Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty.....

Britain as we know it is about to end. I have always had a certain pride in the British way of doing things despite my politics being internationalist and my original political instincts being more towards the revolutionary great leap forward than the incremental progress over time. As a student of history (not in academia but rather as a leisure pursuit) it has struck me time and time again that after the bloodbaths of the War of The Roses, the Civil Wars and the Jacobite rebellions, England and then Great Britain has avoided the kind of confrontations that have plagued many of our European neighbours and our American cousins. I've always believed that having a long history we have somehow the benefit of being further along a progressive road than many others in how we resolve our differences and deal with the imperfections of a democratic system.

That history of compromise survived many close shaves. In 1819, the Corn Laws led to a mood of revolution that found its expression and repression in the Peterloo massacre, in 1831 Wellington's refusal to back the Reform Bill nearly transformed a London riot into an insurrection, in 1926 Churchill used troops to break the General Strike at London's docks, the Miner's Strike of the 80's played on from the industrial strife of the 70's and threatened more sustained political violence. In all cases progress eventually came from a steady drip of give and take and repositioning of suposedly fixed political positions, albeit shot through with isolated moments of violence. Even the Civil War, that long multiple wars of attrition, ended with some form of compromise that eventually led to the parliamentary democracy we retain to this day.

Whatever the outcome of tomorrow's vote I fear that this cannot be so from hereon in. The levels of vitriol, the sheer entrenchment of both sides, the lack of any respect for facts in the debate have led to a partisan attachment to polarities that will only intensify once the result comes in. From the Brexit side the display is already in place, suggestions of a 'false flag' killing of Jo Cox, likening of expert's opinions to Nazi stooges (Gove, who should know better), dismissal of any institution as being in the pay of the EU, this steady stream of disinformation and innuendo has already planted the idea that a Remain vote will not be a result of democratic will but rather a 'fix' perpetuated on the people by an elite in the pay of the corrupt fatcats of Brussels.

The anger that has seethed in much of the post industrial landscape of the UK so perfectly encapsulated by John Harris in his series of roving video reports for The Guardian over the campaign will not simply dissapate with a Remain vote. It will find other, less democratic, outlets. Already besieged by a feeling that 'voting changes nothing', the voices of these Brexit leader's appointed 'dispossessed' will be further amplified by their loss and, I fear, will find expression in violence.

But Remain are not blameless here. The stoking of economic fears, the suggestion that the Brexit camp are in the grip of an insanity that fails to see the 'truth', the mood music that Brexit = racist are also playing their part, further driving the wedge between the two camps to a point where any kind of post referendum compromise is increasingly hard to imagine.A Brexit vote will see the removal of capital from the UK and the long slog of trade talks that will, inevitably, be shot through with accusations and counter accusations for years to come. Probably (and here I do go with the experts) against a backdrop of falling economic power and global political influence.

Playing into all this is the role of both the mainstream and social media. The former are undoubtedly guilty of stoking a hostile environment in the main, toxic to reasoned debate and shrilly partisan to their cause. It is a wholesale failure of our system that we have allowed our nation to be informed by such a corrupt carrier of 'truth'. The latter has heightened narcissm to hysterical levels, an endless echo chamber of self-justification and kneejerk populism where debate and respect are traded for the vainglorious satisfaction of 'Likes' and 'Retweets' to those who already share your side in the debate. The horror of watching last night's crowning BBC 'debate' in front of an audience more akin to a football crowd than a collection of people wishing to engage with the facts and consider the outcomes was a coming together of these two strands of political poison.

We have talked of a breakdown in the political system of the UK for some time now. Perhaps your personal breaking point was the Iraq War, perhaps the bailout and subsequent blame shift of the 2008 financial crisis, but what is abundantly clear to me is that the fallout is coming now and coming fast.

A dislocation between the professional middle classes and the rest. A blame flowing one way or the other depending on the result.
A wipeout for the Labour Party across swathes of Northern England and Wales to match that of Scotland. A wipeout that I cannot see the party returning from.
The growth of fringe parties leading to a political landscape that we are seeing across Europe and we have so far avoided. But within a first past the post system unused to coalition, a dangerous mix that will further heighten the sense that the democratic process is paralysed and unfit for purpose.
Two Conservative parties divided by a basic ideology of their role in the Nation State unable and unwilling to find a compromise point.
A growth of Scottish demands for withdrawal from Westminster and independence from the UK.
Regional demands for autonomy from Westminster and fragmentation of the unified political system.

Somehow, for all its imperfections and faults I retain an immense amount of pride in being British. I value our way of resolving things, frustrating as it has been, I admire the slow, steady, reasoned path to progress and the ability to contain wildly divergent shades of political thought within a system that allows words to triumph over deeds, sense to to win over emotions. Tomorrow heralds the death knell for that system, I dread to think of what comes next.

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