personal,  politics,  Uncategorized

Yours, in despair

The unthinkable has happened and Britain has voted to leave the EU. The nation stared into the abyss last week and I had hoped that would be enough to make it pull back, but no, it seems that 52% of my fellow Brits decided the abyss looked just fine and plunged in. I feel for my European colleagues who work and live in the UK. They must feel very uncertain about their future now in a country that has shown itself to be so aggressively anti-European.

This is a personal post, I’m not going to dissect the campaigns or implications here. I feel lost. It is not just the decision itself, but what it has revealed about the country I live in. Every aspect of the Leave campaign has illustrated that Britain is now a place where you cannot feel any sense of belonging. It demonstrated that being openly racist was now a viable political tactic for the first time since the 1930s. It was anti-intellectual, as experts were widely dismissed in favour of slogans. It was distinctly Kafkaesque when a rich city banker and aristocrat talk about fighting the elite, when a Prime Minister hopeful proudly boasts “I don’t listen to experts”. It was post-truth, with deliberate lies told repeatedly and no rational argument or model proposed. It was selfish, with most young people wanting to Remain, the over 65s who will the least affected, voted to Leave.

As a liberal, academic who tries to do research gathering evidence with European colleagues, this is pretty much my anti-society. It feels very different to when your side doesn’t win in a general election. I could always understand, even if I didn’t agree with, those choices. But my country has just voted gleefully for hatred and economic ruin. What am I supposed to do with that fact?

There have been many casual nazi references thrown around in this campaign. But the similarities are horrible – right wing demagogues coming to power by blaming the current financial problems on immigrants and employing hate based tactics. No-one in Britain ever gets to ask again “How did Nazi Germany happen?” In The Drowned and the Saved, Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi talks about letters he received from Germans. One of them seeks forgiveness, saying “Hitler appeared suspect to us, but decidedly the lesser of two evils. That all his beautiful words were falsehood and betrayal we did not understand at the beginning.” Levi replies angrily highlighting that Hitler’s intentions were always obvious. This sentiment will be expressed by the people who voted Leave in a few years time when the economy has worsened and things have lurched to the right too far even for them. “How could we have known we were being tricked?” they will cry. Yes, you were tricked, but only because you wanted to be. The facts were there but you chose to deliberately ignore them in favour of indulging self pity and rage. I will find it very difficult to forgive anyone who voted Leave for what they have done to this country and to my daughter’s future.

I know I should feel emboldened to fight on for the things I believe in, but at the moment I need to find personal tactics to get through it. This whole process has brought the full, boiling, rage of Brits to the surface and it’s been like living with YouTube commentators for the past few weeks. It has made me feel quite ill, and so I need to find tactics for dealing with the new reality, as the only thing I have at the moment is curling up in a ball in the corner. I’m taking a social media and news break for a while, I’ll walk my dog and try to tell my daughter that things will be ok.


  • Jan Smith

    All this and more, Martin, well said. I can’t believe what my countryfolk have done and given that I’ve been following this from Oz, only wish staying here was an option. We need EURef2 that includes the 16-18s, and for the first time ever, I’d say the 65+ should be disenfranchised. This is the youngsters’ futures, not the triple-lock pensioners perverted view of England.

  • lornamcampbell

    Hey Martin, I hope you’re out with your dogs and your daughter right now, but I just wanted to say thank you for writing this. It’s weird though, I was reading The Drowned and The Saved a couple of weeks ago and discussing that exact paragraph with friends from mainland Europe. It’s horrific to think of it in this context, but so very, very apt. The unthinkable happens when we don’t have the courage and the honesty to open our eyes and think, really think, of the consequences of our actions.

  • David Hopkins (@hopkinsdavid)

    You are not alone Martin, although in time we may be also persecuted for these beliefs too.History is being made today, of that there is no doubt. The question of which way it swings will only be told by those who survive it’s sharp edge.

  • nogbad

    Well said Martin. As often happens the folk who will suffer most are those who voted Leave with glee as a way of expressing anger and rage. My initial reaction was to head abroad but it’ll not solve anything and I have three children here so I’ll not go far. Time to knuckle down and try to ameliorate the worst of this so that our children have something to inherit.

  • r3becca

    I absolutely agree with you. I am struck in my social media streams by the physical reactions to this news. We are not just disappointed – we feel physically sick. This is not the country we have worked to pass on to our children.

  • Annabel Wynne

    Thanks for writing this, Martin. I feel the same and am stunned that I live in a country that has effectively just voted for Oswald Mosley. I am currently at an international academic conference with people from all over the world, many of them Europeans, and the atmosphere this morning is one of overwhelming sadness. Some people have been in tears. My daughter said this morning that she felt numb; reassuring her was a surreal experience when I feel so strongly that this is a disaster.
    I hope that spending time in your beautiful natural surroundings helps you.

  • David Harrison

    Well said Martin. Echoes my feelings entirely. I’ve been sat down this morning feeling very unwell, my stomach churning, wondering what to write and feeling totally frozen and unable to do so. Thanks for putting my thoughts and feelings into the words that I felt unable to write.

  • raoulteeuwen

    I totally agree with you. Being Dutch, i do feel we have a similar situation in the Netherlands (just not as far as exiting the EU, but i hope we don’t get a referendum for that as i would fear the outcome), and also in many other countries in Europe (and globally? Isn’t what’s happening in the US based on the same problems and tactics?)… So apparently this is the world we live in. I wondered whether we need to split the world in little parts of land for people wanting to be ‘with their own’, and a piece of land for those convinced cooperation is the best way forward, even when you encounter difficult times.

  • leswatson

    Martin, I think you might find that not all over 65+ voters went for leave and that some of them are actually feeling as disenfrnachied as you are. Stereotyping was a major negative feature of the campaigns – let’s not fall into the same trap.

  • nigel

    Martin, cling to the fact that 48% think as you do. I feel alienated today in a country I feel I have lost. But we are not alone.

  • John Kirriemuir

    Thank you for the post, which was clearer and more eloquent than anything I have, or could, write. I’m currently grappling between the approaches of “stay and fight, because I was born in England so it’s on me to fix it” or “leave and return to Scotland before independence there, or move to Scandinavia more permanently while I still can”. Your post has helped think this through a bit, and I will read The Drowned and The Saved next.

  • Tim

    Indeed. As a brit abroad I am also overwhelmed by the lack of vision for the future. I indulged in a bit of UKTV this afternoon and was amazed by the air of self-congratulations the LEAVE-ers are showing. Am I the only one who has noticed the pound is in free fall. Oh by the way, time to say goodbye to EU funded research. Maybe you can ask Boris for a loan :-O

  • Bernhard Lill

    I was stunned too and sad when I heard the news this morning, Martin. But as somebody said here before: 48% is a pretty big and good company you’re in. We Germans have a saying: no meal is eaten as hot as it was cooked. I sympathize with you. And please remember what your ancestors said during the war: keep calm and carry on. Best wishes from Germany, Bernhard

  • Rhian

    Thank you for your thoughtful, insightful and relatable words Martin. Words fail me. Feelings of confusion and sadness are overwhelming. Peace.

  • Gardner

    Thank you, Martin, and bless you all. This is a tremendously sad day. We in the US will have our own referendum soon, in November, with a choice that is every bit as momentous, with most of the same issues in play. I am hoping, praying, and working for a better outcome. In solidarity, Gardner

  • Wilbert

    There’s hope, though. We may have to leave the EU, but we can make sure to join Norway, Switzerland and Iceland on the naughty step that is the EAA. That’ll get us all the essential benefits of cooperation and access.

    If the Tories don’t go for that option ASAP of their own volition (and the Borisites are already signalling that they are), we can make them. Now that it is clear that economic prosperity and Empire style sovereignty aren’t going to happen at the same time, it’ll only be a small minority of kippers who’d object. Sure, the Norwegian option means accepting the free movement of people, but by the time we actually leave, migration from the EU is likely irrelevant anyway.

    In the fullness of time, once a more sensible generation has taken over, we can then apply to rejoin. Our time out might even help the crucial democratisation of the EU. An elected commission isn’t going to happen with the Tories round the table. Without them, it might.

  • Ang

    I know nothing about protesting and have never marched in my life. I’m torn because I want to join a huge campaign to try and fight to get the rational arguments heard. 48% of 70% of the nation must now have the strength and confidence to get our voices heard. If there were to be a march somewhere I would, for the first time in my life, join it as I have never felt so passionately that the majority have made a huge mistake. However we also live in a democracy in which the majority vote is carried.
    How can we ever make people see the comparisons of history and today. Intelligent and independent thought has long since been lost to TOWIE, BB (We can’t even be bothered to write whole words and sentences anymore), and cheap, sensational and untrue sound bites and headlines.
    When did stupidity, hatred and intolerance become the new religion?

  • macurcher

    What to say? I feel so depressed, my kids, aged 5 and 9, asking what will happen to us (I am a UK citizen living in Finland for readers who do not know) and to mummy, who does not hold an EU or UK passport.

    All I can say is take a break, as you have from the crazy scrum on social media and the news and spent time with the people you care about.

    I am sorry, deeply sorry and as concerned and worried as I am sure you are.

    Hugs mate.

  • Elsee

    I am also feeling quite pessimistic about the chances of negotiating a decent trade deal with the EU. You should see some of the things being written about the English in the French and Spanish newspapers. ‘Mindless hooligans ‘ is about the most polite. EU countries seem to feel we have just done the diplomatic equivalent of showing them a raised middle finger. Our leaders will have to eat a hell of a lot of humble pie.And our currency is being devalued. Hardly a strong bargaining position.

  • John Kirriemuir

    Middle-of-the-night thoughts from the last few nights:

    “What a strange country England is. It had the chance to be the Leicester City of Europe, but instead chose to be Aston Villa.”

    “Watching the pound steadily fall feels strangely similar to watching your ex- date increasingly more wealthy and handsome partners.”

    “Proof, if it was needed after looking at the newspaper front covers, that we are living in a post-literacy England.”

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