So it is unusual for me to publicly discuss politics, I typically find them to be a personal matter. But there are few things I want to write about, in part because I want to scream them and this just seems more civilized.
I will start by saying that I voted to Remain. And this is not particularly relevant to the things I am writing about, but I thought I should get it out of the way. The UK voted to leave, and that is the decision I have to live with. I don’t have a problem with that – it’s called democracy ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t accept the will of the people you might as well be in a dictatorship.
However there are a number of things that do matter going forward. As I write, two days after the UK voted to leave the EU, the country is facing what I would refer to as a political mess. On the day the vote was announced, our Prime Minister handed in his notice. Fair enough, he does not believe he can take the country forward after this decision and that new leadership is needed. Given the anger in parts of the Conservative Party, the fact that over half the country voted other way to him, I cannot say I would do any different in his place. Besides which, the EU are not going to be happy with him, and I imagine if he walked into the negotiation rooms in Brussels it would not be a warm welcome or particularly easy to get a good deal.
Nor did it come as a surprise, I recall a few months ago sitting in a coffee shop discussing matters with a friend, when we agreed that the PM would be finished either way. Unpopular with parts of his own party, having already made clear his intention to step down before the end of the current term and having led the UK into two massive referendums in a few years, both of which could have resulted in the UK being split up (still could if you listen to the SNP)… It is hard to imagine many surviving that.
This does however leave us with a bit of an issue. We need to start sorting out the EU departure negotiations, and we suddenly find ourselves with effectively a lame duck as a PM. So we need to sort that first so that we actually have someone to go into the negotiations from a position of relative strength.
It also means the person taking over has a massive job on their hands very early on. And it is not a job for the faint of heart. No matter who takes over, they know that just the result of the vote hit the markets and caused a political upheaval. Actually ‘pressing the button’ on an untested article 50 could go anywhere, with predictions varying from another recession to “ah we’ll be fine, its just a load of legal stuff”. Knowingly facing that uncertainty, and activating the clause, will take a brave person. If it backfires, it could end a career or set it back a few steps. Not activating it means ignoring the will of the people who vote you in or out – equally brave. Either way will upset Brussels.
On a more in-house level, looking at Westminster itself, things are no better. Normally, in the days following the PM handing in his notice, you could be justified in expecting the opposing party to show strength. To look like they are able to rule, to have the ruling party looking nervously over its shoulder and thinking “We have to get this right or we’re out”. That is the way the Shadow Cabinet is supposed to work, providing a strong challenge to those in office. However…
Since the PM announced his departure, several members of the shadow cabinet have either resigned or been sacked, there have been calls for the opposition leader to resign. Regardless of political ideals or beliefs, it is hard to imagine many times in recent history where the Opposition has looked so inept, ineffective and weak.
One could be excused for hoping that by now the UK government would have some sort of plan. As it stands, nobody from the BREXIT campaign has publicly announced a plan. This has inevitably led to a few jokes and dry comments such as “Following BREXIT, there are panicked cries around London of what happens next?!!! These are especially loud from Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.” (who if you are not aware led the BREXIT campaign). There appears to be a worrying truth to this.
James O’Brian summed it up beautifully: “The single thing that we can all agree on now is that no one has a clue what happens now. Nobody has. It doesn’t have to be frightening, but nobody knows what’s going to happen next”
Aside from anything else, I have no idea who is actually in charge just now. Theoretically of course the PM is, but in reality? Who is running the show? The Head of Government is firing blanks, the opposition is all over the place, and the leaders of BREXIT are yet to say anything helpful. Although in fairness, that last part does sum up Nigel Farage rather nicely.
Of course, it is not fair to suggest that all the politicians are not demonstrating clear leadership and direction. Labour MP and Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham was quick to tweet “It is for our members to decide who leads our Party & 10 months ago they gave Jeremy Corbyn a resounding mandate. I respect that & them.” Fair enough, although he stopped short of saying he believes Corbyn is still the man to lead. That does not of course mean he doesn’t think it, it just means he wants to get on with his job, one of the few still able to do so it seems.
Meanwhile in Scotland… Oh bloody hell. In fairness, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has yet to say anything I don’t think she has a right to say. Elected to look after the best interests of Scotland, she is so far doing just that. Of course, given her party political view in favor of complete Scottish Independence, and that the Scots overall vote differed to the overall UK vote rather drastically, this is going to cause a few issues. Indeed, just this morning she announced that it was possible for Scotland to try and block the exit despite the result. This follows on from a previous statement that a second Scottish independence referendum, or IndyRef 2.0, would have to be on the table. A lot who voted stay in the UK did so on the grounds that the UK would remain in the EU. It is hard to argue that this does change things, although how exactly I’m damned if I can work out.
One thing is clear though. As it stands, if IndyRef 2.0 does happen, the Scots will have to choose between neighbours. Who do we value more – the English or the rest of Europe. That is not to suggest we would even automatically get into the EU if we split from the UK, that is a complicated position. I suspect the First Minister would like us to split from the UK before the UK is confirmed as a split from the EU, as that would mean a lot of the criteria for joining would already be in place here. There is also the difficult issue of the Oil in Scotland which as partially imploded since the last referendum.
Of course, as someone who has a rather cynical view of people, it is not going to be just politicians that have me banging my head against the wall. I’m hearing an alarming number of people saying that they “did not understand that a leave vote meant a leave vote” or that they voted leave in protest and did not really mean it. Just let that sink in. They did not realise a vote to leave the EU meant the UK would leave the EU. I would understand if people found the wording of the question difficult, but it was about as clear as it could be. “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”. Not “Do you like the European Union?” or “Do you agree with the setup of the European Union?” or “Do you agree with every decision made by the European Union?”
Now I am sure that the numbers caught in the media saying these things are not representative of the nation as a whole. Odds are, there are some who voted both ways that are thinking they made a mistake. How they got into this situation is beyond me. After months and months of hearing about it, of countless warnings that “this is not the time for a protest vote” or that “this is not about the UK politicians but about the EU” and that “this is probably one of the most important votes in years”… I’m not sure what more both sides had to do get the point across. I don’t care which way people voted, as long as you comfortable with that decision.
It is not like this vote came out of nowhere. Had the PM announced a week ago that “Oh by the way we’re voting next week.” I would get there being some confusion. We have known about this for years. Are you honestly telling me that at no stage it occurred to these people to do some research, speak to people, listen to those arguments on both sides, so they could make an informed decision? Or at least come to the conclusion that “I don’t know what I think is best, so perhaps we should vote in the way that is easiest to reverse?”.
There is a petition for second referendum to take place, ironically it seems started by a Brexit voter in case Remain won narrowly. Legally it has grounds – “We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the Remain or Leave vote is less than 60 per cent based a turnout less than 75 per cent there should be another referendum.”. It has enough names on it to force parliment to discuss it, if they can get organised long enough of course. News is coming out that there seems to be a lot of non-UK signatures, indeed the Guardian is quoted as “Despite Vatican City, a tiny city state, having a total population of just 800, over 39,000 residents of Vatican City appeared to have signed the petition.” Exactly how that will play out I don’t know.
Personally I find the idea frustrating, it will not help solve things. However, due to the numbers of people saying they would vote differently, the numbers who did not vote and so on… perhaps we need to?