Leaving the EU feels like a death in the family

Wayne shares his post European Union referendum blues.

Three days after the announcement of the EU Referendum result, I still feel totally and utterly down. The only other time in my life that I have felt like this was when my dear mum died. However I was prepared for that, I had had time to say goodbye and I knew what to blame; the cigarette industry that had spent many unchallenged decades promoting the glamour (and at one stage the health benefits) of its products.

Leaving the EU feels like a death in the family but one with no sign of closure and one that will have negative impact on generations to come. I need to empty my head in order to start to make sense of it, need to get the blame out of my system and need to get some hope and purpose back into my thinking. So for what it’s worth, here is my “head emptying”.

The Damage

The damage to the United Kingdom is surely irreversible. I love the Scots and it will be really sad to see them go. But should they prosper outside the UK and in the EU then it maybe a pointer for the countries that remain in the UK to in some way put things right for generations after I am long dead.

A few weeks ago I presented a piece for the BBC about the 20th anniversary of the IRA bomb in Manchester City Centre (in which a shop of my former brand Red or Dead was destroyed) and was convinced that this felt like something that could never happen again. But there has to be a chance of a return to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland as the clamour to be European like their Republic of Ireland neighbours starts to come to the fore over the next weeks and months and years. The Good Friday agreement is surely under threat.

From the sixties onwards we have seen British creativity through music, youth-culture, art, film, TV and design gradually build a new brand identity for Britain, thankfully becoming more important in the eyes of the world than royalty, pomp and circumstance. The creative industries which I am proud to be part of has helped Britain be regarded as an outward thinking, modern, creative, progressive and diverse place. This has been amazing for inward investment and visitor numbers. The UK has just voted itself backwards and the brand damage will have far reaching repercussions. We may just be the most laughed at and hated nation now, taking over that mantle from Trump America. (ISIS will love the division as well).

The collateral damage to our European neighbours could be seismic. The right wing “take back control” cries of Marie le Pen in France, Gert Wilders in the Netherlands and the Polish Law and Justice party is scary indeed. And then there is the very scary Vladimir Putin who must love all this discord and what will be a weaker EU. We had created 70 years of co-operation and peace. Conflict had become co-operation.

The damage to trust between young and old, between cities dwellers and those small towns and villages, between our wonderfully diverse multi-cultural communities will take a lot of healing. We are more divided than together now.

Who and what is to blame?

The largest blame must lay with the debilitating and growing inequality that British government over the past couple of decades have allowed to happen. When people see the rich getting richer, while their lives get harder, then nihilism sets in and hope is lost, leading to irrational decisions like we have just witnessed. Statistics show that the gap between rich and poor has continued to become even more extreme in the UK and it is no surprise that the millions who have been and are being left behind grasp at straws and start to believe that migration is to blame. We have had a constant stream of “us and them stories” of fat cat / banker pay, to low wage exploitation and the insecurity of short term contracts in retailers’ warehouses, to people selling national retail institutions for a £1, pocketing hundreds of millions whilst the pensions of workers are all but destroyed.

We have failed to educate people about politics (witness the largest Google search on the day of the result being “What is the EU?”) and about where to find the truth and balanced views rather than believe in what they read from a media trying to save its declining circulations.

Many British people have lost so much of their basic understanding of basic economics. We used to be a nation of shopkeepers (and I can tell you how much you learn from owning a small shop) but unlike countries like Germany we have surrendered this to the likes of Tesco and Asda. Add to that the fact that we don’t make and manufacture much anymore, we have become a service economy that has lost so much understanding of how money is earned. This has opened the door for untruths.

The right wing gutter press have been totally irresponsible reporting on ”£350 million a week being redirected to the NHS “, it won’t happen. As won’t the restoration of North Sea Fisheries or the much heralded Turkish invasion. Lies, lies and damn lies.

Lack of affordable housing, allowing greedy large scale house-builders to call the tune, wrecking the planning system, the right to buy and lack of private landlord rent controls have all led to people being desperate and in desperate situations humans can make wrong decisions. People felt they had nothing to lose.

The lack of investment in regional towns leading to a two speed economy has come home to roost.

The sad thing is that like in the US, where an obscenely rich Donald Trump is appealing to the disenfranchised we have rich old Etonians vying to lead our country on the premise that they are “men of the people”. (How ironic that on the day of the result Trump was visiting Scotland) We have to remember that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were not voted in by the public to be Prime Minister. We have that disgusting man, Nigel Farage, who has failed to be elected seven times, being able to act like the leader of a country and announce that the UK is Independent and that his UK Independence Party has achieved its ultimate goal .It’s like a worst nightmare for so many of us, waking up in UKIP Britain, except that it has happened, and we can’t turn over and go back to sleep.

Oh, yes and Cameron and his cronies. What a bloody disaster of a Prime Minister (surely the worst ever?). I have always been taught not to wash your dirty linen in public. The Tory parties’ infighting over Europe has led to this and the cocky couple of Cameron and Osborne like many entitled people, felt that they would get their own way.

What Next?

We can’t sit and take it. We have to get more political and surely we need a new political party. I like Jeanette Winterson’s idea of an Equality Party.

London has been given a bloody nose by towns and rural areas that have been left behind by the financial juggernaut that is the capital city. Lessons must be learnt from this. We must not sneer at those that voted “leave” but rather address their anger and fears.

Martin Luther King said “A riot is the language of the unheard”. We have just witnessed a  form of a “riot of the unheard” and at the same time as making sure that the unheard are heard we have to make sure that we don’t become the new unheard.

Likewise there is no point in sneering at the demographic with lower educational achievements that formed a substantial part of the “Leave” vote. We need to address a failure in education and realise that politics and economics do matter and should be a much stronger part of the curriculum.

As the reality of this mistake hits those that have voted for it, we must not say “I told you so” but work towards  mitigating the damage and trying to claw back some of what we have lost. We must harness “Regrexit” (the tens of thousands that regret voting “Leave”). We can mitigate some of the damage by remaining close to the EU in many ways ( but will have to live with the fact that we will have a much much reduced say  in the politics or economics of a continent that we do remain part of.

We must hold this government to account for removing public funds for opposition parties, for demeaning the Trade Unions, for their attack on tax credits, for allowing businesses to get away without paying their tax dues, for being in the pockets of the large house-builders, for closing libraries, for their attacks on the NHS,and their attacks on the climate lobby. What an absolute disaster. Is there a way of forcing a general election? And if so can a “coalition of common sense” (including all the feuding elements of Labour, the Liberals, SNP, The Green Party and Plaid Cymru) work together to heal things, start to address inequality  make sense of all of this?

The younger generations must get involved in politics and explain the positives of multi-culturalism. (The leave vote was strongest in places without migrants). Those with a lifetime ahead of them must wrestle back the power from those not long for this world.

And we have to ask ourselves are we happy with our beloved BBC being so PC and so careful to not be seen to be “metropolitan” that they dumb down so much as to not offer the intelligent side of the argument. The BBC seems to giving a disproportioned voice to those that voted “Leave”. Did we hear so much from the marginalised that the marginalised view became the mainstream?

Those of us that understand the positive impact of migration to the UK must “hug” the migrants.

We must remember that 48% is a very large proportion. Democracy may have failed us in the short term but we have to find a way to mitigate this disaster. Finally let’s start a movement that the 48% can get behind. Maybe it can be “I REMAIN a European.”