So it has happened. The atavists have won. Leave managed to encourage enough of the disempowered in the cities and the viscerally conservative shire English to come out and vote to leave the European Union. The repercussions have been immediate and could be more profound than any of us quite realise. A Prime Minister has already resigned. Scotland may secede from the union. The North and South of Ireland could reunite. And in every corner of the land shell shocked people under the age of 40 are asking themselves ‘why have our parents and grandparents done this to us?’
For make no mistake this plebiscite has split the country in two. The divide could not be sharper. The values that under-pinned the European Union and its founding and development – fraternity, solidarity, reciprocity and accommodation with other nations – have been rejected by more than half of the British people. In their place we have isolationism, xenophobia, fear and rejection of others. And what makes this so very sad is that many of the people who voted to leave the EU as a protest against their sense of isolation and abandonment by the political classes, Westminster and the Establishment, will be those most damaged by any economic downturn that may result from the vote. It will be they whose jobs are lost first. It will be those with least who will pay the price of stretched budgets as our imports cost more, our food bills go up and petrol prices increase. And it will be these people who will realise that the Leave campaign simply lied to them again and again and again.
For the sense of isolation many in our former industrial areas now feel, stems from decades of neglect and a neo-liberal ideology that believes in the market society and not the market economy. This has been compounded by a political elite who did not want to recognise the full impact of de-industrialisation. Whose technocratic tinkering did not enable any real degree of self-fulfillment or control back to those who had been dispossessed. Europe ironically acted as a bulwark against the extremes of neo-liberal ideology offering some protection for workers and others in society – minimal though that may have seemed.
Moreover the referendum campaign was the most spiteful, lie-filled and unpleasant of any in living history. It is one thing to stretch the facts to exaggerate a little and to thrust home a point. It is another to deliberately lie. The Leave campaign lied about the big things (£350 million leaving the UK a week for example and much of this money going to the NHS) and denigrated those who stood against them (Farage’s despicable comment about David Beckham coming out for Remain simply because he was rich for example). Smears and lies, playing the man not the ball have always been hallmarks of the gutter politician but the crew running Leave took it to a new level.
And for those of us in education and FE who are responsible for guiding young people what do we now say to them? After all over 70% of 16-24 year-olds wanted a chance to live and work in 27 other countries without restraint or hindrance; or travel freely, or enjoy the other benefits of being a citizen in a united Europe. How are we now expected to help them respect our institutions when they have been so disrespected by Gove, Johnson and Farage in such a public way? Moreover when they realise that these men have simply told lies to get their own way what then of those lessons in life about being honest, working hard and applying oneself when lying seems to work?
Values matter. They define who we are and what we want to become. With this result now in, the next Tory Prime Minister of this country will have carte blanche to speed up and deepen the very processes that the British people believed were the fault of Europe. As a sleight of hand it is quite brilliant. Only then, I fear, will people realise they have been duped as immigration doesn’t fall; as those warnings by independent economic institutions do come to pass; as the sense of being ignored and isolated doesn’t go away. And our major trading partner, the EU, however slightly, will turn its back towards us, as it inevitably must, in order to stop the European Union falling apart.
And at the heart of this great deception stands the folly of one man – David Cameron. Cameron has always had a touch of hubris about him. And as the ancient Greeks knew, a man suffering from hubris will one day meet his nemesis. The trouble is, Cameron’s nemesis is going to hurt the rest of us too.
Nick Isles is Chief Executive of Corporate Agenda