In part two of our Brexit segment, the conversation in Jacqueline’s multicultural suburb is coloured by a lack of clear information, racism, and a fear of the worst.
You ask, what is going on? I have to laugh because people are asking me this all the time. The answer is, “I don’t have a clue.” And I am not alone. The main complaint, from the public at large, is that there is no proper information, no hard facts. You cannot predict the future, but now you might as well read your horoscope.
I am a dedicated lieutenant of Star Trek (the original series. What else?) so I am prepared for every eventuality. But seen from the flight deck of the Enterprise, the whole thing is dazzlingly free from conspiracy theories. In fact, there does not seem to be a plan at all. When the main players are asked simple questions they glaze over. They make it up as they go along and then of course Chinese whispers take over, and they are very effective. They don’t call it Chinese whispers for nothing.
Migration has taken centre stage. It is the story of the world. There is a belief that all problems will disappear when you kick all the foreigners out. So it is not surprising that there was a short outbreak of panic. I must admit that I never gave it much thought. I am so homogenised, that it does not affect me. What did begin to irritate me, was the cheap insults against whole peoples, in particular the Poles. What scares people, many Brits included, is that in the current climate the Europeans, the lot of them, are to blame for all ills.
The European is the enemy.
I was in one of my pit stops for breakfast on the spot Boris Johnson, our former mayor and now a cheerleader for Leave, dubbed Silicon Round a Bout. That was when he still liked us. My neighbourhood, Shoreditch, is not just the hipster colony par excellence, but is supposed to be the ‘real competition’ for Silicon Valley. It runs on a constant supply of fresh, clever, whiz kid blood, and they are a true multinational melting pot.
Filip, the owner (Spanish with a Japanese wife) came to me and said, “Que pasa, What the hell is happening?”
I said, “How do I know?”
“How is my amigo, Ridha.”
I said, “He is feeling better. It was all tension.”
It is the same breakfast, but a wholly different mood. What was inconceivable a month ago is suddenly a real possibility. Britain may actually leave the EU. Jobs could be on the line. Business is on hold. On top of that, there is a sudden vulnerability. Everybody knows Ridha in this ‘hub’ of self confidence and go getting types. If this can happen to him, who is next? In my breakfast spot, the idea began to circulate that ‘we will all be kicked out.’
In a BBC TV debate from Cardiff in Wales, a young woman and fresh graduate said to the panel of politicians and other clever people, “You forget that this is about real people with real lives.” It is as Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs says in NCIS. ‘Forget about the bigger picture, always keep focusing on the close up.’
What could have been, and ought to have been, a rejuvenating debate on democracy, on the bigger issues that affect us all on a global level, has become an undignified affair. It is a lion on the loose. People are taking it personally. Everybody is angry, or has a score to settle. Everybody is shouting. It has opened a hornet’s nest of festering concerns, prejudice, outright racism, and false hope, and of course real and justified fears by the unskilled and the effects of globalisation. That should have been the discussion, but it is not.
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I think the problem is that everybody thinks it is about migrants. And migrants are other people, right? That might have been true once, but it is not now. Everybody travels, Australians more than anybody else in the world. They all want to spend a year in London and I understand that these days Dublin is the new black. This generation especially is used to doing what it wants, and living in other places, even temporarily, is part of their modus vivendi. And it looks good on their CV as well, of course. Look at our own children: they see the world as theirs and borders as something completely artificial. I think they don’t realise that what is happening today will take that freedom away from them. Boris wants to lock the doors of Britain, Trump plans to build a wall around the US: it is about migrants now, but will be about all of us tomorrow. That is why the complacency of people irritates the crap out of me. Sometimes I want to bash their heads together and yell at the top of my voice: wake up! You are sleepwalking into dictatorship! Australians are good at that anyway. They feel protected by the distance. ‘Down under’ is a great thing. But even that is no longer true. The world is a scarily small place.