Friday, June 24, 2016


Back in May I was walking around the Italian town of Padova thinking what an extremely beautiful place to live and work in. The buildings are all on a human scale, that inherited sense of Vitruvian proportion which makes you feel immediately at home & lifts the heart. Sunlight falls upon the colonnades creating Ben Nicholson plays of shadow & arcs in & around which the swallows swoop. Students cycle by & cafes spill out across the pavements.  The coffee is cheap & served in real cups & tastes like ... well, coffee. It occurred to me how sad it was to know that back in 'my' country there were people so set against the idea of Europe. Who wouldn't want to share this? 

& then we wake up this morning to discover the 'unthinkable' has happened. You'll forgive me if I try to make sense of this - the logic within what seems to defy reason.

It might seem odd but I am not sure that it is really to do with Europe

First, what do we mean by Europe? For me - working at an International school, living within Brussels, having children within the Belgian state system, enjoying excellent health care & quality of life - it can only seem to be a Good Thing. In five hours we can be down in Burgundy, in twelve you're at the Spanish border. We travelled to Greece and back last year without showing a passport. Such possibilities & privileges. 

However, looking at the map of yesterday's Brexit vote, it's clear that someone living - say - in an ex-mining village in Wales would have a very different version of Europe. For them, 'Europe' can stand for that amalgam of blind political & economic forces which have crushed the life out of them and their surroundings. The media's steady drip feed of 'mad Brussels' decisions (regulations about fruit shapes etc) serve only to exacerbate the sense of alienation. 

Add to this the scaremongering tactics of the Brexit lobby concerning immigration & terrorism & it is hard not see why you'd vote Leave. 

Yet ... what, really, is being offered in its place? A version of 'Great' Britain which no longer exists - has never existed

Does anyone really believe in British companies any more? How many businesses, firms, industries, utilities are owned or at least in some way connected with overseas owners or investors? 

Can anyone be so naive as not to see the extent to which the financial markets are so deeply entwined that it is impossible to 'go it alone'? As, today, the pound goes into free fall and the share indexes are showing red all the way down the columns. That will be British pensions & mortgages suffering in a month's time, a year's time, ten years' time. 

Is the British worker really so short-sighted as to throw away European rules on employment & other civil rights & liberties? 

Can anyone not pause for a moment to consider the benefits of working closely with the European community in terms of policing and shared information concerning likely movements of suspicious individuals & possible terrorist attacks? If a major objective of certain terrorist groups is to sow division among democratic states leading to the very collapse of Western culture as it understands itself then today's move is doing the job for them - the very reverse of what the Brexiters have been claiming in making Britain more safe. 

The argument begins to drift. let's take another angle. 

Is today's vote not also about the widely perceived loss of trust in conventional politics? 'Europe' thus comes to stand for Westminster itself, its self-regarding mechanisms, the way London & the South East are seen to be privileged & the rest of the country can just make do. 

I wonder how many voting for Leave were motivated by a desire to give those bankers, politicians, policy gonks - Cameron himself - the two fingers. You've lied to us, you've landed us in this mess, you're the ones who never seem to feel the pinch, now feel my hurt. 

And it's hard not to sympathise. Especially as it starts to suggest deep connections with elsewhere in the world - Greece, most obviously, plus Spain (Podemos) & Rome (with the election of Virginia Raggi), & - sadly that's the price you pay for 'alternative' politics - in the US, Donald Trump. 

However, the problem is that when Farage et al champion the "ordinary person" it's clear they have absolutely no interest in them. They are simply a means to an end. Furthermore, they will be the very ones that will pay in terms of job cuts, loss of rights, reduced pensions etc. as companies relocate & the EU slams its doors in Britain's face.

And it wouldn't be too cynical to see that within the corridors of government itself, this was less a referendum on Europe than a thinly disguised Tory leadership contest. Stay or leave, in this version, was do you still have any faith in Cameron? or do you fancy a punt on Boris & Gove? Go on - have a flutter (but using the nation's financial security as your stake). Again, "ordinary person" will be the one to pay. 

How nausea-inducing to hear - on the one side - the praise for Cameron's leadership to date & dignity in defeat (when one knows he has always been a chancer & gambled on a Stay vote) - while on the other, admiration for Boris' statesman-like speech & sober delivery (simply confirming how astutely he has played the Buffoon to disguise his real agenda). 

It's rare to find myself agreeing with Alastair Campbell but during his interview on College Green this afternoon he suggested that many of the electorate would be asking themselves "is this the best you can do?" Admittedly he was talking about the Labour party with an extension to the US & Trump. However, the basic question stands. Boris? Michael Gove? Dare one even mention Nigel Farage? Just how low do we stoop to find the face that fits the new Voice of Britain? 

I could go on (I've not even opened up the cans of worms that are the more or less inevitable Scottish & Irish referendum votes). 

One more thought for now - how does this make Britain - we British - look to the wider world? I've already found myself apologising today - at the pool, at the bread shop, in an email to someone in Turin. Will London seem to be such a great place - other than to the super-rich who simply want to plunder it for property? Who can blame people beginning to think the British have turned their backs on a wider world & for what? A diminished bastardised version of their so-called 'culture'. A vote stemming from the worst types of ignorance, misinformation, small-mindedness, jingoism & fear of the Other. 

How silly we look. A large rock floating alone in the sea. 

Rather like Gibraltar but with 52 per cent of its population as apes. 

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