Full disclosure: I don’t pay much mind to domestic politics of the United Kingdom (or England, or Britain…I know it has do with whether you include Wales or Scotland or something… I’m an arrogant American who doesn’t care enough to remember). That said: I stay up on the news*, so I can identify the narrative falsehoods.
The initial headlines proclaimed that the UK had voted to leave the European Union.
Corporate media couldn’t even get that much right. The referendum to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was a non-binding one. Besides, Article 50 lays out a two year process for negotiation of voluntary exit. And before that happens, the UK will hold an election in September to determine whom will oversee the process, and initiate the multi-year negotiation clock.
David Cameron – feeling pressure from anti-immigrant voices in his own (Conservative) party – made a campaign promise of holding the Brexit referendum, and to resign should Leave be the result. Boris Johnson (former London mayor) was one of those Conservatives, pushed hard for the Leave campaign, and is now portrayed in the media as the front-runner for the premiership. (Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party and Opposition leader, is the populist dark horse.)
Nigel Farange, leader of the Independence Party (UKIP) and the Leave campaign, admitted the morning following the vote that a core campaign promise on NHS (healthcare) spending was a farce. That same morning, stories emerged of Leave-voting Brits with buyer’s remorse who had incorrectly viewed theirs as a protest vote. And of a sudden spike in Brits googling, after the fact, what exactly it was that they had voted for. Within days, millions of Brits had signed petitions calling for a referendum do-over.
Financial markets the world over fell, along with the British Pound.
The commentariat quickly began tsk-tsking the moronic masses and their naïve attempt at making adult decisions. The promised healthcare dollars had already evaporated. The promised budgetary savings in leaving the EU were smoke & mirrors all along. Simpletons had been duped by opportunists & white nationalists into blaming economic woes on immigrants & refugees fleeing civil wars & death at the hands of Daesh (ISIS). Economic illiterates had brought upon themselves more & unnecessary pain & suffering in an anti-immigrant & anti-intellectual fervor.
This trumpeted trope portended grave domestic ill via Trump come November. Editorialists lamented democracy itself may be too precious to be left to the whims of the unwashed, ill-educated peons (who support anti-establishment loons such as Trump & Bernie).
Their mistake is one of arrogance – regardless of the sensibility of Brexit. Yes, racism played a large and ugly part of the campaign. Ugliest was the senseless murder of Jo Cox. And yes, if the UK were to eventually leave the EU, then the post-WWII European experiment would be on the verge of collapse. Northern Ireland & Scotland would likely depart the UK in favor of the EU, which would itself likely dissolve within a number of years – a serious blow to the very idea of democracy. (And a coup for Putin, the DPRK, et al.)
That said: Don’t freak out! For some in the Leave campaign (including Johnson), the referendum seems to have been meant as leverage for negotiating a better deal to remain in the EU. Germany & France have no interest in doing such, as this would create a domino effect with countries like Spain & Italy. Plus, they’ll want a bit of revenge for the brazen attempt. Either side would of course want to save face and claim some sort of victory in negotiation, but it is very possible that – despite the Leave result – nothing at all substantial will change between the EU & the UK.
Which is a bit of a shame. The austere economic policies of the establishmentarian corporatists running the European Union belong in the trash bins of history. Their reaction to the crash was as flaccid and fumbling as that in the States. Ideally though, member-leverage would be utilized in a manner which would reform & repair rather than knee-cap the institution – in this case the EU. Unfortunately, the adults in the room both in the US and across the pond simply refuse to grasp what is happening. Our institutional faith has been completely eroded by aloof & corrupted so-called elites.
High unemployment, vast wealth inequity, and socioeconomic immobility have frustrated working & poor folks to our wit’s end. In times of economic frustration, noxious but invigorating fumes of tribalism fill the chests of the oppressed, fanned by the aspirations of opportunistic nationalists and faux-patriots. Retardant to the flames of bigotry & otherism, however, are opportunity & inclusivity.
It is mistaken to explain away the Brexit election result as either a death-knell to the EU, or as an harbinger of apocalypse the fault of racist rubes. What this is is a repudiation of the status-quo. It is evidence that the people (young people, at least) are opening their eyes to the ongoing class-war which the wealthy, ruling oligarchs have been waging – and winning – for decades. It is a reminder that those who feel helpless and backed into a corner will inevitably lash out, often unexpectedly. It is yet another in a long line of opportunities missed by political establishments (and their accompanying medias) to mature beyond laissez-faire, demand-side austerity economics, and embrace the monetary velocity and growth (and associated civil calm) inherent with Keynesian economic populism.