I grew up in the 60s and 70s. This, apparently, was the time Britain was great. If I was asked to describe my memories, in colour I would say predominantly brown, unreliable and slightly scary. The 70s was the decade that style forgot. We had power cuts, shortages of things like sugar in shops, and IRA bombs – not just bomb scares but actual exploding bombs.
This appears to be the Britain British voters have decided was cool and we need to return to.
That’s an over-simplification. People will have voted Leave for all sorts of reasons, one of which is “to give government a kicking”. Because government, whoever does it, will always be in the way for some people.
As I write, the pound is falling calamitously, as are stock markets. The tentative gains made over the past 8 years, since the previous crash, wiped out in a matter of hours. That austerity that you’re fed up with? If it’s the right strategy, we’ll have years more of it now, because it’s not accomplished anything significant or secure.
Some adjustments to our economy are desperately required. House prices are way too high. We are too dependent on the City. But an overnight correction is a brutal way to adjust.
It’s the pulling down of opportunity that I resent. Yesterday I was with my daughter on a university visit. We were told about overseas study, which she’s interested in, and how an Erasmus grant (from the EU) will often help. Not for her, it won’t. We are middle class and have discovered the joys of holidaying in Europe. That’s about to get harder.
All very middle class. It’s the protest, though, of the growing group of people for whom hope is already dimmed that has led to the probable Exit vote. People who may well have struggled at school because they couldn’t see any value in getting an education when there weren’t any jobs at home. People who have seen their communities decimated in the name of economic progress. People who gave their lives to employers, only to find there was no loyalty in return. People who fear what remains being swamped by immigrants, but who don’t have the resources to do anything about it. It’s those people who have been alienated by the political establishment for years and years and years. And they’ve now bitten back.
Attracted by the idea of getting Britain back, because in the 70s their communities at least had jobs and some level of hope and purpose. And they object to being called stupid or close-minded. Their vote is as powerful as anyone else’s.
I don’t know what the future holds. I am scared, terrified even, that the nasty, raw underbelly of British society that has now been exposed, the one that lashes out in a bulldog spirit, will mean that our progress to a less discriminatory society will be halted, reversed even. I can only see things becoming more competitive, more ugly, more brutal. Standing against it, by trying to point out another way, could be dangerous.
Of course we won’t return to a carbon copy of the 70s. But bobbing outside a large economic area, Britain is now much more likely to suffer the storms that race around a globalised economy. Those storms are severe.
Our political future is also not assured. Cameron gambled on this referendum, and lost. He ignored the drip, drip, drip of negative stories over decades about Europe. The press has shown itself, again, of being capable of shaping long term attitudes. Given the ownership and unaccountability of the press, this is also dangerous. Scotland, which voted clearly to remain in the EU, will now clamour to be independent – especially given the background of what appears to be Cameron’s broken promises. Government, which had been paralysed for months, will now be distracted by negotiations in which we do not have a winning hand, distractions which Boris Johnson admitted were unnecessary only a few months ago.
The left needs to reconnect to those desperate communities. Corbyn may have done a little, but his stance on the EU may make that difficult to continue. The Lib Dems could do it, but it will have to be by community activism, and not media coverage and, in lots of those communities, the Lib Dems have no presence worth speaking of. What will replace UKIP? How effectively will the Tories heal?
Business-wise, do I batten down the hatches and see what the weather is like in a few months time? Will I gave to lay off people? Will a crash knock out some of my customers and so reduce my company’s income?
All this result does is give us headaches.