I have been listening to Brexit and it has been unedifying. My lasting impressions is that there was very little actual listening going on. It was largely just an eruption of bile and bigotry. The British body politic emptying itself from both ends at once. Everyone offended by the actions of the others, seemingly pleased with the smell of their own…opinion.
I should declare my own position. I campaigned to stay in Europe. I spoke at a couple of public meetings. I talked to those who would listen. And over all my impressions is that there was very little listening going on. There was instead a barely restrained hostility. People may not always have shouted over each other. No, no we are far too democratic for that. No, we waited with rictus smiles until the ‘other side’ had paused for breath and then shouted past them. Is shouting past better than shouting over?
Each side seemed uninterested in finding out why the other side felt as they felt. There were plenty of assumptions about what people felt or thought or feared. But no concern to get behind the shouting and try to understand, ‘what is it that you fear?’ Each side seemed keen to paint the other as variously racist, or stupid or right-wing. And of course there were some of all of those.
There were, it is quite true, noisome and emboldened racists and closet Xenophobes who were gleefully paraded and quoted by The Sun and The Guardian alike, though for opposite purposes. On the other hand there has also been, more recently, a revolting fungal efflorescence of outraged condescension describing the moral and educational deficiencies of those who voted to Leave.
Here is one recent example By Laurie Penny in The New Statesman from 24 June, called “I want my Country Back.” I shall quote from it extensively so that no one thinks I am just picking only the bits that suit me. Please read the whole thing to assure yourself I am not ‘taking things out of context’.
Laurie Penny begins by describing the vote as a victory of,
…prejudice, propaganda, naked xenophobia and callous fear-mongering have won out over the common sense…
Straight out of the gate, Ms Penny suggests that Remain was guided by ‘common sense’, while Leave and its voters were ruled by prejudice, naked xenophobia or craven fear. They are also, she lets us know , very stupid.
“Well done turkeys. Santa’s on his way.
Apparently the referendum was a painful catastrophe of good people with common sense, being smothered by a mob of stupid people. But what kind of stupid people? Does the author have an inkling where this stupidity lurks? Well, yes she does.
It was a referendum on the modern world, and yesterday the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain voted out,…
The parochial are to blame. So not the urban metropolitans who write for the New Statesmen and live, as she tells us she does, in London? No not them. But parochial people. People who, apparently, are governed by their lizard-brain. An interesting sentence isn’t it? Those who voted ‘out’ are painting with a metaphor suggesting they are lizard-like. A lower form of life that has not got the higher mammalian ability to care for others.
And this lizard-brained, lack of caring goes along with a selfish concern with their own personal welfare.
Leave voters are finding they care less about immigration now that their pension pots are under threat.
Such unattractive people. And the author is afraid of them. Seems to be keen we should all be frightened of them and their nasty plans for the future.
I’m frightened that those who wanted “their” country back will get their wish, and it will turn out to be a hostile, inhospitable place for immigrants, ethnic minorities, queer people…
Us and them. Always a good rhetorical move. For someone who seems to want to claim the caring high- ground for herself, as opposed to the lizard-brained lower forms of ‘them’, she seems quite quick to resort to ‘them and us’. No room here for different reasons, different thinking, different world views. The author seems above all to want to control how we see the debate. She wants to have her description of who ‘us’ and ‘them’ are, what ‘we’ and ‘they’ are like, what ‘they’ think, why ‘they’ think it, and upon what nasty grounds ‘they’ decided. And that is what bothers me most.
This article is not simply a lament from one side of an argument. It is a thinly veiled exercise in condescending bigotry. The bigot’s eye view of all those who she lumps together in her glib and condescending description of parochial, lizard-brained, stupid people who are full of fear and empty of concern except for their pensions. In short, craven stupid lumpenproles.
But enough about them. What about her?
But the thing is – I want my country back too….I want to wake up tomorrow in a country where people are kind, and tolerant, and decent to one another.
Which the Leave people don’t want? She doesn’t say that. That would be inelegant. No she simply sets up the dichotomy. Her readers can fill in the rest in private.
I want to go back to a Britain where hope conquers hate; where crabbed, cowed racism and xenophobia don’t win the day; where people feel they have options and choices in life….
Just a little reminder of the Leavers and the country they are arranging for us – hate-filled, crabbed, cowed racist and xenophobic. Yes. Let those Leavers get in charge and this is what we’ll all get. Unlike the future if we let the author and her friends in Remain be in charge – which will be one where we all have options and choices.
Options and choices. I have heard those words before. To me they smell of Blaire and Cameron and the debt -fuelled fictions of the last thirty years of Thatcher and sons.
That country, of course, is fictional.
But it’s no less so than the biscuit-tin, curtain-twitching, tea-on-the-lawn-with-your-white-friends-from-the-Rotary-Club fantasy Britain the other side have been plugging for years,..
Ah, so the lizard brained cowards are allied with White, small-town Tories? I think this is a reference to John Major’s cricket playing idyll. So our choices according to Ms Penny is a ‘Remain’ Britain filed with options and choices or a ‘Leave’ Britain, which is some pastiche of small town suburban and rural England where stupid working class people vote like turkeys for tea-on-the-lawn- white people. I think Ms Penny might need to get out of London a little more often and widely.
But Ms Penny is not stupid. She does eventually get round to something approximating an insight.
This was not just a vote against Europe, but a vote against Westminster and the entirety of mainstream politics. Every political party campaigned hard for a “Remain” vote – but Britain still chose to Leave, even if we’re regretting it this morning.
Now surely there is a realisation there, at odds with all that preceded it. A glimmer of understanding beyond the rhetoric and generalisations. Perhaps there were some ‘leave’ voters who voted because, on balance, they thought doing so would do more to shake the hegemonic certainties of neoliberal globalism that all the major parties surrendered to a generation ago? All the same parties that were then arguing for Remain. They could of course be wrong. But they would have voted for very different reason to those Ms Penny was so quick and so confident to ascribe to them.
But she just can’t seem to imagine the ‘Leave’ voters could be so thoughtful. No ‘thoughtful’ is something she seems to want to reserve for ‘Remain’ people. ‘Leave’ get to be turkeys and cowards. ‘Leave’ are not to be accorded such thoughtfulness, because they live in places – and lets cut to the chase – they live in the North – I mean, don’t they! Or at least not in places where lovely people have options and choices. And, from the description below, they are evidently working class and quite possibly old! Ugh!
There are huge areas of post-industrial decline and neglect where people are more furious than Cameron and his ilk could possibly understand, areas where any kind of antiestablishment rabble-rousing sounds like a clarion call. In depressed mountain villages and knackered seaside towns and burned-out former factory heartlands across the country, ordinary people were promised that for once, their vote would matter, that they could give the powers that be a poke in the eye.
Yes! Now we’re getting to it. They’re just a rabble. A rabble roused from their depressed, knackered, burned out lives in sea-side towns, former factory heart lands (that’s London chattering class code for the midlands and north). Yep. The chattering class, when they get together and do democracy, they do it with panache and style. When the rest of us do it we’re just a knackered, depressed rabble.
I was born in London. Perhaps the city can secede.
I am sure this was said with a degree of flippancy. But to the knackered rabble of the north it sounds like a glimpse of a true desire. A little hint of the real us and them.
And then finally we get to some hint of analysis. And how thread-bare it is.
British people are used to being lied to by incompetent spivs in the name of “protecting the economy”.
Unarguably true so far.
Unfortunately, this time the spivs were dead right….more damage has already been done to our economy, to our prospects and to the job market than years of open borders ever could have.
Said with such breath-taking brevity of thought. Whose economy? The question so rarely asked. The stocks and shares economy? That economy that the rest of us keep bailing out and paying for with austerity? That economy? The broken and dysfunctional economy? The economy of ‘choices’ based mostly on debt.
Is it not an ‘option’ to wish to deal such an undead monster a blow? Why so certain that the spivs are right? I happen to think the spivs are wrong. And I say that not because I am a depressed, craven xenophobe, but because I have thought about it.
Don’t get me wrong. Remember I argued for Remain. But I dislike the bigoted generalizations and crude stereotyping of the Leave voters. I met some of them and some of them were thoughtful and considered, decent people. Who voted according to a logic which Ms Penny is either ignorant of or finds inconvenient to admit exists.
I agree with the author when she says,
…the Conservatives have spent six years systematically defunding the health service and cutting public spending to the bone. Brexit will mean more of that, not less.
When I spoke for Remain I suggested it was not simply about what people wanted to leave, but that they should think hard about what they would be left with. In this case, as Laurie Penny says, the choice they made has delivered us all to a Tory government that can hope to do as it wants free of any restrain at all. I agree with this. I think we are now facing the battle our times. The fight for democracy itself. But all this vote has done is bring the battle nearer. It was upon us anyway. The outlines of the fight are perhaps less easy to ignore that’s all.
And this battle, THE battle of our time, will require a courage and a faith in each other that we are squandering with every word of this bilious brexit name-calling. Just because the vote went against what I felt was better, what Ms Penny is certain is better, does not mean, as she concludes, that this nation must somehow re-find the,
…capacity for tolerance, a new resilience, a way to recover ourselves and remember our common humanity.
I personally resent the implication that simply because the vote did not go as she decided it must, that somehow common humanity is endangered. Common humanity is not the exclusive preserve of ‘Remain’ voters.
If you can bare it one last time.
I want my country back. I want my scrappy, tolerant, forward-thinking, creative country,
I am all these things. So are my friends. We are all still here. Living in the North. Some of us are even working class!
…the country of David Bowie, not Paul Daniels; the country of Sadiq Khan, not Boris Johnson; the country of J K Rowling, not Enid Blyton; the country not of Nigel Farage, but Jo Cox.
Let me just get this out. You do not have to like Paul Daniels if you don’t like David Bowie. Ms Penny should refrain from endlessly deciding what the range of choices are and what you must be like if you’re not like her. I don’t particularly like either Sadiq Khan or Boris Johnson. And I wouldn’t chose to read either JK Rowling or Enid Blyton. I have completely other tastes, other concerns, other ideas. Ms Penny might not realise it but there are other world views not defined by her narrow views.
Britain, like everywhere else, has always had its cringing, fearful side, its cruel delusions, its racist fringe movements, its demagogues preying on the dispossessed.
True. It has also had its condescending, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, leave-it-to-your-betters pundits who get themselves in a terrible state whenever they think the great unwashed, working-class are in danger of interfering in a decision their self-declared social betters feel should definitely be left to them.
I am sure Ms Penny is well-intentioned and essentially good-hearted. The problem is, at least in this article, she comes across as feeling she, and those in her in-group, are the only ones who are. Her article reeks of the assumption that ‘Remainers’ are well intentioned, whereas “leavers’ are either malign or simply stupid, selfish and craven.
I think we would do well to remind ourselves that not every “remain’ voter thinks as Ms Penny’s does. And not every ‘Leave’ voter is as her stereotype. There are people who thought there was no good choice in this referendum. People who thought remaining in a Europe that is being corrupted by corporate lackeys is only marginally better than a Uk that is already very definitely corrupted by corporate lackeys. People who thought all the arguments over lost sovereignty were misdirection, distracting people from the fact that far more of our sovereignty will begin away by signing the CETA, TTIP and TISA trade deals than was ever given to Europe.
None of our problems were on the ballot. None would have been addressed let alone solved by the referendum no matter which way it was decided.
All our battles are still before us. The real question, perhaps the only question, is whether we descend into the spite-filled bigotry of ‘Us and Them’ or chose to actually listen to and understand the realities of each others lives and fears. And in so doing re-find all the things that people tell us we have lost.