I am told that chickens can continue to run even after their head has been cut off; I have no idea whether that is true, but it seems an apt metaphor to apply to our politics today in the UK and the EU. I read that the EU wants us to begin negotiations straight away. This is one example of the chicken still running. What are the EU foreign ministers going to do if the UK does what its own Prime Minister has said it will, which is to begin the process in the autumn? The answer is nothing, and the minatory tone in which the comment was made is just one example of why so many people voted ‘leave’; it seems as though it is going to take time for the EU mindset to adapt to reality. At the same time, far too many on the losing side are behaving like children deprived of their favourite toy; it is not a sign of adaptation to circumstances to call half your fellow countrymen ignorant barbarians – that too is one of the reasons ‘leave’ got the traction it got. While I have sympathy with the young who feel betrayed, I can only say it does not look as though the young came out to vote in the numbers needed, and they need to remember that older people’s votes count as much as their own.
There are reports that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are a little shell-shocked by the result, and that they had expected to put on a gallant, but not quite successful campaign, with ‘leave’ garnering enough votes to do very well, and to give them a good hand to play in negotiations with the EU when the former succeeded Cameron. That’s not improbable, as I met few on the ‘leave’ side who thought they would win. Now the oppositional rhetoric must stop, as must the scapegoating. Many of the things our politicians blamed on ‘Europe’ were, in fact the results of their own inadequacies. It is hard to have much influence in the European parliament if you deliberately align yourself with marginal parties; yes, you can complain of not having much influence, and you can rely on popular indifference not to understand why. There is a great deal of detailed work to be done; now it must be done.
The real ‘take away’ from this is nothing that ought to be new to any observer of the political scene – which is that we have a political elite which is out of touch with far too much of the electorate – and that applies to Labour perhaps even more than the Conservatives. For some time now Labour had been the party of the professional classes in the public sector, and of unionised labour. Mr Corbyn is a type recognisable to anyone of my age. He’s a product of the far left in the 1970s with an impeccably PC resume when it comes to causes fashionable with Guardian readers; I have spent much of my career with colleagues of that type. But they are as far away from the working class electorate as any ‘Tory Toff’. Labour voters throughout the Midlands and the North of England have delivered notice to the Corbynistas that they have had enough. The Corbynistas may write that off as ‘false consciousness’, but they would be better advised to ponder whether it is not their own state of mind which does not best deserve such an epithet?
For some time now our political parties have mapped very uneasily onto the real contours of contemporary Britain. This has allowed nationalists in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and to some extent Wales, to make an appeal based on fantasies of nationhood and ‘taking control’; now the ‘leave’ camp have done that on an English level. At a time of globalisation and social change, there is an obvious appeal in such a line. But nationalism has not got a constructive record in modern politics.
It is clear that millions here who feel they have been let down by the promises made about modernity, have taken the opportunity to give the political classes a kicking. It is equally plain that this is fertile soil for demagogues to plant their seeds. The sleep of reason produces monsters – so it would be good if we would all wake up and start thinking rather than emoting.