I need to try and write something, to put down some of the contradictory thoughts jostling around in my head. I’m not quite sure where I am in the stages of Brexit, possibly somewhere between denial and bargaining still, maybe heading towards resignation. But mostly I feel sad. If I can forget about it for a while, I’m all right, but then I get a moment to think and all the emotions come flooding back. There’s anger too – at David Cameron for gambling our future against short-term political gain, at Gove and Johnson for shamefully manipulating public anger at problems they helped to cause for the sake of their own political ambitions but with no actual plan for if they “won”, and especially at the right-wing press for continually and gleefully printing downright lies to sell newspapers and help whip up an extremely ugly blend of fear, racism and general confusion. But I’m also angry with the Remain politicians for their cack-handed handling of the situation, for letting the Brexiters set the tone, for trying to match fear with fear, while not understanding that people already squashed under six years of austerity feel they have nothing to lose if you just bang on about the economy, stupid.
Why didn’t they get out there and explain what the EU actually does for us? Explain that freedom of movement cuts both ways, point out that restricting it would affect “people like us” too, publish the figures that reveal the Brexit lies for what they were, etc etc? But no, they left that to bloggers and Facebook posts, who couldn’t counter the blaring of the mainstream media. (With apologies to P. for stealing your metaphor:) The campaign was conducted at the level of telling a class of 6-year-olds there’s a monster in that room, with one group saying “if you run away, I’ll give you sweets” and the other lot offering “sweets if you stay in”. No wonder people voted to run away!
And I’m angry with our ridiculous electoral system. If there’s any more hideous word out there than Brexit, it’s “regrexit” – the remorse of people who didn’t realise that their “protest vote” would actually change things this time. People are so used to seeing elections as pointless, especially if they live in safe parliamentary seats, and to politicians breaking their manifesto commitments once safely elected, that they apparently didn’t think that this vote would have consequences.
We have been lied to on a massive scale, and whatever happens next, it’s not going to be pretty. There are a range of ways this could play out, depending who gets their act together first, and some will be less hideous than others. There is a huge lack of understanding in this country of what the European project means to the rest of Europe, and the level of hurt and bewilderment felt by those of us here, and on the mainland, who believe in it (which is not at all the same as saying the EU is unflawed – there was a fantastic opportunity here for a bit of real statesmanship, which could have reformed things fundamentally for everyone’s benefit, but no. We got David Cameron and his mixture of bluster, threats and incompetence).
But whatever happens next, we need to hold everyone responsible for this mess to account – the newspapers, the politicians of all parties who screwed this up so badly. We need to see that promises made are kept, that lies are revealed and punished through the ballot box, and the courts if necessary. And above all, we need to carry on working for a better world. Whatever happens next, we need to find ways of protecting the environment, human rights, workers’ rights and family lives that have been threatened by this result in all kinds of complicated and as-yet unforeseen ways. We have been burning bridges – now they need rebuilding. Anything we can do to encourage openness, friendship and communication is needed more than ever just now. Books, languages and translation play the same role in that as they always have. Let’s be kind to each other, let’s be idealistic, let’s be watchful. And please, if you’re happy about the outcome, don’t trample on, or belittle, other people’s fears, sorrow and anxiety.