In our house we were heartbroken. I wept on my way to work. I had felt compelled to choose something from my wardrobe which I’d worn some years ago as I sat by my brother’s hospice bed, with my family, on the day he died. I found it hard to look those of my colleagues who’d declared themselves leave-voters in the eye, such was the strength of my grief. The world looked different, narrowed - and for the first time, I felt ashamed of my country. I’m not a nationalist, but I’ve always felt assured and comforted by the decency of most British people. Yesterday shook that conviction. It seemed like England had been diminished ... as someone said in an Italian news comment: “Little England won over Great Britain”. Shockingly, I’m hearing that some voters had apparently thought to register a protest vote, certain Brexit wouldn’t actually happen ... seriously?
All day, I found myself looking at people as they went by, asking myself how they had voted. I hope this will pass. Hate undoubtedly corrodes. The Referendum has torn away the myth of a United Kingdom, its divisions starkly apparent: north/south, that old especially treasured chestnut - class war, old/young. I went to a gathering of friends from different nations last night, and was shocked by the anger of two young graduates, who were convinced it was the older (60+) generation that had let them down. Hold on there! I wonder how completely accurate this statistic is? Of my 9 work colleagues, 6 of us voted remain (aged 60,60,60,55,23,21) and 4 voted leave (aged 46,41,29,23). I don’t happen to know a single one of my personal friends around the sixty mark who voted Brexit.
A winning feature of the leave vote seems to have been contempt for the establishment, a bit of a joke seeing as this was mostly managed and manipulated by the right-wing. I recently read Richard Evans’s terrifying book, The Coming of the Third Reich, about the persecution of the German people which preceded Hitler’s rise to power. Even before the Referendum I was thinking about the parallels: how the Nazis used the suffering which had ensued from the First World War, and the later global economic influences which ensured Germany couldn’t rise out of its 1920s/early 1930s chaos, to blame the establishment and whip up support for their own nefarious purposes; how the democracy of the Weimar Republic foundered and died before the Nazis’ onslaught.
When I think of the appalling level of debate during the referendum with Gove voicing the view, “We’ve heard enough from experts”, I am reminded of the Chinese dictator Mao who, following the Great famine, between 1958 and 1962, when 45 million Chinese people were worked, starved or beaten to death, oversaw a Cultural Revolution that reviled all things intellectual and historic - the young were encouraged to beat up, humiliate, even murder their elders.
We woke this morning, early, at 5.30am - we couldn’t sleep any longer, so deep was our sorrow at the awfulness of what has been done - not in our name by the way! I grieve for friends, family and neighbours in the rest of Europe, struggling with huge problems in their own countries, and who now, through Brexit’s xenophobia and ignorance, have been abandoned by what should have been the co-operating arm of Britain. The result of our referendum has helped the cause of the far right in other countries. Among the jubilant are Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Rupert Murdoch, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump - hooray (not)!
If the ground felt like it shifted under our feet yesterday morning, perhaps it’s the spinning in their graves of all those men and women who suffered in the many past wars fought on European soil, and who, having lost everything, might at least have hoped for their descendants the cooperation and peace which the European Community stood for, not just for Europe, incidentally, but hopefully also as a model for others. I feel enormously sad for our son and daughter-in-law, who will now be bringing up our beautiful grand-daughter in a world most likely made more unstable and less safe by victory of the leave-vote.