Tag Archives: Brexit

A Midsummer’s Nightmare

Normally I don’t have any problems getting to sleep, but as you know this has not been a normal week. Last Saturday morning I woke up at 2am from a dream to remember that a real life nightmare has come true. And then I couldn’t get back to sleep worrying about the future of our country, what has happened and what will happen.

I thought about how I would never forget this day and the manner in which I had heard the news. I had stumbled downstairs at 7.30, butterflies in my stomach, to be greeted by my partner who was weeping. I span round, barely unable to take it in. I made my stepson’s breakfast, then mine, before I sat down to watch the TV, spooning cornflakes into my mouth in disbelief. “Well, now we’re just a little island on our own,” the 9 year old boy said, grasping the basic gist of this enormous news. We saw Cameron’s speech before I got him off to school.

I was in shock and then following on from that I felt (in no particular order) anger, frustration, sadness, hurt and deep shame at being English. So much so that I emailed a couple of my friends who are EU nationals that work over here, apologising for what ‘we’ have done. They haven’t replied yet.

Can’t get back to sleep. I look at the clock. 3am. I started thinking about my own personal journey, how playing football in Germany and Belgium and Poland and meeting people from different countries banished my own inner Little Englander. I think ‘God, how I’d love to pay for these Leavers to go over abroad and experience the same things I did and realise that ‘the other’ is nothing to be scared of.’ Meeting and socialising with people from different countries and cultures is joy that enriches all of us.

And then my thoughts turn darker. What will happen when the 52% discover in time they have been massively conned, that their lives aren’t getting better, that there are still foreign accents on the streets? It will be the poor and the powerless who will suffer most. I know we’re into ‘false consciousness’ territory now but let us not forget the millions of ordinary people who voted for the Nazis in the 1920s.

I don’t use the analogy with the Weimar Republic lightly. When we say the word ‘fascism’ we immediately think of jackboots and concentration camps. But the road to the gas chamber is marked out by increments. During this campaign the genteel acceptable faces of hate have been the likes of Farage and Gove, the barrage of anti-migrant headlines in the Mail, Sun and Express; their words of spite advance battalions presaging the daubings on Polish centres and calls to ‘send them back’. I shudder inwardly. This is England 2016. What is happening to us?  

3.40am. Cameron drifts into my restless semi-conscious musings. How must he be feeling? Just as Blair will go to the grave with Iraq on his heart Cameron will know that this will be his epitaph – the man who broke the UK, the man who mixed up short term tactics for long term strategy, gambled his country’s future and lost. The slick PR man’s mask slipped as he gave his resignation speech and his voice wobbled. He knows he’s messed up, about as huge as it is possible to mess something up. Right now, he must be the most hated man in Europe.

I turn again to my clock. 4:10am. I long to talk to an older relative, someone with perspective who has been through something more frightening than this: The Second World War, 1940, the last time fascism was lapping at our shores. But my mother died in 2003, my uncle in 2013. And then I realised I am the older generation now.

And whatever people were saying it wasn’t a division between young and old, or even between rich and poor. I’m in my mid 40s, I’m certainly not rich and I voted remain. The main difference I feel (with exceptions, of course) was between the educated and uneducated, between those who cherish the great possibilities that flow when people of different cultures and nationalities come together and those who want to close down possibility, want to build walls and hide behind them

Eventually some time around 5.30 I drift back to sleep. I wake up on the Saturday morning not wanting to be English any more, not wanting to share a flag with the misinformed, the easily-led, the small-minded, the xenophobes, bigots and fools who thought they were somehow ‘taking back control’ (what a facile slogan). Is this lashing out? Please don’t judge me harshly. I’m grieving. Grieving for my country, for my dreams of a fairer, kinder, more open-hearted society, for the brotherhood of nations, of all mankind. Yeah, I know – all that hippy stuff. Maybe these feelings will fade but right now I’m devastated.

One week later, I still am. I may be for some time. 

Britain At The Edge: A Plea From The Heart

The tension has now become almost unbearable.

I can’t quite believe that this is all coming to pass. Historians will look back at this moment and scratch their heads. What possessed England to press the self destruct button in this way? For that is what Brexit amounts to. Quite apart from the fact that in simple economic terms it is clearly barmy. There is also the fact that the Brexiteers are almost certainly signing the death warrant for their own country – the UK. For if Scotland votes Remain a second independence referendum up north is a nailed-on certainty. Scotland will go, no doubt about it. Wales too, in time. And then what will be left? Little England. But then I suppose that is what these Little Englanders want. Perfect isolation, safely tucked away from scary foreign accents.

I don’t want that for my country. I want an outward facing, inclusive nation that is at ease with itself, that is unafraid of the world, of the future, that doesn’t want to hide underneath the bedclothes and pretend that it’s still 1952.

I don’t want the country to be controlled by a bunch of ‘even-more right wing than the present lot’  toffs who are quite cynically using ordinary people’s anxieties against them*, who have blatantly and deliberately stirred up a mean-spirited xenophobia that has already led to an MP being murdered. Ultimately these people want Britain to be an enlarged version of Guernsey, a tax haven where the rich lord it over the poor, without any of the restrictions the EU provides on working hours, workers’ rights and environmental legislation.

So I look at the polls and I shudder at what lies in store on the other side of June 23. I think about the little ways it will affect life on this island. I think of the way my stepson’s opportunities will be curtailed – he may want to study another language and work in another EU country. I also think of the social group that myself and my partner have been a part of for a year or two.

This is a friendly bunch of people based around Brockley. We meet up occasionally for pub quizzes, meals and various social events. One of the wonderful things about it is its cosmopolitan nature. There is a Spanish woman, an Aussie, a Canadian and her Rumanian partner, an Irish guy and his Japanese girlfriend. Its international make up means that as well as a lot of fun, it’s a richer experience for all of us. What makes me sad is that in 20 years time a group like ours might be a relic of the past, as England pulls up the drawbridge and withdraws.

But what do you do? When an individual is so fixated on self destruction, be it through drugs, alcohol or internalised violence it is very hard to dissuade them. Like a toddler, sometimes they just have to smash up their toys to realise that it is not the best course of action. Perhaps England needs to get this tantrum out of its system before it can finally grow up, realise that it’s not special and that it isn’t 1952 any more.

And that no man, or country, is ever truly an island. I implore anyone reading this to vote against xenophobia, against racism, and for hope and for Remain.

* During the last week or so this song – from an equally dark moment in British history, summer 1981 – has been replaying in my head over and over. “And as I was standing by the edge/ I could see the faces of those who led pissing themselves laughing.”