Sometimes, in the framing shop where I work part-time, a customer might bring us a valuable work of art that’s been damaged by water, mould, insects, or even vandalism. We would either say we can frame it as is or advise them to take it to a specialist conservator who’d be able to restore it to somewhere near its former glory.
We would not say ‘Oh, that’s rubbish,’ and screw it up and bin it before their very eyes.
Clearly a small majority of people in the UK couldn’t see that they had something worth repairing or maintaining, and felt that it made more sense just to throw it away.
“Do I look like I’m singing yet?”
(Lucien Freud, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995)
So let’s be clear here: this is not going to be an objective piece. I’m going to try and be fair, but dammit! the Loony Leavers won more votes in the referendum than the Rational Remainers and I am not happy with that. Not happy? I am disgusted, sickened, devastated, bereaved, stunned; but, being British, I phrase it as ‘not happy’ because sane, educated, level-headed British people have always been given to understatement.
Let’s look at where we appear to be now. The Remainers feel that the winning Leavers are being self-satisfied and gloating; the Leavers think the defeated Remainers should accept their lot and stop whinging. Both sides feel hard done by and wish the other lot would desist from saying nasty things about them. Everyone feels betrayed at some level or another.
Yesterday a man said to me ‘If we all pull together, we can make this work.’ If. Yeah, because that’s definitely going to happen. The petition for a second referendum had, a few seconds ago, almost three million signatories, and every click on ‘refresh’ reveals a few hundred more. (As you probably know, I’m normally fairly scathing of online petitions as I’m not sure they do any good or that the people or bodies being petitioned take the slightest bit of notice. I’m still not convinced, but desperate situations call for desperate measures, and this one is certainly a good indication of popular feeling, so here’s the link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215). Most of the battles may well be fought online, via social media and the like, but this is a (virtual?) civil war and there will be casualties. Already two of my friends, a couple who’d been together for three or four years and last month were planning their wedding, have split up because he voted ‘In’ and she voted ‘Out’ and such differences seem to be irreconcilable. A police officer friend reports that he’s had more call outs to scuffles in the last couple of days than during Cup Final. And a local Leave campaigner has had his car and the wall of his house spray painted with the word ‘Traitor!’ (I doubt that these incidents are limited to my immediate vicinity, much as I like to think the world revolves around me, so I must assume they’re representative of the current climate.) This isn’t a comfortable situation for anyone.
I may be wrong here as this is just supposition, but I can’t help feeling that had the Remain side won – had we won – we’d have said ‘Phew, that’s a relief’ and life would now be back to normal; whereas the Leave side won and they (OK, not all, but a significant number) are either gloating and crowing and generally behaving in a distinctly immature manner or feeling all butt-hurt that we’re not cheering for them and congratulating them on their victory. Someone told me yesterday that she was sick and tired of the Remainers complaining and that we should just accept it and move on. But that’s where I disagree. We’re hurt, we’re suffering, we’re bereft. We have every right to feel like this and to express it. The Leavers may be bored with hearing that, but tough. They’ve got it for a few weeks or months, until we come to terms with, and learn to live in, this new dystopia that they’ve created. We’re stuck with what they’ve wrought for… decades at least. So, if as you read this, you find yourself thinking they have a point and we should stop whinging and be happy that we’ve (potentially) lost something we hold dear, then all I can say is: suck it up – we’re going to have to.
Or are we?
Putting aside people like me who were always Remainers and the dyed-in-the-wool Leavers who won’t let facts get in their way, let’s look at this from the perspective of the not-so-bright-who’ve-just-got-brighter. They naively believed the spin doctors and the tabloids and the man in the pub. They did no more research. They allowed themselves to be fired up by all the perceived bad things about the EU and never stopped to wonder if (a) they were true or (b) there were compensatory factors. And they voted LEAVE! (in capital letters). They didn’t ask what the great plan might be with regard to the economy, employment, pensions, international trade, travel, or even duty-free allowances of booze and fags. They didn’t question when they were told that leaving the EU would rid the UK of all those pesky immigrants who come here and provide essential, and in some cases life-saving, services and do the jobs no Brit is prepared to accept take jobs away from the British and/or impoverish the country by living on benefits to which British citizens are mysteriously not entitled, and that the £350 million that we were mendaciously told we were paying into the EU every week would instead go into the NHS. Only then – when the referendum was fought and won – Daniel Hannan decided that ‘umm… y’know when we said this’d put an end to immigration and we’d be able to send all the immigrants already here back to their home countries… yeah… not gonna happen’ and Nigel Farage suddenly realized ‘ermmm… about that £350m a week that we said’d go to the NHS… hmm… well… we might have made a bit of a mistake there.’ There is a conspiracy theory that the bombing of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center was an inside job. No conspiracy theory is required this time: the leaders of the Leave campaign have just destroyed the twin towers on which their campaign was based before our very eyes – and with surprising candour. And on top of that there suddenly appear lists in all the papers about what we’ve lost and how nothing will ever be the same ever again.
This vote has been very different from anything we’ve known in the past. Normally, with (say) a general election, supporters of Party X are dismayed when Party Y wins. They moan and whinge and complain, but really it’s in a fairly half-hearted way because they know that in four years’ time (possibly sooner) they’ll get another bite of the cherry. There’s always light at the end of their own particular tunnel. This tunnel has no end and no illumination anywhere along its length. And only now are many beginning to realize how all-consuming that darkness is likely to be. Only now, what with hindsight always being 20/20 and all that, are they beginning to wonder if maybe, just maybe, they made a Big Mistake. The number of Brits googling for information on the EU – since voting to leave it – has increased quite dramatically, and many have admitted to ‘buyer’s remorse’ now they’ve learnt more or reality has hit home
I may be clutching at straws here, but there is nothing in the Act to say the result of the referendum is in any way enforceable or binding. (Here’s a link, should you want to check my claim: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/36/contents/enacted). Moreover, nothing’s supposed to be happening until October (unless Brussels manage to expedite matters). And co-incidentally (or perhaps not), October is when David Cameron steps down as Prime Minister.
If the new incumbent plays his (or her) cards right, he could become the hero not only of all the people who never wanted out but also of those who’re regretting having fallen for the ‘£350m to the NHS’ and ‘bye bye, immigrants’ lies. All he’ll have to say is: ‘Although my predecessor said he’d abide by the result of the referendum, I did not. And judging from the reaction since the vote, I feel it would, at this stage, be a mistake to follow through with any action that is clearly not what the people want.’
I remain quietly optimistic that this isn’t over yet. The fat lady has yet to sing.
You may also be interested in this excellent article by Tom Short.