What I think I have been feeling all day is something akin to bereavement; grief and anger, a feeling of depression and numbness. I feel I have lost the country I thought I lived in.
I am angry that an internal party squabble has been elevated to a national meltdown by incredibly inept political judgment. David Cameron is right to resign.
Yes, there are some principled arguments to be had about what sort of Europe we belong to and how we or anyone else belongs to it. I haven’t heard those articulated by most on either side of this referendum.
Yes, there are a great many issues of dissatisfaction and disadvantage in a great swathe of the country. Sadly the Remainers seem largely to have ignored or scoffed at them. Even more sadly the Leavers have frequently appealed to them, stoked the fires of resentment, and stirred hatred of immigrants. But most of the problems of the left-behind and the alienated have their roots in Westminster, not in Brussels. This has been a victory for demagoguery, and not democracy: appealing to base emotion not reasoned debate.
There has been ridiculously apocalyptic exaggeration from the Remain campaign, but there has been consistent and outright lying from the Leave campaign. The idea that this has been an informed, considered decision is simply wrong, witness the number of people who now say, they only voted “Leave” because they thought “Remain” would win. Essentially, it seems, they wanted the frisson of excitement that comes from feeling they had stuck it to the Man: that elite group of politicians and faceless bureaucrats conjured up as a bogey by another equally elite group.
But the dangers of stoking up this resentment is that they too have promised a world they cannot deliver. About the only immediate consequences of the vote are the resignation of the prime minister, the effective devaluation of the pound, the hint of job losses to come, and the new public acceptability of racism such as this.
In fact, it is almost certainly true that Leave have triumphed by co-opting those who will suffer most from the consequences, and persuading them by piling one lie on another, that all their problems will be solved. The danger of a backlash when this turns out to be untrue is something they don’t seem to care about.
I am not ready for the well-intentioned pieties that seek to smother this grief with a spiritual comfort blanket. I do not feel comforted by saccharine affirmations that God is somehow in charge while we vote to make the world a more dangerous place, to worsen the lot of the poor, and to turn our face away from the stranger.
I don’t know where this will end. The government seem in no hurry to press the red button of article 50 withdrawal. The possibility of Scottish independence, the Irish question, London’s demand to remaining in the single market, the people who are now repenting at leisure, the idiots who only waited till after the referendum to ask “what is the EU?”, the fact (even in this post-fact society) that Nigel Farage thinks 52%-48% is a narrow enough result to need a second referendum: all these things mean that this is not yet anything like a done deal.
Somewhat like John Milbank, but without his slightly bizarre historico-theological reading of national character, I think the legitimacy of this advisory referendum is open to challenge.
Any parliament that felt its action was going to make the country worse rather than better, could not in the end take that step, I think and hope, without feeling the need to go back to the voters with a specific package proposal on the table to say what “Leave” would actually look like. Perhaps saying this is simply the denial of death that is part of grief. But I like to think that there might still be a future for us in Europe. I hope so, and I pray so, but I’m not yet able to lay aside my anger and grief, and pretend it’s all going to be all right.