Gary Younge writes: On polling day the Leave campaign reminded us that we were the fifth-largest economy in the world and could look after ourselves. By the following afternoon our currency was sufficiently decimated that we had fallen to sixth, behind France.
In the ensuing panic, some politicians argued that we could simply ignore the referendum result: David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, suggested it was “advisory and non-binding”, and urged parliament to call another referendum, in order to avert economic catastrophe. A huge number of people petitioned the government to do the same – while the eminent barrister Geoffrey Robertson insisted a second referendum was not necessary to overturn the result: parliament could just vote it down. “Our democracy does not allow, much less require, decision-making by referendum,” he wrote. “Democracy has never meant the tyranny of the simple majority, much less the tyranny of the mob.”
It was argued that we could not leave the final word on such momentous decisions to ordinary voters: they didn’t know what they really wanted, or they had been tricked into wanting something that would hurt them, or they were too ignorant to make informed choices, or maybe they quite simply wanted the wrong thing. A significant portion of the country was in the mood for one big do-over – a mood enhanced by considerable class contempt and the unmistakable urge to cancel the universal franchise for “stupid people” incapable of making the right decisions.
Everything had changed – we had decided to end a more than 40-year relationship with our continental partners and the consequences were far-reaching. In Scotland independence was once again in play; in Westminster, resignations from the shadow cabinet came by the hour; in the City, billions were wiped off by the day. Indeed, one of the few things that didn’t budge was the very issue that had prompted it all: our membership of the European Union. The only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know how and when we will actually leave it. We are simultaneously in freefall and at a standstill, in a moment of intense and collective disorientation. We don’t know what is happening and it is happening very fast.
But the only thing worse than the result and its consequences is the poisonous atmosphere that made it possible. The standard of our political discourse has fallen more precipitously than the pound and cannot be revived as easily. This did not happen overnight, and the sorry conduct of the referendum campaign was only the latest indication of the decrepit state of our politics: dominated by shameless appeals to fear, as though hope were a currency barely worth trading in, the British public had no such thing as a better nature, and a brighter future held no appeal. Xenophobia – no longer closeted, parsed or packaged, but naked, bold and brazen – was given free rein. [Continue reading…]