A Few Words on Brexit

As we were doing the supermarket shop this morning, we kept coming back to the subject, couldn’t quite leave it alone. I will admit that I am not dealing with it especially well at the moment – a little clue to which was my desire to snarl at a perfectly ordinary white-haired couple heading back to their car with the Daily Mail tucked under the man’s arm. But fortunately I am married to Mr Litlove, whose sensible perspective today has been: we have to understand this, and recognise the discontent and disenfranchisement expressed by half the voters on Thursday, and think about what we can do.

So here’s where I think the rot set in: I think the banking crisis of 2007 was one of the most mismanaged and shameful episodes in recent history. Not only did it show how corrupt and mindlessly greedy the financial sector had become, the subsequent disaster and double-dip recession it caused was never truly, definitively laid at its feet. There were no public reprimands, and none of the shake-up the sector obviously needed. It was a declaration that the super-rich were in charge.

And then I think that politicians have been heading down a slippery slope for decades now, out of touch with so many parts of the country, slick and superficial and performative, rather than genuinely concerned to find workable answers. All those spin-doctors, all those sex scandals and expense account fiddles, oh I can’t even be bothered to write about it. Who amongst us thinks that politicians are anything to admire? It breaks my heart that Jeremy Corbyn, who appears to be a genuinely principled and decent man, is unreadable in our current culture. We’ve lost the ability to pay attention to anyone who speaks quietly and sensibly and compassionately. Unfortunately, he’s the wrong man at the wrong time.

Globalisation has taken a heavy toll – we hear about all the problems in the world and we can’t solve them. And we hear about people like the Kardashians as if they were a family to whom we might compare our own. We’re told about all the money out there and all the trouble out there, and we’re encouraged to look all the time at this enormous picture of extremes that makes no sense but which we’re supposed to be a part of and which clearly is intended to threaten us. If people are pushing this hard for isolationism, then it must in some degree be due to a backlash against the idea of the global community.

And the biggest responsibility for all this has to go to the media, who work their little socks off to spread an atmosphere of fear and discontent. If people are afraid of immigration, whose fault is it? The media acts like an enormous lizard brain, screaming and yelling at the least hint of trouble, pushing us towards extreme reactions. And when it isn’t depressing us with the promises of disaster, it’s pedalling narcissistic envy of celebrities and the rich, putting them on pedestals, pulling them down. It sets an example which we cannot help but follow – look, this is how we treat other people, we point the finger of blame, we say others don’t deserve what they have, they make us feel not good enough, not rich enough, not safe enough and it’s always someone else’s fault. The media never takes responsibility for itself, and this is highly contagious.

So there’s a huge protest vote. But why did anyone think that leaving the EU would make any of our problems go away?

Notting Hill Editions sent me a book a few months back that was an argument for leaving the EU. Mr Litlove read it. Its suggestion was that, if we were to leave the EU, we could set up better economic deals for ourselves in the long term. But it would take about ten years to do so. If we were able to bear the difficulties of those ten years, and deal with them effectively, we might end up in a stronger position.

Now, I myself would not have chosen these next ten years as the ones to undergo further hardships, not just at the point where our economy is stabilising again. Nor would I have chosen to undertake a difficult and complex renegotiation of our trading positions at a time when we have no faith in our political leadership. If we had a united country, if we had leaders with strong, clear visions of the country’s future, if we had a buoyant economy, if we had anything in this tiny little island that was unique to us and valuable to the rest of the world, maybe then we could step forth into a brave unknown with some confidence. Instead, we’ve sawn off the branch that we’re sitting on, and we’re just falling.

And what to do about it?

Well, you will not be surprised (if you visit this site with any regularity) to learn that my solution at this point is for every British person to take a long, hard look at their attitudes. A long, challenging look. In the Daily Mail, which this morning proclaimed that Britain should ‘take a bow’, the editorial pointed out that holidays abroad would be more expensive, pensions would lose value and we have lost the right to work, travel and study abroad with any ease. There followed a string of comments from outraged people who apparently ‘did not know this would happen’. I read that Cornwall, which voted to leave the EU, has now registered a protest, demanding reassurance that it will continue to receive the same levels of funding as if we were still a member state. The Leave voters have complained a lot about being called ‘stupid’, but I am struggling to find an alternative adjective for these reactions. Perhaps, though, the people who are annoying me the most are those who are acting as if nothing is happening, as if the economy isn’t going to head into recession, as we know it will, as if the EU isn’t about to make us an example to discourage other referendums, as if Scotland isn’t about to leave the union. I will say this as politely as I know how: if you voted Leave, you are going to have to step up and take some responsibility for the crisis that is now going to overwhelm us.

What makes me despair is this: the years since the Second World War have been some of the most peaceful and prosperous in UK history. And what have we done with them? We have worsened climate change and destroyed the environment, we have put house buying out of reach of our children, who are now leaving university with massive debts (when we had our education for free!), and we have voted to shut them out of Europe, out of 27 countries where they could have lived and worked. And we have just voted to set back scientific research for the foreseeable future – there’s a reason why 105 university Vice-Chancellors wrote jointly in favour of Remain, pointing out how dependent their research was on European collaboration and funding. We have not made a better world for our children. We haven’t even preserved the one we had. And now we’re reducing their opportunities to find solutions and improvements. We are what we do (being complicit is an act) and we have been selfish, profligate and greedy.

There’s been a lot of talk about wanting Britain ‘back’, in a loose, unspecified kind of way. Essentially it’s been a euphemism for xenophobia. But if there’s a Britain I’d like to see back, it’s the one I’ve read about in novels – which makes me think it must once have existed – where people didn’t have much, but what they had they were ready to share with anyone who was suffering. They seemed to pride themselves on being able to help others in need, on forming strong communities, on recognising the bonds of humanity that draw us all together, regardless of all other circumstances. I am not a Christian myself, but I feel at the moment the loss of Christian ethics, which were deeply woven into the social attitude in a way that made people feel they knew what they ought to do, even if they couldn’t always do it. There was a time when, if you had a standing in the community, if you had status or wealth, then you had a responsibility to care for others less fortunate. There was definitely a time when being civil and polite showed you to be a decent person, and it made the wheels of life turn more smoothly. There was a time when humility was a real virtue, before it was replaced by self-righteousness and entitlement. If we are forced now to return to a pre-WW2 state, then it will only work in any way if we can adopt some of these pre-war values. Returning to the 1930s with the attitudes of 2016 is going to be a complete disaster.

Here’s a few more things: we’re going to have to get over this ridiculous resentment of people who actually know things in favour of our personal, uninformed opinion. If we’re to move forward into this uncertain future with any hope, we have to listen to those with good ideas and experience and insight. We’re going to have to figure out how to build bridges again with all those Europeans we’ve just offended, putting their own countries at risk of further economic instability, because we can’t just work in isolation, not any more, not in this world. We are going to have to find ways to ask a great deal more of our politicians and our media – and to understand what that ‘more’ might sensibly and usefully look like. We are going to have to give up being fearful all the time of things that have a tiny statistical risk, and learn to fear the real dangers that stalk us: self-absorption in our own self-pity, for instance, the pleasure taken in being stubborn for the sake of it, the refusal to take responsibility for our own situations.

Because finally, ultimately: we have all lived through good times and bad times, and so we must surely know by now that happiness and contentment are not dependent on external circumstances, but on our own attitudes. If things are wrong in our lives, it is usually because we are standing in our own way.

We must surely know by now that feeling good about ourselves lies in our ability to do good things, to act well towards other people, to take responsibility for our fates. Great networks of self-justification, great conspiracy theories of blame pointed at people we scarcely know, living in a bubble of self-reassurance, these only provide artificial happiness, manufactured out of artificial ingredients. No, if we have any hope for what lies ahead it has to be grounded in the understanding that working hard and taking pleasure in doing a good job, whilst caring for others in our community are the valuable skills and attitudes that are available to us all. Goodness knows in the coming years, we’ll need them.

88 thoughts on “A Few Words on Brexit

  1. No one talks about the obvious: Cameron is an idiot for organising a referendum on this. You don’t do a referendum, where you can only give a black or white answer,

  2. Sorry wrong click.
    I meant that the question asked is related to too complicated a topic to be a safe one for a referendum.
    Your PM played with fire and everyone is surprised to get burnt.

    • Oh God yes he should never have done it. He allowed people to protest on an issue that has very little to do with the problems of the country. But still, it’s happened and we have to remember that the result was very close, only a couple of percent in it. 48% percent of us were aware that the referendum was a bad idea, but 51% really wanted that protest. We’re a deeply divided country and that’s an issue that needs more addressing in the next few years than the obvious stupidity of Cameron.

    • Oh Harriet, it’s all such a mess at the moment, all these delusions and false promises and self-aggrandisements! We all have to speak up honestly about how we feel if we’re ever going to build anything real and better again. We have to face the mess we’ve made.

  3. I agree with so much of what you’ve said here, most emphatically the toxic influence of the tabloids. This catastrophe was entirely avoidable.The referendum was called by a leader who wanted to pacify the mouthy, recalcitrant members of his own back benches, something that had been eating away at the Conservatives for years. Purely an issue of internal party politics. Presumably he’d hoped to silence them but instead has unleashed a calamity that will be paid for by generations to come. Sadly, it’s likely to hurt the Leavers who have felt dispossessed and ignored for years and saw an opportunity to vent their anger far more than the rest of us.

    • Susan, we should really replace my post with your comment! You have it exactly right – and the Leavers will not get what they hoped for from this vote, alas.

      • Dear Litlove, as usual, your post was brilliantly articulated, such a balanced, sane and wise analysis of this horrible situation – the calm and comforting voice of reason amidst the current confusion and hysteria. As Susan says above, this crisis has been brought about by Tory bickering, followed by cynical, irresponsible manipulation by the tabloids. It’s beyond belief that such a complex issue wasn’t kept firmly within the arena of experts, rather than being exposed to public ignorance and gullibility. Thank goodness the referendum isn’t legally binding, and we can only hope that no politician exists who is insane enough to accept the poisoned chalice of invoking Article 50.

      • I seriously hope at this point in time that we can have some sort of amendment to the referendum. There seems to be so much chaos and disruption, just such a hopeless mess, that if nothing else we have to start thinking that Brexit is not a viable solution to the problems we were facing. I completely agree with you that it’s been about political infighting, and that such an important issue shouldn’t have been handled in this cavalier way. There was a great deal wrong with the EU and our membership as it stood, but nothing yet has suggested to me that leaving the EU is a meaningful solution – far from it!

  4. As I’m sure you know, we’re likely facing the effective parallel to this in the probability of a Trump presidency, which will alienate us in trade and diplomacy just from the sheer horror of it, even if those weren’t his stated positions. And we are facing it for a host of similar reasons, though for us, there’s an additional layer of unfortunate in-country racism that allows low-income white people to blame everything on non-whites. What’s truly bizarre is how the lower-income sector latch on to the philosophies and promises made by the very wealthy, who control the media. The complete disconnect baffles me.

    • You are SO right about the lower-income sector believing the media when it is controlled by people who do not have their interests at heart. This is so sad and so true. I must admit I feel concerned about Trump. I keep hoping people are responding to him as a phenomenon, watchable but not really credible. But then, I thought we would narrowly avoid Brexit, so what do I know?

  5. This may be of interest to you or to visitors to your site…I don’t agree with the political-agenda conclusion, but it’s a fascinating analysis of why the poor in America latch on to things that make no goddamned sense. There are many parallel points to those you’re facing. This author, poor and white herself, has had some surprising national media attention for this piece. http://www.stirjournal.com/2016/04/01/i-know-why-poor-whites-chant-trump-trump-trump/

    • This is a really interesting piece that makes a strong point. We have the exact same thing going on with immigrants, on whose shoulders all the problems of the UK are heaped in order to deflect attention from the rich getting richer and richer and richer. The big schism in the voting was between old and young, with the retired voting overwhelmingly for leave and the under 25s for the EU. Education was also a big factor – the more education, the more likely to vote remain. The way the vote shapes up can be seen here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/24/eu-referendum-how-the-results-compare-to-the-uks-educated-old-an/

      It’s the young I feel for – they’re the ones who are going to have to deal with the fallout. My son, for instance, will now leave university with huge debts and enter an economy in deep recession. He’s been studying chemistry and many of the research programmes he might have hoped to find a job with will now be compromised by lack of EU participation. It kills me. Too many older people have believed the propaganda against the immigrants and the fear culture the papers spread.

    • Umberto Eco, who just missed all this, said it all in 1995 – and he lived through it the first go-round as a child in the Thirties & Forties:

      “Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

      7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the US, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

      8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies. When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”

      And no, of course that doesn’t make any sense, those are all contradictories, but of course Eco already dealt with that part of it, too:

      “Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. Both Fascists and Nazis worshiped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon Blood and Earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life, but it mainly concerned the rejection of the Spirit of 1789 (and of 1776, of course). The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

      3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.”

      Swap out “intelligensia” for “elites” and what does that sound like? Here we go again.

      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1995/06/22/ur-fascism/

  6. This is brilliant, Victoria. I’ll be linking in my new blog post, because I certainly can’t say it better – and I can’t quite muster the emotional energy to say anything much at all.

    • Oh thank you! I completely understand the emotional exhaustion. I’ve gone back and forth and up and down, not wanting to say anything and then feeling compelled to. In the end I reached the point where I had to get it out rather than have it going round and round in my head. I told Mr Litlove I was going to write a post and he was all a bit: oh thank goodness, as he may have been rather tired of acting as sounding board ….🙂

  7. Pingback: Poor Relations by Compton Mackenzie – Stuck in a Book

  8. Like you, I’m trying to find some small ray of light in all this, or find a way to live with it. I’m not sure what I write below does help me to digest things, but it’s a start.

    When the economic crisis in 2008 became really apparent, I was hopeful that we would rethink ‘capitalism’ and find ways to create a kinder, more just society. But it seems the lessons of wild speculation and profiteering have not been learnt, austerity measures seem to punish the poor more than the rich, politicians seem to have become infected by ‘celebrity culture’… and so it’s not surprising that people feel the need to lash out. Like all stroppy teenagers (who may have good reason to rebel), we sometimes hurt ourselves most of all when we lash out.

    Thank you for a very well written, thoughtful piece. At the risk of sounding like some coaching guru, let’s hope the healing can begin.

    • Marina, what you say about post-2008 is exactly what I was thinking and hoping. I also thought, okay, now we have to sort out the excesses of capitalism, and it really has not happened at all. It’s been clung onto, despite the ever greater price we’ve all paid for its philosophies. You and Susan are so right that the people who are most affected by the current situation are still the ones who will suffer most in the fallout. I completely agree that if we are going to make any progress, we really HAVE to change – start living smaller, more real, more supportive and compassionate lives.

  9. What a relief to read a sane and measured response to this appalling mistake we have blundered into. You talk so much sense, Victoria. And I do agree that this was a referendum we should never have had in the first place, born out of a misjudged fear that UKIP were going to do better in the General Election than they ever really were, and hence a pusillanimous attempt to appease the Euro-sceptic right. It would have made some constitutional sense to have a referendum over Maastricht or Lisbon as some others did, but this one was just in the middle of nowhere for purely self-serving Tory-Party-internal-politics reasons, and was timed to come along after a long, draining period of recession and cuts, when people are seriously disaffected, and xenophobia is running high as it always does in periods of economic hardship (c.f. 1930s and Mosley). All so stupidly, stupidly unnecessary and misjudged. What have we done?

    • Rosy, you are so right. What a decision to make over what was essentially political in-fighting! And oh good grief, what timing! I do feel a second referendum might be democratically possible, if we realise now, say, how important it might be for 16-17 year olds to get a vote, given that this will have huge repercussions for their future.

      • I do think that once some terms for Brexit have been thrashed out (and the out voters see how disastrous it is, and how hollow the claims of the Brexiteers were, that all would be well in the best of possible worlds), a referendum on leaving on those terms could be constitutionally justified.

  10. Brilliant post. I agree with everything you say. Particularly the utterly reckless stupidity of Cameron holding the referendum in the first place. The uncertainty is making many of us feel very edgy and a huge period of adjustment has just begun. As a country however we do need to recognise the huge amount of discontent that is out there, someone needs to address that, though I can’t see that being a priority for our Tory government. The media has played their own shameful part in this catastrophic fiasco fanning the flames of discontent and prejudice. I won’t be writing about Brexit on my blog I can’t bring myself to so thank you for saying I might have wanted to but was incapable of.

    • Ali, I think you are so right to say that we’re on the brink of a huge period of adjustment. Whatever happens next, we have to make some serious and profound changes, ideally to politics and the media, and then to heal the rifts in the country. Wouldn’t it be good if for once we all thought rationally about what we need, and worked hard to get something sustainable, livable, just and positive together? I can only hope that this fiasco (good word) will result in some positive alterations.

  11. I’m feeling so exhausted and sad over all this, and scared because I don’t know what to expect from our elections in November. What you say is the rightest, that people want to ignore actual reality in favor of their own ignorant opinions. That’s the scariest thing to me, because xenophobic and hateful media narratives can become so powerful, and people believe them without ever questioning whether or not they’re backed by data. Bleh. What is this world.

    • Jenny that’s exactly what worries me. Hatred is such a strong message and it speaks to so many forms of discontent and unhappiness. It is so dangerous in these situations to endorse hatred as a viable response. I sincerely hope that America takes a good long look at what has happened here and realises just how damaging to everyone and everything the urge for vengeance and/or unfocused revolt can be. We lost out by a tiny margin – I do so hope you guys can get that margin the right way round!

  12. I am shocked and saddened by the divisive Brexit vote. To choose such uncertainty and add new problems to those already facing the UK and the EU seems so foolish.

    I hope it works out!

    • Devoted reader, you speak the truth. Now is a terrible moment for this to happen. I just hope that bad things can produce good things. Sometimes it does turn out that way.

    • When I think of you and so many of my former students living abroad, loving the European connection and culture… it’s such a ridiculous and unnecessary result, and a shame on us, too.

  13. “It sets an example which we cannot help but follow”. – My solution has been to stop reading or watching the news. I haven’t done so, regularly, for 7 or 8 years. It has made me embarrassingly ill-informed, but I can’t stand the strident, confrontational tone of all British journalism. Sadly, the Guardian is among the worst offenders – every disagreement a “war”, and stories of people’s struggles reported less with sympathy than with a subtle incitement to blind anger in the reader.

    And then, since nobody expects newspapers to be objective any more, the Guardian could have done more to promote the Leave campaign positively, instead of headlining with things like Cameron’s “My current arguments are rubbish but I can’t think of any better ones”.

    As for the book that claimed leaving the EU will enable us to set up better trade deals for ourselves in ten years… Where to start? Firstly, if economists couldn’t see the 2007 crash coming even a year before it happened, any claims they make to be able to predict economic events ten years from now are frankly laughable. Moreover, that even a book *promoting* exit from the EU offers no good news for ten years says everything about what the Brexit campaign was really about – i.e. a bunch of privileged right-wing zealots (mostly with, themselves, nothing to lose) seeking a pugilistic isolationism that Britain, with its huge population and its paucity of natural resources, simply cannot support economically.

    This was a train crash that I have felt was coming for years, but that hasn’t made it any easier to deal with now it’s happened.

    • Frank, a book you might be interested in is Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner by Katrine Marcal. It offers a very persuasive explanation for why the economic models have all been so useless; I loved it, and thought it spoke a lot of necessary sense. And you might have seen the article (Mr Litlove told me about it so I guess ironically, it’s from a newspaper) about Boris Johnson and Michael Gove being both essentially journalists whose campaign represents the worst side of current journalism – black and white, sensationalist, often misleading. Perhaps the obvious misrepresentation of the Leave campaign will now come to the fore and bring about some long overdue changes. Listening to radio 4 today, it’s clear people there are really shocked by the result and deciding they need to rethink ‘what is a news story’. Now wouldn’t that be good?

      It is a train crash, and one that will cost us dearly. I can only hope some parts of our establishment will be chastened into rethinking their strategies and philosophies. You’ve got to hope.

      • Thanks for the book recommendation, but my days of reading books about economics are, I think, over. About 8 years ago I was reading about nothing else, and my conclusion at the end of it was that there is nothing really to understand about the subject – that economics is just a game played by lying, self-seeking charlatans, with ordinary people as the pawns😦

      • Well this book offers some rather interesting explanations for why economics appears that way and how it could be different. But I do understand – too much of a thing requires lengthy detox.

  14. So eloquently put Victoria. I’m still stunned, upset and in shock and like you, trying to resist the urge to yell at everyone holding a copy of the Mail. I sat next to an old pair in Costa yesterday reading trivia from the rag, and it took all my self-control not to create a big scene….

  15. I live in Australia and I can’t leave the Brexit result alone! A few of my friends have asked why I care so much. Sure, why would I? I don’t have a British passport (or access to one like many Aussies with British grandparents) BUT the Brexit result, combined with Trump’s loud mouthed, idiotic rants in the US makes me despair…

    • Kate, I completely agree. It’s the message we seem to be sending out at the moment that is so regressive and offensive and unnecessarily violent. What must we all look like? On another note, may we all come and live with you?

      • I fear that the state of Australian politics isn’t much better and that our record for treatment of asylum seekers is deplorable. On a lighter note, I did a petition circulating requesting that Australia join the EU, taking up the empty spot – appropriate given that we’re allowed in Eurovision?!

      • Ha! I am so behind Australia’s inclusion in Eurovision and it sounds as if you could fill our place with barely anyone noticing the difference!🙂

  16. What a thoughtful, well-written, compassionate piece.
    And I wonder whether you’ve seen this:
    I’ve just read this http://jackofkent.com/2016/06/why-the-article-50-notification-is-important/ which fundamentally says that until Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is triggered by the EU State that wishes to leave the EU (obviously the UK in this case) neither that state nor the EU will begin negotiations to leave. It’s clear and well-written and suggests that we might not leave at all – in the end!

    • Angela I fear it is a forlorn hope, but it remains a hope in my heart that we could reverse this decision. It COULD be done democratically. We could poll every county, asking if people wanted a second vote, now that the consequences of leaving are so much clearer; we could ask if 16-17 year olds could be allowed to vote, as they were in the Scottish referendum, since their future is so much at stake. There are plenty of good, democratic reasons to call a second vote. I also heard on radio 4 today that Germany is hoping we might reconsider. I thought the EU would be so fed up with us that wouldn’t be a possibility at all, but if it were….

      • To reconsider, with calm consultation. Polling, as you say, every county, and asking about 16-17 year-olds … now that really would be the beginning of bridge-(re)building.

  17. Really good piece which articulates much of what I’ve been thinking (in a much messier way). I think you’re so right about the way the media generally has made the EU along with migrants a scapegoat for all ills, it’s been a drip feed for years and it’s obviously sunk in for a lot of people. I think too, that the truth for many of us is that things have not improved since the crash of 2008, the gap between us and them seems ever wider. I still earn less now than I did then in the only job I can find, I’m sick of it, so a big reason I voted remain was to avoid more chaos and harder times. The most depressing thing – that we’ve been set on a path of uncertainty and anxiety (my employers reassuring message is that in already tough trading conditions things are going to get a lot tougher and basically no promises…) by the narrowest of margins and by so many people who just don’t seem to have thought their decision through – all due respect to those who did feel they had good reasons though.

    • Desperate reader – I completely agree with you (and think you are very eloquent!). We have a serious problem with the protected super-rich who have gained all the rewards of globalisation, who have been untouched by the recession and for whom the instability of markets is irrelevant. That has caused so many problems for the rest of us, and the job market uncertainty is just terrible, an awful thing to have to live with. I also think it’s completely right to say that people must have had some good reasons for leaving, and I wish there were some of those reasons – and the visions for the future they hold – on offer to us now. What seems so dreadful at the moment is the chaos with no hope of redemption, no clear forward movement, just massive punishment from the EU.

  18. Last week I spent in Hamburg celebrating one year of a major EU funded research project (I am a teeny, tiny part of it); now I know it will be the last one I am likely to be involved with. Of course that’s a trivial, trivial reason to be upset and concerned about the outcome and I think you have put my feelings extremely well, so apart from saying that I don’t think I can add anything more.

    • It breaks my heart to think of all the potential and actual scientific research projects that are now under threat or cancelled altogether. I am hoping very hard that whatever happens, the universities can find some way to maintain links with their European counterparts. It’s worth putting all our thought into maintaining this.

  19. If I can be the dissenting voice, I am a university educated person who voted out. I would like to keep free trade and good relations with our European neighbors, but feel we cannot support current levels of immigration, which is part of the EU package. 300000 people coming in each year need about 150000 homes, without dealing with the backlog or next years immigration. The poorest people take the brunt of this, but even in my suburb, we have to accommodate 800 new homes, which means building on all our green spaces and demolishing many 1930s semis to build 5 storey blocks of flats. Unless you have been personally affected, it is easy to dismiss these concerns. The richer (better educated) you are, the less likely you are to have been affected by mass immigration, which I suspect is why there was such a rich/ poor divide in the voting.

    • Of course! I’m glad to hear about why you voted leave because hardly anyone I know did and I’m very curious to understand. I completely agree with you that the poorest do bear the brunt, and my fear is that leaving the EU is not going to improve their lot in any way. I’ve been looking around at articles on immigration and one I found suggests that non-EU immigration into the UK stands at around 196,000 a year. So to block EU citizens would reduce immigration, but by no means solve the problem. Plus we were protected by EU member states in other ways – France’s refusal to block migrants at Calais now means that Dover will see some serious problems.

      I do see your concern, and I wish there were a way to assuage it that didn’t mean losing so many other benefits – our relatively stable economy, international trade deals (I just heard that because the UK hasn’t been negotiating its own commercial deals since the 70s we have no trained international trade negotiators), ongoing medical and scientific research, and so on. I really wish that instead of a referendum, there had been a nationwide survey, a national debate, about what we needed as a country, what was causing the most suffering and distress. Perhaps then we could have addressed these issues more directly rather than taking such a drastic solution that has yet to reveal real benefits. Thank you for coming on here and commenting. I do feel strongly that we all need to work together. Maybe you have ideas and suggestions for how we can move forward into the future with the least damage?

      (I should also add that I live in one of the fastest developing areas in the country, with whole satellite towns and suburbs being planned and built. Our green spaces are also disappearing fast. Our household consists of an unemployed writer and an unemployed furniture-maker, we’re supporting a son at uni in London and none of us looks forward to another recession. So few people are winning in the current situation – I think we’re all dreading the future at the moment, for one reason or another.)

      Oh and a link to that article I quoted: http://ukandeu.ac.uk/would-leaving-the-eu-reduce-immigration-to-the-uk/

  20. I agree totally Victoria. You always put it so well. Now the tories and labour have gone into meltdown, it’s still difficult a couple of days on to see anything positive at all coming from it in the near future. I have the option of becoming an Irish citizen in extremis, but that’s not the answer either. I’m still reeling.

    We held our own vote at school, as did my daughter’s school – and both voted around 70% remain. The referendum result has done our children a great disservice.

    • We were thinking we liked the look of Canada! Though you’re right; it isn’t a proper answer. And you’re also right that we’re in meltdown and probably will be for a while. But after that, we are going to have to work very hard indeed to salvage whatever we can. Good things do come out of bad, and maybe we were always headed towards a big political and economic shake-up. Now’s an awful time to have it, but let’s do it and get something worthwhile out of it, if we must.

      I do feel so bad for the youth of the country. My son will now graduate into a recession, with huge debts from his university education and few jobs going in chemistry research. And that’s only the effects of the next couple of years. Actually what broke my heart was listening to young people responding to the vote on Radio 4 this lunchtime. They all spoke so wisely and maturely, angry about the result, but none of the lashing out that’s been such a feature of both campaigns, really steady and insightful when they considered their futures. I think we have to hope that they can continue this sort of heroic approach, and maybe they can find some answers.

      • Litlove, I didn’t hear the Radio 4 vox-pops of young people, but one thing that has struck me is that these days the young seem, on the whole, wiser and less complacent than they were ten years ago. The damage seems to have been done mainly by middle-aged voters. Even then, one can’t really blame them: they were ignorant and ignorance is not a sin, but the way ignorance is exploited by educated people in the media and Parliament, who should know better, is something that is hard to forgive. As another commenter mentioned, the demonisation of immigrants by the Daily Hate has been a phenomenon for a couple of decades now; it’s all been building up to this.

  21. I hope it will all work out in the medium term. But in the short term, this will have a devastating effect on small businesses and individuals, if they are unfortunate enough to be in an area that will be affected by the uncertainty and the potential changes in agreements. Isabel’s class at school were outraged by the decision – my hope is that perhaps a new generation are able to see a wider and more complex perspective.

    • Denise, I was listening to the voices of young people on Radio 4 this lunchtime, discussing the result and was struck by their insightful, measured, wise tone. I have such hopes for their generation – we may have ruined much for them, but if anyone can dig us out of this hole, then maybe they can. In the short term, however, you are quite right. It’s going to be chaos.

  22. Oh litlove, I agree with you! Although I think there’s another way to read the notice from the Cornish Council, who themselves may or may not have voted to Leave, which is that they were already concerned for the future of their people – and rightly, as it seems. And I have a lot of time for Jeremy Corbyn – the amazement from everyone when he was interviewed by Andrew Marr (I think?) and he was honest tells you a lot about the current state of politics and what a rare and admirable man he is. But I don’t think that he is a good leader.

    Have you read any of the articles by John Harris in the Guardian? I think that they are interesting and explain a lot. If you already have nothing, then you have nothing to lose and possibly something to gain from a seismic change – that doesn’t make you stupid or racist. Not that this exonerates the leadership or much of the press on either side of the debate.

    At the moment what I am most concerned about is the future in Northern Ireland, I am worried that peace could be imperilled by the fallout from this. But for now I hope that we Inners and Outers can stop shouting abuse at each other, because oh my, we will need to work hard together.

    • Helen, I agree, what’s happening in Northern Ireland is very worrying indeed. And I do think that we need to come together to work out what the future will be. At the moment, any anger I feel comes from the seeming lack of any plan or ideas on the part of the Leavers. I just don’t think it’s ethical to fight so hard for something you then don’t know how to deal with.

      But you (and John Harris) are right that it was a protest. I think it’s a terrible time to choose for it, and the wrong issue. If leaving the EU were going to provide the security, stability and end to immigration that the working classes long for, then I can see it would be a good idea. But two-thirds of immigration comes from outside the EU at present, and another serious economic recession is just not going to help anyone. I have great sympathy for anyone suffering (in any way!) but this is so much cutting your nose off to spite your face. Was there no other way we could actually address these concerns, the sense of abandonment that some sectors so clearly feel?

      Well, we’re in a mess. What we really do need is some ideas and some cooperation and the sooner we can do that with some togetherness, the better. I do hope you didn’t find this post abusive to Outers? I really didn’t want it to be, though I admit I am angry and distressed about what has happened.

      • Litlove, I can’t believe you have ever been abusive to anyone in your life, and your post is one of the best attempts to work through what’s happened that I’ve seen. I completely agree, the irony of protesting at domestic government’s neglect by voting it out of the EU and into the hands of the far right is just heartbreaking. It’s not just cutting off your nose, it’s hacking off your entire head.

        Frank, I am sure that there is a lot of racism both overt and covert among Leavers and being poor and desperate may be an explanation for some of them but it is no excuse. And they should be called out on it. I completely agree. But people like Anne who commented above had other reasons for voting Leave.

        Do you know, I really thought that I was beginning to achieve calm about this and a measure of understanding? And now today I spent about five minutes reading the news and I am already in a blistering rage again. I am really, really trying not to believe that our political leaders are principally cynical, dishonest, cowardly and/or unimaginative, that the gutter press really is vile and exploitative and that many of my compatriots are not idiotic, but today is making this difficult.

        Thanks for letting me rant, litlove.🙂

      • Oh you are welcome, dear friend. I think we all need to rant at the moment, and probably for some time to come. Like you, I feel I’m making some peace with it and then get alarmed or furious all over again. The repercussions are endless. Is there any hope that America will learn from this, with Trump in the offing? I am so hoping that we will at least stand as a terrible warning to others, given that we are no longer anything like a good example….

    • Helen, if you’ve heard or read a lot of the comments from people who voted to leave, there is no doubt that many of them are racist – nor is there any doubt that they would be proud to describe themselves as such. The reasons for their racism may, given their circumstances, be understandable, but it is a slippery slope not to call out the ugly side of human nature for what it is.

  23. Thank you so much for writing this. As someone in her early 20s who’s going to have to live with the economic consequences of this referendum for decades, I have to say, I am almost numb with rage. Everything you say about the older generation – handed their education, their careers, and the ability to purchase their own homes, on a plate – resonates, and it makes me blindingly angry that the 65+ demographic voted so overwhelmingly to leave. Are they completely indifferent to their descendants’ quality of life? Was it not enough to fuck up the jobs and housing market? Were they not content with the banking crisis, or their contributions to climate change? One of the things I’m finding hardest about the referendum on a personal level is trying not to be completely swallowed up by hatred for the older people who voted to Leave. Hating a whole demographic can’t possibly be the right thing to do, but it is so, so tempting right now.

    • I think you have every right to be furious. Your generation is going to have to be absolutely heroic. The only thing that has really given me hope was the report on Radio 4 about the responses of the young to the vote, who were so sane and balanced and insightful and wise. If anyone can turn this around, your generation can. But oh how I wish you didn’t have to.

      • I wish I felt sane and balanced and insightful right now. Still working through the anger and sorrow and fear. But, at least, progressing.

  24. Hello Litlove,
    I stayed away from my blog for the last couple of months, so when I decided to open the laptop this morning and discovered your piece on Brexit I hastened to read it because I knew you would have something vital to say on the matter.
    As an American who has always been interested in international affairs, I was horrified that Britain would be thinking of pulling out of the EU, let alone that people would end up voting to leave.
    Your piece was thorough and excellent, and I applaud you for bringing up the underlying issues of, for example, civil behavior, or the lack of it, which I’ve been harping about among friends for too many years already. It does seems to me, however, that at least here in the United States, it is exactly that lack of morality that we see manifested in the media (I distinguish between The Media and actual news and editorial), that is one of the reasons that many younger people, and some of us who are becoming antiquated, have indeed turned again to churches for some guidance.
    In regard to the news, I am compelled to point out that as far as I am concerned, people who refuse to read a newspaper, and TV viewers who rely on soundbites or who don’t investigate the stance of particular commentators, those who think that the tabloids have anything to do with real journalism rather than entertainment, must also accept some responsibility for what is happening in the world.
    I also fear that history as a subject of interest in high schools and colleges may be vanishing. (I have no statistics to back up that comment; it’s based on my observations that history doesn’t often seem to come up in one’s conversations.)
    Thank you for your erudite piece. You deserve to be a paid columnist!
    Judith Raunig-Graham

    • Dear Judith, I am actually glad that our situation is causing horror to others. It should. My one great hope at the moment is that what is happening here will stand as a terrible warning to other countries, and that America in particular will think twice about Trump. You are so right that every voter needs to be properly informed about what their future potentially holds. And you do have to dig deep to find that out. The information is there, but not in the media headlines, or most of the stories, where there is no nuance or subtlety and often a great deal of misinformation in the service of sensationalism.

      We are in a complete mess, and I can only hope that, as has been the case before, good things come out of bad things. We’ve obviously been on a collision course for some time, and I suppose a disaster would have happened sooner or later. I think things will have to get worse before they get better, but if we hit rock bottom, then there will be a concerted effort to get sensible again, and really sort the political scene out. May there not have to be too much chaos before we get there!

  25. Brilliant, sensible, and straightforward.

    I am watching from California. I keep hoping I will wake up and realize this whole thing was a bad dream.

    The Brexiters said 52 to 48 against them was no good. Why doesn’t that door swing both ways?

    • Oh don’t we wish it did! I have everything crossed that some kind of second referendum will be held. Either on the terms of Brexit when the EU decides what they are, or to include 16 and 17 year olds who really should be allowed to vote on their future, or because we have had a general election and the winning party has vowed to reverse the decision. There are democratic ways of doing this, although they are all difficult and politically sensitive. But still, I remain of the opinion that the alternative is much, much worse!

  26. You write about all this so sensibly. How did this happen? It is such a sobering thought and frighteningly I think it is really the trend. If we are not careful the waves of this are going to be (well, they already are, I know, and will continue to do so for a very long time in ways we likely can’t even imagine) felt all over the world. Not just in the most obvious ways for so very many people, but here in the US we have a choice to make in November, too. Are we going to follow suit with the same short sightedness? How often do we make these choices with little forethought and reason based on emotions and fear? This is so shocking and I fear we are headed in the same direction, unless people really think hard about the consequences when they cast their vote. How did we get to this point?

    • You ask a very good question! How did it happen? Well, I know I make the media a scapegoat for a lot of things, but I do think they deserve it. The media has been just as out of touch with other parts of the country as politicians, and they have not represented the news with clarity or insight. The tabloids have done their readers a huge disservice by saying only what they thought the readers wanted to hear, rather than showing them the reality of the options. And then growing discontent has made a section of the population just rancorous and up for a fight. I read in the FT someone had said we live in a ‘post-factual democracy’, where the facts just don’t count compared to people’s stirred up feelings. Which is all very well, but feelings make terrible yardsticks for important decisions.

      I hope so much that the horrific mess we are in sends a message to America to think twice about Trump. People really need to look carefully at what’s happening here and consider the reality of it on their doorstep. It’s frightening. We are a terrible warning!

  27. Your two worst fears are also mine: for our adult children, and about the coming presidential election in this country.
    Thanks for laying it all out there so logically; I knew I would understand it better if you had anything to say about it, and you did.

    • Jeanne, thank you. I wish we could have a political party of international mothers who intend simply to Get Things Done, have the fates of the next generation firmly in view, and who will have no truck with posturing or pretension of any kind. Do you think it might work?

      • It would be a lot of work, and for people like me, I think it would be a nightmare to have to run for public office. I was asked once to run for the local school board, but decided to try to contribute in different ways.

  28. [J] Brilliant! Litlove for PM! “we’re going to have to get over this ridiculous resentment of people who actually know things in favour of our personal, uninformed opinion” I began to notice this when, back in the 90s, I worked in Germany and in the UK as a free-lance specialist in an area which most engineers were generalists. The difference in attitude of co-workers and other project personnel towards me was striking.

    • Aw bless you over there in the big garden! It’s extremely interesting to have your eyewitness account of the difference in attitude between the UK and other countries when it comes to the use of experts. It is so ludicrous, I don’t even know how we’ve got into this situation or how come anyone can think it’s viable!

  29. Pingback: Literary linking – a special edition | Literasaurus

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