Before Referendum Day:
‘Don’t worry,’ said Twitter. ‘There’s plenty reasonable people in the UK who won’t vote to leave.’
The UK voted to leave.
America, the unthinkable sometimes happens.
The morning after Brexit, Mum took her dog for a walk. She lives in Somerset, a rural English county as white as the Queen’s hair. At infant school there, I remember one black pupil. Mum stopped to greet a neighbour, the type you meet when taking the dog out. Mum admitted to feeling down about the result of the referendum. The neighbour said he wasn’t. When Mum asked why, he said that he thought Brexit would finally enable the UK to deport all the rapists and murderers that have taken advantage of the EU’s free movement regulations.
Last September, Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP and loudmouth Leave agitator, claimed that Britain was ‘experiencing a Romanian crime wave’ and that 92% of crimes at ATM machines were committed by Romanians.
Large parts of Britain have suffered from the Conservative Party’s austerity programme, introduced to ‘balance the books’ (analogies comparing a country’s economy to household budgets or credit card statements are both popular and mendacious). These parts of Britain, on the whole, voted to leave the EU. Even those parts of Wales that have benefitted hugely from EU investment.
Not because of fear of immigration. Not because the majority of Brits are racist.
Rather, the majority of Brits are victims of an ideologically driven economic policy that has reduced their standard of living. And victims, understandably, look to apportion blame. They weren’t blaming immigrants themselves, they were blaming Brussels, working in tandem with the destructive economic policies of Westminster, that distorted their fantasy of Britain (partly British jobs for British workers) and reduced their ability to buy shit and go on nice holidays. (But now that the pound has dropped to all-time lows against the dollar and the euro, nice holidays may be restricted to the British coast.)
How does this relate to Trump? His central policy is to build a wall across the US/Mexico border, for fuck’s sake.
Immigration, a concrete political truth, is the fault of a political elite that, due to their ivory tower isolation, failed to see the destructive impact of open borders.
This narrative blames the ‘haves’. It’s clearly attractive to the ‘have-nots’. Even when you’ve got a billionaire spinning it.
Remain didn’t cope with Leave’s policy of lying about stuff. Particularly when they did it on the side of buses. Instead of leading the argument (which boils down to the question ‘is your day-to-day life likely to be damaged by Exit?’ Answer for most: ‘yes’), Remain was merely reactive, crying ‘LIAR!’ and ‘RACIST!’ and ‘BOOHOO!’
(This was partly the fault of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a man of such high principle he refused both to share a platform with David Cameron and to campaign effectively.)
Turns out this style of politics doesn’t work. It enabled Leave to steer the conversation. And, inevitably, they steered it straight to immigration.
Of the Leave campaign, I remember a nicely designed lapel badge and the constant rebuttal of the claims, printed on the side of that bus, about the precise amount of money that the UK sends to the EU.
This is Trump’s approach. He doesn’t give a shit. He extemporises from the lectern, sprouting whatever populist bullshit that might excite his convention centre crowd. If the Democratic campaign starts to address his asinine policy points, rather than explaining their own manifesto, America should start to worry.
We might put Nan’s racism down to generational differences. And there were certainly generational differences when it came to voting patterns in the EU referendum. Not only were old people more likely to vote, but they were more likely to vote Leave. This, clearly, was good news for the Leave campaign, but bad news for Remain/anyone under fifty.
It’s natural to think the past was better. Memory distorts fact. I often reminisce about my pre-marriage days, but, the truth is, when it came to dating, I was more Carter than Kennedy.
Trump is the anti-politician, like Farage, who’ll make America great again, the implication being that the clock needs to be turned back to a better time: the 1950s, perhaps. There’s a parallel with the yearning for lost British geopolitical influence that the Leave campaign articulated. Remember when we mattered? We won the World Cup in 1966. BTW there were also fewer black/Muslim/Romanians in the UK back then and women knew their place.
Turning back the clock fifty years is more attractive to seventy year olds than twenty year olds.
Non-politicians don’t trust politicians. Recent UK politics still suffers the scar tissue of the parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009. Sir Peter Viggers, a Tory MP, claimed almost £2000 on building his ducks a tiny house.
David Cameron, supposedly possessing both an impressive intellect and wit, is a useful exemplar of the shiny, modern politician with a background in PR. Policy is less important to politicians. Appearance is the new paradigm, we’re told. That’s why Corbyn is doomed.
Only, when it came to the referendum, Cameron’s PPE PR schtick didn’t wash with those areas Remain needed onside. Instead, it was man-of-the people Nigel Farage (ex-public school, ex-banker) whose willingness to revise Nazi anti-immigrant propaganda and drink pints of beer convinced many people who didn’t like immigration and drank beer that he was talking common sense. His star was magnified when the posher, better-educated version of Farage, ex-game show host and Mayor of London, Boris Johnson MA (Oxon.), Old Etonian, joined the Leave campaign.
A vote to Leave articulated frustration at the EU but, to a larger extent, articulated frustration at the state of UK politics. Theresa May addressed this in her weirdly liberal speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street as she took over from David Cameron as prime minister. She spoke of making policy decisions for the working family. She spoke of the importance of the UK’s union. She spoke of a new politics.
If the expenses scandal showed Parliament to be fucked, there’s a hundred examples of how politics ain’t what they used to be in the US: deadlock in congress, lobbyists more powerful than politicians, a presidential candidate who used a personal email account when secretary of state, gun laws (lack of), the continuing ideological battle betweens states’ rights and the greater union. No duck island, though.
Trump has one powerful trump card that Clinton doesn’t — he’s not a politician. That single fact might propel him into the White House.
Brexit won but Boris Johnson didn’t become PM. David Cameron resigned. As did Nigel Farage. The UK has a female PM. Leicester City won the Premier League. Anything can happen and frequently does, so, in conclusion:
Watch out, America. Your friends over the pond are worried.