Following the fall-out of the Brexit campaign, Getintothis’ Joseph Viney offers a personal reflection of the almighty mess we find ourselves in.
What was the worst part of Britain’s European Referendum for you? Was it the winning ‘Leave’ vote throwing the country headlong into years – if not decades – of economic uncertainty? Was it the spate of racist and homophobic attacks that threw broken bones and burned-out butcher’s shops onto our front pages? Perhaps it was the entrenchment of the divisions and bitterness in our society that mar our soggy little island as we tumble into this brave new world?
Trick question: they’re all as bad as each other. And that’s before you even consider the murder of Labour’s MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox. Yet at the heart of these tumultuous and unpredictable events something far more sinister pulses: the breath-taking pace at which our political classes have shifted from their usual smattering of broken promises into bold-faced lies. The fallout of the Referendum saw an immediate nosedive into what we may deem the ‘Post-Truth’ age of politics.
The foundations upon which the likes of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove built the Leave campaign were quickly and ruthlessly exposed as quicksand, even as a bleary-eyed Britain woke up on Friday morning bidding so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen and goodnight to the European Union.
But these revelations didn’t come from whipsmart journalists or members of the public. They didn’t come from leaked documents or a well-placed Whitehall ‘Deep Throat’. The admissions were given by the very same people who had spent months (or in Farage’s case, an entire political life) espousing the virtues of leaving the European community.
The Leave campaign hinged on two huge promises. One relied upon the semi-mythical figure of £350m that the UK was said to send to the EU per week. That money, claimed Vote Leave, would be better served being pumped into the perma-prefixed “ailing” National Health Service and by jove that’s what they were going to jolly well do.
The second promise was a swirl of anti-immigrant sentiment suffused with vague mumbles about “sending people back” to undetermined places. The notion was as flighty as a bubble and replete with a similar structural integrity; a nauseous consequence of sustained racist language and dog-whistling from our country’s national media.
Indeed, by 6:53am on the fateful morning after, Messrs Farage and Dan Hannan MEP had already reneged on these promises. A shake of the head and a “Well actually…” was followed by the droning bleats of millions who felt they’d been hoodwinked.
Within 72 hours, each and every platform upon which Vote Leave had hoisted their grubby petard had disappeared into the ether as the media and the public spun in angry circles like a drunk checking their pockets after waking up in the gutter with a blistering hangover.
It’s a little trite to paste epithets like ‘Kafkaesque’ and ‘Orwellian’ onto political events, but the deceit, manipulation and constant lies of Vote Leave match no other descriptors. Even Big Brother’s O’Brien, at the zenith of torturing Winston Smith, waving a hand that shifts from three to four to five fingers in the blink of an eye, would offer an impressed nod.
Iain Duncan Smith – Mr Burns with less humanity – stood in front of the nation and claimed he’d said no such thing, despite the blaring evidence to the contrary: “Our promises were a series of possibilities”. Other prominent figures in the camp were similarly exposed and stuck to their guns: “We didn’t say that at all” was their verbal testudo. Even Vote Leave’s Twitter account denied anything, despite their backdrop saying the exact opposite.
By Sunday June 26, Johnson completed the toss-laden trifecta by writing in The Telegraph that “Britain is part of Europe – and always will be” – a literal contradiction to the terms that over 17 million British people had voted for. His cannonball into the waters of fantasy politics created a veritable tsunami of bullshit, going on to claim that UK nationals can live and work in the EU with the opposite not applying.
As the pound plummeted faster than an elderly man’s testicles as a direct result of the Referendum, Farage again stood before the assembled media and lied in his gapped, crooked way; appearing to revel in the fact the country was headed for a recession, “but nothing to do with Brexit”.
But the Dutch Elm Disease of lies that spread through the roots of our nation’s politics so quickly wasn’t confined to one camp. The knock-on effect saw fit to drag Labour into the mire, with Jeremy Corbyn facing his own political Stalingrad; under siege from strict, war-mongering invaders who think they know better.
Angela Eagle – MP for Wallasey since 1992 – has thrown her hat into the ring for what promises to be an undignified and embarrassing brawl across the Commons and the front pages.
“Under your leadership the case to remain in the EU was made with half-hearted ambivalence,” she wrote in her resignation letter on June 27. “I have come to the conclusion you are not the right person to lead the party we both love.”
Fourteen days earlier she told the media that “Jeremy is up and down the country pursuing an itinerary that would make a 25-year-old tired, he has not stopped”.
“The political elite need to lay off Jeremy Corbyn” she wrote in July 2015 on Labour List, before using her powers as part of the political elite to try and oust Corbyn despite his historically large mandate from the Labour Party membership.
Even Tom Watson – a master of PR since he goes to Glastonbury like the other plebs he holds contempt for – saw fit to lie to our faces boldy and repeatedly.
Machiavelli, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Bill Clinton, Bush Sr and Jr…politics has forever been saddled with slimy individuals who skirt the truth, but the new age of Post-Truth Politics in Britain is a fantasy that would bring George R.R. Martin to a shuddering orgasm.
There’s enough literary references in this article but let’s try one more. The new landscape of our society and our politics – indeed our very future as a nationstate and part of a continent – is now in the hands of a freewheeling Ballardian narrative; the twisted metal of distorted reality and half-muttered phrases that mean something and nothing all at once. A country where lying in advertising will bring about severe fines and may be the ruin of a company, but guiding a country to the singing sirens on the rocks of economic and social isolation – and being proved as liars all the while – is just fine.
It serves only to feed the joyous crowing of the alt-right. Their rusting decadent opulence of thought and opinion drenches the world in the faux-intellectual jizz that emanates from the glittery, pustule-ridden ballsack of news media that houses the likes of Breitbart, the Mail, the Express and of course, the Paper That Shall Never Be Named. The latter’s about-turn from all-out race hatred to a softly-softly ‘we are one’ approach is frightening in its practical application of double-think.
And yet the majority of the country have swallowed it. Much in the same way the USA accepted the death of children in mass shootings as part of the fabric of their everyday life, we in Britain must now face up to the fact that our governments and opposition will tell us two distinctly different things and still win.
It’s impossible to lie back and think of England when you’ve been so rudely pushed to your knees. This our Post-Truth, tell us yours.