I’ve spent the last day shocked, angry, and bamboozled by the EU referendum, and the choice that a majority of British citizens, of which I am one, have made. I am still trying to understand it but the process is hindered by waves of consuming rage at what, I believe, is a reactive decision to self-destruct, fueled by anger, fear, hatred, xenophobia, dangerous nationalism, and stupidity. I can’t understand it because I can’t escape the realization that it is unfair to blame this decision on stupid people.
Ultimately, and we’ve seen this since the result was finalized, the general consensus is that the British people have made a dreadful decision based on the inability to find, understand, and analyze information. In Britain, Google has seen a spike in searches to explain what the EU is and what the consequences of leaving it are. There are many seemingly key questions that have come a little too late about what the impact of a Brexit would be, such as, “If we leave the EU, will we still get our EU subsidies?” And then there is a bottomless social media goldmine of uninformed opinion and flat out idiocy. And, of course, we have the usual demographic breakdown that tells us that a large number of Brexiters are poor, uneducated, and unemployed, and live on the council estates and in the rundown areas of cities and semi-rural that have been left behind in the UK’s post-industrial society. The implication, again, is clear: if they’re poor, they’re uneducated. Unsophisticated. Stupid.
Perhaps some of them are, because despite the fact that information has never been more available, more accessible, society seems to be getting dumber. Despite the fact that a few hours of Internet searching and the briefest application of critical thought could produce an informed opinion on almost anything, we seem to be more reliant on a loudmouth media mentality. The traditional media has subverted its position by reinventing itself as a megaphone for its owners, spouting their opinions as independent facts, while social media has become the white noise of data distortion and misinformation. Is it any surprise that people are stupid when they are encouraged to be so?
It seems unfair and unwarranted to blame stupid people for this decision for other reasons too. We have had two generations of Tory, Tory-lite, and Tory-Lib governments that have made it a priority to suppress its people. There is no government on this planet that welcomes a well-informed electorate able to present counter-argument, able to incisively dissect official statements and political platforms, and willing, if necessary, to present viable opposition by running for office. In the UK this is evidenced by political actions that have illustrated elite attitudes to the populace. Thatcher, Blair, Cameron, and their governments have conducted a cynical, clinical campaign to create an ideal constituency for their continued rule.
The last 35 years read like a Machiavellian textbook. Destroy the unions. Deregulate industry. Privatize national resources. Make education inaccessible and expensive. Deregulate the media and deliver it into a small number of elite-friendly owners. Destroy benefits, remove the social safety net, underfund everything and use the tax money saved to offer corporate welfare to cronies and old school chums, and then, when the NHS has been run into the ground, introduce more fear by blaming the immigrants, the poor, and the welfare scroungers. Encourage your media chums to do the same. And when it is all done, you will have a population too stupid, too insecure, too busy with its own misery to understand who they feel like lashing out at.
Wales voted out. Wales, a country made of coal, voted out because the UK imports Polish coal. Cornwall wants its EU development funds but lashes out at the EU and votes for Brexit. Sunderland, sick and tired of having become a forgotten, deprived wasteland when it was once a major industrial force, blames the EU and votes out. Fishermen vote out because they blame EU quotas, forgetting that sustainability quotas were introduced to protect the resource from being fished out, forgetting that the North Sea doesn’t belong to the UK alone, forgetting that by voting out, they have voted to have almost no market at all. Workers, pissed at working conditions, layoffs, and the introduction of zero-hour contracts, blame the EU, which is the only governing body that has, for 40 years, stood between them and the British government stripping its own workers of all its rights.
Oh, but we just don’t like all those laws that Brussels forces on us. We want to sovereignty of our own statute books. Except we do. We have vetoes and negotiations, and of all the laws introduced by the EU, the British have had their say and have voted no on only a tiny percentage. But we don’t want to be ruled by unelected EU officials, says a population that accepts rule by a minority government, by coalition, and by an unelected PM and an unelected upper chamber House of Lords.
All the complaints that people have are about things that are, and always have been, under the purview of the London-based, UK-elected government. Union destruction, inner-city decline, failing infrastructure, workers rights, declining industries, a dying NHS, lack of social housing, banking and mortgage crises, everything, has been something the elected UK government could have done something about. And chose not to. But let’s lash out at the EU because it’s all Europe’s fault.
And their immigrants.
Britain is a country that needs immigrants to boost a sagging, aging population, immigrants that bring a net gain to the UK’s coffers, immigrants that bring industrial, technical, and academic expertize and cultural wealth. Immigrants have become a vital part of the backbone of the NHS, even as successive governments have torn the flesh from its ailing body. Immigrants have become our doctors and nurses because children in the UK don’t have the access or means to become doctors and nurses. Immigrants, who clog up our ER waiting rooms and take our hospital beds, contribute more per capita to the tax fund than the British-born population. Why are we not asking where that money is going instead of blaming them? And when we close the EU borders, we’ll still have a steady flow of immigrants from elsewhere. If we were full and creaking under the weight of immigration, why did we not cut off the 50% of immigrants from outside the EU? We could have done it any time we wanted. We had control of those borders.
But maybe it’s not an immigrant problem, but a skin problem. A darker skinned kind of problem. Maybe the problem is that we don’t like non-white, non-English speaking immigrants, like those that generally live outside the EU. Wait… what? Congratulations. If you’re white and your reasons were secretly racist, guess what? You just voted for more dark-skinned immigrants. Immigrants that, in years to come, will be propping up your pensions and benefits while they pay taxes and commit less crime then the “native” UK population. Once again, a Brexit vote is a vote against exactly the wrong people to blame for whatever ails you.
It’s all very well sitting here blaming stupid people and racists for a Brexit vote, but the fact is that this is the product of some very clever people indeed. This is the result of nearly five decades of well-crafted, cynical social engineering. While I do think that perhaps, and with the possible exception of Nigel Farage, this has been a political game that backfired somewhat. For Cameron it was a process of appeasement of the Euro-skeptics of his party, like Johnson and Gove, to ensure his continued leadership; and a game of chessboard politics to create a close vote in favor of Remain in order to force further concessions from Brussels for Britain’s well-padded seat at the EU table.
For Johnson, I’m not entirely sure he wanted to Brexit to win either. I think this was a Conservative Party insurgency, a British Tea Party, and that his campaign would create a groundswell that would sweep him to No. 10. I doubt he wants to be the man to press the Article 50 button.
As for Farage, I really don’t want to say what I think his aims were. Less than a week after Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed by a Britain First maniac angry at her support for EU membership, Farage grinned on national TV and said that “independence” from the EU had been won without a shot being fired. Even for an extremely unpleasant campaign that mimicked Nazi posters and skirted and sometimes crossed the lines of bigotry and racism, this was beyond the pale.
Farage aside, if this is a backfired stunt that should have been an intricate and well-managed game of political brinksmanship with the EU that would further enrich the elite of Westminster and London, it was a very stupid game indeed. A game that has wiped trillions off the stock markets, destroyed the country’s credit rating, created a toxic atmosphere of racism and bigotry, and made the UK the Yoko of Europe’s Beatles.
And so, perhaps stupid people are to blame after all. Very well educated, very well informed, very wealthy, and very, very stupid people.