Brexit continues to lie untouched in the dog’s breakfast bowl, no more appetising in the cold light of day than it was when things started to smell bad on the night of June 23.
Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, Brexit over easy on rye, nobody’s quite sure what they ordered. The Scots aren’t planning to shut up and eat what someone else requested on their behalf, that’s clear. Alex Salmond said recently there will be a new independence referendum in 2018.
The US is facing a similar binary choice with one indigestible option on the menu: here are some lessons from a still-suffering Remain supporter.
1) Denial doesn’t help
In the run up to the referendum on EU membership, I found myself almost unable to believe that the British people would vote Leave. Reading reports of the poll results, which tended as they do, to congregate in the middle, I discounted the ones I didn’t like.
When MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered, I thought, as many others did that people would vote the way she asked them to, to honour her memory. But it wasn’t a turning point, in fact it was an indicator of how bad things were getting in that part of England. Even her own constituency voted ‘Leave’. It seems now that we were in denial.
There was a recent article in the New York Times about Democrats seeing Trump eyeing the White House. “The possibility of that is too horrifying to broach,” Larry David, the “Seinfeld” co-creator and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star, wrote in an email. “It’s like contemplating your own death. I can’t go there”. Go there.
2) Beware the filter bubble
A British entry has more chance of winning Eurovision than Trump has of winning Massachusetts, where I am living. Trump supporters are rare. I read the New York Times which does not carry their voices; a friend pointed to this piece where Nicholas Kristof interviews an imaginary Trump supporter.
Similarly, my home city of Edinburgh was the most Remain of any in the UK. I know people who were pretty unenthusiastic about the European Union, but none who voted ‘Leave”.
On the day after the EU referendum, in a Facebook post, mySociety founder, Tom Steinberg, wrote” I am actively searching through Facebook for people celebrating the Brexit leave victory, but the filter bubble is SO strong, and extends SO far into things like Facebook’s custom search that I can’t find anyone who is happy *despite the fact that over half the country is clearly jubilant today* and despite the fact that I’m *actively* looking to hear what they are saying… We’re getting countries where one half just doesn’t know anything at all about the other.” (Quoted by the Guardian’s Katharine Viner in “How Technology Disrupted the Truth”.)
Many Brexit voters were people left behind by the digital revolution. Disproportionately old, poor, socially unconnected, living in deprived areas, Leavers were heavily reliant for information on tabloid news outlets punting out cheap populism. Don’t forget that not everyone is on Twitter, sharing bon mots and hyperlinks.
3) Avoid “mansogyny” and other inverse prejudice
After the Brexit vote in the UK, I listened on a radio phone-in to callers voicing distress at divisions the referendum had brought out within their families and communities. One woman called the show in tears to say she had been told: “White trash shouldn’t have the vote.”
And on an important TV debate in the run-up to the referendum, we watched an all-female team on the Remain side make repeated personal attacks on Boris Johnson. “That’s mansogyny,” my teenage son commented. He was joking but I suspect that his word captured how a certain kind of male viewer might have felt.
The new poor, the new marginalised, are sensitive to their loss of status and reduced prospects. Don’t insult them.
4) Think harder
Britain’s UKIP leader NIgel Farage, said Remain focused on “how terrible it would be to leave” rather than making a positive case.” In the Brexit referendum campaign, the case for continuing to work towards a better Europe didn’t measure up to the grandiose false promises of “Leave”.
Democracy, as Winston Churchill put it, is the worst form of government except for all the others.
Apparently the Chinese followed the Brexit campaign with fascination – the Chinese media reported it in detail, as an example of what a silly system democracy really can be. And Chinese media outlets have described the rise of Trump the “big-mouthed clown” as an illustration of how scarey and pointless democracy really is.
But what really lies behind his rise in support? In France, the leader of the political movement En Marche, Emmanuel Macron, has declared there is a new split in politics superseding the left-right divide, between those afraid of globalisation and those who see it as an opportunity.
Has unfettered globalisation has been too harsh for too many people? An interesting column by Dani Rodrik in the NYT argues that a more strategic approach could have been taken.
As Barack Obama pointed out in his speech to the UN, “the solution for what ails our democracies is more engagement not less”. Ask more questions.
5) Be Ready
It is likely that Hillary Clinton will be elected the next President of the United States. It will be a historic moment – the election of an older woman, a grandmother, a woman of as the leader of the free world. It is still unlikely that Trump will win. But it’s possible.
The night of June 23 was a memorable low for British democracy. It was a shambles. It was only when Scotland’s SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon appeared on television , looking poised, flanked by Scottish and European flags that it seemed as if we were watching someone who had prepared for this moment. For her, the end of the Brexit referendum was the beginning of the next electoral campaign.
One of the strengths of democracy lies in its resilience. As long as the other institutions which underpin it remain strong, and an autocrat isn’t able to seize power, there will be another election coming up.
For Democrats, as for democrats, November 9, 2016 will be either a day for celebration or it will be a day to be ready to start the next campaign. But I hope it’s the former.