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Brexit. It’s a mess ain’t it, sheriff?

Posted on December 19, 2018

In the film No Country for Old Men the rookie policeman Wendell asks this question as he reviews the grizzly carnage of a desert murder scene. The sheriff drily observes that ‘if it ain’t, it’ll do till the mess gets here’. They could have been discussing Brexit.

I’m writing this on December 19th, 2018 and even as I do so, I know with iron certainly that it will be out of date within days – quite possibly hours. But although the story won’t get any prettier, it’s worth a skate through the history of this fiasco.

First of all, who’s responsible? That’s an easy one. Look at any of the following: a meeting of the EU heads of state; Tory back-benchers; any UKIP meeting in a dusty old British Legion; the UK cabinet. What do all of these have in common? They are made up of portly old white blokes (and I include women in this) who have done OK for themselves. They are every dubious, halitosis-reeking, outspoken uncle at every Christmas dinner you’ve ever had to endure. They’re every sneering cousin with a leased BMW who’s ever blighted a family birthday. Certain in their nostalgic beliefs and untroubled by any responsibility other than that to themselves and their own comforts.

Then there are the toffs. They’re not wearing top hats and twiddling their moustaches, but they may as well be. Privately educated, stumbling from one implausible ‘job’ or ‘consultancy’ to the next, some of them even have the nerve to pretend that they’re speaking up for the voiceless. Their part in all of this, up to and including the highest office in the land, has been to stir the hornets’ nest and then scuttle off when the stinging starts.

Who voted for them? And who voted for Brexit? That’s an easy one. Over 17 million people. Who were they? Were they all racists, ignoramuses, dimwits and numpties who knew no better? To listen to some liberal commentary on this, that appears to be indisputable. But if those liberals believe that, then it’s they who need to take a look at their own grasp of reality. The vile discourse of thick-northerners who knew not what they did falls straight into the oldest ruling class trap of all. When in doubt, deflect the blame.

It is beyond dispute that many people voted to leave because they saw immigration as a threat; a threat to the availability of housing and access to jobs and services. When the state refuses to build social housing and underfunds basic services, it’s an easy conclusion to draw.

Many people voted to leave because their wages had fallen so drastically since the crash of 2008 that, even in work, they find it hard to make ends meet. A detached political class, apparently more concerned with its own expenses than the outgoings of their constituents, seems to care little for such people.

Many people, who had been reluctant to vote in previous elections, saw the referendum as chance to stick their fingers up to these so-called betters who had so obviously failed and ignored them.

None of the above pretends to be original and it certainly doesn’t claim to be comprehensive. It takes more than a blog post to do that. They are just some examples of the multitude of reasons and motives that have become clear to us all since June, 2016. Some two and a half years on, the feeling toward the whole process is now almost universal: please make it stop. Please let’s find a simple solution. Trouble is, there ain’t one.

The comedian George Burns once observed that it was ‘too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.’ If anyone, from whatever political perspective, tells you there’s an obvious answer, that person is a bare-faced liar. Anyone with a glib solution is a fool.

So, just for the moment, let’s blame some people – and hope that by doing so, we can cast some light as well as heat. First, we need to remind ourselves that the crisis of British imperialism, set in train in 1956, seems to have gone unnoticed by a succession of UK politicians ever since. In this enduring fable ‘we’ are still a major power on the world stage. This view is reinforced by grotesque contributions from mainstream media, eager to invoke the heroism and sacrifice of the working-class people who won the rich men’s wars of the mid twentieth century. We’ll go it alone, us plucky Brits. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. Delusional, but with some nostalgic traction.

Then there was the 2008 crash. The continuing failure of western capitalism whereby the children of the genuine heroes looked on in paralysed amazement as those who stole our money, savings and pensions  were bailed out by the same state that scrapes to the bone the payments it makes to the poor and disadvantaged. What sort of system gets itself into financial difficulties and then suggests that those who are nearly skint need to shoulder the burden? Well – one that doesn’t work.

The whole Brexit mess – and, to be clear, politicians of all hue carry some degree of responsibility – was the accident waiting to happen. Working people were given a choice that amounted to ‘do you want to be shafted by one form of crumbling, vicious capitalism or another?’ Having been treated like idiots and fed lies from all sides, we tilted to one side rather that another.

And then it became apparent that those who thought we still had an Empire, who made us pay for the bankers’ crisis, who had drawn their own arbitrary border in Ireland and were more than happy to blow the racist dog whistle, had no bloody idea what to do.

Mess? If only it were as simple as that.

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