Brexit is now a reality
Posted on June 24, 2016
Amazingly the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has decided, via referendum, to leave the European Union. The “leave” team won by 52%, which is a stunning victory margin. As of this morning, markets around the world are plunging, and the British pound has sunk to a value not seen since 1985.
Personally I blame Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron for this abysmal mess, but in a larger sense, I also blame the power establishments of all western democracies. I’ve noticed a very disturbing trend in the western countries over the last thirty or so years: leaders who are afraid to lead, to stand up for what they truly believe in, no matter what the cost in votes or loss of power. Cameron decided to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union two years ago, when the Conservatives were sharing power with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats party. Thanks to a hung Parliament from the 2010 general election, Cameron foolishly thought that by throwing some red meat to the Euroskeptic wing of his party via a referendum, he could keep that flank quiet until the next general election, which he again, foolishly, thought would result in yet another hung Parliament and the sharing of power with the Liberal Democrats. Instead, Cameron’s Conservative party won an outright majority in last year’s general election, thus forcing him to live up to his promise to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union.
Incessant polling leading up to the vote pointed to two general sentiments among voters. One was disdain for the wave of immigrants from eastern Europe and Turkey who have been arriving in the UK over the last few years. The British economy has never fully recovered from the 2008 economic collapse, and the daily encounters with foreigners speaking strongly accented Queen’s English has been jarring to those who feel a loss of English identity. Another factor was simple economic anxiety. Andrew Sullivan made an excellent point in his post here on how the greatest challenges to democracy are not during an economic crisis; rather the biggest danger is in the years following the advent of the crisis. The recovery period, like the recovery period after an orgasm that is the result of an affair (my analogy, not Sullivan’s), makes people nervous and anxious about the future. This is the time when people are ripe for the blandishments of a demagogue, and for the fever dreams of “my country”. We’re seeing it here in the United States with the rise of Trump and his hijacking of the Republican Party.
I’m not sure of what happens next, but one thing I do know for certain. Too much democracy is not a good thing. Elected leaders should be wary of “hearing the people’s voices”, since most people are truly jackasses.