Brexit. Best of Three?


That’s what I usually say when I can’t believe I lost the first game of pool (which is usual): “Best of Three?”

Or two! – if we could just do it again and take the second answer, but everyone wake up this time.

Sometimes when the pros and cons of a binary choice seem fairly well balanced – Shall I mow the lawn first or wash up? – I used to toss a coin (having decided which side represents which decision), and then try to assess how I’d really feel if it wasn’t just a test.

I’m Sorry, I Can Only Take your First Answer

I had that feeling this morning as I woke to the news that Brexit had won – I mean, vicariously putting myself in the place of the Nation, since I voted to remain. I imagine there will be quite a few wishing they hadn’t assumed it was unthinkable and bothered to vote, or who, in the cold light of day, wish they’d voted the other way.

But I have to admit that I struggled to make my mind up, changed it several times, and eventually settled on my decision with a strange feeling of powerlessness even in the expression of my franchise. Maybe politics was too chaotic for anyone to guess what lies ahead. Maybe therefore it wasn’t that important really.

It feels important now, as my savings fall out the hole in the bottom of the market and politicians everywhere make that alarming call for calm.

Maybe, more pertinently, it was the wrong question in the first place. I think the result is due to a large proportion of the population hearing a different question from the one asked, mostly: “Are you sick of being screwed by rich bastards?” or “Does everything in Britain seem pretty unfair and shite?” Most of the anti-EU slogans translated to something similar, with the obvious implication that change – this or any change – would naturally be better than the sick status quo. I’m reminded of Christopher Hitchens’ refutation of a well-known maxim in his account of cancer treatment in Mortality:

In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.

The same is certainly true in politics.

Another Brick in the Wall

And yet it is not always so, by any means. I was struck by Nigel Farage’s metaphor, “I hope we’ve knocked the first brick out of the wall,” not only for its tasteless, destructive glee directed towards the rest of Europe, but also for reminding me of some of my earlier thoughts about voting Leave.

For instance, if, as we’re told, the EU protects worker’s rights and the environment in Britain against the evil intent of our national politicians, why are so many of us on zero-hour contracts, able to be summarily dismissed by employers making massive profits and taking home sickening bonuses, while the National fracking program grinds on inexorably and everything we can buy in the supermarket comes in acres of plastic?

If the EU is good for “the economy”, isn’t that really just within the cancerous economic model in which big business, in cahoots with governments, sucks the life blood out of citizens and the world? And if one tries to turn it round (as I did in the run-up) to say that it’s the Tories doing all this – for example, burying our industry under a monument of cheap Chinese steel and vetoing EU tax reform negotiations – and blaming it on the EU, isn’t this merely where we started, with an argument that the EU is pretty impotent?

The Remain camp met fears of an overbearing EU with assurances that Britain makes its own decisions, not Brussels, and they argued that Brussels protects us with superior social justice that we’d otherwise shirk. You can’t have it both ways.

Particularly, Farage reminded me of the words of the song, “All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall”, and that my investments are enmeshed in the global behemoth destroying the planet. I am too scared, lazy, cynical and, frankly, greedy to put my meagre savings only in ethically impeccable investments. I depend on the shitty City doing well, and today it certainly isn’t. Today is my comeuppance.

Not that I’m exactly a rich aristocrat now deservedly awaiting the guillotine. One irony of this result is that the angry mob doesn’t notice its wealth (relative to most of the world), nor that it trickles down, however turgidly, from the tables of the rich, who bow and scrape to a few hundred individuals currently owning everything. Behind the endless them-and-us clamour, the more attentive of us have an inkling that we’re all implicated in this Armageddon-smelling mess. We are Luddites poised to smash the machine that feeds us. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

But monsieur, it is only waffer thin

There is a deep (and perhaps deeply confused) Green part of me that is encouraged by the view that Brexit will damage growth in Britain. Perhaps – I hope against hope – our great Nation might lead the world in slowing down the growth that seriously threatens the world’s ability to sustain us. We might step out of the mad rush to buy everyone else up, as Marx warned was the natural end of capitalism, and yet survive, distribute our wealth better, perhaps live better on less (individuals are joyously learning this trick every day, usually when they choose it voluntarily; people don’t like austerity pushed on them by rich thieves).

I have recently begun to challenge this opinion, realising that economic growth is theoretically separable from global environmental damage and inequity, but such a divorce is probably difficult in practice, and probably harder if nothing ever gets shaken up.

I think we’ve done that. In the aftermath I am tenderly nurturing the hope that Brexit might at least motivate us Brits to engage our creativity in the direction of radical, but positive, political reformation. In the meantime, unfortunately, we are left in a worse state, not just in those short-sighted terms of our position at the eat-all-you-can Global Capitalist Restaurant, but with the interim prospect of an even more ravenous and less moral maître d’ than we had.

We have accepted the invitation to take back control; we can probably only begin to do that after we’ve hung the “Under New Management” sign. Brexit has woken me up a bit. I’m going to have to wake up a bit more. We all are.

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6 Responses to Brexit. Best of Three?

  1. Donald says:

    Sixteen million voted to remain, and seventeen million voted to leave.
    The result would have been pretty much the same if 16 999 999 had voted to remain and 17 000 001 had voted to leave. I suggest there is something wrong with the system behind this way of determining which way to go. On the other hand, there is an argument that it is the least worst system, if only because it provides a way of occasionally (once every few years) getting rid of leaders like David Cameron, Tony Blair, John Howard, George Bush, Bill Clinton, & Margaret Thatcher, without having to assassinate them or conduct a civil war.
    Considering the voting population is in the tens of millions, one person’s vote is nearly always insignificant to the overall outcome.
    The only economists, journalists, politicians and commenterati who were being honest about the question of the (long term) effects of Brexit were the ones who claimed to not know what the effects will be and not to know what is going to happen over the course of the next few years.
    Further on the question of democratic processes:
    In Australia voting is compulsory, and you are fined if you do not vote. But if you have never registered as a voter, you can never been fined for not voting. But in mathematical terms the bottom line is still that one person’s vote is meaningless to the outcome in terms of the big picture.
    Meanwhile, on the short term effects, a few people have just made a killing on the stock exchange, futures exchange and foreign exchange markets.

    Straying from the issue: why is it that in English I come across blogs rebutting books and personalities espousing Christian religious dogma, but these same blogs do not rebut the media efforts of proponents of Islam ?

  2. lettersquash says:

    Thanks, Donald. Yeah, I have been hearing on the news about this “decisive” decision (tautology, but they mean unequivocal) and “clear mandate”, etc., and then they put up the graphic where you need a magnifying glass to see the tiny majority. More than a quarter didn’t turn out. I also agree that putting this kind of thing to a referendum is the wrong way to go, although I can’t think of a better way! Democracy is rubbish, but hard to beat…although assassination might be worth a try.

    In hindsight – like it matters now – I think the process was too quick, and would have gone the other way if we’d all had more time to consider it. In this outpouring today I was trying to get at that feeling that the whole country is doing a double-take, and everything suddenly looks entirely different. If only there was a way to cross that bridge, see what it feels like, and then go back and think a bit longer.

    In answer to your last question, I don’t read enough blogs to know if your premise is true. But assuming it is, my first guess is that we’re scared of offending Muslims. Christians have a thing about turning the other cheek when offended, whereas Muslims tend to favour the old eye-for-an-eye, or workforce-for-a-cartoon motif. And of course Christianity is “traditional” in English-speaking lands, ignoring as we do the earlier population the English stole those lands from, and it’s always more comfortable ranting against the familiar authority figures than the foreign creed. Also high on the list must be that we’re not likely to be called a racist if we criticise Christianity. They attract almost opposite caricatures, in fact: radical, rational critic of authority vs reactionary xenophobe.

  3. Donald says:

    According to the 2011 and 2001 UK census figures, in that 10 year period the number of people identifying themselves as Christian or Jewish fell from 2001 to 2011, overall loss of about 4½ million, while the numbers of people identifying themselves as Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist all rose from 2001 to 2011, with an overall increase of about 1.3 million.
    I am not sure, but I think Germany’s intake of Syrians has been over 1 million in just the last 18 months. Some Britons may see Brexit as a means to quarantine the UK from refugees.
    The referendum result may have been different if it had been held 2 years ago…
    Back in Australia, Yahoo polls had online (unreliable) polls of Australian public opinion over the second Iraq war, before it started, then again shortly after it “finished” / “Mission Accomplished”, and then a third poll a year or two after “Mission Accomplished”. At the three different points in time, to begin with 70% of respondents were opposed to Australian involvement (before the war started). After the war “finished” / Mission Accomplished / We Won ! and all in a couple of weeks, in the next poll, that is the second poll, 70% of respondents were in favour of the war. The third time, after a couple of years more, for the third Yahoo poll, 70% of respondents were opposed to the war (partly because the proof that Iraq had WMD or WMD programmes was faked, probably faked by agents of a certain now dead Iraqi expatriate mathematician).
    This phenomenon of flexi-support-opposition is not restricted to Australia, I think it is characteristic of many countries and their populaces.

  4. lettersquash says:

    Yeah, to be honest, we might as well write policies on a wall and throw darts at it. Or everyone could put their name in a hat and we could draw the name of the new president every time it rains (not in Oz, obviously).

  5. Donald says:

    As there are now calls and a petition for a second referendum, perhaps now would be a timely opportunity to start the planning and petitioning for holding a third referendum to placate whichever side loses the second referendum.

  6. lettersquash says:

    It would be undemocratic to have a third referendum if Remain won the second. We’ve each had a turn then. 😀

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