The thing that makes me most upset about the events of the last two weeks is that none of this needed to have happened.
Here’s a quick summary. It begins long ago, of course, but in a galaxy much closer to home.
In the 1980’s, Margaret Thatcher presided over a huge industrial decline in the North of England, in Wales and, basically, everywhere that isn’t London. The miners’ strike was the most visible manifestation of this, but the industrial backbone of the UK was broken in many places by the time the Tories, finally, got kicked out in 1997.
Fast forward a few years and we have a posh bloke, educated at Eton and Oxford (where he was a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club) facing a general election. He’s already been Prime Minister for five years and now he would like another five. The only thing in his way is the former city banker and all-round xenophobe, Nigel Farage, who has been stirring up racial hatred around the country and inciting people in the aforementioned post-industrial wastelands to blame “immigrants” and “the EU” for their plight. Farage has no real chance of making significant electoral gains this time around, but he looks a lot like he’s going to take a big bite out of the Prime Minister’s vote. A bite that is going to cost him enough seats that he’ll lost the top job.
Here’s a brilliant idea: let’s promise to hold a referendum to ask the people of the UK (and Gibraltar, it turns out), if they want to remain a member of the EU, or if we would rather go the way of the UK Independence Party (Farage’s UKIP) and leave the EU. It was all far-off in the future and very abstract, and all the opinion polls predicted a hung parliament anyway. In short, PM David Cameron never expected that this would be a promise he’d have to keep. He fully expected to be in coalition, or some form of minority government, which would give him just enough wiggle-room to announce that he was unable to keep that promise.
In a shock to everyone (especially Paddy Ashdown’s hat), the Conservatives came out of that election with a (wafer-thin) parliamentary majority. It was here that Cameron’s plan began to unravel, and it was here that a courageous and decent man would have stepped up and taken responsibility for making such a rash promise.
David Cameron is not a courageous and decent man.
He went on a tour of the EU, cosying up to all of the other leaders in the Union, and begging them for crumbs to take back to the UK in the hope that he could pat them together and say “look, this is cake: vote for cake.” He announced a date for the referendum: 23rd June 2016. A date that will live on in infamy.
The battle lines drawn, the campaigning begun, and descended almost immediately into a cesspool of lies, misdirection and xenophobia. Enter Boris Johnson, another bloke from Eton, Oxford and the Bullingdon Club who, incidentally, thought that the EU is a pretty good thing, to lead the campaign for the UK to leave. Yes, that’s right. A guy who thought that the UK should remain in the EU decided to lead the campaign to leave the EU.
This was never about the EU.
Within the Conservative party, it was a bun-fight between two rich old-Etonians. Cameron had the top job; Johnson wanted more power than he had enjoyed as Mayor of London. Let’s have a big jolly on the telly and get all the poor people to line up in the rain to cast their ballots and we can get back to business as usual, thank you, only you give me a good job in the government. For his part, Cameron thought this would be a jolly jape too, and seemed to concede that he’d have to put up with Boris.
Neither of them, it seemed, were prepared for a third party to take their little game and use it for his own advantage. Nigel Farage, frustrated at getting 12% of the votes in the general election yet only scoring 0.15% of the seats in the Commons, came storming in with a campaign consisting mostly of blaming Brussels for everything and pointing the finger at “migrants” for the economic problems of that post-industrial wasteland. Neither the EU nor migrants were responsible for the mess, of course, that was all about UK government policy over forty years, but they made a photogenic scapegoat.
It truly didn’t matter that the people on that poster weren’t from the EU, and it also didn’t matter that the UK has obligations, under international law, to accept refugees (who just happen to be fleeing a brutal and deadly grinding civil war).
This was not about the EU.
It was about Cameron’s spinelessness and a big game between him and Boris Johnson that was being exploited by Nigel Farage (and newspaper giant Rupert Murdoch, but that’s another story) for political gain.
Anyway, neither side covered themselves in glory, and lies and fearmongering characterised both sides of the debate. Actually, there was no debate. There was a lot of shouting and a lot of restatement of lies, but no actual debate.
Then came 23rd June. And 24th June.
And the horror that Cameron and Johnson’s little tiff, their little game to sort out whose dick was more manly, their viewing the British population as nothing more than pawns for their amusement, had produced the result that neither could accept.
The UK voted to leave.
So, on the Friday morning, Cameron told us he was quitting as PM. In the fortnight since, thousands of people who voted leave have announced that they never actually wanted to leave they just wanted to give the “establishment” a bloody nose; every promise made by the Leave campaign has been exposed as a lie; a Tory leadership fight has erupted; Michael Gove (Johnson’s right-hand man) knifed him in the back; Johnson announced that he would not, after all, be running for the PM’s job; Nicola Sturgeon has announced that Scotland will be remaining in the EU, even if that means that Scotland leaves the UK; Michael Gove has all-but vanished from the running for that same job and Nigel Farage has also resigned as leader of UKIP.
In summary, David Cameron was scared of Nigel Farage, so he made a promise that he never thought he’d have to keep, in order to cling on to political power. His old mate, Boris Johnson, thought it would be a jolly jape to jump into the party and wave his dick around and see if he could have some fun, and maybe pick up a couple of free drinks. Nigel Farage saw an opportunity to pop in his crowbar and gain maximum leverage. Michael Gove slipped in behind Boris Johnson in the hope that he’d sail back into a powerful position (he did such a fine job in the Department for Education, you see) in his wake. And it all went horribly wrong.
To summarise the summary, a spineless Prime Minister created a clusterfuck, and now every single one of the people involved this disaster has decided to walk away and leave the sorry mess for someone, anyone, else to fix. Because they never wanted what they asked for and are too gutless to face the music.