UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism

24.6.16

"Don't blame me, I voted Remain": my response to the UK's EU referendum on the morning of June 24, 2016. What a disaster. In the UK referendum on EU membership, 17.4 million of my fellow citizens (52% of voters) voted to leave the EU, while 16.1 million (48%) voted to remain. Turnout was 71.8%, the highest turnout at a UK election since 1992, and by region the strongest support for the Remain camp was in Scotland, which voted 62% to 38% for Remain, London, which voted 60% to 40% for Remain, and Northern Ireland, which voted 56% to 44% to Remain.

In England as a whole, Leave secured 53.4% of the votes, compared to 46.6% for Remain, and in Wales Leave secured 52.5% of the vote, with Remain on 47.5%.

In London, breaking down the figures still further, 28 boroughs voted to remain, and just five voted to leave (Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Sutton, Havering and Hillingdon), with 2,263,519 votes in favour of remaining in the EU, and 1,513,232 Londoners voting to leave. See the full London breakdown here.

In Lewisham, where I live, I’m glad to report that 86,995 people (70% of voters) voted for Remain, and just 37,518 voted for Leave, but these results, and similar results across London weren’t enough to prevent a victory for the Leave campaign.

So what does it all mean? Well, it means, first and foremost, that David Cameron, who has already promised to resign, will go down in the history books as one of the worst Prime Ministers in British history, a man, who, simply to avoid a fight with the far right of his own party, and with the grumbling racist bellyache that is UKIP, decided to hold a referendum that he didn’t want and didn’t support.

It also, I believe, confirms that racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia are on the rise in the UK — and I am not fooled by those who fail to see the result as confirmation of a rising and dangerous intolerance to anyone perceived as an immigrant. Throughout the campaign — when, I should note, most of the mainstream media that wasn’t already biased in favour of the Leave camp behaved as though the only point of the liberal media is to constantly make sure that it is facilitating right-wing opinion — it was noticeable that hardly anyone ever pointed out that, overall, immigrants contribute more to society than they take from it.

In addition, almost no one pointed out that, although it is understandable that people in various parts of the UK find it alarming that so many immigrants have arrived in recent years, this is something that does not just involve the UK, but every strong economy in Europe. The problem is that so many countries outside the EU are suffering, either as a direct result of our wars or our global economic aggression, and until we address these problems immigration isn’t going to stop. Certainly, today, the notion that the Leave result will dent immigration at all is, frankly, rather ludicrous, although perhaps some of the triumphant clowns spearheading our departure from the EU will now propose that a huge chunk of the country’s resources should be diverted to employ millions of people to guard every inch of Britain’s ridiculously long shoreline, and to swamp its airports with aggressive border control guards, like a nightmare vision of Dad’s Army come to life.

However, although the referendum result undoubtedly demonstrates the dangerous rise of racism in the UK, I also think it represents something far less coherent, and that it was, essentially, an act of political vandalism on an unprecedented scale. Up and down the country, people let down by politicians for decades — generally, since Margaret Thatcher, to be honest — responded by giving the establishment a kicking. They weren’t specifically supporting Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith or any of the other self-serving politicians supporting the Leave campaign, but they were, instead, sticking two fingers up to Westminster.

And while I understand this anger, directing it at the EU and the political establishment in general, and not realising that it is the Tories who are responsible for the austerity that has been impoverishing so many people for the last six years, and that they only got their way because the bankers — unpunished to this day — crashed the global economy in 2008, is such a depressing failure to understand the reality of our current plight — in which we are still faced with Tories in power who are determined to destroy the state provision of almost all services by privatising almost everything — that it threatens to drown me in a despair similar to that of my American friends who are watching helplessly as Donald Trump is regarded by white Americans who feel alienated as some sort of “man of the people,” when, of course, he is so such thing.

And the result of this inchoate outpouring of rage? Well, no one knows. The leaders of this largely unleadable coup have lied so thoroughly — with Tory wreckers of the NHS having had the nerve to claim that they will spend lavishly on the NHS once we are freed from European restraints, when they clearly won’t — that perceptive commentators can’t see much beyond the creeping fear that, having fatally damaged our relationship with the EU, those we have snubbed will demand punishment, probably through turning their backs on us in a variety of ways, especially as the UK’s Leave vote will, if not punished, lead to revolts in other EU countries that could destroy the EU completely.

And our supposed, new-found freedom? Well, we’re told it will enable us to create new markets with the rest of the world, but as I explained yesterday when a friend posted a video on Facebook in which a German industry representative told the BBC that his organisation would try to make sure businesses in the UK and the EU retain full, equal access to each other’s markets, “I wouldn’t trust Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and IDS on anything, let alone renegotiating our business deals with Europe. They want us out to make us the wage slaves of non-EU countries like China and whoever else has money they can exploit and a shared enthusiasm for doing away with fair wages and workers’ rights. I can’t understand why so few Leave campaigners understand this.”

And what else? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. While many of my fellow citizens who voted Leave and are poor haven’t lost anything in particular this morning, others with assets have already seen those assets devalued, as the value of the pound has plummeted. However, unlike in Scotland, where the referendum on independence eventually ended up scaring those with money, the Leave enthusiasts don’t seem to care; such, it seems to me, is their spectral obsession with some ludicrous notion of sovereignty and isolation.

Speaking of Scotland, I expect the result will trigger a call for another referendum on independence, and speaking as a Londoner, I must add that I can’t think of a good reason why London shouldn’t also decide to leave the rest of the country.

Mostly, however, I feel sorry today for everyone under 18 who wasn’t able to vote, like my 16-year old son who feels that a horde of old people have just sacrificed his future, and for anyone who is an immigrant, or who can be perceived as an immigrant, and who isn’t wealthy, as the rich and the super-rich will largely be sheltered from the fallout from yesterday’s tragically stupid vote.

We are now in pointlessly uncertain times, with everything up for grabs, and the very real prospect of damage inflicted to all manner of elements of our society and our economy as a whole, and I can’t see a single reason to celebrate anything today. Some of my left-wing friends — who were part of what was dubbed Lexit — disagree, but as I said to them, if we leave the EU rather than trying to reform it from within, this will only be helpful if we immediately have a socialist revolution, and I don’t see that happening.

Instead, I see Jeremy Corbyn getting clobbered for this result, which wasn’t his own fault, and the Tory Party retaining power having moved even further to the right, with the colossally self-interested Boris Johnson finally realising his ambition to be the King of England; sorry, Prime Minister. And as if all of the above isn’t depressing enough, the prospect of that grinning lizard Nigel Farage stirring up more racist venom in the months to come is profoundly depressing indeed.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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55 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    What a depressing result. So here are my initial thoughts on the news that, by 52% to 48% of the votes cast, my fellow citizens, for no conceivably useful reason, have voted for us to leave the EU. I call it a demonstration of racism, and, far more than I had previously realised, a counter-productive act of political vandalism by people who feel abandoned, but who should have worked out that the problem is the Tory government, with its hideous and cruel austerity program, and the neo-liberal corporate and banking world, of which the EU is just a part, which is absolutely committed to devaluing them still further. My apologies to the UK’s hard-working immigrants, and to anyone under 18 who wasn’t even able to vote. I felt like that in May 1979, when Thatcher was voted in and I was just 16. And today? Well, I just feel sick as Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, IDS and all the other self-seeking politicians of the Leave camp begin jockeying for power. They do not represent me.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Hélène Lomenech wrote:

    It’s totally unfair that under 18s couldn’t vote nor immigrants like me who’ve been working here for so many years!!! Devastating… And worrying

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Hélène. You will probably be fine, and nothing will change, but where’s the guarantee? And what’s the reason you and so many others are feeling so vulnerable? What single useful reason is there to have created this fear and uncertainty? None. The whole thing is a disgrace and a disaster.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

  5. damo says...

    If i see one more stupid peasant on the news going on about immagrants im going to scream …sorry andy but do the people who voted out have any idea what they have condemed us to

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely agree, Damo. The profoundly ignorant comments ordinary people up and down the country have been making are darkly, desperately astonishing.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Hélène Lomenech wrote:

    I feel that this is a great loss for everybody and not a step forward in trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place… Not good for education, art&culture, science, research, human rights etc… And I feel particularly sorry for the young ones and even more so the 16/17 years old who didn’t get to have a say in a referendum which was clearly very important for them too… Beside I don’t believe that it’ll make the lives of most people in the UK any better either!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely agree, Hélène. The number of areas of our lives that could be profoundly damaged by this is immense, and yet almost nothing was discussed during the referendum campaign.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Jez Tucker wrote:

    Agree mostly Andy – I feel it’s little unfair to demonise Brexit voters as engaged in political vandalism in an exhibition of racism – I think that needs to be contextualised with the despair, isolation, and sense of abandonment that many poorer and working class communities feel. It’s a scream demanding attention – not a kick in the face from spite.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    I didn’t mean to suggest they were related, Jez. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. Some Leave voters – sadly, quite a lot – were clearly racist, many others I have come to realise were obsessed with muddle-headed notions about the EU and British sovereignty, and others were engaged in what I described as political vandalism, but which, I acknowledge, comes from the despair, isolation, and sense of abandonment you describe. But what are we to do? The enemy, by and large, is the Tory government, not the EU. How do we get people to wake up to that fact? It is the Tories who have been screwing us repeatedly for the last six years, and who will continue to do so under whoever takes over from Cameron – presumably the wretched Boris Johnson.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Sandie Vivian wrote:

    It’s interesting that the people who wanted to remain immediately assume that those who voted to leave were focusing on immigration. I find this offensive in the extreme as a) I am not racist and b) there are other reasons I voted to leave.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    I would never suggest that everyone who voted Leave was racist, Sandie. There are other reasons, as I discussed – some left-wing reasons, some reasons involving what I called political vandalism, and, I now realise, some pretty huge misconceptions about the EU and British sovereignty page out in various permutations up and down the country and people mistakenly believe that they are freeing themselves from some sort of remote tyranny. And there may well be other reasons I haven’t even though of, but the end result, I am convinced, is that we are in a more racist, more belligerent and more isolated and isolationist Britain than we were in yesterday, and one with no conceivable practical challenge to the status quo. Cameron resigns, but another Tory – presumably the horrible Boris Johnson – will take over, and we will continue to get screwed by these wretched sociopaths and psychopaths who make up every leading light in the current Tory Party.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Sandie Vivian wrote:
    Thank you for your response. 🙂 although I voted leave I have absolutely no time for the politicians in the leave campaign and would not vote for any of them – they are partly responsible for making this campaign so negative.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    I think we can agree on that at least, Sandie!

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    When Shahela Begum shared this on Facebook, she wrote:

    Well written piece by Andy Worthington

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Shahela. Such a sad day.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    When Kate Mccamy shared this, she wrote:

    My friend Andy Worthington summing it up in case you didn’t really understand this whole situation like myself.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kate. Good to hear from you. I remained stupidly optimistic until the end, but I had realised last week that a large number of my fellow citizens had become absolutely impervious to reason in their obsession with voting for us to leave. I just honestly had no idea it was so many people.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    When Charmaine Dolan shared this, she wrote:

    Andy makes a good point about children.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Charmaine. Good to hear from you. You’ve also reminded me that yesterday I mentioned the plight facing UK universities, which received close to zero attention during the referendum campaign: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/nov/11/leaving-eu-would-be-a-disaster-british-universities-warn

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    David Cameron Resigns As U.K. Prime Minister After Brexit Vote
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/david-cameron-resigns_us_576ca4a9e4b017b379f583e5

    So Cameron, finally picks up his toys and plans to go home. I had hoped the destroyer of the Welfare State would have lost last time but it took BREXIT to get him to go.

    Sadly, the UK, like many nations, including the US, seems to be gripped in utter panic, as fearmongers and nationalists seize the opportunity to blame every cold, every spider, every manner of ill on those people not quite white enough and not quite Christian enough.

    Ignorance and fear have ruled the day in Britain and the ramifacations are already being felt (the Pound dropped 31% last night and I am sure there are plenty of countries ready to call in their markers)…

    As my friend, Andy Worthington states in his latest article:

    “So what does it all mean? Well, it means, first and foremost, that David Cameron, who has already promised to resign, will go down in the history books as one of the worst Prime Ministers in British history, a man, who, simply to avoid a fight with the far right of his own party, and with the grumbling racist bellyache that is UKIP, decided to hold a referendum that he didn’t want and didn’t support.

    It also, I believe, confirms that racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia are on the rise in the UK — and I am not fooled by those who fail to see the result as confirmation of a rising and dangerous intolerance to anyone perceived as an immigrant. Throughout the campaign — when, I should note, most of the mainstream media that wasn’t already biased in favour of the Leave camp behaved as though the only point of the liberal media is to constantly make sure that it is facilitating right-wing opinion — it was noticeable that hardly anyone ever pointed out that, overall, immigrants contribute more to society than they take from it.”

    Andy, you are correct – If it had not been for all the immigrants and for the globalized society, Britain would not be in existence. It took a global community to build and expand the education of Europe going all the way back to pre-history.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sympathising, Jan. I’m feeling particularly low right now – and, to be honest, I can’t see any bright lights whatsoever on the horizon.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Katrina Conn wrote:

    I’m devastated.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    I am with you, Katrina. Such a dark day – and so embarrassing to hear Nigel Farage going on about how it should forever be known as our “independence day.”

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Katrina Conn wrote:

    My daughter went into work today, where the majority of her fellow workers are leave voters, and she had to take a half day off because she couldn’t stomach being there. It’s so depressing that the ordinary working people have fallen for the right wing lies. Unfortunately, many are the product of Thatchers ‘me, me, me’ society.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Sorry to hear about your daughter’s problems at work today, Katrina. I imagine that’s been happening in all kinds of workplaces today. We are now living in a horribly divided country.

  27. damo says...

    The news is getting worse by the minnete the uk is toxic

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Anything in particular you have in mind, Damo? I had to give up watching the reporting earlier after a succession of deluded people showed that they had no grasp on reality whatsoever. A particularly sad moment was a roadsweeper in some town somewhere beaming from ear to ear in joy at the result. Asked what he thought would change now that we’ve left the EU, he said, “Everything,” and then started talking about how he expected his wages to go up, his employment circumstances to improve. He just went on and on. Will these people wake up at some point and realise they’re deluded, or are we in a new world where facts and evidence-based reality mean absolutely nothing? I’m honestly struggling to understand what’s happening.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Passionately expressed and as far as I can judge very much on the money.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, David. I very much appreciate your comments, as you have been very passionate and articulate about this whole appalling mess. What a bleak day. I met some friends and had a proper rant this afternoon, but I have a splitting headache, and I never get headaches, so I think the stress has got to me. Feeling powerless, betrayed, dismayed, angry and disappointed …

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy I take a paracetamol about once a decade and I took one today… Isn’t that interesting

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, we’re obviously both pretty stressed out by it all, David. I never take paracetamol either, but I’ve had two in the last five hours and my headache’s still not gone away. I can’t escape, though. I can’t stop thinking about the scale of this coup by, generally, a really rather worrying, and worryingly large part of the population of England and Wales, whose alienation may well be understandable but whose venomous desire to create an “other’ to blame for everything – the EU, immigrants – only reminds me of Gemany in the 1920s.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy, we’re closer to the 30s maybe just one election away or maybe not even. My father spoke the old school language of a scholarly Marxist sometimes and when Thatcher was tearing the arse out of working class communities he’d say things like “She’s a real Eva Peron that one” or “She’s turning the entire proletariat into a lumpen proletariat.” They are the voters who weren’t in the mood to listen and who tipped this referendum. I hope the purist far-left Leavers, with their bookshelves of useless for today’s problems, antique texts of Gramski, Luxemburg et al with their promise of the working class of a bygone century or centuries living up to their historical destiny, sleep well, knowing that their unsullied vote without the need for a nose peg has helped usher in this new Nationalist England.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    I think it was unstoppable, David. Lexit didn’t make much difference, Corbyn was powerless, Cameron destroyed himself through arrogance and stupidity, and Johnson really doesn’t understand what he’s helped to unleash. This is pretty good: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/24/a-pyrrhic-victory-boris-johnson-wakes-up-to-the-costs-of-brexit

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s a really great article by John Harris, drawing on his travels around the UK for many years now, talking to real people, and not living in a Westminster/London media bubble. We’re in deep trouble, but this helps to explain where we are – and there are no platitudes about “pulling together”, which I’ve been hearing elsewhere, and which are simply unacceptable: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/commentisfree/2016/jun/24/divided-britain-brexit-money-class-inequality-westminster

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote, in response to 34, above:

    Andy, I think the writer js correct to grasp that behind the mask of The Great Bumbler, BoJo the clown, lurks a literary intellect though he is a bumbler all the same. I thought I detected a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown towards the end of the campaign. Personal ambition trumping loyalty or solidarity but somewhere in there the strain of the betrayal was showing. Trying to pick a winner from this shower is too dispiriting to even attempt

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Boris Johnson appears to be the only candidate who can fool huge swathes of the public, David. I don’t know what it will take to derail him, but if it can be done the Tories look unelectable. No one else has a chance – creepy Gove, vampire May etc. I wonder if he will be unable to contain the tsunami of hate that he’s helped unleash. To me he was a complete fraud – an anti-EU poseur who actually supported the EU, so maybe he won’t be able to sustain the front that is required. I certainly hope so.

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy, I take your point. I think he’ll be quick to forgive himself and the hard right in his party will like him if they think he’s malleable. Shades of George W. Labour need to regroup asap but they won’t. UKIP on the other hand have never had it so good.

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting, David. I wonder. Farage is too extreme for the majority opinion, and it seemed last year that our FPTP system effective prevented him from winning more than a few seats at most. I don’t think he’s substantially increased his support from the 3.8m who voted for him last year. Plus he’s done himself out of a job, hasn’t he? UKIP was all about leaving the EU, wasn’t it, not governing afterwards.

  40. Anna says...

    My sincere condolences to all Brits. This morning I felt more shaken than after the most publicised terror attack. For this is also liable to produce thousands of innocent victims.
    Not being a Brit myself, I cannot judge the local situation there, but I do see this as yet another worrying sign of democracy becoming an empty shell.
    On the one hand we have very little influence anymore through our elected representatives who are increasingly unaccountable, in what should be true parliamentary democracy.
    On the other hand there’s this referendum which was a caricature of democratic voting, as it put the burden of a crucial decision with far reaching consequences, on the shoulders of ‘average citizens’ who cannot possibly be expected to understand all its ramifications and consequences, in addition without supplying objective projections of what either option would entail. Instead, the choice was simplified – or should I say ‘simplistic-ified’ – and wrapped into populistic slogans.
    It seems to me, that in such a situation this indeed was a vote against the government rather than the EU and most cannot be blamed for having been misled. But there is no turning back.
    Cameron bares an excruciating responsibility for having chosen this polarising tool and delivered it into unprepared hands.
    It’s as criminal as giving a child in a fireworks store a pack of matches without explaining to him how to use it and what results to expect. He has plunged Britain into a multifaceted crisis, wreaked havoc abroad and then has the ultimate arrogance to take no responsibilty whatsoever : “The British people (it sounded more like ‘populace’) decided to take a very different path […]”. In other words: I am not to blame, I warned them, they would not listen, so now let them ‘sit on the blisters’ (as the Dutch saying goes:’who burns his ass must sit on the blisters’). He should be crawling under the carpet with shame instead of sulking that ‘those morons wouldn’t listen’. The ultimate hubris to make a risky bet with all of Britain and much of the rest of the world as pawns, then loose it and blame the failure on its victims.
    As for the rest of those politicians, he provided them with the perfect excuse to liberally spout their xenophobia and blame all the government’s wrongs on the EU. Another crime of negligence, stupidity and political blindness.
    I think we all agree that the EU desperately needs overhauling, but slamming the door will not achieve that.

    To finish a bit more positively, it seems that this will further slow down TTIP negotiations. Let’s be grateful for any small mercies and hope that more will materialize.
    Or move to Scotland :-).

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Anna,
    Thanks for your thoughts, cogent as ever.
    It is grim here. Foreign-born workers and the intelligentsia are in shock, while the bigots are triumphant. In London, we can at least feel that not every stranger is an enemy, and in Scotland the referendum on independence already confirmed a strong Scottish sense of identity that was revisited – I suppose involving a clear recognition that the EU is not the enemy, but Westminster is.
    Moreover, although I understand why so many people in England and Wales are so angry and so alienated, the focus of their anger is so hideously misplaced that it’s difficult to be sympathetic. How do you explain to people that the problem isn’t the immigrants – it’s neoliberalism, it’s their own government – if they have no desire to listen, and no ability to work any of this out for themselves. it’s not rocket science, after all.
    So we must blame the politicians, for their role as pimps for big business and the banks, and for their indifference, and we must blame the tabloid media for their bias and their hatred, and the “liberal” media for their failure to look beyond objectivity, something that was still in evidence today, as reporters visited areas dominated by leave voters, and listened and recorded attentively, without murmuring a word of dissent, as profoundly misguided people spouted racist and anti-European nonsense – without anyone ever recognising that sometimes you have to say, bluntly, “I’m sorry, sir/madam, but everything you are saying is completely wrong.” I think there was genuine shock today in the corridors of power, and in newsrooms, but politicians won’t change, and for the media the aloofness continues. One suspects that, if a truly dangerous far right leader came along, they would be as ineffectual at challenging the tides of dangerous, poisonous racist filth as they are right now, and have been for years.
    It has been one of the worst days of my life.

  42. Kabuli :-) says...

    Re 34 & from the Boris Johnson Guardian piece : “[…] for the backlash to come, when it sinks in that Brexit hasn’t ended immigration overnight or magically given depressed communities their futures back.”
    That – and maybe this whole sharade – suddenly reminds me of the ‘introduction of democratic elections’ in Afghanistan. In the first ones in 2005, we were pushing this new concept down their throats by applying a similar stratagem as in the Brexit vote: one of populistic simplifications.
    In short it boiled down to : voting is democratic and democracy provides human rights, so voting will get you human rights.
    In a country in which no one had ever been held accountable for (then) 25 years of war crimes, the idea of ‘human rights’ was even more appealing than ‘taking our country back’ in the UK.
    With some 70 % of the population illiterate and in many rural areas cut from the outside world, many understandably expected that the mere casting of their vote would somehow miraculously bring about that exotic ‘democracy’ and they would wake up the next day in a transformed country with human rights for all.
    Excitement, enthousiasm and turn-out were great. But as those human rights never materialised, the next election was met with less enthousiasm while the latest one in 2014 was a complete fiasco.

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kabuli. And while reading that I wondered if the whole UK referendum was intended to be a sham, as politicians cynically play with the electorate, throwing them distractions like this promise of immense “change,” knowing all the while that they only need a small turnout to be elected to rule in General Elections. On balance, however, I think not, as both David Cameron and Boris Johnson seemed genuinely shocked by the scale of the venom they have unleashed. What a shambles they are – Cameron hubristically destroying himself like no political figure in living memory, and the fat clown Johnson now like a ridiculous dandy pretending to be in charge of a baying pit of citizens who, if they get none the dreams they expect to have magically fulfilled, may well get even angrier and turn their backs on the establishment even more decisively.

  44. Jay says...

    Hi Andy, brilliant piece as usual. I knew you’d have something typically interesting and intelligent to say about the situation. There’s just one aspect that I disagree – the people who voted Leave did not give “the establishment a kicking”, they’ve just ended up supporting a different side of the same establishment and given themselves a kicking because they’re the ones who are going to suffer the consequences the most from their own actions. The turkey votes for Xmas once again and applauds its decision.

    Also, a Leave supporter expressed regarding the racist climate of the referendum that they find any association with this as, “offensive in the extreme as… I am not racist…” Ok but I have never met anyone who admitted to being racist, there was always some other mitigating circumstance or rationalisation. Time and time again, racist political agendas have been supported by people who claimed, “I am not racist” but their actions spoke otherwise. No one admits to being a racist but yet racists definitely exist.

  45. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jay. Glad you liked it. I see what you mean about that phrase – and how it might have been better if I had written that they thought they were giving the establishment a kicking, and I can certainly see how many people were duped by a competition that was essentially between two parts of the Tory party, but I do think others didn’t vote with the intention of specifically supporting anyone; in other words, there’s a tension between how they were used and their refusal to be co-opted beyond the vote. I think that a significant number of Leave voters are going to end up disappointed, because they were voting for a ludicrously idealised England and will be sad or angry when that doesn’t emerge phoenix-like for the ashes of the EU, but I don’t know what those whose intention was to give Westminster a bloody nose will do – vote UKIP again, I suppose.
    Good point about racists – but do you remember that false distinction between racists and “racialists” that I used to hear when I was growing up? Well, it’s alive and well. I heard a stallholder in one of the London boroughs that voted to leave – a man probably in his 60s – try and make that distinction yesterday. In how many places, I wonder, has time essentially stood still for 50 or 60 years, refusing to acknowledge the changes in homophobia, racism and sexism that, to me, are some of the greatest barrier-breaking changes that have occurred in my lifetime?

  46. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy, the National Socialist Party of pre-war Germany made very modest demands too, initially. UKIP will be trying to further harness the progress their party has made. We have never dealt properly, once and for all, with the fact that Nigel Farage can so easily carve out space on the far right because the inarticulate, often incoherent, grunts of wounded pain from the victims of industrial decline have never been properly addressed in decades, or even heard in the main.

    Immigration figures have alarmed the middle-class silent majority too, and conservative promises made to better manage high immigration figures, have been broken. This was, for those two groups, more than anything, a referendum on immigration and whether the progressives of the left like it or hate it, they had better get it that “business as usual” isn’t going to fly with those two groupings. As they see it, they are not minded to be lied to about it, or to be told by the likes of Andy Worthington from London, that immigration is good, even though we would undoubtedly argue with much factual evidence to support our case that it predominantly is.

    This piece in the New Statesman I think captures the mood yesterday of those of us who voted Remain from positions left of the Conservatives… though I don’t give the New Statesman a free pass for this outcome. A little less time obsessing about the suitability of Jeremy Corbyn and a little more on the unsuitability of the likely successor of David Cameron might have helped swing it.

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/06/i-want-my-country-back

  47. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, David. Yes, Farage needs to be watched closely. I also agree about the silent middle class racism too, but that will be dealt with – or not – by the new Tory leaders (so not, then). Farage, however, is in Hitler’s position, and it remains to be seen if he can expand his 3.9 million votes into something big enough to be an existential threat to UK domestic politics and not just our now severed relationship wit the EU. I would hope not, but we need to get out there, to all the deprived areas, and start talking to people. Of course, what are really needed are jobs, but very few politicians actually want to talk about that, because most of them are neo-liberals and neo-liberalism is, at heart, a job-destroyer.

  48. Anna says...

    Hi Andy, I understand that this was the worst day in your life and your the-day-after selfie speaks volumes. So Cameron, Johnson and other politicians never seriously considered the possibility of exit winning and litterally gambled with fire?!

    As for racism, I’m increasingly invited to speak about the refugees as I’ve worked in several countries from which they originate and in fact have first-hand experience as a second-generation refugee myself. The latest meeting I titled : Apartheid, subtitled: The EU’s human trafficking.

    Selling extremely vulnerable refugees to Turkey for 3, then 8, who knows 11 billion Euro, is tantamount to human trafficking, modern day ‘slave’ trade, based on the apartheid principle : we have nothing against ‘others’ – we even are willing to help them financially – as long as they do not become our next-door neighbours. Then there’s the ‘argument’ – voiced also by Trump in Scotland – that ‘we are not racist, just don’t want foreigners when we do not know exactly who they are’. Well, native Americans / Africans / Asians did not know either who exactly their colonisers were and yet those moved in and took over, completely.

    Europe, not just Britain, simply won’t acknowledge that the time of reckoning has come and evidently has not learned any historic lessons. Not from South Africa’s white supremacy’s realisation that unless they’d bend a bit they would be broken altogether; and even less from the ’30s when indeed the Holocaust did not start with gas chanbers but with hate speech and stones being thrown through Jewish shop windows.

    The problem is, that such speaking invitations usually come from leftist organisations or university teachers, most of whose audiences already are convinced and just want to have their opinion validated. Good as such but little impact, as the xenophobes do not attend. I therefore prefer public demonstrations in the street, where you can hope to sow some seeds of reflection.

    I suppose I mention this in order to somewhat ease your outrage against voters who failed to use their brains when supplied with racist slogans which offer a universal scapegoat for all of their own miseries without expecting any soul searching from them. Exactly like the impoverished and defeated Germans after WWI. Being born shortly after WWII I grew up with the question: how could that have happened, why did no one react when there still was time?

    Now we all are faced with having to find the answer to that question before it is – once more – too late. Was it the indifference of not just Germany & Austria but the whole continent where every country and individual was too busy rebuilding his own life after the Great War, to mind what was happening in Germany? Ich hab’es nicht gewusst’ is no excuse, as even Graham Greene mentioned German concentration camps in 1936, in one of his novels situated in West Africa! And now, is all of Europe too busy jealously clutching at its wealth in a global recession? Are we – even litterally – too much focused on our smartphones to see even the misery right next to us, let alone in Greece and beyond?

    What seems certain to me, is that our grassroot initiatives of dialogue & solidarity can only bear fruit if they translate into political power, which can create the necessary legal venues for improvement. As long as our governments refuse to protect and admit refugees, all we can do is donate money to keep them alive elsewhere, humiliating alms.

    As long as our governments do not provide a positive example for how to deal with foreigners, whether immigrants or refugees, instead of hiding their incapacity and own xenophobia behind the ‘freedom of speech’ slogan, how can we expect all of the ‘disenfranchised’ in our respective countries to be wiser and magnanimously offer to share the little they have left, with those even more desperately in need (although I’m sure that many of them in fact do, as they know the value of solidarity when in need).

    Finally the apparent mystery of the negative attitude of first or second generation immigrants towards new arrivals from the same group. I have observed that in many countries, among many minorities and even caught myself having such feelings. Apart from purely negative motifs like fearing competition etc, I think there is an element of pre-emptive shame & fear that these newcomers will be less good at integrating themselves than we were and thus might bring shame on all of us as a group, nationality, ethnicity. That they will destroy the goodwill that we – often at the cost of great efforts to conform to local standards – managed to build. So they feel they risk even more than the native population: not just competition for work, social services etc, but also their social status as accepted foreigners. Minorities should share their experience and actively help newcomers to integrate, rather than shun them or even try to keep them out.

  49. Paul says...

  50. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Paul. Good to hear from you. And the mother of all petitions – to the British government, stating, “We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60% based a turnout less than 75% there should be another referendum” – now has 2,861,497 signatures. That’s unprecedented – but what difference will it make? In one sense, I doubt there is actually such a thing as a functioning British government right now.
    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215

  51. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna, and thank you, as ever, for your comments and insights.
    My selfie undoubtedly shows my distress – but it’s also difficult once you reach a certain age to take a selfie looking handsome and happy! That said, I am deeply distressed by it all, although we played a great gig last night and there was lots of talking and dark humour too, and it was all rather bonding. There are 16.1 million of us who voted to stay in the EU, after all, and those of us who are decent people – i.e. not rich, heartless Tory and Blairite capitalists – need to find a way to work together in the face of this monstrous vote.
    Everywhere I’ve been since Friday, I’ve been meeting liberal, educated Londoners (mostly middle class, though many, like myself, of working class origin, because so many of the over-40s come from a time of actual and widespread social mobility) who are profoundly shocked. Everyone looks like they’re at a funeral – and there’s no escape from it. You distract yourself with something else for a few minutes, and then the horrible reality sinks in again – the complete betrayal of the British people by the Tories; by Cameron and his cowardly agreement to hold a referendum, and his arrogant belief that he would win it, and by Johnson and Farage, playing a lying, unprincipled game in opposition, but, like Cameron, not actually thinking that they’d win. And now here we are. Settled reality has dissolved, nothing is certain. It’s like being in an earthquake.
    You make very good points about immigration, and about the historic precedents for the rise of fascism, and it is indeed necessary for us to find ways to frame humanitarian – human – arguments in ways that challenge it effectively, but it’s obviously not going to be easy. I fear the rise of fascism in the UK when the Leave voters find out that their brave new world is exactly the same as the old one, but with a new recession, and Farage might be able to capitalise on it, expanding his voters from the 3.9m he had in 2015, and then perhaps starting to win seats. Tyler and his friends – everyone who’s done History GCSEs this year, has been studying the rise of Hitler, and they see the parallels. Polish people know – or ought to know – so much more about this than the cosseted British, but we’re not immune. We had fascists in the 1930s, we had Enoch Powell and his “rivers of blood” speech in my lifetime, and this latest existential anxiety about “the other” could get much, much darker.

  52. Paul says...

    Shameful post-Brexit coverage by the BBC, I note. Just sent a strongly worded complaint in. Basically 90% coverage of the manufactured Labour Party coup and that’s about it. I’ve seen the same clips and interviews four or five times now.

    Like we haven’t got more important things to worry about. Appalled.

  53. Paul says...

    Andy,

    Have you seen the story about the peak in Google questions from the UK – for example, “What is the EU?”, “What happens after Brexit?” – from immediately *after* the polls closed? It appears that many people, though I don’t know how many, voted with basically no knowledge of what the referendum was about.

    Also, there seems to be a contingent – again don’t know how many – of Leave voters who have a new understanding the consequence of their vote and are having second thoughts. Many seem to have registered a protest vote with no expectation that Leave could win (or even knowing what that might mean).

    The Liberal Democrats are saying they will campaign any imminent election on a platform of remaining in the EU. “We are the 48%.” (I just donated to them.)

    Nicole Sturgeon just staying that Scottish MPs might vote to veto parliament Brexit vote. (Good on them.) Anyone have any idea if this could work? (Will also donate to the SNP.)

    Any thoughts on the possibility of parliament voting against Brexit legislation?

  54. Andy Worthington says...

    I absolutely agree, Paul, and I think that percentage you mention is accurate too. 90% coverage of a manufactured Labour Party coup. I was screaming at my TV this morning. I discuss this bias at length in my latest article, which I’ll be publishing very soon.
    Thanks for complaining. James Harding (ex-editor of the Times – prop. R. Murdoch) is the head of news at the BBC. I think there should be calls for him to go, along with the biased Laura Kuennsberg (married to a management consultant) too.

  55. Andy Worthington says...

    As for your comments about the post-referendum questions, Paul, I think that shows how dumbed down so many of our fellow citizens have become: people making decisions that could very well negatively affect the rest of their lives with no knowledge – absolutely no knowledge – of what they were doing. And again, that has to be another indictment of David Cameron for calling the referendum, of his Party for not stopping him, and of our shameful media for going along with it.
    I can’t quite tell what the position is regarding our elected representatives refusing to implement the referendum result. Tim Farron’s taken a good lead in reviving the Lib Dems, obviously, and Nicola Sturgeon is also right to point out that the Scottish Parliament might well want to oppose the result, although it seems probable that Westminster would override that: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-36633244
    Personally, I think we need to be calling on Westminster to refuse to support the referendum result, because a majority of MPs don’t support it, and because, with such a slim majority, it would be dangerous to implement something that, in addition, will have potentially catastrophic results.
    According to the BBC, just before the vote 479 MPs, including a majority of Tory MPs, supported Remain, while just 158 supported Leave. That’s a huge majority, surely? 75% of MPs to be overruled by 37% of eligible voters in the referendum (17,410,742 out of the 46,500,001 who were registered to vote)? That can’t be right, can it?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35616946
    http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/find-information-by-subject/elections-and-referendums/upcoming-elections-and-referendums/eu-referendum/electorate-and-count-information

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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