British politics has been poisoned.
The weary, bed-ridden invalid of parliament is consumed by this toxin, and a lifetime of mutual abuse and cynicism has left the country’s immune system — the electorate — with but a smattering of antibodies to combat it.
The poison is not Brexit — as you might reasonably presume — but the 2016 referendum itself. And our collective “anosognosia” (a psychological condition that sees a person deny their ill-health when the symptoms are clear and ruinous) means we have stopped searching for an antidote.
Indeed, the intangible, unidentifiable “Brexit” with which we are so obsessed is but the symptom; the venom was born of arrogance and irresponsibility. Cameron thought he could buy off the Ukip vote in the 2015 general election by promising an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. It worked — he won a small majority — but in his haste, the ensuing referendum left “Brexit” undefined, and its proponents exploited that fact.
The referendum was vague — the vote was between “Remain in the EU” and “Do something else related to leaving the EU”. Of course, those who chose the latter will declare: “I knew what I was voting for — Leave means Leave!”
Well, I’m sorry, but you (one person) did not know what you (17.4 million people) were voting for — or it would have happened by now.
Keeping the option obscure has been lauded as a triumph of the Leave campaign, allowing them to gather disparate camps under one umbrella. But it has proved to also be Brexit’s undoing. This is why the greatest obstacle to passing withdrawal agreements in parliament has been Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Brexit-zealotry wing of the Tory party. If Brexit is indeed averted, we will have Rees-Mogg and his ERG ilk to thank, which will be a joyous irony in this era of despondency.
This corrupting ambiguity has been weaponised: in 2016 the phrase “Brexit means Brexit” sought to deter those who wished to pin Theresa May down on what would happen. Lately, “Get Brexit done” implores us to ignore the details of Johnson’s deal. Consequently, we remain none the wiser as to our future relationship with our closest neighbours, and the largest economic bloc in the world.
So, what is it? This Brexit. Is it a clean break, like Farage advocates? Or is it close alignment to the single market and customs union, like Farage advocated during the referendum?
Does it mean no customs checks down the Irish border, as Johnson promised before he became prime minister? Or does it mean exactly that, as Johnson agreed in his withdrawal agreement?
Did it mean triggering Article 50 immediately as Corbyn suggested? Or was Article 50 an unnecessary ticking clock, as argued by Gove during the referendum, who then voted for it in the House of Commons?
Duplicity abounds in this age of hypocrisy, and it has taken its toll on the electorate. Trust in politicians has never been lower; but, simultaneously, indifference to being lied to has never been more rampant. We have a proven liar in the position of prime minister, but how often do you hear from the public: “I know you can’t trust him, but I just like him, OK?”
You may ask: why does the referendum’s shameful inadequacy matter now? Well, we’re in the throes of an election campaign, aren’t we? We’re inundated with spending promises and accusations of racism. We are treated to pointless debates between political extremes that will sway precisely no one and achieve nothing but gaslighting a nation. It’s horrifying to watch. We have abandoned rational debate in this country — and it is the referendum that ripped it from our vocal cords like a cancer of the larynx.
As a result, we are more polarised than ever. Finding a Labour/Tory swing voter is like finding magic mushrooms in an urban park — rare, and ultimately bamboozling.
This election will be won by two things: turnout, which favours Labour (if we are to assume younger voters would like to keep the freedoms that their parents enjoyed); and tactical voting. The greatest beneficiary of the latter will be the Liberal Democrats. I could write a whole piece lamenting the leadership of Jo Swinson, whose platform of revoking A50 while denigrating Labour for their (in my view sensible) offer of a specific and defined second referendum has managed to both alienate Labour Remainers and the entirety of the Leave vote. Still, rather them than a Conservative majority.
The madness perpetuates as we listen to Conservative incumbents lament the sorry state of the UK — myopic to the fact that they have been in government for the last nine years. Most of their current policies are reversing their own cuts!
Who knew that shaving police budgets would lead to rising crime? Or cutting nurse bursaries would leave to chronic NHS staff shortages? Or underfunding schools would lead to the worst teacher-retention rates for generations?
I’ll tell you who knew: police officers, nurses and teachers! Maybe listen to them next time.
Picking your bogeyman
Our country is bizarrely skewed to the right, apparently in support of diminishing public services and the deportation of foreigners. Our nation votes for underfunded schools and understaffed hospitals. We vote for more of the same, over and over, because we’ve been led to believe that the real bogeyman is not austerity, but the EU.
That was the greatest trick the Brexit campaigners ever pulled — convincing people that the reason their beloved NHS was crumbling was because we spent so much money on EU membership. £350m a week, I think it was — saw it on a bus once. Cor, that’s a lot.
But, when you look closer, EU membership is the UK government’s smallest category of expenditure: 0.7%. We spend more than double that on sports, culture and museums. And they don’t mention how great membership’s return is for businesses, employment and the economy, do they?
So, who should you vote for?
That’s unfortunately a harder question than it looks, what with our first-past-the-post system. I hope you’ll vote tactically, though, to elect anyone but a Tory or a Brexit party loon (and they are all lunatics, upon whom I shan’t waste my breath).
If your priority is immigration — bear in mind three things:
- European immigrants are a net positive contributor to our economy, paying more in tax than they take out in healthcare or benefits, not to mention the considerable proportion of European doctors and nurses in the NHS.
- Second, Corbyn appreciates the impact a rising population can have on infrastructure, and has on more than one occasion advocated an immigration impact fund to improve transport systems in affected areas.
- But moreover, spare a thought for our younger generations, who, unlike their parents, will be stripped of their freedom to live, work and fall in love in 27 countries in the European Union, with no administrative, taxation or legal burdens. Even if you didn’t take advantage of that freedom, is it fair to deny our children those same opportunities? That seems cruel, to me.
However, if you still believe the EU is the source of your problems, I honestly don’t know how to help you any more. We’ve seen the duplicity in the arguments against the EU, from Johnson’s early journalistic days fabricating sensational stories of red tape and regulation for the Telegraph, to insane conspiracy theories about EU armies and this phantasmal EUSSR super-state. It’s all made up, mate! You’ve founded your political opinion on fairy tales.
How do you argue with someone like that? It’s like trying to explain the science of lasers to a cat — whether they look like they’re listening or not, they’ll still fruitlessly chase the dot around the carpet.
Now, if you cannot vote for Labour because of anti-Semitism, I appreciate your reticence. It is clear that Corbyn has not done enough to eradicate the scourge of anti-Semitism from his party.
But… you lose your right to oppose racism if, in the same breath, you’ll vote for the rampantly Islamophobic Conservative party, or for Boris “picaninnies with watermelon smiles” Johnson — a man who has managed to publish Islamophobic, homophobic and overtly racist statements in national publications and retain his “electability”.
Remember, remember, the 12th of December…
Finally, if you are voting for the Conservatives because they say they’ll invest in public services, just remember who took that money away.
Remember the countless jobs that have departed this country because of this botched Brexit debacle.
Remember the police officer berating Theresa May for axing community policing years before the Manchester bombings.
Remember Johnson glibly declaring cuts to the fire service will result in a reduction of fires as London mayor.
Remember the Windrush generation, who came to the UK as British citizens, and have been roundly betrayed and deported by a Conservative home office.
Remember how the rate of homelessness has skyrocketed since Ian Duncan-Smith’s callous and cretinous introduction of Universal Credit.
Remember the hundreds of thousands of families who have suffered the ignominy of relying on foodbanks due to Tory austerity.
Remember the schools forced to go cap-in-hand to parents to pay for books and stationery.
Remember the younger generations saddled with university debt they’ll likely never repay.
Remember the pitiful response to Grenfell.
And if you keep that all in your mind and can still vote Tory, then I’m afraid there’s no antidote for you.
You’ve been poisoned.