Wow. Well I doubt I’ll see many days bigger than this in UK politics. Like so many votes in referendums – which are almost always a terrible idea – the vote has been based in large part on grievance, stoked by populist campaigns offering disingenuously soothing visions of the future available if the public would follow their lead. It’s also been about identity: a great many Leave voters, even low information ones, didn’t go into this blind – when pressed by the media, pollsters or focus group leaders about the economic costs, and forced to acknowledge their reality, many fell back to a position that basically said “doesn’t matter; identity and immigration concerns trump those, as does kicking the ‘establishment'” One can share or reject (as I do) that worldview, but it is a choice, and it’s proven to have more appeal than anyone expected.
What worries me most as of today is that so many of the reassurances Leave voters have been given about what it means either don’t reflect the real policy intentions of our likely post-Brexit leaders, or aren’t within the realm of what could possibly be delivered even if they tried. There is a nostalgia-flavoured Utopianism running right through the world of national community and economic security promised by Leave. Not having expected to win, I doubt those who will now take charge have the first idea how to go about meeting the expectations they have raised. In many regards I doubt it is possible. And Utopian visions curdled into fury at perceived betrayal can be among the most dangerous forces in politics. We’re already half way there.
The fan-fiction writer in me wants to imagine a world in which an early election is forced, the electorate surprises everyone by plumping for Labour, and the Lexit fantasy of a left-wing govt free of all EU constraint is elected. If only because then everyone will have had a taste of unintended consequences and been acquainted with the danger of romanticising the electorate’s impulses. But I rather doubt that or anything like it is coming. Instead I think we shall see further movement to the right in government, failure to deliver on most of what Leave voters believed they were promised, and another cycle of escalating popular discontent and demagoguery. All against the backdrop of at the very least harmful economic instability, at worst a painful recession.
Unless the Conservatives blink, decide this was all much more fun in theory than now it’s their circus to run, and try to find a way of diverting the snowball now more than half way down the mountain before the Leaving is actually done. In which case all bets are off. In fact, what am I saying?: All bets are off already. Good luck out there, people. I’m quite certain we’ll be needing it.