Friends, racists, countrymen

OK so I finally get how it feels to have lost your country.   Brexit has introduced me to a whole set of emotions – mainly depression, but also anger, despair, hopelessness and bewilderment.  Sometimes we simply don’t know how much a thing means to us until we’ve lost it.

But I have learnt something horribly useful about myself.

I now feel towards Outers the way many of them feel towards migrants.  I blame them for taking away our country, our jobs, our futures, our whole way of life.  I blame them for removing everything I took for granted growing up, not least in terms of the choices I could make.   I feel adrift in the country of my birth: I no longer recognise its values or its way of thinking.  I am no longer proud to be part of it.

Closer to home, I’m struggling to work for elderly people who I know voted Out for the dodgiest of reasons, and are now reclining, well-fed and self-satisfied in their ex-council houses, telling me this won’t make any difference to them.  Oh, and mentioning how glad they are that we’ll get fewer refugees now.

So I guess my challenge now is to deal with the Outers the way I feel they should have dealt with immigrants.  Instead of resorting to anger and resentment, I have to find a way to move forward in love and grace.  This may take me a while but the challenges to love one another and love our “enemies” remain – and indeed are more important than ever – in our broken country.

If I’d ever done anything to put a smile on the faces of the likes of Nigel Farage, Marine le Pen, Donald Trump, Geert Wilders and indeed the whole of the European far-right, I would be ashamed.

But I guess I can’t expect people to feel shame for something just because I disagree with them.  We had a contest and my side lost.

I suspect many Inners are going through the classic stages of grief: shock, denial, anger,  bargaining, depression.  We’re not yet at acceptance.  We cling to the hope that the decision will be reversed, or a second vote will be held, or that no sane government would ever actually invoke Article 50 and formally commit the UK to the dark path some of its people have chosen.  There MUST be a way, we think.

But I think at the end we will have to accept that the referendum was not a dress rehearsal.  It was THE vote and we must live together in the new reality.

I suspect that most of us who grew up in England identified ourselves primarily as British.  We never had a distinct English identity – no national dress, no national customs except binge drinking, no national day celebrations. We were proud to be British and only incidentally English.

Now we have to carve out a new identity in a world which has pre-labelled us as insular xenophobes with a drink problem.

To those elderly Outers, to all those who have accidentally or deliberately plunged our country and possibly our continent into crisis, to those few people gloating on Facebook, to those who just don’t get how we are feeling:

Be kind to us. We have just lost something precious.

 

4 thoughts on “Friends, racists, countrymen

  1. Diggitydigg, I’ve seen your despair at the Brexit vote result, and my heart goes out to you. I’ve started notes to you, but have not really known what to say.

    I wanted to tell you it will all be okay, but the truth is nobody knows what the new reality will be. The fact is Britain voted to leave the EU. But Britain is a part of Europe, and so much more than Europe. Having grown up in the former British colony of India, and even now a subject of ‘The Queen in Right of Canada’, I know Britain is its own special being.

    Of course you’re devastated, and rightfully so. I remember the pride – and great relief – I felt at the last Canadian election, when people chose Trudeau’s “sunny ways” over Harper’s ‘Project Fear’.

    But here I am in the great white north … still reading the UK Times and listening to Radio 4. Still missing dear friends and colleagues from my London days. You are not some ‘racist little island’, as some have opined. Anyone who has lived there, or knows anything about British literature, art, music, fashion, even food – knows that you have always punched above your weight in the world, and you always will.

    Chin up, my friend – “There should be sunshine after rain”, to borrow a phrase from your own Dire Straits.

    1. Hi – thank you for your lovely comment. I hope the sun will come out again, literally and metaphorically. As every day passes the political situation seems to get more insane. The end of this script hasn’t yet been written, but I hope it ends well…

  2. The best summary of the referendum result is: English pensioners hate foreigners more than they love their grandchildren.
    Significant numbers of the retired were willing to indulge in their little England nostalgia, even though it will worsen the economy, social harmony and international opportunities for younger generations.
    There are many other factors at play, of course: people who feel that the EU has given them nothing; a lack of any official education about what the EU has done for the UK over the past 40+ years; weak, self-interested politicians trying to further their short-term ambitions. But most of all neither side thought that Leave could really win and now no one has any idea how to proceed.
    Speaking to other EU residents of London, the strongest theme I’ve heard is disbelief that no British politician did any pre-planning for a Leave outcome. It didn’t occur to them that it could really happen, and even the mainstream Leave campaigns didn’t really want it to happen (Boris Johnson, most obviously). And now we have stasis, stagnation, confusion, mixed messages and who knows how long of drifting into decline.
    And the same goes for most of the electorate. The serious thinking, debating and campaigning only began on the morning after the referendum.
    As you noted in an earlier post, most people thought they were answering a different question on the ballot paper. But those who would like to go back to a lovely little British island fail to realise that the rest of the world has moved on very far since the 1970s or the 1950s or wherever your ideal lies. You can only stop time if you cut yourself off to such a degree that your economy dries up and the rest of the planet ignores rather than admires you. That is what England is facing now.
    I see the problem mainly from an economic point of view. No mainstream politician has so far pledged to push ahead quickly with an Article 50 notification to the EU that the UK intends to leave, thus starting the two-year negotiation period before departure. The reason for this is that even Michael Gove can see the potential economic disaster of losing access to EU markets and starting a stampede of companies out of the UK and into mainland Europe.
    But the other message I get from other EU citizens is how disgruntled other countries are with the UK. After indulging David Cameron’s months-long tour at the start of this year, when he wrung minor concessions on EU workers’ benefits from other member states (how long did those concessions play a role in the debate? A few hours?), other EU countries have had enough of the UK bleating on. There is now no better deal to be negotiated – only degrees of worse. And the idea that the UK is too important for other countries to ignore, and that therefore concessions to London are inevitable, is frankly risible.
    Any politician or party that starts an Article 50 process is in danger of being trashed at the polls, whenever the next election takes place (and of course that may be pretty soon).
    So we are going to see more inaction, more waffle, more delay and doublethink until someone is determined enough either to press the Article 50 button and take the risks that brings, or to say the referendum result will lead to such economic damage to the country that it cannot be acted upon.
    Will this period of delay allow for any effective planning? We shall see.
    In the end, my concern is not so much about England, which may or may not sink into the abyss. It’s always been a pretty self-absorbed island anyway. But if this causes serious divisions in the EU across Europe, new borders spring up and protectionism takes hold – that would really be a disaster.

    1. Very well put… I think the ripple effects of this could be disastrous across Europe (and even beyond – eg currency turmoil has compromised Japanese exports). Re your opening line – I agree many, possibly most, are anti-foreigners but genuinely didn’t see the harm to their grandchildren. The ones I know are shocked that this is having any impact. So a horrendous cocktail of campaign lies, xenophobia, ignorance of the consequences, naivety and not seeing past their own TV screens. I remain heartbroken at what this means for our country and also what it says about it.

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