Is anyone else completely sick and tired of Brexit? I know I am. Even the word itself didn’t exist until 2016 and perhaps the biggest mistake was the failure of the person who coined the phrase not to protect it.
Ever since Edward Heath first began to pitch the idea of the UK entering the common market in the 1950’s the issue has been divisive. It has torn the Conservative Party to ribbons for well over 40 years. It tormented Sir John Major’s time as Prime Minister in the 1990’s as Euro rebels took full advantage of the tiny majority to openly campaign against Europe and, after being kicked out of the party they were then let back in without condition. Major never recovered from this debacle their internal party wars contributed to the 1997 Labour landslide as the country looked elsewhere for answers. Fast forward to 2016 and yet again the EU has shredded the Tories apart, this time managing to drag Labour down with it.
Heath’s logic for entering the EEC was honourable. He had been present at the Nuremberg rallies, witnessing the cult-like fervour surrounding Adolf Hitler and he returned to Oxford University where he campaigned against appeasement and for direct action against the ongoing expansionism of the Third Reich. Following the onset of war Heath saw front-line action during the second world war and like everyone else was scarred by the horrors he witnessed. In a position to do something to prevent future generations enduring a Third World War that would have feature the threat of nuclear oblivion, Heath saw diplomacy as a better solution and viewed a union of European countries as the means to that end. After a long and bitter campaign to win entry, which included him being covered in ink as he arrived to secure Britain’s common market entry which should serve as a reminder that physical political discord is not a modern construct, membership was secured.
But this was all a long, long time ago. European diplomacy has been the norm for over 50 years now and the majority of our citizens were not alive during the second world war. This breeds a complacency that such a conflict can never happen again, even if a formal union is broken up. This optimistic view may well be tested if Marie Le Pen, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are the global leaders in charge of political direction. Recent political election results suggest this is not far-fetched.
The EU is not perfect but it is definitely not the source of all the problems we face. It has not caused globalism, nor will the break-up of the EU curtail it. Without moving from my computer I could sign up for an Alibaba account, purchase a pallet full of goods from an overseas manufacturer, navigate customs so my goods can enter the UK, list the goods for sale, order packaging materials, generate sales and ship to my customers all without leaving my home. The barriers to entry to many global markets have gone.
But the public voted for change and change will happen. But what will it look like? We definitely didn’t vote on that and even as we face exiting the EU there are broadly three positions. Firstly, those that say we should remain in a “better the devil you know” scenario. Secondly, that we should leave with a deal (and the myriad of arguments within that position) and thirdly, sod it let’s leave yesterday whatever the consequences. The hard right brexiteers who said it would be the easiest deal ever and that it would instantly be better now acknowledge the complexity and even acknowledge things will be difficult for a while. This pragmatism was oddly missing during their referendum campaign but sadly, people don’t seem to care. That tells you a lot about society. I honestly believe that for the majority of people they don’t think it will affect them. The prices they see is the prices they pay and they will blindly refuse to admit any decline is down to brexit. Ignorance is bliss.
Socially, the issue of Brexit has completed the toxification of politics. We never discuss the NHS now except to fight over the £350 million a week lie that was promised during the referendum. We never discuss education and we rarely discuss transport. Even I fall into this trap. I remember switching on the television when outgoing PM Theresa May was delivering a speech about something unrelated to brexit. I forget what it was about, which is telling in itself, but I found myself somewhat disinterested in it.
I find it fascinating that our membership of a political union can cause so much angst. Families and friends have found their relationships strained and, in some cases, permanently altered. Our near obsession with the EU is a vehicle of increasing public discourse with governance and politics. The emergence of social media as the main platform for comment and debate has hardened the language and the accepted norms of political debate. Politicians make a social media post and they almost instantly receive dozens of critical remarks ranging from direct criticism to outright threats. Suggest that this behaviour is inappropriate and you are told to be quiet (or words to that effect) as they are apparently fair game.
I recall reading responses made to a tweet by former Labour MP and now Change UK MP, Luciana Berger. The responses contained sickening anti-Semitic abuse, mostly from anonymous and faceless twitter accounts. More criticism was sent from members of her own party who were upset with her criticism of Jeremy Corbyn. Imagine knowing that each tweet you post GUARANTEES this type of reply. The logic inside me would say ‘don’t post’ so I give credit to those MPs who press on regardless. Labour MP Jess Phillips receives hundreds if not thousands of comments to every tweet she posts, many of them abusive. It sickens me and I thank God for blatant ambition or else nobody would ever even consider becoming a MP. Anyone who says “why don’t the best people want to become MPs?” should be aware of the simply answer, that these able people have probably considered what it might be like.
It has to be said that politics did itself no favours with the expenses scandal in 2009 where some MPs acted dishonourably and even criminally. But the system itself was created in a rare moment of Margaret Thatcher skirting from public confrontation. Rather than suggest MPs deserved a pay rise (surprise, surprise, the public would have gone mad), they instead received a new expenses system. Disgraceful, I hear you say, but reflect on whether there is any expenses system that would meet with wide public approval. The reasonable among you will admit there is no system that would ever be seen as acceptable. MPs get paid, which for many people is bad enough.
Brace yourself Rodney, but MPs are, I’m afraid (perhaps scared) to say, underpaid for the status of the role that they undertake. This is not to say they are badly paid, they are very well paid, but when MPs meet with the top echelon of the private and public sector it is a fact that those they meet are usually on a much higher wage. Once out of office, former MPs have higher earning potential. With Member of Parliament on your CV this opens doors. For the majority of MPs, leaving office can be a financial blessing in disguise. Tony Blair is a stark example of this, although the many millions of pounds he has earned since leaving the office of Prime Minister in 2007 is not typical. My point is that once you reach that level of status, and becoming a Member of Parliament is still a considerable achievement, you are unlikely to be stacking shelves any time in the future.
Within the growing political discourse this has led to fringe characters like Nigel Farage breaking into the mainstream and seizing the opportunity to build support. Farage created The Brexit Party which predictably cleaned up this past week. But how could it not? It was the most straightforward political positioning possible and the logic of why you might consider voting for them was easy to understand. “The country voted to leave in 2016 and we still want to leave. Vote us.” Easy.
But the spinning that has followed the EU election results is a superb example of how statistics and politics can mean whatever you want it to mean. No wonder the public gets confused. Here are a range of views that are plausible interpretations of the result.
• Remain supporters say that the brexit party got a smaller share of the vote than 52% so this means the country has lost faith in brexit and could prefer to remain!
• Brexiteers say the big win for Farage shows the country wants out and whilst we are at it let’s leave with no deal on WTO terms.
• Jeremy Corbyn supporters say this is not a bad result for Corbyn as it was a brexit 2.0 vote and things would be very different at a General Election.
• Anti-Corbyn Labour supporters say the bad result is due to the leader and he must go.
• The Lib Dems enjoyed a surge and say this is their revival.
• The Green Party says the country has finally woken up to the necessity to confront climate change and their vote demonstrates this.
• The Tories say it shows brexit has been bungled and a new Prime Minister will sort out the good ship Conservative.
• Farage says two party politics is dead and, surprise, surprise, he is in place to provide the answer to the new political order.
What’s true? This depends on your view. What’s important is that you have a view and we must rail against the growing political environment where some people, even elected people, are becoming reticent and in some cases scared to say what they think. This is perhaps the real underlying challenge to democracy that we face in mid- 2019 and beyond, the ability to have our views respected. When we elect MEP likes Ann Widdicombe who state that science may find a cure for homosexuality in the future, we have to stop and admit that as a society, just like the referendum itself, we did this to ourselves.