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In terms of the current political wrangles I’ve heard comparisons with the days of the corn laws, but for me it’s how I imagine opposing sides must have felt after the end of the civil war. A hard fought battle between two ideologies – both convinced their way is the best for the country – the apparent losers now nursing resentment and feelings of betrayal against those on the winning side. Both camps now dazed and confused about what the future holds.
I still find myself looking at people I don’t know, in supermarkets or on the street, involuntarily sizing them up based on how I think they voted. It’s a depressing phenomenon, as such stereotyping behaviour is the root of the kinds of prejudice and distrust that played such a big part in the Leave campaign.
It’s also a phenomenon I’ve heard migrants commenting on as they are made to feel less welcome in communities that they know accepted a rhetoric casting them as the cause of many of the inherent problems in our society.
It’s a raw wound that will take some time to heal. Probably many years as the various ramifications of the process of disentangling ourselves from our European cousins become more apparent. It’s largely a function of the ludicrous way the referendum was run.
Firstly, we have the ridiculously short timescale of the campaign itself, brought forward from the previously touted dateline of 2017. A longer period might have become tedious, but it would at least have given more time for the heat to be drawn out of the debate and for the facts to rise to the surface.
The appallingly disingenuous actions of the Leave campaigners perpetuating lie after lie in the run up to the vote, were only eclipsed by their shameless reversal on all their key positions as soon as the polls closed.
This feeling of betrayal is sharpened to a painful point by the outrageous disregard that those who dragged us into this pit of acrimony are now showing toward the hapless voters who, only a few short weeks ago, were so important to them.
The three highest profile architects of the political maelstrom we now find ourselves in – Farage, Johnson and Cameron – have all retired to the back seat of the battle bus, having apparently just noticed the cliff edge we’re heading for. And while they plan their next outing and argue amongst themselves about who should be driving, we can only look helplessly out of the window at the rest of the world whizzing past and hope the inevitable crash won’t be too painful.
Having done ‘our bit’ by dutifully trotting into the polling booth, led by the nose, swallowing the same falsehoods and focus group button pushing that is characteristic of our so-called democracy, we’re now largely surplus to requirements.
Despite our professed distaste for the remoteness of the Brussels decision making and our hatred of faceless bureaucrats running our lives, we’re about to be served up with a new Prime Minister, anointed by a process no one outside a selected group of Tory Grandees will have any part in, or probably understands. We can only watch like passive consumers as the choice narrows to candidates that range from bloody awful to truly terrifying.
Nearly all those in the race for the big chair are scrotum-shrivellingly petrifying in their mediocrity, or just plain scarily inept. Even Cameron and Osborne look relatively cuddly compared to the smorgasbord of spite we’re now having served up.
As his final swan song Gove continued to promise his undeliverable pre-brexit manifesto of anti-migrant malice and fiscal fantasy in the apparent belief that you can fool all of the people all of the time. The only honest words escaping his quivering maw serving to confirm those things that we already knew about him: that he has all the glamour and charisma of a shared sex doll at a UKIP post-referendum bunga bunga party.
The two remaining candidates offer choice between old school Tory and a Stepford wife with a broken hard drive. Whilst Theresa May is hardly a paragon of humane sensitivity, Andrea Leadsom makes her look like Ghandi’s and Mother Theresa’s unclaimed love child.
Having had personal experience of debating with Mrs Leadsom, I can firmly attest that I’d rather have a hyperventilating toddler as PM than see her in charge. Given that she’s only been an MP for around 6 years and during that time most of her speeches seem to have been composed of rambling non-sequiturs and contradictions, one wonders if a toddler might actually be better qualified.
A rank amateur with pretensions to Thatcherhood, she had the same apparently careerist change of heart over Europe as Boris Johnson. No surprise then that he endorsed her candidacy over that of his erstwhile partner in political grime, some say in a fit of pique over his betrayal in the leadership race. Thereby demonstrating that, despite outward appearances, Boris was actually the smaller man.
In view of Leadsom’s lack of experience I suppose one has to admire her neck in putting her name forward. True she was pipped for greatness at some time in the future, but now seems a tad premature. It’s a bit like the office manager applying to be CEO because she organised the Christmas party. She talks the talk, but she still dances like your grandma after too many rum and cokes.
The recent revelations about her exaggerated claims to a glittering career in financial services demonstrate that, at best, she has an over inflated opinion of her own contribution to the world and, at worst, she’s plainly delusional. Either description would, in any sane version of reality, have seen her out on her backside in the first round of voting.
But it seems that sanity packed its bags and left the world of politics some time ago. Leadsom has hardly any experience in government, a questionable CV and no major ministerial track record, save for being dubbed “the worst minister we ever had” by Treasury officials during her time there. As we approach several years of the most delicate and complicated top level international negotiations we’ll see in a generation, it beggars belief that members of the Tory party are even considering someone like this as a potential PM.
But then even the Labour Party can’t make up it’s mind if it wants to have the leader that it voted for 11 months ago or the majority of the MPs they selected, campaigned for and voted in 5 months before that.
And this is just the start. Once our illustrious betters have finished playing musical chairs, we still have to deal with unpicking a relationship with Europe that will likely occupy Parliamentary time and the civil service for the next 10 years or more, while our economy stays on permanent rinse cycle, buffeted by every twist and turn of the road towards isolation. Leaving aside the problems we already had before self flagellation became our new favourite pastime.
Campaigns for another referendum are about our only hope, but even then we’ll remain a rudderless ship amidst and ocean of turmoil or, maybe worse, the Titanic heading into chilly waters with a succession of clowns at the helm.
There was a time when politics had some gravitas, and politicians at least took the job seriously. Now it seems affairs of state can go to hell in a handcart while those elected to look out for our best interests squabble and bicker like schoolchildren arguing over who gets to play with the best toys.
I, along with many others, have long advocated the need for a new kind of politics. But that has to be based on reason and an informed debate, not anti-intellectual solipsism or government by catchphrase.
According to most Brexiteers, the vote to leave the EU was about taking back control and sending a message to the political elite. The woeful misguidedness of these motivations are now being brought into sharp relief by the Westminster soap opera we’ve all become unwitting extras in.
This isn’t control. It’s not even anarchy. It’s paralysis. We’re a catatonic state, riven by a façade of government perpetuated by people who no longer know why they’re in power, or care about the people that put them there, they simply see it as a means to an end.
If voting to leave the EU was intended to send a message to Westminster, that message seems to be “don’t mind us, we’ll just sit over here and let you get on with it”.
A self admission that we’re even more powerless than we thought we were, and that an illusion of democracy is all we’ll ever have until we see genuine electoral reform given to an electorate that takes their collective civic responsibility more seriously than a TV news soundbite or a Daily Mail headline.