Do you remember a time before Brexit? Chances are you probably don’t. I’ve only got dim memories: fond childhood recollections of when the phrase ‘meaningful vote’ was meaningless to me, and Nigel Farage was still deservedly viewed as a used car dealer got lucky, rather than a mainstream politician. Sadly those memories are receding, replaced by the interminable hell that is the comedic attempt by Britain’s second rate (and if ever Mark Francois is involved, decidedly third rate) politicians to achieve some sort of meaningful progress in a process that they neither wanted nor understand.
But try and remember the past we must, as it holds the clues to our current predicament. For it is the years leading up to Brexit that we find its roots. When, in 2008, the British financial sector imploded through its own staggering ineptitude, the country had a choice. It could either see the error of its ways and begin the task of building a new economy that would create a fairer, more balanced society. Or it could double down on the neoliberalism that had gone before it, meekly slapping the banks on the wrists and savagely cutting away the state. Sadly Britain, or rather a conservative government in possession of 36% of a 65% turnout, chose the latter. The result has been consciously cruel. Millions who relied on the state to live a decent, civilised life have seen those supports kicked away. At first it was the little things: libraries closed, playgrounds disappeared and schools stopped offering music lessons. Then the trickle became a gush and now thousands sleep on the streets, hundreds of thousands queue for food banks and schools and hospitals can no longer afford to perform essential functions. Many Britons who once lived now merely survive, victims of a lost decade. And for what: to pay off the debts of others more fortunate than themselves. No wonder people are angry. No wonder that they don’t care that the same people who told them that the market could do no harm now tell them that they are ignorant, bigoted fools. Brexit was their revenge. It was a cry for help, and a source of hope in a world that has left so many behind.
And they will stay angry so long as Britain stays this way. The sentiments that caused the Brexit vote will continuously resurface, crippling our country. In order to realise a political future free of bigotry, populism and needless self-harm, Britain must change course. It must reinvigorate its public sector. It must regenerate its decaying industrial towns. It must curb its inequities. It must create an economy where work pays, and where the poorest can feel that they are fellow creatures of the richest. This change is unlikely to come from Britain’s lethargic, selfish and unimaginative private sector. It will require the growth of the state, it will undoubtedly mean more taxation for the wealthy, and less tolerance for reckless behaviour on the part of private enterprise. All of this will undoubtedly provoke the usual howls of anguish from Britain’s unthinking and self-serving. But after a decade in which their ideas have caused nothing but failure and misery, perhaps this time we will have the courage to ignore them.
All of this could very well have escaped my notice. I’m certainly not a natural recruit for the hard left. When your school song is written in Latin, you seldom are. My background is so southern it risks falling of a cliff, whilst my accent would not disgrace the nation’s leading BoJo impressionists (although it is actually surpassed in obnoxiousness by my laugh, which I am reliably informed resembles a walrus undergoing a losing encounter with a pneumatic drill). But the frustration and alienation of the last two years have forced me to reflect on where this country is heading. I cannot abide seeing the nation that I inhabit torn apart by inequity and frustration. I cannot stand to see so many of its citizens subjected to needless misery. In order to survive, in order to prosper, Britain must embrace a new political course. And I must embrace it too.