British people don’t do revolution, am always told. I’ve been boring my friends senseless about the political spectrum in the UK forever lurching to the right and warning that if ‘we’ continue in this direction, it will lead to a revolution. But British people don’t do revolution. And the UK is not France.
Well, if you don’t think that the UK is in the middle of a revolution just now, I don’t know what will convince you.
I know that a people that loves queueing is not likely to step out of line. A people that until recently trusted its national broadcaster, may take time to notice the imbalance between the amount of air time one man and his anti EU rant is afforded, without an equal counter balance of the opposite end of the political spectrum.
So whilst the rhetoric of migrants, the EU and the elite being the source of most evils became mainstream, the Greens remained painted as lefties with no clue about real life not so much because we could hear what they had to say and think so for ourselves, but because their side of the story was so seldom put forward that many thought they knew what the Greens stood for.
“I could never vote for them, they want to ban horse racing” said a friend. No they don’t, they want to ban the use of a whip in horse racing. They want to close dangerous tracks and ban trainers with poor records. I imagine horse lovers would agree with this.
“They’re just a pressure group, they’ll never be running the country”, many say. They only go on about climate change. Peace and equality is all very well, it’s not the real world. They’re blinking communists. Ouch. Now that’s a swear word.
After years of listening to negative comments from a small group of people on our BBC and our media, who pointed out obvious facts like the number of people who have arrived in this country from abroad, the failings of a huge organisation that is trying to get 28 countries and governments to work together for the first time ever in history, an elite that takes too big a cut and does not leave enough crumbs to keep poverty at bay, the stories have become normal for many, accepted as an answer in itself even, by some.
Here is something else to think about. It is misleading to think that the people who voted us out of the EU were only disenfranchised ‘working class’ families and the old generation. What tipped the balance, is that a whole swathe of middle class, middle aged well to do English people, had all sorts of reasons for thinking that the EU needed to go. Accountability and democracy being two major ones. Although when I’ve discussed it in more detail, it often came back to trade and not wanting to bail out Southern Europe.
Will there now be a tsunami or will the waters open for the UK as they did for Moses with advantageous trade agreements all over the world in sight? As the Moses story can be interpreted from many angles, so can the future of the UK. I can’t help but wonder quite how much dairy products, lamb and wine the UK will have to agree to import if the Kiwi trade negotiators do come and help us sort out new deals, as they have kindly offered. Forget Italian tomatoes that block EU deals and let’s get our fruit and veg flown from the other side of the world.
Let air miles trump local.
What will the UK do when they negotiate with the US will depend on how good these international trade deal negotiators we now need to hire are, and how we will ensure all clauses are indeed in the interest of the UK. Will Whitehall do their job and warn the elected ministers in charge -who they see as their boss, rather than their real bosses, the electorate-? Busy moaning about the unelected Commissioners in Brussels we forget we also have unelected civil servants in this country, only most of us have absolutely no idea who the heads of departments are in Whitehall.
It is easy to find out who the EU Commissioners are, not quite so transparent to learn who works at Whitehall.
I don’t doubt for one minute that the British are good negotiators. No other country in the EU managed to get the deal the Brits had. Have, still. No Article 50 yet. Trade, negotiated in the days before human rights as we understand them now, gave the UK its Commonwealth. But whilst the Germans are sure as hell not going to want to lose a big market for their BMW’s, that does not mean they are going to lie down on the floor with their hands in the air in surrender so the UK can trample them. Compromises will be inevitable.
So the question is, what will the UK have to give?
I spoke to a woman who had voted Leave. She did not understand why the UK should have to accept free movement of workers to have access to the EU market. This is not understanding the first thing about the EU. Or business. Or, I would suggest, balanced relationships.
The enticing concept of optimism depicted during the referendum campaign, the breath of fresh air from an unknown politician is maybe tempting, is it not as utopian, if not as detailed, as any Green manifesto? But never mind, in our ultra accelerated world, Leadsom has just stood down from the leadership contest.
The thing with revolutions is that rarely do the instigators who point out the obvious consequences of a system, end up being the ones who lead the country forward a few years later, or as is the norm these days, within hours. When the French peasants helped get rid of the monarchy, they quickly found themselves enrolled in an army led by an emperor.
When the students of Paris took to the streets in May 1968 to point out the flaws of capitalism, they were first followed by workers’ strikes. France ground to a halt. When De Gaulle threatened to resign and called for a general election, France had been so hindered by the inevitable consequences of the strikes, and the left was so divided between the socialists and the communists that the population voted the right back in, for fear of a communist take over of a socialist government that had no majority on its own, so had no choice but to work with the communist party.
Strikes, divided left. Rings a bell right? In the non striking country the UK has become.
As a French friend of mine said about France “France is ungovernable.” I’d say so is the UK. Or the US. Or indeed the EU. Or as democracy stands, any other 21st century democracy. A government cannot govern with all its citizens in mind, so it mainly governs with its party members and potential party members in mind, whilst trying to keep the lobbies happy. That’s part of the reason why both Conservatives and Labour lurched to the right, whilst on the ground party members would rather they both veered back towards the left. Conservatives have clearly actioned this sooner, with May making noises about workers on boards of directors, or government backed project bonds to boost infrastructure.
Ministers govern with the help of special advisers that seem to care more about what will appear in the papers tomorrow, or on twitter in five minutes, than any long term structured plan. They govern with opponents’ advisers that will come down on them like a ton of bricks if they are naive enough to say (even indirectly) something stupid like “I’m a Mum so I know better than a childless woman”.
Little bites of nonsense to keep us occupied whilst the Junior Doctors have just had their new contract imposed, whilst the UN has pointed out that the UK is breaching international human rights in view of the number of children living in poverty due to the austerity programme. And the UK is discreetly sending soldiers to Poland whilst the Chilcott inquiry is busy pointing the finger at one man. Were civil servants, who are there to advise, clear enough in their advice, or were they worried about their job; or simply ignored?
When a system shows flaws, it is more important to understand these flaws so as to improve the system, rather than spending time hating one man for his final decision. By all means take him to The Hague, but let’s learn and push to improve the system, surely.
The UK has just been given a little taste of direct democracy with each vote counting for something, unlike in a general election with safe seats galore. But with no clear constitution or balanced media to guide and inform its people on the mechanics of a referendum, the democratic can of worms has been kicked down the road, and the road is very dimly lit for Article 50, let alone the future of the UK.
The revolution has started.
In a very British way. Orderly queues to the polling stations, the people have spoken.
What is revolutionary is that Politics is being discussed far more than it ever has in the thirty years I have lived here. Over a drink at the pub yes, but even in shops, down the street, online and even with total strangers. Strange. Neoliberalism is no longer a new buzz word branded about by leftards. People who have voted Conservative for years, but were conservative not Conservatives are swearing they will never vote Conservative again.
People on the left long for Cameron to be back in charge, in a state of stupor, for fear of what lies ahead. As May is talking of workers on the board of companies which seems to have served Germany rather well for years, the left is busy tearing itself apart. Labour is bound to split and argue which bit of Labour can be called Labour because Socialism is still a dirty word the press barons love to ‘Red shame’.
The EU is finally in the centre of the discussion, as it should have been for years. When people were being asked to vote for their MEP, the majority didn’t bother (35% did, now that’s a proper minority) except when they were voting against the EU, which is how the South West of England ended up with two UKIP MEP’s out of four, and one Green. No liberal, no labour. Extremes prevail. Is it any wonder the political landscape looks like an episode of Bergerac?
But hey, nobody said revolutions were easy.
And if you’re going to have a revolution for Europe, you would not want Germany to start it, with its painful past, France and its racially divided society, Italy, Spain or Greece that would crash the Euro having been hit so hard by the international neoliberal banking crisis; or an Eastern European country with its communist past. If one country was going to shake the EU from the stubborn path it is currently taking, which many EU citizens do not want to follow, it had to be the UK.
The one country that knows only too well quite how difficult it is to keep a United Kingdom united.
Some Leave voters believed that the only way to avoid a United States of Europe, or a European Army, or dysfunctional trade deals was to not only threaten to leave, which did not work, but to actually leave. And they have been heard. I won’t say they have won, this is not a football match with a trophy and we start again next year.
But if trophy there is, then it now needs to be filled in a way that means nobody goes thirsty. We sure need to keep an eye on the trophy holder and her team.
Democracy is not just “vote, now get on with it” for four years.
Politicians need feedback from the electorate. If we let our MP’s just get on, they’ll get on. They may not listen, but they sure won’t do anything if we don’t raise our concerns. So when May promises seats for workers on boards, it needs to be delivered effectively. When the country is sending more soldiers on the border to Russia to back up NATO, we need to question the reasons before more aggression occurs. It was NATO that broke the deal they made with Russia after the Cold War ended, Russia is neither always the bad boy, nor the only bad boy. Is it the EU that is expansionist, or is it NATO?
And if it is both, what are the consequences?
It’s easy to say all politicians are scum, in it for themselves, but it’s useless. Is there really such a big queue of people wanting to become politicians? Unless we get more British people to stand up and be counted, whether they voted Leave or Remain, the ship is going to go on a course that will let the Captain ignore some of the winds the crew know are coming, and throw many overboard. Down below deck, political parties on the left and centre are increasing their membership daily, and at last politics, globalisation and even compassion are being discussed more widely.
As a very clever friend of mine said recently, whilst we’re all busy narrowly discussing Brexit, this will pale into insignificance when hundreds of thousands of people are displaced by floods or drought; as happened recently in China and will continue to happen. Whether man made or Mother Earth’s cycles is not the argument to lose any more time over for climate change, the reality is that extreme weather patterns are having an effect, people will continue to move around the planet to places where they can survive.
What is our contingency plan for when this happens, when we already cannot cope with migrants in the Mediterranean and NATO has just come to the rescue? And what if it is the UK that is being attacked, or flooded. Let’s face it, a heat wave is pretty unlikely. Then again, in this new mad world, who knows?
The Gulf Stream has just crossed the Equator for the first time, what will that do to our climate?
Equally important, how do the old industrialised countries regenerate themselves in the 21st century when the behemoth that is China is trading all over Africa.
None of us have the answers, there is no simple answer, but the country that started the industrial revolution that took the world on the path of capitalism has effectively just voted to stop what their country ignited. There is no doubt that it is the evolution of capitalism that has created the state of the world as it is now and this is effectively what the electorate have voted against.
No. They said. Enough.
Yet the government in power is totally based on global capitalism, as little state as possible, private is better than public, and it does feel like it also says, never mind the consequences. Or then again, they may start to change their tune slightly to stay in power.
As it stands, no national government on its own is able to solve the inevitable consequences of globalised capitalism. And that vote for change landed on the lap of the British citizen, away from the EU.
Capitalism led to neoliberalism. Communism led to dictatorships.
As May ’68 is deeply ingrained in the French psyche,
so will June 2016 be a marker in history.
It is up to the people, not just the politicians how the story unfolds. The British people have voted for accountability and democracy. This is positive. Many Europeans stand with them. This is a unique opportunity not to spend time feeling depressed or angry, nor victorious let alone vindictive, but to spend time getting better informed and engaged. A second referendum now would be dangerous as it would anger disenfranchised people further. Waiting to invoke Article 50 to ensure the ground is well prepared is the only option. The EU can say ‘no pre negotiations’, this is nonsense. The EU decision makers know they are on shaky grounds and governments will obviously talk. Come on Brits, make it work not just for the UK or the EU but for Europe, that continent you are a part of, like it or not.
What citizens need to do now is spend time shaping political parties; from Conservatives that have listened to UKIP and press barons for too long, to the Greens via Labour and Liberal Democrats. If you don’t want to join a political party, join a Union, or a Chamber of Commerce, or a Human Rights Group, or local government.
By all means don’t, if you can’t be bothered, or think it’s worthless, but that will only ensure the political classes continue on the path well trodden with blinkers on. Or, as in the case of the Conservative party, close ranks and sort things out internally when it comes to ensuring they get to be Captain, whilst the left puts forward an MP who voted for the Iraq war to contest the current leadership, days after the Chilcott enquiry comes out.
Who needs to read fiction?
So, do we want to continue to feel as we surely all do now, totally impotent in the face of the turns of event that come our way daily?
The “two party UK” is long gone, what was scantily hidden has exploded. The EU has long had a more widely based political spectrum. Coalition does not have to be a dirty word for a country, even if it can prove lethal for the minority party. It makes it more difficult to govern, but that’s the way it is, it represents the citizens more democratically.
Let’s get active whatever our beliefs.
All of us. And we will all have to compromise. Or we’ll keep going round in circles.
If the birth place of the industrial revolution can lead the way to a fairer society without further bloodshed, would this not be the best social revolution?
Now my British friends, are you up to it? I know many of you are. At last.
Vive la revolution anglaise.