Thursday, June 30, 2016

The disunited Kingdom votes to leave the European Union.

So last Thursday the UK had a referendum where they voted to leave the European Union. That's just in case you have been living under a rock for the last week (no offence to rock dwellers). There have been billions of words spilled about this, yet still no-one really seems to have a clue, least of all the leaders of two main political parties in the UK, or the leaders of the Leave campaign, or indeed really anyone in the Leave campaign. Most people in the Remain campaign are still too shocked to come up with a constructive way to challenge this or make it more positive, and despite what the Leave campaign seems to think, it was not really up to Remain to have a plan for what to do if their side lost. On the other hand, one might have expected the Leave campaign to have some kind of ideas for what to do if they won, as they now have, but no, they have persuaded a commanding chunk (but not the majority) of the country's electorate to vote Leave, yet have by their own admission no plan on what to do now or how to deal with the entirely predictable (and well-heralded) disastrous effects of this decision. The pound has plummeted causing France to overtake the UK overnight as the world's fifth biggest economy, major international companies are already announcing the departure of thousands of jobs from the UK, the EU is already referring to itself as being comprised of only 27 members, billions in EU funding to the most deprived areas of the UK is at risk, Scotland (having voted entirely Remain) has announced its intention to hold another independence referendum which would break up the UK, the peace process in Ireland and Northern Ireland is under threat, and there has been a large increase in openly racist attacks around the country. And that was just the first morning after the referendum!

Once the results were known, terrible things began happening at high speed in an apocalyptic manner. And that is still going on. It is a bleak bleak time to be in the UK. I'm an Irish and EU citizen, I live in London, I had a vote in this referendum and I voted Remain - of course. Though the tragedy is already turning to farce. David Cameron, Prime Minister and leader of the Tory party, resigned immediately the morning after the referendum. But that will only really take effect once a new leader is chosen. Might seem like he should have had to stick around to try and clean up the mess a bit, yes he didn't want the mess, but there needs to be some leadership as the country is facing a massive constitutional, economic and cultural crisis. Over the weekend, MPs in the Labour party rebelled against their leader Jeremy Corbyn who was overwhelmingly elected less than a year ago by the Labour party members. Most of the shadow cabinet resigned, a vote of no confidence was held and most MPs voted against Corbyn, who is technically still the leader but will have to fight a leadership battle now. Because obviously if you are the main opposition party and the Prime Minister has just resigned and the country is in chaos, the politically savvy thing to do is to immediately escalate a faction in-fight amongst yourselves, have no plan or solidity at all, present no united alternative to the leaderless flailing government, definitely don't provide a sane, stable, compelling vision amid the chaos, and certainly don't seize the once in a lifetime opportunity to be the people and the party who navigate a uniting, economically fair, tolerant, equal, anti-austerity path out of the nation's nightmare, which could potentially actually lead to something better coming out of this mess. Why would the Labour party be even interested in such a thing, right? Doesn't sound like any Labour party I know. Good work on essentially getting rid of your own leader instead. Meanwhile B*ris J*hnson, one of the chief proponents of Brexit, and pretty much presumed to become the next Prime Minister, today in his speech announcing his bid for the leadership of the Conservatives, took the unusual step of...announcing that he was not going to run for leadership of the Conservatives. He campaigned to leave, and he's left. He was hugely responsible for this entire Leave disaster, but he's not going to clean up one single bit of it. Yay leadership! Almost makes you think formal politics is defunct and we need something really crazy like participatory democracy.

There is so much more to be said but so much toxic and destructive nonsense is constantly being said about this situation, that I won't say much more. I just want to touch on a few things that people don't seem to be mentioning. Incredible that these things seem not to matter. One is that Jo Cox was murdered. Remember that? She was killed on the 16th June yet two weeks later no-one seems to think it is relevant to remember her or what she stood for. A sitting Member of Parliament, a woman aged only 41, a partner and a mother of two young children, she was shot and stabbed multiple times in the street and murdered by a man who gave his name in court as 'death to traitors, freedom for Britain'. Aligned to the far right, apparently motivated by his horrific anti-immigration sentiment, he killed this person who worked so hard for tolerance, diversity, multi-culturalism and democracy, who campaigned particularly for the displaced and brutalised people of Syria. This political assassination happened in an increasingly toxic political and cultural environment in the UK one week before a referendum in which 'immigration' had been made the central issue by one side of the campaign, an issue presented by them in a horrible, dishonest, inhumane and despicable manner. Yet now, when that side has won, the murder of Jo Cox apparently merits not a mention.

Two less angry points. There was very little discussion in advance of the referendum, or since, about the fact that UK voters are not used to referenda and because elections here are won on a first past the post constituency basis, where most of the votes cast in any constituency simply don't count, many voters are actually not used to their vote really mattering. If one candidate in a constituency gets more votes than any other single candidate, they win. That's it. One count, and most votes don't count. If say you have five candidates in a constituency, and one gets 19%, three each get 20% and one gets 21%, the candidate with 21% wins. Even though 79% of the people voted against him (and it's usually him). You can imagine the same with 100 candidates, one getting 0.5%, 98 getting 1%, and one getting 1.5%. Well done, victory is thine! Making the transition from that to a referendum where all the votes actually matter, is a tricky one for many voters. That is not to excuse the idiocy of the many people who now say 'I voted as a protest, I didn't think we'd win' or 'I didn't think my vote would matter'. If you vote, or choose not to, then know what you are doing, and what you are enabling to happen by choosing not to act. But really understanding that is a process that voters here were by no means facilitated in going through. At the same time, the political parties seemed to have no clue on how to campaign or win a contest where you had to win a majority of all the votes in the whole country. Not just have your side win more than any of the other people in a given constituency. Getting 1.5% somewhere wasn't going to cut it. Nor was getting 21%. Nor was getting 51% or more in one particular place, no matter how populous. All the votes counted. All. People kept talking about how different places would vote, and once the results came in, about how and by what percentage various London boroughs voted Remain, or this bit of Wales but not that bit, and of course that Scotland went Remain and most of Northern Ireland. That's all very well, and something of the democratic will of those people should be respected. Especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland which can argue that their overall view should be respected as states within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (to give its full title, which many seem to have forgotten lately). A minor point is that the views of Leavers in those states should therefore also be respected. The bigger point is, you didn't get it. You still don't get it. It's about what the majority of people want. In the country. As a whole. Wherever they are. Or at least what the majority of people who voted want - feeling guilty for not bothering to show up yet? 'Winning' a constituency doesn't matter. It's the overall total that matters. That's all that matters. The Remain campaign did not seem to understand this. The Leave side did, to a slightly greater degree. If you want a united country, then act and campaign like you are one country. A diverse country sure, but some kind of union, some kind of compelling unifying inclusive vision that everyone, in their many differences, can be part of. The irony is that those who wanted the United Kingdom to be 'free' of one union, the European Union, who thought the UK would be stronger out, not in, have likely precipitated the breakup of the very union they sought to 'make great' again. Now the UK is likely to break up entirely. The United Kingdom is united no longer. This could be not the UK's exit from the EU, but the end of Great Britain as a country and as a nation, its exit from the community of nations. And nothing looks likely to fix that Brexit.


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