As the Leaderless UK Begins Sinking, MPs, Media and British Citizens Don’t Seem to Care
July 8, 2016
Two weeks after the EU referendum, the situation in the UK is even more depressing than it was at the time, for a variety of reasons, primarily to do with having no leadership whatsoever, with few people seemingly caring that we have no leadership whatsoever, and with our political class and our media failing to understand that the ramifications of the referendum result mean that is is not business as usual, and will not be ever again.
Since the result was announced (52.1% for Leave, 48.9% to Remain, on a 72% turnout) we have constantly been told, by those with power and influence, that the will of the people must be accepted, but it remains apparent that the referendum should never have been called, and was only called because of David Cameron’s pathetically narrow political concerns and his cowardly refusal to challenge UKIP and Eurosceptics in his own party.
It also remains apparent that it was primarily won because of outrageous lies by the Leave campaign, led by someone — Boris Johnson — who didn’t want to leave the EU and only did so to further his own political aims.
I don’t mean to suggest, by the way, that people only voted Leave because they were lied to. I understand that millions of people made up their own minds, although I don’t believe in general that proper consideration was given to the myriad ramifications of severing our involvement with the EU, by those who weren’t either acting on racist and xenophobic impulses, or false notions of sovereignty (the “us v. them” scenario, even though as a member of the EU, we were part of “them” and, in any case, most decisions about our spending and policies were still taken by our own government), or some essentially counter-productive notion of giving a kicking to the out-of-touch political elite in Westminster. On our sovereignty, by the way, I would just like to remind anyone reading this that Chatham House (aka the Royal Institute of International Affairs) noted, in “Britain, the EU and the Sovereignty Myth,” an important briefing before the referendum, that, “Apart from EU immigration, the British government still determines the vast majority of policy over every issue of greatest concern to British voters – including health, education, pensions, welfare, monetary policy, defence and border security. The arguments for leaving also ignore the fact that the UK controls more than 98 per cent of its public expenditure.”
It is also becoming more and more apparent to me that almost everyone on the political left — the old Left, as I see it — also voted to Leave, in what seems to me to be the mistaken belief that we will somehow be freed from the EU’s neo-liberal impulses, whereas it seems more likely to me that the minnow we will become outside the EU will be forced into even worse trade treaties. I think the Lexit camp also overlooked the many rights that we take for granted that are enshrined in EU legislation, but that are anathema to the Tories. Of course, the Left’s presumption is that they will somehow seize power now we are freed from the yoke of Europe, but it seems more likely that we will instead simply be subjected to an even heavier and more oppressive yoke of homegrown Conservatism, determined to finish the job of destroying the state provision of almost all services in the UK, and turning us into a privatised feudal state, with renewed vigour.
Two weeks on from the referendum, all those responsible have fled, leaving us — disturbingly —without any leadership, as I mentioned at the start of this article. David Cameron resigned immediately, then Boris Johnson, and then Nigel Farage, and the last to go was Michael Gove, squeezed out of the Conservative Party leadership contest. It is appropriate to be happy that all of these clowns have gone, but, like the public schoolboys they are, they have handed on their mess to someone else to clean up. And throughout this whole disaster, not only is there no accountability, but, more importantly, there is also a hole where outrage and deep concern should be.
The media has become distracted by the Tories’ leadership election, to elect someone who may or may not clean up the mess in an adequate manner, although the details of how that might be done are still not considered to be important enough to be discussed in any sort of detail. And in the meantime, as the weeks pass, the elephant in the room — We are leaderless! No one is steering the ship! — is ignored, when clearly it is a topic that ought to be of the greatest importance.
And all the while, of course, the economy of the newly leaderless UK is in freefall, although, after the initial shock in the markets, we are barely being told about it. My main source of news, on a regular basis throughout the day, is the Guardian’s front page online, but the UK as a leaderless Titanic is never a headline, and even the economic impact of Brexit is rarely the main story. Elsewhere, of course, in the more right-wing media, there is even less interest, even though the pound has sunk to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985 — £1 yesterday bought just $1.29, a loss of 10% since the referendum, with pessimists predicting $1.16 by the end of the year — and even though, as the Guardian currently describes it, “turmoil in the UK commercial property sector prompted by the Brexit vote [is] forc[ing] fund managers to revalue their portfolios or temporarily prevent investors withdrawing their savings.”
The panic is affecting billions of pounds’ worth of property, and while I am an enthusiast for seeing the housing bubble in London and the south east brought an end, as it is the epitome of greed out of control, I worry that a systemic crash, triggered by the referendum and bringing down the economy as a whole, may be a disproportionately damaging way for it to happen, with repercussions that, as with any economic collapse, will impact most heavily on those who can least afford it.
In 2010, when the Tories failed to win an outright majority, the markets demanded a solution as quickly as possible, and a coalition government was formed within five days. Now, however, we’re being told that the country will not have a leader for another two months, leaving an unprecedented amount of time for the markets to give up on the economy. Britain’s economy is currently being held together — single-handedly, it seems — by Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England (and, ironically, an immigrant), but by September Britain could potentially face an unprecedented collapse, as there appears to be no serious support within the actual government to combat the pound’s decline, the politicians of the Leave camp having made no plan, and David Cameron having left Brexit plans in the hands of a particularly notable clown, Oliver Lewin, who has no demonstrable ability to do anything whatsoever. See the FT for more on what can be expected — beyond Letwin, that is.
I cannot express strongly enough how much the mainstream media needs to question and address its complicity in supporting the messages of the Leave campaigners, even when they were baseless propaganda, and its failure to investigate in detail almost all the issues involved in our proposed departure from the EU, and not just the obvious topics of immigration and perceptions of sovereignty. See Lord Puttnam on this, criticising the BBC’s coverage of the referendum as “constipated” and accusing broadcasters of a “criminal act” by not subjecting Boris Johnson’s claims under scrutiny, and also see the thoughts of Justin Webb of the Today programme.
As I see it, not only were the Leave camp’s lies rarely, if ever examined rigorously, but many highly important topics were never even covered, as I mentioned in an article following the result. One of the topics I discussed there was the uncertain future for Britain’s universities, and see here for a Reuters article from July 5 asking how the UK’s universities can “plug a funding gap and maintain prestige if the flood of students from across the EU slows to a trickle,” as it may well do.
Two weeks on from the referendum, and the mainstream media is now doing what it always does, but now needs to rethink urgently, which is to move on to whatever it is that is happening now and that can be dressed up as interesting. For some time now, it has been apparent to me that the maximum attention span of the mainstream media is about two weeks, however bad the news and however massive the newsworthy topic, to the extent that, as I have often joked, if the modern media were present at the start of the Second World War, they would have lost interest before the end of September 1939.
Hence my disappointment and anxiety that the true impact of Brexit, and questions about whether our national suicide is really in the national interest, is missing from the front pages of newspapers and from TV broadcasts, when we still appear to be in a disturbing new world full of almost endless uncertainty — and of a dangerous but predictable increase in racism and xenophobia — in which the UK before the morning of June 24 is absolutely not the same place as it has been since, and every certainty that existed before — regarding our rights as Europeans, as British citizens or as immigrants — is now open to debate, and every nuance of the politics of Cameron’s Britain, with its six years of austerity and its identifiable policies, however wretched they may have been, suddenly seems to be ancient history.
To many in the Leave camp, questioning the outcome of the referendum is regarded as unfair, but it must be stressed that the outcome was only advisory, and that it is now up to the government to implement it, and, as I mentioned a few days ago, in an important article for the Guardian last week, Geoffrey Robertson QC made clear where MPs’ responsibility lies. He pointed out that “‘[s]overeignty’ — a much misunderstood word in the campaign — resides in Britain with the ‘Queen in parliament’, that is with MPs alone who can make or break laws and peers who can block them. Before Brexit can be triggered, parliament must repeal the 1972 European Communities Act by which it voted to take us into the European Union — and MPs have every right, and indeed a duty if they think it best for Britain, to vote to stay.”
I also made reference to an article by law professor and former Foreign Office advisor Philip Allott, who stated that the Brexit decision may be “unlawful,” and another article explaining how solicitors at the prominent law firm Mishcon de Reya are “taking pre-emptive legal action against the government, following the EU referendum result, to try to ensure article 50 [triggering our departure from the EU] is not triggered without an act of parliament.”
In today’s Guardian, I’m glad to note, another flicker of light was provided by the news that “[t]he first legal attempt to prevent the prime minister initiating Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union is to be heard later this month,” as “[a] high court judge, Mr. Justice Cranston, has set 19 July for a preliminary hearing of [a] judicial review challenge brought on behalf of the British citizen Deir Dos Santos,” who “argues that only parliament – not the prime minister – can authorise the signing of article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which begins the UK’s formal withdrawal process.”
The Guardian article also noted that the Dos Santos claim argues that, although David Cameron claimed, in his resignation speech, that the government “is of the view that the prime minister of the day has the power under article 50 (2) of the Lisbon treaty to trigger article 50 without reference to parliament,” that decision “is ‘ultra vires’ – beyond the legitimate powers of the government – because under ‘the UK’s constitutional requirements’, notification to the European Union council of withdrawal ‘can only be given with the prior authorisation of the UK parliament.’”
I admit that I have found myself clinging to these points of view over the past two weeks, and that their general dismissal disturbs me, because I genuinely fear for the future if — when — we leave the EU: the prolonged shock to the economy, the hardening of racist sentiment, the calls for the expulsion of all those regarded as unwanted immigrants, Britain’s inevitable decline in Europe and on the world stage, a deluded minnow sinking in wealth an influence, isolating itself just when more of the opposite was needed — more cooperation, more opening doors, more movement.
If you care about these issues, do let me know. There are millions of us, across all the political parties (well, except UKIP) and we urgently need to make our voices heard.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp).
He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield.
He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
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