Friday, March 23, 2018

Playing the game

One of my favourite Twitter feeds has been the daily Brexit roundup from Alexander (@37payday). He mixed exasperated humour and sarcasm with comprehensive knowledge of the contradictions and idiocies of our times. They were an absolute delight. But then they stopped appearing a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday I saw what had happened when he posted this thread. It begins:
1/ Brexit has finally broken my mum
Read all twenty-eight tweets, it will only take a few minutes. It's about how his mother, an EU national who has lived in this country since the late sixties, no longer feels welcome. Irrational? Maybe. But she doesn't feel secure in a country unwilling to guarantee her right to live near her children and grandchildren in the place she used to call home. She's leaving. It's a small story. But it's real and being replicated all over the country.

Why are we doing this?

Perhaps the Cambridge Analytica scandal gives us a clue. There is an ideological angle to the scandal in that they were working solely for the right, but what troubles me is the utter cynicism. What you do is win. If to win means lying, you lie. What is the result of of the victory? Who cares? We won. That is all that matters.

We all know the Brexit lies - and they were lies - Brexiters consciously knew they were untrue even as they repeated them. The extra money for the NHS, taking back control, immigration. The truth was always that Brexit will be hugely expensive and make us poorer simultaneously, that Britain was abdicating its power as one of the three most powerful nations deciding EU policy (something that will continue to affect us), and that immigration will not diminish. And then there was the scare story of Turkey being about to join the EU, when it wasn't and has now withdrawn its application. We had a veto on their entry anyway, something else a minister lied about on television. All this mendacity worked and helped to swing a narrow win.

It's extraordinary, Brexit is based on lies. The foundations were laid by Boris Johnson's spell as a Brussels correspondent feeding colourful fabrications about the EU into a press that found they brought in readers. And that's weird too. It's worth going back to earlier sources from the time of our accession. The Daily Mail was celebrating our entry as the culmination of their ten-year campaign to get Britain into Europe. Read, or even watch on YouTube, Ted Heath's idealistic speeches about how this was much more than being about economics and was the start of a growing political union (skewering another Brexit lie). Fake stories changed that agenda.

I find this shocking. Dishonesty, with so much at stake. A frivolous disregard for truth, out of all proportion to the profound importance of the decision, deciding a matter of the utmost seriousness.

And there's something else as well. Many of our leading Brexiters have been campaigning for nearly forty years to leave the European Union. Yet when they won and the decision had to be implemented they hadn't got a clue what to do. There were no plans. No strategy. No vision. Nothing. Even more frightening was their ignorance of the difficulty and complexity of the task. Try and talk about the minutiae of trade and they were stumbling, getting basic facts wrong. They still are. It seems that all that mattered was that they won. It was a game. A rich man's game. All they wanted was victory for an obsessive belief, rather than implementing a carefully thought out policy.

I have looked for material motives, as have others. They exist. Obviously some people will do well out of this. Putin is looking on with glee, as are the very wealthy at a time when the EU was getting serious about tax havens. It's about power too, removing the restraints of membership on the freedom of action of those with serious money. But this isn't enough. I can't escape the feeling that it was the game that mattered and that Brexit is not a policy, but a symbol. It reminds me of a football team lifting the trophy at a cup final, won against the odds. They do their lap of honour. Half the fans in the stadium are celebrating, the other half are crushingly disappointed and sullenly going home. Then, the day after, the club realises that it has overspent. This momentary triumph cannot last. Someone else will hold the cup next year. Their best players will leave, administration and relegation beckons. When the whistle blew ushering in that ecstatic moment, nobody thought about what comes next.

The nationalist right have won. They have their left-wing camp followers, but make no mistake, this is a victory for the right. And if we leave, change will be slow. There will be a relative decline, but we will still be OK. There will be more bureaucracy and a few things will become more awkward. Those who mis-sold us the dream will be insulated by their wealth and will keep their enviable life styles untouched, playing the game of being posh. London will remain a cosmopolitan city and the playground of the international super rich funded by the proceeds of corruption. Immigrants will continue to come, to dispatch our Amazon orders, harvest our food, clean our offices, work in hotels, and all the other myriad of tasks that we need. This time though they will have fewer rights and be easier to exploit. You see, it's the smaller people who will lose. People like the teachers and nurses, struggling with overwork and underfunding. The carers for your elderly relatives, the local authorities who can no longer keep your streets clean, the shabby parks and the closed libraries, they will all be losers. A younger generation will see their future more constricted than it would have been otherwise, and they will grow up in a meaner, less tolerant world. And, of course, there's Alexander's mum and the millions like her.

If we do leave, the cry of the next generation will not be 'remain,' but become 'rejoin.' And if they in turn win, at least they will know what to do.

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