One of the issues for columnists upon an organ like the Rust is that when current affairs are as fluid, fast-moving and extraordinary as the aftermath of the Brexit vote in the UK’s EU Referendum campaign there’s not a lot of light that we can shed. Or at least, that we can shed that won’t be aeons out of date within an hour of it being posted.
Yesterday was a case in point.
Some commentators are suggesting that the ‘unexpected’ (Brexit) vote was David Cameron’s fault for setting up a Referendum in the first place – this on similar basis to the legal profession’s first rule of court room examinations: “Never ask a question to which you do not already know the answer.”
Others prefer to blame what happened upon the fundamental disconnect between the political elite (and not just those in the Westminster Bubble) and ‘ordinary people’ ever since 1945 and possibly much earlier than that.
There is a degree of inevitability about it. Ambitious young people drawn to politics learn ‘the rules of the game’ as it then exists and later become disillusioned if suddenly someone changes those rules significantly – life was oh so much simpler and easier in the days when you had rotten boroughs, pocket boroughs and (of course) women didn’t have the vote at all.
Now we’ve got disgruntled Remainers bemoaning the fact that the Leave campaign’s lies were more persuasive that theirs were, and that 16 year olds weren’t allowed to vote, and … er … [add your other disenfranchised groupings here], i.e. essentially the line that, if only the rules had been different, the Referendum would have produced a different (i.e. the ‘right’) result.
The fact is, there’s probably something in the ‘disconnect’ theory and the sense many ‘ordinary voters’ seem to have harboured that they haven’t been listened to for years and thus the EU Referendum was an opportunity to register ‘A plague upon all your houses’ vote of dissatisfaction with the political elite.
There’s also a huge ‘gap of understanding’ between – and let’s not hold back upon sweeping generalisations here – the liberal, politically-correct, socially aware, champagne socialist, metropolitan elite living in their ‘holier than thou’ Hampstead towers and the mass of ordinary people.
It’s not just the frustration felt by the latter that, for example, whilst it seems Britain was being given its ‘cold shower’ dose of austerity (including decimating home public services) in order to rectify past economic failures and restore the national finances on the one hand, in a different forum the Government was committing to spend one of the biggest proportions of national GDP in the world on overseas aid development. To many people, that seems basically unfair and/or a completely cack-handed sense of priorities.
It’s all very well to hatch the idea that in principle a multi-cultural nation welcoming all from around the world is a ‘good thing’ when you’re living in a £1 million mansion upon the hill, but for those upon whom migration tends to impact at a local, everyday level, it’s a different matter.
I can remember being exposed to an example of this feeling forty-odd years ago when I was working temporarily in a law firm off Chancery Lane. A pal and I (idealists to the core) were shocked at the anti-immigrant sentiments of a thirty-something office secretary with whom we got on well. A tone of mild-rebuke was directed at her near-racist views, but she shot back “That’s an easy attitude to have when you come from where you do – you don’t have to live amongst them like me …”
I may be using my rose-coloured spectacles here, but I don’t think said lady was racist per se. Her views stemmed rather from a perception that the area she had grown up in and loved was being changed – and not for the better – by the ongoing influx of ‘outsiders’. Her concern was that too often (in her view) these arrivals made no attempt to embrace ‘the British way of life’ but simply retained their own culture whilst simultaneously accepting the financial and other benefits of being in Britain – i.e. taking, but not contributing. De facto this perception may have been wrong – working migrants pay taxes after all and contribute in many other ways – but that didn’t stop many people having it.
Such sentiments remain widely held even today. Add to that the statisticians demonstrating that 300,000 plus arrive in the UK every year, but that not enough housing is being built for the existing population, still less the roughly one million others that arrive every three years at the current rate, and the practicalities just don’t seem to add up. You don’t need to have an IQ of 145 or above to work that one out – and yet for decades the politicians don’t seem to have addressed the problem, still less done anything about it.
This was apparently on the basis that the Leave campaign had lied, that the Remain equivalent hadn’t, and that now everything the Remainers had warned about was now coming to pass with bells on.
Sir Richard claimed that many who had voted for Brexit were now realising the error of their ways. Furthermore, if they’d known at the time that the Leavers had been lying, they’d have voted ‘the right way’ (i.e. for Remain) instead. In business, Branson told us, when you realise make a mistake, you rectify it. There was still time to alter the Brexit mistake – all the UK population needed now was the opportunity and we should give it to them.
Er, not necessarily, Sir Richard.
I strongly suspect that if the Government (any government) announced to the UK public that they’d made a mistake in voting the way they did in the EU Referendum – and that therefore it was going to be run again – the UK public would quite probably vote the same way again, only but by an appreciably bigger margin.
Either that, or they would give up completely and not vote at all.
Oh hang on, that’s probably what Sir Richard – and any Government organising a re-run of the EU Referendum – would be banking upon …