Friday, 24 June 2016

What has Britain done?

I only stayed down on the beach for half an hour, last night, long enough for the firework display and lighting of the grand midsummer bonfire on the beach and for taking photos. There were many hundreds of people again this year, with their own family fires, barbecues and booze. Dozens went into the sea at midnight for luck. I saw some young lads jumping over the fire, another ancient custom. I thought I heard Irish accents, but also lots of young Scandinavian voices as well. This night is a big favourite in Scandinavia as well, whether or not it's as dry and warm as it is here.

I was back at the house again by quarter to one, feeling well exercised by the late night three mile brisk walk. It left me feeling far to tired to keep vigil by the telly, and after the first few results and ensuing chatter, I crawled into bed.

I was up by seven and switched on the telly, even before making coffee. News of the brexit victory came as a shock. I knew it would be a close call, around 52% to 48%, but to be the opposite way around to what I'd hoped and prayed for was hard to take in, like a sudden death in the family. Like Jo Cox's death. As predicted, the pound had already slumped in world exchange markets by the time I got up. The politicians put on their brave reputation saving faces, and talked lamely about making an effort to unite the country to implement the will of the people's referendum. The damage is done, however, and could be irrevocable.

I believe Britain will pay with even more social division, and who knows? Maybe unrest too, given the anger and disappointment, on one side for losing and on the other for the rising tide of ill will generated by winning with opponents struggling to accept graciously. For the first time in my life, I feel deeply ashamed of being Welsh, given the scale of the Principality's brexit vote. Cardiff alone voted to remain. The outcome is being interpreted as the nation's way of punishing its politicians for years of austerity and being so London-centric that regions, both industrial and post-industrial, feel neglected, their most urgent priorities by-passed or delayed.

Cameron was rightly quick to fall on his sword, having pandered to the brexit pressure groups with too much naive trust and optimism that Remain support would prevail. He campaigned more honourably than his opponents, but his failure was strategic, in that he didn't kick the idea of this referendum into touch in the first place, leave to the next government to cool out, rather than make it a lethal manifesto promise. Corbyn now faces challenges to his leadership for his lack-lustre performance in support of Remain. He looks old and tired. Labour needs, but didn't seem to have any inspirational leaders to unite left-wing support into effective opposition, able to expose disinformation and media manipulation relied on by brexiters to give them victory.

The alternatives to Cameron are grim and more right wing than he is. All over Europe the right wing parties will heed this result and motivate them to lobby for their own exit referendum where they are. Today, I am very pessimistic about the future. Even if European governance is in some respects not that fit for purpose, it is far superior to the way European nations behaved before the World Wars of the 20th century. The only way to get anything more fit for purpose is to maintain a reasoned critique, and sustain dialogue with the aim of reform. For Britain to have no say in affairs which are bound to have continued impact on it, simply because we're a major EU trading partner, is a colossal act of national self-harm.

A few days ago worry was expressed on the news about prisoners indefinitely detained self-harming in despair at their situation. The potentially damaging nature of the brexit vote is a cry of despair from those who feel dispossessed, disempowered by the current economic and political status quo. It reaches back decades, through all those years when London's development as a hub of economic globalisation has been like a black hole, sucking the life out of the rest of the country. 

I had a late morning meeting with a couple wanting to celebrate 32 years of marriage with a renewal of wedding vows, surrounded by family and friends this Sunday afternoon. They too had voted Remain by post before leaving for Spain, and were just as shocked and distressed as me. I arrived late, somewhat in a daze, and thankfully missed an interview session with a local report for a Costa del Sol English newspaper. I couldn't have coped with that. But now, I've said what I need to, and can carry on wondering. Where do we go from here?

Normally on this day, I remember with affection and prayer the two parish churches I served that were dedicated to St John the Baptist. Today, I find it hard to pray at all.

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