Calling Brexiters racist is the cause of our problems
And those who are celebrating “independence day” are barmy.
Telling people they were xenophobic, racist, culture hating, small minded little Englanders for voting Leave is the attitude that got us in this situation.
Like many millions of people watching the news following the closure of polls on Thursday, I went to bed very sure in the knowledge that Britain had voted to remain within the European Union. Nigel Farage himself had even said the Leave side had lost. Eyes closed, sleep commenced.
And then we woke. My alarm ringing at five, I got up to find that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. Like the majority of people connected to Cambridge life, I am shocked. The decision we took as a nation, whether you agree with it or not, will profoundly shape the nature of our country and our way of life in the years to come.
I am not here, however, interested in debating the long term impact of the result, nor to espouse the views of either side. What strikes me is the reaction of students and beyond to the result. Disappointment and frustration is expected. Statements calling out “the racist little Englanders” who voted out are, however, unnerving. Twitter feeds and Facebook walls are full of posts exclaiming the hate people now feel about their own country. Britain is now, according to some, “insulting”, “a parasite on the world” and a “haven of uneducated bigots and racists”. There have been cries to flee to the “civilised” Canada (and to Nepal ” to live as a goat”). There have even been doubts of the validity of the democratic process altogether, many suggesting the vote should not have been given to “fundamentally ill informed” citizens. A petition for a second referendum is already on the march.
I won’t lie, the result worries me. Most young people are understandably grieving. But while I took in the cataclysmic news, the reaction to the result on social media explained in many ways why we’ve ended up with Brexit. Our nation is grossly divided. Despite technological connectivity, the disparity of wealth within the United Kingdom has never been higher. London, the South East (and yes Cambridge) booms while the North lags- last night’s electoral map reflected this. In Cambridge I can barely find a voice against in the EU. At home in the West Midlands it’s all I hear. People voted in millions against the status quo. There is little doubt that some of these people had stupid and bigoted attitudes. To suggest that the 17 million who voted Leave were fundamentally despicable people is, though, the kind of condescending attitude that led droves to show the proverbial middle finger to the Establishment at the ballot box yesterday.
This kind of reaction isn’t only constrained to disappointed remainers. Of those (admittedly few) young people on the leave side, the jingoistic, frankly barmy celebrations of “independence day” along with the sickly Rule Britannia romp is the sort of rhetoric that will lead a post- Brexit Britain down a path of exclusion, isolationism, and hate. Cheering on the pompous buffoonery of Farage promises to keep the country hell bent against itself for years to come.
Telling people they were ignorant for voting either way helps no one. If anything, it will validate the defiance (and jingoism) of millions. The United Kingdom is now a country of many nations, and I’m not just talking about England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We wake up to a new Britain outside of Europe, for better or for worse- a country of division and huge confusion.
As a student population, we need cool, calm, collected and rationally articulated leadership more than ever- not erratic anger, jingoism and frustration.