What we have been watching since the early hours of June 24 is what happens when the mainstream party political centre and the traditional governing/business/civic classes find themselves on the losing side of a debate.
I have never seen it happen in my lifetime before: indeed, you probably need to go back to the general election of 1945 for anything comparable. Put bluntly, enough people defied conventional wisdom, old electoral habits and the opinions of their supposed betters and chose to do their own thing.
How did the centre react to this act of defiance? The Conservative and Labour parties – both in Westminster and at grassroots level – are facilitating separate civil wars. There is talk of new parties emerging (although it’s worth bearing in mind that ‘new’ parties built by malcontents from existing parties rarely survive).
Cameron’s government – which lost the most crucial vote in living memory – is clinging on, but obviously didn’t prepare a Plan B. No one seems to want to call the general election that might allow a Leave campaign to become a Leave government. And no one seems prepared to do the one thing that the referendum result would suggest is necessary – namely, trigger Article 50 and begin the formal process of disengagement.
And how are the markets reacting to this collective dither and meltdown? They’re doing what they always do of course and milking it for every last penny of profit. The most powerful, most unaccountable people in the world are those men and women in places like London, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong who decide the fate of currencies, companies, the modest individual portfolios of savers and even entire countries. They tell us what to do and then punish us for having the temerity to do something different.
They always act in their own interests. Just a few weeks ago the International Monetary Fund was warning that the UK would suffer if it left the EU and yet now it is now warning “that a new climate of uncertainty across the single currency bloc will dent confidence, fan financial market volatility and spill over into other economies”.
On Friday, the credit ratings agency Moody’s said: “In the long run, the potential strengthening of nationalistic and protectionist movements could have a detrimental effect on the EU, even threatening its existence.”
So the EU, which we were told would survive very nicely without us, turns out to be as big an economic basket case as some of us have been saying for years.
What happens next? My instinct and fear (and it is a fear, because I voted to leave the EU and would vote the same way again tomorrow) is that the UK will not leave the EU. It suits France, Germany, NATO, the US and the money markets to have us in the EU and huge pressure will be exerted to keep us in there.
The Remain camp is so bereft of confidence and vision it is afraid to act unilaterally on anything. We have a governing class that doesn’t really remember anything before we joined the nascent EU in 1973 and, consequently, doesn’t have a clue what self-governing countries do. The Conservative Party looks likely to be led by Theresa May – who backed Cameron’s Remain policy.
So here’s what will happen. We’ll be reminded again and again that world peace, European peace and NI peace depend on our membership of the EU (they don’t). We’ll be warned that our financial stability depends on EU membership (it doesn’t). We’ll be lectured that the constitutional/geographical integrity of the UK depends on EU membership (SNP/SF will still want to go). We’ll be scolded about the rise of new ideologies and ‘isms’ in British politics (they emerged because the centre ignored them for decades). We’ll be treated to more scare stories about how cold and lonely the world is if you’re by yourself (in other words, the money markets don’t like free thinking).
The very same ‘international friends’ who tried to scare the pants off us by predicting Armageddon if we left will come back with new scripts and softer words and tell us that it’s not too late to change our minds and reverse our decision (they’re all watching their own backs, of course).
Theresa May says “We’re all leavers now”. Really? She isn’t. Over 500 of 650 MPs aren’t. The Scottish Parliament, NI and Welsh Assemblies don’t have Leave majorities. Over 90 per cent of the political/governing classes aren’t. Over 90 per cent of business/civic/charity/liberal/et al classes aren’t. The establishment machine isn’t Leave and that machine will now do everything within its very considerable power (and having learned the lessons of the profoundly stupid campaign it ran on behalf of Remain) to prevent our disengagement from the EU.
Money will be found and poured into those working-class areas that delivered the Leave majority. The Conservative and Labour parties will target those constituencies for special attention. The EU regional funds will roll up with cash. A form of words will be constructed to ‘address genuine concerns’ about high levels of immigration in areas of high unemployment.
Expect new language about building ‘a cooperative, consensual, multi-national, multi-cultural United Kingdom where old differences and suspicions can be put behind us’. For when the ‘machine’ puts its mind to something then no dream will ever be too fanciful, nor lie too big to be told.
My best guess is that we’ll stay in the EU. My worst fear is that we’ll now be sucked into the calamitous fallout from its eventual, inevitable collapse.