At the time of writing, Britain is faced with what the experienced commentator Michael White has described as the worst political crisis of his lifetime. Not just our political parties, but much of our democratic process seem to be imploding. It seems that, having voted to break away from the EU, our nation itself feels to have broken apart, and to be about to break apart yet more.
This month’s referendum on the nation’s EU membership split the country 52/48. What stands out immediately is that many of those who wanted Out include people in the second half of their lives, or maybe the final third ; the nation’s young, on the other hand, tended to vote In. Is this, then, a successful act of defiance by angry wrinklies, beset by rapid change and diversity, at the expense of their fresh-faced, internationalist young ? Or is “betrayal” a better word ?
A second thing that stands out for me is that what seems to have tipped the argument was Immigration. It stands out because the referendum was actually not about immigration at all and it is quickly becoming clear that the result will not affect immigration levels. Thus, a complete red herring may have won it for the Out campaign. Just fear and confusion, carefully and deliberately nurtured by the Out campaigners. The argument that was supposed to have won people over to the Remain side was the Economy. But too many people in the UK have every reason to associate “The Economy” solely with cuts, impoverishment, neglect and inequality, with George Osborne’s lop-sided grin hanging overall. Were the Have-nots ever likely to join the ranks of the outrageously over-paid Haves along this defence-line ? The chaps who ran the Remain campaign do not seem to have appreciated what the Economy actually means to many people in this country. They were campaigning on Fear as well, but were always appallingly off-target.
Which leads to the third thing which really stands out from these events. How disgracefully a campaign of such momentous significance and consequence was conducted. At what a low level of thought and feeling, integrity and responsibility. How incompetent and dishonest and often plain wicked the various arguments and communications. What an abuse and perversion of our great privilege of free speech. What sacrilege. The behaviour our “Free World” is currently exhibiting is tearing it and us apart.
At Glastonbury, Damon Albarn, Blur frontman and founder of Africa Express project, had this to say to the gathered crowds : “I have a heavy heart today. Democracy has failed us. Democracy has failed us because it was ill informed.”
“The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered,” said Cameron, in his resignation speech, as if he were speaking of some high and final authority, the last Word. But how can we be a People, or our collective “Will” have any weight or validity at all, if throughout the decision-making process, we have been bombarded and misled by so many deliberate lies, distortions and manipulations ; how can we now live with this decision made by a People led and informed so ill ?
Unless our decisions are properly informed, we are not qualified to make them and we are actually a danger to ourselves as well as to others. No authentic or responsible or truly free democratic process has taken place at all. Instead, the British electorate has lurched and blundered into this decision, blinded and bewildered by recent events and developments and then been actively deceived by unworthy influences and disgraceful abuses of free speech. Only later shall we wake up to what we have “decided”, and into whose hands we have dumbly delivered ourselves.
So is this what we mean by our privilege of free speech ? – just the license to deceive ? license to abuse and incite ? licence to hack and destroy ? licence to draw out the beast in people for unworthy purposes ?
And is this what we mean by elections, or referenda ? – just contests between liars ? so that the “People” will choose just the least scrupulous liar, the lies that glow brightest through the gathering dark ?
Democracy is under threat from a mortal enemy – itself – ourselves.
And Cameron’s premiership will go down as one of the most – perhaps even the most – inadequate, ruinous and disgraceful in this country’s history.
But who will be his successor ? What further disgrace, division and destruction lie in store ?