On Blame and Fear

Britain has now had its ill-advised referendum.  And guess what, the pollsters got it wrong again.

There is shock, anger and incomprehension amongst those of us who voted rationally for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union.

It seems our desire to live in a tolerant, liberal and open country has been ripped away from us against our will.  With our anger comes a natural desire for blame.  But blame is hugely dangerous. We must, I believe, think calmly and fairly before dishing out blame.   We are a divided enough country as it is.

Those of us who are angry now must remember that there is clearly much anger too amongst those who voted to leave. And they are right to be angry.

There is huge anger that the current system seems to benefit just a few. Anger that jobs have become harder to find and harder to hold on to.

There’s anger that you can’t get a doctors appointment when you need one. Or a hospital appointment when you’re sick.

Anger that there’s a battle to get your kids into the good school rather than the failing one.

Anger too that housing costs have spiralled and are out of reach of the vast majority.

Anger that graduates are now starting to see the massive repayment bills for their student loans and can’t find the well paid jobs they were promised would repay them.

Anger that too many town centres have become shitty places to spend time.  And real bloody anger that no one in charge seems to understand.

There’s fear too that in an unstable world the next terrorist shooting or bombing might be just around the corner, all too close to home.

Anger is a dangerous thing. And fear even more so. People who are angry and scared can be encouraged to do strange things.

It’s no accident that immigration became the defining aspect of this referendum campaign. The leave campaign made it so in an aggressively cynical way.  There is much evidence – not that hard evidence counts for much these days – that perception of immigration is out of all step with reality.

Asked to estimate the number of non-UK born EU citizens living in the country most people – but Leave voters in particular – wildly overestimate the figures.

And fear of terrorism is wildly out of proportion to the risks. In the UK some 1700 people died brutally in carnage on the roads of Britain in 2013 – the last year for which figures were available. But traffic accidents don’t lead in the media or scare us quite like terrorism.  Fear of terrorism does. UK deaths from terrorism that year? One.

Yet somehow a small minority of politicians – egged on by a divisive media – have managed to persuade angry and scared voters that the cause of their troubles is immigrants, not an aggressive programme of cuts to public services.

These siren voices exist in all countries, but they’re normally kept in check by an active and vocal campaign of opposition from progressive and liberal voices.

The system should be self balancing.  But progressives all too often fail to make their case convincingly in a popular way. When we fail the system get skewed to the right.

In truth although I’m hugely sad that the freedoms afforded me by the European Union – principally the ability to live, work and travel freely across this great continent are about to be wrenched from me, I will eventually get over it.

What I will never get over though is that I now live in a country where a large swathe of the population has been so easily turned to fear and hate others. That always seems to so very un British. But something scary has been unleashed. And I fear it’ll be difficult to rein it in.

Once the vicious anti-immigrant campaign have moved on from attacking European immigrants, where will they go next?

If the situation of those who voted leave doesn’t improve quickly – and it won’t at the hands of a hard right clique intent on more cuts and social devision – where will the ire be turned next?

That makes me scared.

With an opposition Labour party in turmoil – with a nice but incompetent leader, I don’t know where to turn to effect change.

I feel strangely powerless.  Much like, I suspect, all those who voted leave.