By Jim Hindle, Apr 18 2017 08:40AM
Spring appears almost quietly, like a kind of unlikely dream, like it was beginning to seem that winter would never really end. It’s a very welcome antidote as we gear up to face these new times. We are finally leaving. Nine months’ phoney war of triumphalism and dismay, of hectoring headlines and cries of betrayal, of regret, of buoyed enthusiasm have lead us now to the point where there’s apparently no going back.
It’s only too easy to seize upon and help expound divisions. And anybody not seduced by the lack of a reality-check knows we face a sobering horizon. But we know too that those supporting Brexit weren’t all from a rabid far right, even if steadfast libertarians helped swell their ranks. But there’s no doubt that many in the country felt betrayed. Or perhaps bewildered is a better word; bewilderment and ire whipped up and directed towards an entire political class, towards those who were - many were told – out of touch with the wellbeing of ordinary people. Towards distant institutions seen as floating in an ivoried insulation that somehow, the narrative went, threatened common decency itself, that threatened a vague sense of undefined values nestled somewhere in a nineteen fiftied halcyoned delusion.
Deregulated global finance - whose probably inevitable crash sold so many down the river in the first place - helped set the field. And even if this was worlds away from UKip’s core message, the discontent this brewed meant that all they had to do was to mop up dissent, direct it at a flag with many stars. It was a rallying cry that many more comfortably off took to heart.
Beneath all of this, at the very root of this bewilderment, was a world moving faster than many could quite understand where all it took was an apparent outsider to lay a proverbial punch against those in government many saw as unfit to still serve. This was augmented by unprecedented levels of immigration that were treated as almost too hot a topic to touch and rarely argued for rationally in terms of the benefits they brought to our country, or of the need to be candid about these levels – difficult to stem in any case - and invest resources towards them to help ease the strain. If some immigration is to an extent a factor of life in a more globalised world, it’s true too that freedom of movement within the EU is a tenet of membership we stand to reject at a cost that is only growing clearer by the day.
And now, with renewed calls for a second independence referendum in Scotland, with the prospect of a new land border in Ireland, with a palpable sense of dismay among many in Europe, we may be left with a newly independent England. If nothing else, the current situation throws into stark relief the arguments for and against further devolution. It may be true that the best chance the UK has of surviving is as a federation where English democracy is given its true place. In the balance perhaps is an idea of the UK where the English have still not quite shed the idea of Empire in our subconscious. It’s all very well if our Celtic neighbours have their own parliaments, this thinking goes; we don’t need an English equivalent because somewhere deep down we still think of England as Britain; the distinction has never been as integral for us as for the other three nations in our fellowship, and no wonder, as this blurring of identities stretches back hundreds of years, to at least the inception of our hegemony on the high seas and probably way before that.
The best hope for the peoples of these islands to share a common future lies in a true sense of our mutual equality. In England certainly we have a renewed opportunity to look at our country again, to help re-imagine what it once meant and still can, lifted from a history of so much subjugation; of our own people originally and that which we inflicted on others. We have a new chance now to shake all that off, to help conceive of an idea of a nation truly suited for this century’s potential.
Though much about the referendum has been distressing we can at least see how it reflects the ironies and inconsistencies of a globalised world. That the resistance to this fell to an overly glee, beer-swilling ex-City trader only too willing to cheer on Trump and forces allied against the liberal world order is highly ironic. It reinforces the knowledge that, where core concerns are ignored, it can strengthen the hand of those whose interests are far from those of the people they claim to represent. An apparent vacuum in the body politic was subsumed by a rightwing and populist heist.
I fear for this country. I fear what may happen without the benevolent checks of decades of environmental and workplace legislation, of what may happen if we are forced into a no-holds-barred race to the bottom for any kind of global trade, of the repercussions of a potential regulatory iconoclasm where corporations write - or dispense with - the rules. I deeply regret any kind of extra distance between us and our European neighbours, or any further repercussions on the wider European economy and upon its politics in general.
But it would be churlish too not to acknowledge that, things being as they are now, there are potentially opportunities here too. Only time and determination will tell what the result will be for our country. Will we find ourselves in a bolstered UK, or even a newly independent England, no longer in hoc to the worst diktats of global finance; a pared down, more equal, but still thriving country living in its means that can help lead the way in a more ecological world? Or will it be a shabby shadow of its former self, ruled by veiled or blatant corporate agendas?
Where we can help determine this we surely ought to stick our oar in. But perhaps at this stage we would also do well to remember our options; if a second referendum is a long way off if not a tall order, we can all still do what we can to help ameliorate the way ahead, to push for the softest Brexit possible, to seek to perpetuate existing beneficial regulations as they are rewritten for these shores. Perhaps above all we have to counter the cabal of ideologues who seem to be dictating our collective trajectory at present.
Whatever doubts we may hold about the democratic and environmental credentials of the EU, even those who do not feel that our departure’s a massive mistake can still cherish the principles it stands for; a world of ever closer cultural ties, of peace, freedom, tolerance and solidarity. It’s never been more important to stand up for those things, to let them become a foundation of a new narrative as we seek to shape an uncertain future. Because it’s clear that if we continue to be bound by disbelief and regret we only give ground to those who’d push us further to the right at any cost.
Sovereignty does not rest simply in populist outcries, or even in a stressed executive. If Parliament’s voice has been battered by Brexit, it’s perhaps time to think of replacing the ‘unwritten’ constitution of England, as it has effectively existed since the settlement of 1688, with an actual codified version. That could help enshrine the kind of narrative and aspiration written of above. Meanwhile, it should be more than obvious that continuing to tacitly defer to those under the influence of right wing media moguls is less of an option than ever. However visceral last year’s result, we all of us still have a voice. In the months and years ahead it will be more important than ever to use it.