Sometime Stubborn Mule contributor, John Carmody, finds himself in the UK at the time of the Brexit vote and has filed the following report. Meanwhile, back here in Australia, the Mule is watching anxiously for signs that we are on the verge of the end of Western civilisation “in it’s entirety”.
On the night before the “Brexit” poll, London had heavy rain with much thunder and lightning: Donner and Blitzen if we want to be Europeans. Later that day London had further downpours with associated disorder with transport and traffic all of which created real difficulties in what was regarded as a “Remain” stronghold. It was very striking to me – having been in London for the past few days, how prominent the “Remain” supporters were on the streets (as was also the case when I visited Cambridge”: the “Leave” supporters were silent and not to be seen there.
Many schools were closed for the day because they were commandeered as places for voting (oddly, the British still vote on Thursdays because, as I’ve been told, that was “Market Day” hundreds of years ago, therefore people “came to town: so much for progress and change here). If the day seemed “business as usual”, I saw some hint of the latent tensions late in the afternoon when I strolled into a polling place in Charing Cross Road. It looked like a second-hand bookshop, and apart from a few officials I was the only person. A prim woman told me that if I “did not have the right piece of paper”, I was not permitted to enter. I protested that I simply wanted to see how the British vote: she said that I might be a terrorist and simply had to leave (so I went to the opera down the road and felt part of a greater reality).
The polling closed at 10.00 pm and, to the television watcher (the coverage was less lively than we’re accustomed to in Australia) the results seemed to be declared rather slowly. But it was different from an election: it was the actual numbers that were crucial and, astonishingly early, the trend became clear. By the end, before 5.00am, it was 52% to leave, with the greatest turnout (72% in a country without compulsory voting) in more than 20 years: the political and financial leadership had been rebuffed and, before 8.30am, standing outside Number 10 in Downing Street, David Cameron – having suffered the fate which, maladroitly, he had brought on himself – announced his resignation. That was inevitable: but, curiously, he will remain as “caretaker” until the party conference in the autumn. The result will be a Tory party that is focussed, not on national problems or the negotiations with the European Union, but with their leadership battles. Not that it is more cheerful for Labour. That party also needs a new leader. Jeremy Corbyn was, plainly, conflicted during this campaign – a “Eurosceptic” he found campaigning with conviction for “Remain” was beyond him and in an interview after the result was clear, he was equivocal, pallid and deemed utterly out of his depth. As with Australia, a big section of the electorate seem to be disillusioned (or worse) with the two political power-blocs.
And if the forthcoming politics seem turbid, it is just as perplexing and concerning for the economy. The immediate result was a fall in the value of the pound and of the stock market fell by 8-10% and we were told, the banking stocks fell by 20-30%, the pound by a margin which has, allegedly not seen since 1985. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, made an impressive and emollient speech (which was plainly directed to the markets) but words have a limited utility. The metaphorical economic storm clouds are serious for Britain.
Even the very use of that word seems problematic at present. The country is seriously divided. The out votes were 53% in England, 53% in Wales, 44% in Ulster and 38% in Scotland. No less significant is the fact that whereas certain results were expected (notably with London and the major cities strongly for “Remain”), in traditional Labour areas, notably in the north, there were strong “Leave” votes. Cameron gave the electorate the opportunity to repudiate the government, and they took it; but it was also an expression of “no confidence” in the Opposition.
So there is already serious talk about another independence referendum in Scotland (and even in Northern Ireland); Nicola Sturgeon will clearly feel emboldened. And there is, understandably concern in the European capitals: the talk about Britain not being able to “cherry-pick” the conditions of its exit. The politicians in Brussels and elsewhere do not want to encourage the waverers in the EU.
Meanwhile, though there is much brave talk in Britain – about “reclaiming independence”, or “protecting democracy” or “taking back control” – this is a step into an uncertain future. There’s a wide and exciting world out there, but a timid majority of Britons seem unwilling – or afraid – to want to live in it. It’s their choice, their risk, their lost opportunity. But as a great British writer and Divine once wrote, “No man is an island”.