain would remain in the EU and we would all get on with our lives. The End.
Except that did not happen.
The polls were wrong. The markets were wrong. Even BoJo himself was caught off-guard, delighting in a victory only hours before he had thought was not his (BoJo later denies this happened of course).
And, in the meantime, the clanging and banging has just gotten louder.
62.9% of people voted to remain in the EU in my area (Merton). Across all 33 boroughs in London, 59.9% voted to remain, with the remain vote reaching more than 70% in some boroughs.
And we were all so deflated (at least in London we were) when it was revealed that most of Britain had voted for Brexit. Terrible incidents of hate crime flared up across the UK, with the total number of reports jumping by 500%, leading people to claim that the vote was legitimising racism.
What the hell happened?
And how did it all go so wrong?
Great Britain’s ‘greatest’ advertising deception
I’m not knowledgeable enough to know all of what went wrong and where it went wrong, but there are some excellent articles out there from Gary Younge (‘Brexit: a disaster decades in the making’) and Fintan O’Toole (‘Brexit and the politics of the fake orgasm‘).
What I do know is that a political campaign based on outright, blatant lies panders to ignorance and misleading the electorate with false advertising shouldn’t be legal (although this would deem most political campaigns illegal…)
O’Toole quotes linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky who invented the statement “colourless green ideas sleep furiously”.
Chomsky pointed out that this sentence is entirely grammatical; it follows all the rules of the way we construct statements of fact. But it is still nonsense. It refers to nothing whatsoever.
It seems, then, that unsubstantiated data and calls to “reclaim control” triumphed over humdrum appeals to err on the side of caution.
No one seemed to be bothered about referencing their ‘facts’.
Another quote from H.L. Mencken comes to mind:
Democracy is the pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
The keyword here isn’t so much ‘democracy’ as it is ‘ignorance’.
In the name of ‘freedom of speech’, the Advertising Standards Agency purportedly does not have “remit over non-broadcast ads where the purpose of the ad is to persuade voters in a local, national or international electoral referendum“, further fuelling this ignorance.
So, in other words, it’s not cool for a YouTuber to not declare that their video is an ad for some sponsored product, but it’s quite alright for 64 million people to be exposed to the oft-quoted Leave campaign’s claim that the £350 million a week being funnelled to the EU will go to the NHS instead.
The mind boggles (and the NHS claim reverberates like a song that makes the ears bleed)
Strange how political slogans don’t have to go through the same compliance processes as financial promotions, despite being of greater consequence to the general public.
What kind of a promise is a promise based on “extrapolation” and a “series of possibilities”?
And does freedom mean forsaking responsibility?
Little England’s tantrum
Little England hates London’s guts, or rather its inclination towards capitalism and its general arrogance and indifference towards what it perceives as being the gulf that is the income disparity between London and the rest of the UK.
And it probably isn’t all that far off from the truth either.
Political economist Dr Will Davies poses an important question:
We celebrate London because it is a competitive world city; we worship sportsmen for having won; we turn on our televisions and watch contestants competitively cooking against each other. In TV shows such as the Dragons Den or sporting contests such as the Premier League, the division between competitive entertainment and capitalism dissolves altogether. Why would it be remotely surprising, to discover that a society in which competitiveness was a supreme moral and cultural virtue, should also be one which generates increasing levels of inequality?
And, to that end, responds:
Inequalities are both a fair and an exciting outcome of a capitalist process which is overseen by political authorities. In that respect, the state is a constant accomplice of rising inequality, although corporations, their managers and shareholders, were the obvious beneficiaries.
In other words, little England’s tantrum was directed – not at the EU – but at the state for seemingly perpetuating London’s superiority. By virtue of being ‘winners’, little England was condemned, according to Davies, to the status of ‘losers’.
By demanding ‘competitiveness’, people were expected to prove themselves relative to one another and this further fuelled the fire of resentment.
All’s well ends well?
No one knows what’s going to happen in the next few months; who the next Prime Minister is going to be, when Article 50 will be triggered, when Scotland will call for its second referendum, to what extent the peace process in Northern Ireland will be affected, who the next US President will be, or how markets and the sterling will react to all of these events.
All we know is that it will be a long, slow process for the UK to renegotiate its trading deals with the same countries it has scorned, in a union that had granted it special privileges that it hadn’t granted other member states.
It cannot, in other words, hope to reap what it has not sowed, at least not in the EU.