I went to bed worried on Thursday night (or was it Friday morning?) having heard the first few referendum results, and woke to be devastated by the news early on Friday morning. Devastated may sound like an exaggeration but I assure you it isn’t – and it’s a word that I have heard from many friends over the last few days too. We’ve really done it now!
Well, who is ‘we’ now? We are a very divided and un-united kingdom. From this day I am no longer going to use the term UK, but only u-UK (for un-United Kingdom). Maybe it should be dUK – for we have ducked the challenge of the future.
Scotland voted solidly for remain as did Northern Ireland, whereas England (outside London) and Wales voted for Brexit. And the young voted for Remain (although not enough of them came out and voted) and the old voted for Brexit. This was summed up in two radio anecdotes from my car travels on Friday: an 80+ ex-soldier (Radio 4 news?) in tears of joy that we would no longer be ruled by Germany and two bright, coherent young women who were disappointed, worried and felt let down (BBC Radio4 Woman’s Hour). I’ve often thought that votes should be on a sliding scale with a young vote counting for more than an old one. I also may get a T-shirt saying ‘I may look old to you but I voted Remain too’.
There is so much to reevaluate and ponder, but here are a few early thoughts:
- the environment and wildlife – probably! It depends. Everything’ depends’ now, and it depends on things over which you and I have rather little control. The struggle to protect the environment hasn’t ended, the need is just as strong but the task has got a lot more difficult without the inefficient safety net of the EU.
- the United Kingdom – is Scotland ready for a flood of English environmental refugees? Anyone got a house for sale? I’d vote for Scottish independence under these circumstances and wish all Scots who do so the very best of luck.
- politicians in general – the standard of debate, on both sides of the argument, in the referendum campaign was atrocious. Truly awful. Almost every politician that I disliked I now dislike more, and many of the ones I liked have gone down in my estimation. And I reckon, you may not agree, that I am pretty tolerant of politicians in general and of political opponents too. I can only think of four MPs whose currency in my mind has not been devalued and those are Ken Clarke, Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn and Caroline Lucas (I’m sure there should be more but those are the ones that came to mind) – all on the losing side of the argument of course. I remember on an evening in September 2015 (when my young friend Findlay Wilde made an excellent speech) talking to Caroline Lucas and being taken aback when she said that she was afraid there was a real possibility that we might lose the EU referendum – that was a shock at the time and it lodged in my mind.
- wildlife NGOS – they didn’t look like players in the debate and now they will be focussing on shoring up their finances. There will be losses of jobs and of power and influence in many of the smaller wildlife NGOs (eg many county Wildlife Trusts, but also more generally). The RSPB now has to plan for a break up of the RSPB after a Scottish exit from the uUK – it might not happen, but then again, it might happen within two years (see the words at the top of p290 in Fighting for Birds). The RSPB and WWF, who are the strongest players in their networks in Europe, will be greatly diminished in enthusiasm and ability to influence EU policy and the whole of the EU’s wildlife will suffer.
- Hen Harriers – Yes, let’s make the point here. The fact that many Special Protection Areas for birds, notified under the EU Birds Directive, are vastly underachieving in terms of their Hen Harrier populations is not a very powerful argument in a uUK heading out of the EU. Likewise, the RSPB complaint against the uUK government about failure to implement the Habitats Directive properly in protecting blanket bogs from excessive burning will now fizzle out and will have gained us nothing whatsoever – because we are now in Brexit limbo. And the RSPB Skydancer project is EU-funded, remember.
- David Cameron – the PR PM gambled with our future for party political reasons (I believe) and lost his job, the uUK and may have started the break up of the EU as a result – quite a legacy just to try, and fail, to keep the Tory right under control. Tony Blair would never have made that mistake.
- Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove – all seem to be winners, but all look clueless about where we go from here and their lack of a plan will be their downfall. Their best day was 22 June – it’s downhill all the way from there.
- Jeremy Corbyn – this is a tricky one. I voted for Corbyn to be Labour Leader, partly because the rest of the field looked hopeless, and despite misgivings about his EU stance (and other areas too of course). My assumption, totally wrong, was that we would vote to Remain whatever Corbyn said or did and then we could get on with life. Corbyn’s assessment of 7 out of 10 for the EU was actually quite right – I’d give it 7.5 out of 10 myself – but that was in comparison to a 2 out of 10 for the Brexit option. Corbyn now faces a vote of no confidence and may be gone in days or weeks. This is slightly odd for a party leader who has shown himself to be in tune with a large part of the traditional voters of his party. All those solid Labour seats in Wales and the north which voted for Brexit – not my choice remember – but Corbyn was in tune with them but tried to hide it.
- the parliamentary Labour Party – when I heard Ben Bradshaw (Radio 4 again, of course) saying on Friday morning (I was looking over Gunnerside and Grinton at the time I remember) that Labout is a pro-EU party it seemed to me to exemplify the gulf between Labour MPs (many of whom I admire and with many of whom I agree) and Labour voters. Difficult time ahead.
- farmers – we won’t decide to pay farmers just for being farmers in the new set-up. We can take our money back to pay for the NHS, foreign holidays and a countryside that we want, or just go down the pub with Nigel Farage.
- the EU – will it exist in anything like its current shape in five years’ time?
- the Green Party – I wouldn’t advise you to jump ship from Labour yet, but the lifeboat for the disappointed Left looks like the Green Party.
- the LibDems – Tim Farron is a bit of a twit, but he sounded quite good on the radio (Radio 4 of course) on Friday – slightly shrill but lots of passion.
- Brexit voters who die soon – only because they won’t see the mess that is made of what they wanted.