Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brexit: the aftermath

So, did everyone have fun?

Some did. I didn't. Not because I desperately wanted to stay. I didn't. Neither did I want to go. I seem to have been in an odd, sidelined group that couldn't decide either way. So let me get my own view out of the way so you can account for whatever biases you may think you find in here.

IN: To me, this meant nothing more than a slow decline in a neoliberal system of supranational governance that was going to face insurmountable existential threats regardless of the way this referendum went. Don't get me wrong; there are things about the EU I love, with free movement of people and environmental protections among them. But there are things I hate about the EU too; the way they sided with neoliberal institutions to undermine Greece, the way they have handled refugees, and the seeming lack of any hope of reforming it out of it's neoliberal mode of being.

OUT: There are things about leaving the EU that worry me greatly, not least the danger it poses to the things I love about the EU. I also feel deeply for those in the UK that are directly affected by the prospect of leaving the EU. I hate the idea that it emboldens the far-right, and the fact that it leaves even more hard-line neoliberals in the Conservative government empowered. On the flip-side, I think it is easier to reform one's own government that that of the EU, and I support the global trend of devolution and smaller-scales of governance.

So to me, there was no good result from the out-set from this referendum. It should never have taken place, in my opinion. Not so much because of anything inherent about referendums, but because it is so damned complex that it is completely unreasonable to think that the population could come to an educated decision. Now, before one thinks I'm being patronising, I'm not criticising people's capacity to make decsions, not inherently. I'm criticising the media and those in power for having spent the last twenty years or so demonising everyone except those actually responsible.

We've all seen the many examples of misinformation that have influenced people's thinking. Stretched services and infrastructure blamed on immigrants and not the chronic under-funding by government. A press that demonises the poor and minorities because fear sells papers. The incredibly simplistic and misleading soundbites perpetuated by a news media that barely bothers to actually parse fact from fiction. As many have said, the establishment can hardly complain that, after years of blaming immigrants for their own failings, the people then go out and blame immigrants for the stagnation they feel in their lives.

So no, I don't think it should have happened. But it has. And now the shit has hit the fan.

Personally, I'm disgusted by both sides of this debate. There was no good option here in my opinion; at best, there was a least worse option with the promise of worse to come anyway, Yet one would think from social media that we have voted to leave a land of milk and honey and opted for the Fourth Reich instead.

Someone called Ahmed Gatnash posted this on Facebook that nicely summed up my feelings about the reaction of remain supporters:

If you don't know a single person who voted leave then you need to get out of your bubble. If you don't have different opinions on your news feed or timeline then you're living in an echo chamber and likely only get the other side's arguments as interpreted through your own side, after application of appropriate spin. And that means that you're part of the polarisation.
It's easy to dismiss half of the entire population as ignorant bigots and racists if you've never tried to understand them or had even one genuine, heartfelt conversation. Even easier if your life rarely brings you into contact with them, which is especially the case for students.
I actually see the same condescending attitudes from my (overwhelmingly young, cosmopolitan, progressive) friends towards their fellow citizens here that I see from white western orientalists commenting about what's happening in the Middle East - looking down, talking about but never to, and trying to fit everything into pre-conceived boxes without admitting a possible knowledge (let alone empathy) deficit.
Populism and xenophobia aren't being normalised, they were normalised long ago. If you want us to head in a different direction you can either ignore the problem and hope it'll fix itself somehow, try to abuse people into change (good luck with that), or suspend democracy. If none of those options sound appealing then get out there and burst your bubble. This is a polarised country, and it certainly won't be politicians that fix that.

There are not 17 million people worthy of being labelled racist bigots in this country. There weren't before the vote, and that hasn't changed. I understand the frustration, but trying to seek a single answer to why Leave won is never going to work. There is never a single reason for such large scale complex emergence. That is true technically, and it is true if you just look. Yes, 71% of graduates voted Remain, but 29% voted Leave. Yes, two-thirds of people who value multiculturalism voted Remain, but one-third voted Leave. However you look at it, this isn't simply a right vs left issue, nor educated vs uneducated, or even urban vs rural. And it certainly isn't Racists vs Good People. 
Let me set this within a wider context. Neoliberalism is dying. The world economy is waiting to crash again. Nothing was reformed since 2008, and little has changed. The same people in power then, globally, are in power now. In that time, their wealth has grown significantly whilst everyone else wealth has stagnated. This merely extended a trend evident since the 1970's, and while the population at large may be unaware or unclear on what or who is to blame, they recognise their situation regardless. They look to London as a symbol of that exploitative power; do not be surprised that there is such antipathy toward it, and those pontificating from within its prosperous bubble.
These people have been failed by neoliberalism, and calling them a bunch of racists isn't going to help. There was no coherent proposition that spoke to these people's needs in the contexxt of Remaining in the EU. There was no anti-neoliberal, pro-EU movement. There was no rationale presented that simultaneously sought to keep us in the EU whilst also addressing the stagnation and insecurity felt by millions around the country. Instead, we got project Fear, that wheeled out the very CEO's and economists that constitute the neoliberal hegemony to tell us, again, that we have to align with their interests because it is also in the peoples interest. People don't believe them anymore (I don't blame them), and the failure of the Left and Remain campaign to realise this cost them the referendum.
At the end of the day, people were presented with successful talking heads telling them the status-quo was great, despite the status-quo being a dying ideology that has seen growing wealth inequalities across the country. A status-quo where the global rich invest in London properties driving the whole market up from already high levels. A status-quo that includes an unaffordable rental market that continue to climb. A status-quo which for years has blamed everyone else but themselves. 
The choice was that status-quo, or a roll of the dice. A roll of the dice that would simultaneously say Fuck You to those in power, and to those that failed to appreciate the perilous state millions find themselves in.
You don't need to think 17 million people are bigoted racists to explain why Leave edged it, unless you are unable to see other reasons. If you cannot see that, you are part of the problem. In framing this referendum as bigots vs the enlightened, the Remain camp have played their part in making actual racists feeling like they are somehow representative of 17 million people. That has to stop now. We have to combat the threat from the far-right not by alienating those on the left who voted Leave, but by undoing the poisonous and exploitative systems that generated both the fear and misinformation, and the structural tensions and inequalities. 
We need to target neoliberalism. We need a coherent alternative. The SNP did it. The pirate party have done it in Iceland. Podemos have done it in Spain. Yet in the UK, many in Labour are still utterly blind to the state of neoliberalism, and are determined to undermine any effort by Corbyn to present a united front. I'm not a particularly big fan; I'd rather someone more dynamic and engaging. But he's got a mandate. He has support. And he potentially has the easiest job in the world: rallying people to an anti-neoliberal banner at a time when neoliberalism is on its last legs (which incidentally is when it is most dangerous).
So quit with the generalisations, quit with the blaming each other, quit with the divisiveness. The core problems facing both Leave and Remain voters are the same problems, so start acting like it. We have an emboldened far-right to slap down. Get to it.

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