One of my proudest moments to be British was during the days after the July 7th tube bombings. I was living in London at the time and I had to get to work. I didn’t think twice about getting on the tube, and nor did any of the other people in the packed carriage. There wasn’t fear, or panic, or whispers of danger. Everyone sat and quietly read the paper or listened to their music, just the same as any other day. Terrorism only works if the people are terrorized, and so the biggest F you we could give to those that wished us harm was to carry on with our lives. It’s the British way, the stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on.
Not talking about things may be a great British strength, but it’s also a weakness easily exploited by those in power. They can regularly rely on the British people to just suck it up with a minimum of fuss, no matter what hardships are layered upon them. Those that do speak out are shushed by everyone else, like a group of angry librarians. There’s nothing that can’t be solved with some quiet seething and a nice cup of tea.
Photo source – here
We may not talk about these feelings, but that doesn’t make them go away. A large portion of England has felt trampled on and neglected for far too long. That sense of unfairness, unjustness, lingers just below the surface, a shark living in a pond. When there is a ripple on the surface, you can be sure the shark is going to go looking for lunch. This week was a feeding frenzy.
I’m not going to talk about the economy, because I am not an economist. Nor am I an expert on the intricacies of immigration. The point is, neither are most people. The reality is that Leave had a clear and simple message that was easily digestible:
Someone else is telling us what to do. They are the cause of all our problems. Remember when we used to be great? Let’s be like that again!
This message was pure shark bait and it worked like a charm. It appealed to both the frustrated and the nostalgic. Note that there is no substance to this argument, no actual facts to back it up, no detailed plan of what happens next. The people spouting these catchy one-liners knew this to be the case, as evidenced by their rapid about-face only moments after winning. Key promises are already being reneged by the Leave party, such as the supposed drop in immigration and the extra money for the NHS. We should have read the small print on that giant red bus.
Their promises were fast food dressed up as a 3 course meal.
I want to stress that I believe the vast majority of people that voted for Leave did so for good reasons. They believe that the status quo is not working and that change is needed. They believe that the politicians are out of touch with the common man. They believe that there aren’t enough jobs to go around, and that companies are more than happy to exploit immigrants willing to work for less. They believe that the EU is dysfunctional and overly bureaucratic. The picture being painted of the Leave voters is uneducated, old-age Northerners, too simple to understand the complexities of the situation they have unleashed upon the country. This simply isn’t the case. The Leave image isn’t helped by the vocal minority of racists that have been happy to jump on the bandwagon, somehow feeling as if the Leave victory legitimizes their xenophobia. It doesn’t.
If this was the Britain of last week the Remain camp would quietly mumble about their loss, pop the kettle on and return to business as usual. No-one would make a scene. This is where things get interesting. This vote has taught an entire generation the impacts of not speaking up, of not being heard. It’s a harsh lesson in the peddling of half truths and misinformation. I am seeing an outpouring of opinion from friends that have never uttered a word on politics before. There is a sense that something of value has been taken from them and they want to know why. These people aren’t slinking away with a cuppa, they are speaking up. It is an awakening.
Boris and co. now find themselves in an impossible situation. On one side they have those that have voted for change, based on promises they know they cannot keep. On the other is their worst nightmare, a politically engaged general public with a long list of questions. Based on the deer in a headlight stares they gave in their victory speeches, I can easily believe the claims that there isn’t a plan for what happens next.
Normally this should be cause for concern, but in this instance I don’t believe it is. We’ve been given a rare opportunity, a chance to shape the future of England how we see fit. Let’s not panic. Let’s keep calm and find the common ground that unites us. These two camps are not as different as the press would have us believe. We all want what is best for Britain. Let’s keep the parts of the EU that were working and fix the ones that weren’t. There’s no-one else to blame now, it’s up to us.
As a nation we’ve never shied away from a challenge. There’s little doubt that June 24th 2016 will have a page in our history books, but how the rest of the chapter goes is now in our hands. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. This is too important to leave to someone else.
England has found it’s voice again. It’s what we say next that really matters.