The cluster and the fucks.
I should then start with an apology. In the last major post I posited that most politicians were not all the same, that they had principles and deserved more respect, even if general contempt aimed at politicians was only a part of the poison behind the murder of Jo Cox.
Having spent the past four days in near disbelief at the unutterable inadequacies of almost the entire political class, I could not have been more wrong. Contempt breeds contempt. Despicable selfishness, self-regard and self-importance inspires the same. When our supposed leaders have no back-up plan, no idea of what to do when the shit hits the fan, why should anyone have the slightest respect for them? I didn't expect Leave to have a plan, as they never began to articulate one and would never have been able to agree on one. For the government as a whole not to have one, for the civil service also to have not done much in the way of work on it beggars belief. At a general election the civil service prepare in case they need to implement the opposition's policies; in this instance it really does seem as though no one saw it coming.
Sitting up watching the results come in early Friday morning, I was angry, but not in the slightest bit shocked. My gut feeling since the election, having seen how the Tories won their majority by feather-bedding the boomers and effectively giving two fingers to the young, was it would take something special to convince those same people to vote remain. As it turned out, the young on the whole voted remain, or at least those that again bothered to turn out. Those same boomers meanwhile overwhelmingly voted leave (Lord Ashcroft poll health warning) and again, why wouldn't they? They had little to lose by doing so: their pensions are triple-locked; inheritance tax is being raised as in the words of Cameron there is nothing more natural than wanting to pass on your home; and all their other perks have been protected too. Given an opportunity to kick out against change, against immigrants, against an other they've been told is the root of so many problems, what made Cameron and pals think for a second they would win them over?
Their obvious reference points were the Scottish referendum, where Project Fear was deemed to have worked, and much the same tactics as used against Labour last year. The entire Tory campaign was built around the supposed economic chaos that would descend if Ed Miliband became prime minister at the head of a coalition. A recovering economy, went one poster. Don't let Labour wreck it. You can understand the logic; if voters thought it was better the devil you know twice before, why not for the third year on the trot?
Except each vote and referendum is always different, just as each campaign is different. We saw the hatred and intolerance that was being whipped up; we saw how the economic argument was failing to cut through. We witnessed the absolute shamelessness of Leave; we noticed how the "scaremongering", which in large part has already been shown to be nothing of the sort, was this time being decried. We ought to have noticed how instead of being mocked, Michael Gove's denunciation of experts was cheered, how Boris Johnson's bullshit about an independence day led to a near standing ovation. Voters decided that things would more or less stay the same, or even get better in the years after a Leave vote.
You could if you like extrapolate from the map of the areas that voted leave and remain that the main distinguishing feature is the varying strength of the local economy: areas that have recovered or are recovering from the crash voted remain; areas that haven't or have never fully recovered from the turmoil of the 80s, the recession of the 90s, voted leave. And while this does help us to understand to an extent, it doesn't explain why Liverpool voted remain while my home town, supposedly one of the boom areas, voted to leave. It doesn't explain why places like Sunderland and Port Talbot, areas that have everything to lose from an EU exit, voted to leave. The same is the case for those areas that have benefited massively from EU funding, almost all of which voted out. It doesn't explain why areas like Peterborough and Boston, both changed markedly by immigration over the last ten years voted out, while places like Hartlepool, with barely any net migration, did the same.
The polls, the same ones that (mostly) got the result wrong for a second time in a year, claim the main grievance of out voters other than immigration was sovereignty. Except sovereignty and opposition to immigration on the basis of the lack of control obviously go hand in hand. Sovereignty is such a nebulous concept that it can mean everything and nothing; even if we accept these polls as accurate, it's hard to believe perceived anger over giving some of our law-making and regulation powers to Brussels was that much of a rallying cry.
Indeed, what has happened since is difficult to minimise. For some, Leave meant far more than just exiting the EU; it meant leaving Europe. It meant telling not just the eastern European migrants of the past ten years to leave, but all immigrants. How could they have possibly reached such a conclusion, been so misled? Surely not by the constant invoking of taking back control, by the claims from Leave that Turkey joining the EU was a certainty, with their leaflets suggesting Syria and Iraq would either be next or that refugees from those two countries currently in Turkey would be able to come also.
It comes back yet again to how politicians have ridden the immigration monster over the past half decade. It comes back yet again to how the media has connived in encouraging the myth of the grasping, service burdening migrant to the point where Cameron based his "renegotiation" around it. It comes back yet again to how neither Labour nor the Tories succeeded in rebuilding broken, despairing towns and communities. Labour at least tried, while the Tories' austerity has reduced so many of our high streets to the picture painted last Friday. It comes back yet again to how in the face of change, even if not in their own neighbourhoods, many cling on to what they know all the harder while blaming the newcomers. It comes back to an atavistic sense of what England is, and therefore always should be.
If the result then was not a shock, that it has so emboldened racists is. A broadcast media that in the face of threats from Leave tied itself in knots, despite their lies being so obvious, betrayed the very public that look to it as a better guide than than the press. That the new sport now seems to be to find someone outrageously racist and then not so much as challenge them on their views is not journalism, but rather a shaming indictment of their failure.
The most brickbats must though be directed at the government. David Cameron gambled and lost. To them it really does seem this was all a game: Cameron has supposedly taken responsibility by resigning, and yet going down in history as the prime minister who likely broke up the United Kingdom doesn't seem punishment enough. The blame if the economy is permanently damaged will not be placed firmly on the shoulders of the man who screamed and screamed about Labour's crash to the point where everyone starting believing it, but on those who voted Leave also. That it was Cameron who decided putting our prosperity at risk was worth it if it won him a couple more years as prime minister, as it certainly wouldn't have decided our place in Europe, will likely be forgotten. His stature in comparison to even that of Gordon Brown, hated by the right despite his genuine claim to having helped steady the entire economic system back in 2008, should be permanently diminished. The accolade of worst post-war prime minister is surely his now to lose.
Unless of course we do end up with PM Boris. Another egomaniac encouraged by an adoring media ignoring his every deficiency, never has someone with leadership ambitions appeared so out of his depth. Their Leave victory press conference might as well have been a wake, so flummoxed and so embarrassed were they at having won by mistake. The plan had been for Dave/Remain to win by a narrow margin with Boris having firmly established himself in the affections of the Tory Leavers. They didn't for a moment believe any of the nonsense they said, nor did they expect Mr and Mrs Average Punter to do so either. Bit of a rum do that they did, isn't it? That Boris's fumblings in his Telegraph column yesterday were so feeble and so lacking in credibility that he has already disowned them is indicative of the amount of attention and care he gives to everything he touches. Meanwhile, George Osborne, the other chief architect of this absolute clusterfuck, says it was their responsibility to have a plan, not his.
Labour's response to all this? To put in motion a coup that was coming remain or leave. It deserves a post of its own, but even after the past few days, the rank hypocrisy and martyr complexes of MPs who have never so much as tried to make Corbyn as leader work has been astounding. No seat is safe north of Islington, apparently, and so that fabled putting of the country, people and constituents first has gone for a Burton in favour of ousting the leader at a moment of political and economic crisis. And just like the government and Leave, they have absolutely no fucking idea of who should be leader instead of Corbyn, no idea of how to respond to the vote, except it seems to somehow make a "progressive" case for limiting free movement, and no idea if their coup will be accepted by the membership.
Which leaves us with the only party with any seeming nous, any seeming plan and any seeming leadership, and it's the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon. Who can begrudge her and Scotland a second referendum after this shit show? Who can argue that Scotland won't be taken out of the EU against its will? Who can say what will happen in Northern Ireland, which also voted Remain and where it seems even less thinking was done on how a vote to leave would impact almost everything there?
Like many, I've spent the last few days ashamed of my country, ashamed of my countrymen, and ashamed of our politicians. This is what referendums on nationhood wrought: they rend and tear, they break down friendships and divide families, all to a far greater extent than general elections ever do. They are designed to polarise, and that's just what it's achieved. It will take years, if not decades before the wounds from this result so much as start to heal. And while we will all pay, some must pay more than others.