By now, those with even the mildest interest in politics will be aware that the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, and David Cameron, the Prime Minister, will step down. Depending on whether you talk to people in the Leave or Remain camps, the stock market is either fine or it’s in turmoil. The UK is either on the brink of rioting or it’s continuing on as normal, and we’re headed for a calamitous recession… or we’re not. Considering that many of these pundits – from both camps – were confidently predicting that the Remain vote would win the referendum, about the only takeaway that has any validity is the lack of certainty for anybody or anything.
There will be other people who, with vastly more experience than I, write more measured and sensible pieces about what will happen to the UK. Indeed, if anything should happen at all – because you’re a more gullible soul than I if you would trust David Cameron, Nigel Farage or Borish Johnson. What I think, personally, is both more interesting and perhaps more explainable at this point in time are the reasons why the UK left the EU. In many ways, the referendum’s result has stripped away any veneer that this was about anything other than ‘immigration’. Certainly, the staggering rise in violence (even assuming that some of it is not true or has been magnified) towards people who appear to not be ‘English’ (and what does that even look like in this day and age?” suggests that, for many voters, this was about racism, pure and simple.
But it’s too simplistic to leave it there. Britain has a history of multiculturalism that has been, for the most part, successful. When I was teaching there, I taught students from a range of different backgrounds, and for the most part, they got along reasonably well. And this was in a region that, last week, was 75% in favour of leaving the EU. It begs the question: what has caused this sudden upswell of ill-feeling towards immigrants?
Based on nothing more scientific than my own experiences and discussions with friends and family, I think it’s a heady mix of denial and nostalgia. There are plenty of people I know (ironically, a lot of them are English who are now living in Australia) who said that they voted ‘Leave’ because their country has changed. They can remember a time when everyone was white and spoke English, but now, wherever they look, there are Poles or Eastern Europeans or Indians or some other ethnic group. They don’t like that, they want to return to their youth when England was full of English people, and everything was rosy and wonderful, and nobody lost their job and so on and so on. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks.
And here’s the great lie of the whole matter: these people believed – for whatever reason, be it stubbornness, the calumny of the media, or their own determination – that England can go back to that idyllic, lets-face-it-it-never-really-happened, vision of the past. And that’s not going to happen, regardless of the whether England is part of the EU or not.
There wasn’t much in the way of joined up thinking from the Leave campaign. From what I saw, the whole campaign was centered on the idea that by leaving the EU, Great Britain could become ‘Great’ again. But I didn’t see anywhere how this was going to happen. It’s all very well to have a plan to win the referendum, but you also need a plan to govern once you have. Just ask Malcolm Turnbull.