“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”
The Great Gatsby (1926), by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Leave me be, I’m trying to dream.
Congratulations, we’ve only gone and done it. The worst damn decision this country has made in my lifetime – and we elected not one, but two Tory governments. England has voted to leave the European Union. There will obviously be a delay until we have fully left; an endless path of negotiations wherein we stand alone, holding no bargaining chips and where it is actually in the benefit of our European brothers and sisters to be tough on us – why ruin themselves to help us after we rejected them? We saw how they treated Greece for wanting to stay in the EU. Imagine how they’ll treat us.
Part of me should be gleeful that Brexiters got it so naively wrong. (We must be gentle in separating the Leave campaign, which was universally terrible, and Leave supporters, who were only mostly terrible). The experts really were wrong, but only in the sense that they underestimated the fallout from a Brexit vote. Their petty appeal to the apparent reestablishment of British sovereignty (whatever that is) is shown to be truly empty, a cover for something more sinister. Britain was great because of the EU, not in spite of it. I supposed that without the feckless red tape we can finally fish unsustainably for some god awful reason. But I can’t muster the strength to mount my high horse when their decision will inflict very real damage not just millions of people currently living in Britain but generations yet unborn.
Pity not Gove, with his offensively bad grasp on history and education; or Farage, emerging from a derelict pub, pints in hand, off to do some more racism in name of Queen and Country whilst declaring that they have won a ‘war’ with ‘no bullets’ eight days after Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered for her political views and brave solidarity with migrants; or even Boris Johnson, with his viciously calculated persona of buffoonery, his repeated racism (it’s just a prank bro!), and his unironically Darwinian view of economics.
Pity the people who believed their actual lies. Pity those whose probably well placed optimism for England was hijacked for racist ends. Pity the ones who will suffer.
We may not have reached the end, but you can see it from here.
The referendum was supposed to be the sordid political fantasy of fringe figures like Nigel Farage. It should’ve merely been a vague and dull banging on the gates. It turns out, however, they were already inside. Brexit was never meant to make sense, rebellions like it rarely do, of course their answers to perfectly reasonable questions were lacking. By getting Cameron to agree to a referendum, victory was already assured. Farage deems Brexit a fight against the establishment, even though the ones doing the fighting are mostly Tories, ex-Tories, and ex-City Bankers. Brexit is the establishment fighting itself.
That said, I’m in a generation of losers, seemingly forever on the wrong side of history nestled inside a whole country of losers. I voted Labour at the last general election, again in the local elections (my councillor won, but the news was not great nationally) and now this. In our own ways, we always back the wrong horse. I may be in the minority for Britain leaving the European Union, but at least I’m not to blame for the aftermath. We have to learn how to lose and how to grieve, and that process is never easy.
We can safely blame Cameron for his idiotic decision to hold a referendum – the only real winner from a remain vote was unsurprisingly Cameron himself, a win would’ve cemented his legacy as one of the most respected Tory leaders of all time – yet this toxic, evil campaign did not originate when Cameron called the referendum. Decades of bigotry sept into the pores of British culture. It’s in the trodden soil and on our fingertips; a thick and suffocating fog.
Labour’s feeble efforts to get elected last year hinged on carving ‘Controls on Immigration’ on a giant stone tablet and onto mugs. An admission that they either have no answer for the right’s flagrant racism or, even worse, they agree with it. They agree with the proposition that immigrants are some kind of economic unit. An object you insert into the economy equation. If the net yield is positive then this is good and moral. Otherwise, it’s back off to where we were dropping bombs.
The problem is Labour is debating on entirely the wrong terms: a migrant isn’t an economic unit. They are a human being, and I see no reason to deny human being a right to live; especially when rejection usually ends up in their death and suffering. I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is primary function of sovereignty: to decide who dies.
Analysis of voting patterns seems to indicate that poorer people were more likely to vote Leave. Undoubtedly, this is a failure of Labour policy. Not the current Labour regime though, people didn’t vote to leave because they thought that’s what our Jeremy wanted. They did so as a reaction to the wet flannel approach Labour has taken ever since the Blair years. Brexit is barely 24 hours old and yet the right wing sector of the Labour party is trying to boot Corbyn out – and thereby crush any left leaning opposition (imagine left wing people in a party set up to help labour workers! The horror!).
The abandonment of the working classes left them unable to recoup the vote, now, the diagnosis from the Labour right is “it’s time to crank up the racism”. We ostensibly need to talk to ‘them’ in ‘their’ language. How condescending. What has become crystal clear in this messy debate is that politicians don’t so much follow the will of the people, but that politicians themselves set the tone for debate. Let me be clear: UKIP is largely responsible for the racism we now face. Some of it was already there of course, but UKIP created the conditions necessary for newspapers to, say, revel in a little boy drowning simply because he had brown skin. The decent thing to do is to separate yourself from this disgusting murderous rhetoric and offer an alternative. Instead we are left with Tristram Hunt. We think it’s good that migrants drown upon European shores, we carved it into a stone, now do we have your precious vote? As if this remedy will make the country whole again.
Now, when we gaze into the mirror, we no longer see ourselves. What monster stares back is ugly, fractured and beyond repair. The mirror, forever cracked, pieces strewn over the floor reveals to us a truth we dare not admit: that England is not a tolerant, vibrant and multicultural country, but a cowardly retreating mass of furious fire. Our dark heart has been rendered visible in all its terrible glory. The joyful days of the Olympics in 2012 seem so very far away.
At least one fantasy can be laid to rest: Britain is not a good country that possesses some outlying xenophobic pockets of resistance. Rather, racism lies at the very heart of Britain, the nexus upon which we all turn. Racism and xenophobia were never at the gates, begging to be let in; they were always here, rotting us from the inside. All someone needed to do was wake it up.
It’s like the ending to Planet of the Apes. We weren’t on some bizarre and hostile alternate planet. The terrifying truth is that we were in Britain all along.
Perhaps, at the end of this, there is in fact hope. A Corbyn government would undeniably be unburdened by the neoliberal policies of the EU and would thus be able to create his socialist utopia. Now that would be the envy of the world, a vision we can truly believe in, a future we can dream of. For now we walk upon the undulating fields of the Middle English countryside, now suspicious of the countrymen and women that surround us – 52% of them are not who we thought they were. We lay our heads down, we close our eyes, and we dream for the final time before our future recedes into the abyss.