Friday, 24 June 2016

Nobody knows what happens next.

The unexpected happened, and sterling fell off a cliff. It seemed that the majority did not quite believe that Brexit would really brexit. Many people thought the vote might be close, but the shrewd money was on the dear old British public reverting to their usual default mode which is one of phlegmatic, pragmatic steadiness. (I once wrote an entire essay on this premise, using it as an explanation for the reason that Britain had no nineteenth century revolution as Europe went into the raging, radical spasms of 1830 and 1845. Britain quietly passed the Second Reform Act and the Repeal of the Corn Laws and went on with her business.) But the Ordinary Decent Britons did not choose pragmatism. Half of them voted for steadiness, and half of them voted for revolution, and the revolutionary half won.

The markets started crashing so hard that some of them had to be suspended. The pound fell deeper and faster than it has since 1972. It made Black Wednesday look like the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The leaders of the Brexit movement who spoke to the media were oddly unBritish about the whole thing, at least they did not speak in the restrained, sporting, self-deprecating way that I think of as Britishness at its best. They celebrated and whooped, whilst the economy faltered and stumbled and fell. When asked about that, they said, airily: ‘Oh, you have to expect a bit of economic volatility.’ Someone had sent out that word. I heard it three times. One of them stated, rather crossly, when asked about the plummeting pound: ‘This is Project Fear again.’ 

I felt confused. This was not Project Fear, it was Project Reality. The very thing the experts had warned about was coming true, before my stretched eyes. I did not understand those Brexit leaders. I did not understand what they were celebrating so blithely. I did not understand their tone. If I were in their shoes, I would be sober, and humble, and firm of purpose, and slightly chastened. I would temper my day of jubilee with a serious acceptance of the consequences, of the turmoil unfolding all around.

I would not be saying, as Nigel Farage said, that this was ‘a victory for real people, for decent people.’ The blatant implication was that I, who felt defeated, obviously did not count as a real person or a decent person. Everybody I talked to, in the same state of shock and desolation, could not be, in the Farage book, real or decent. What were we? Unreal and indecent? The country, riven, needed reassurance, the promise of unity, and it got Us and Them.

I could not sit still as the Today Programme unfolded. I went out into the sunshine, marching the dogs off their feet, desperately dialling the numbers of old friends. I spoke first to a man I have adored since we were eighteen. He runs a business; he is one of those company bosses that the Brexit leadership said needed a wake-up call. His share price had tumbled thirty percent. ‘I’m worried about the pension funds,’ he said.  He was not concerned for himself, but for those pensions. That was one of my original frets. I had the real people in my head, despite what Mr Farage had to say about it. I was worried about Mrs Everywoman, who had saved all her life, and her pension, which was now fading before her eyes..

I spoke to another old friend, who is a freelance photographer. ‘I don’t know what to do or where to go,’ he said. ‘There is no one who speaks for me. I’m damn well going into politics. I’m going to start a new party. It’s time for the SDP 2.0, for the progressive voice.’

I called one of the best of the best beloveds, who started up a business from scratch that makes television programmes. He has worked his arse off for twenty years, to make it a success. ‘I don’t understand anything,’ he said. ‘It does not feel real.’

My dear friend the World Traveller, who once rode the silk route on Mongolian ponies and camels from God knows where, and is not afraid of much, drove up to my door, a blank look on her face. ‘I find this very frightening,’ she said. ‘I want to live in a country that is open and welcoming and diverse.’ We talked of the extraordinary, dedicated Polish woman who was one of my mother’s carers during her final illness, who worked two jobs, who came back in after a long day, gave her children their tea, and then went out for a night shift. ‘How can I look her in the face, after all this?’ my friend said.

In a daze, I drove up to the charity where I volunteer. I saw a gentleman who was once in the King’s Troop. ‘I know one person who will be pleased,’ he said, grimly. ‘Mr Putin will be rubbing his hands together in glee.’ I was introduced to a visiting brigadier, very upright, radiating intelligence. ‘I really don’t know what happens next,’ he said. If the brigadier does not know, I wondered, dolefully, then who does?

I suddenly realised, as I got home, that I had spoken to a perfect cross-section of society, from old to young, from metropolitan to rural, from the boss of a blue chip company to an Oxford graduate to a man who was brought up in a children’s home to a veteran who fought for his country. I spoke to a mother, an ex-policewoman, a Royal Marine, a retired book dealer, a man in the arts. All had the same shell-shocked, dazed response. I thought of that little charity, which is making a difference, which is just finding its feet and ready to expand its work. How will we raise the funds we need now?

My adored stepfather, who is still reeling from the loss of my mother, stared bleakly into his now uncertain old age. ‘I did not want my final years to be like this,’ he said, very quietly. ‘I no longer know what they hold for me.’

How, I thought, will anyone work out what happens next?

Yet, this is the demos. The people have spoken. Their decision is heartfelt, and must be honoured and valued.

But it does not feel quite as simple as that. Seventeen million people got what they wanted. Sixteen million are left voiceless and powerless and bewildered. They watch the world markets falling, as billions of pounds and dollars and yen are wiped off the global economy. They sit in shock as big companies already announce that they are moving jobs from London to Dublin and Frankfurt. They try to comprehend that Britain has gone from the fifth richest nation to the sixth, in one night. They, real people that they are, worry for the future their children must face. 

Democracy is the thing I believe in passionately, yet here in Scotland, whose people voted to Remain to the tune of 62%, the result feels oddly jarring, not very democratic at all. (It feels, to my irrational mind, as if the rest of the country has said: you don't count. Of course it is not as simple as that, but that is what it feels like.) The will of the people is what all this is about, but the Britons under twenty-five, 72% of whom wanted to stay in, have their will ignored. And they are the ones who will have to live longest with this result. ‘What about the young people?’ says one of the old friends, on a dying fall.

This is not like a general election. In a normal election, if you back the wrong horse, or hate the result, you get another go in a few years. You suck up your disappointment and butch up for the next fight. This is for good and all. There is no going back, no second chance. I have seen people on Twitter saying that it is a brave new dawn, and that those of us who don’t like it should be quiet and stop whining. But surely if this is about the voters, about democracy, about real people with real human hearts, the sixteen million should be honoured just as the seventeen million are. Their feelings should be allowed to exist. Their freedom of expression should be respected. They should be heard.

I am not pointing fingers or calling people names. I am not even saying that the Brexiteers are wrong. I don’t know that they are wrong, any more than they know that they are right. Perhaps those sunlit uplands of which Boris Johnson spoke will one day make themselves seen. But the reality of this moment is uncertainty, instability, a chaos that did not exist yesterday, and did not have to exist today. I simply feel bereft, sorrowful and as if the ground that I stand on is no longer solid.

Because nobody, nobody, knows what happens next. 


  1. Very well said, thank you.

  2. Beautifully put Tania. I woke up this morning on holiday in Rome to the news that Britain had voted for Brexit. As one of the sixteen million, born and raised in Scotland, living in Oxford and spend a fair proportion of my working life in London. All of the bits of Britain which I feel are home voted to remain, and I too feel bereft.

  3. Beautifully put Tania. I woke up this morning on holiday in Rome to the news that Britain had voted for Brexit. As one of the sixteen million, born and raised in Scotland, living in Oxford and spend a fair proportion of my working life in London. All of the bits of Britain which I feel are home voted to remain, and I too feel bereft.

  4. It's interesting to read this. Where I am in Wiltshire, a lot of people were leave. I'm not (I work in financial services and my head/heart argument was the reverse of yours, but my head won) but the out-pouring of vitriol today by remainers has just been awful. The implication that people who voted out are too stupid and bigoted to do otherwise or really be trusted with a say (from deeply London centric friends) is what has actually reduced me to tears. People voted out for a reason: possibly not because they are anti EU but they did and if we have any hope we need to work to heal the rifts. Social media (Facebook) is making my blood boil today. I think I've been reading too much Trollope. I loved what you wrote yesterday.

  5. Tania, I'm in Houston Texas, just an ordinary woman. After the Orlando incident I feel afraid for the 1st time in my life. Texan's are strong people, even us girls. I don't know what the answer is, however, I'm voting for Donald Trump, as most of us are, because we think everyone single person in Washington DC needs to retire, we need a clean sweep, one to get rid of the career politicians and to put government back in the hands of the citizens, having "real" representation. One of my best friends is a Brit of some stature who lives here...he was SO for the exit he vowed he would not return to the UK if they did not leave the EU. I don't know. I think we are all just sick of seeing our countries change before our eyes, even though we KNOW everything changes, we just want it to change for the better. We have Hispanic illegals here, taking over school boards on up...and the Middle Eastern population is huge because of our oil capitol. We have signs in Spanish which none of us like, and a small spot in town is now called the MahatmaGhandi district???? None of us Americans want those Middle Eastern refugees resettled here. None of us. Because we see what some of them have done, we know there are terrorists among them. We have enough problems with American lunatics, whom none of us have the right to report. I have 5 little grandchildren. I'm worried for them. What to do, what to do?

  6. I live in Canada ,cannot believe the outcome.This leads me to believe Trump has a chance ,and the very fact that a person can spew hatred towards just about anyone,and still gets votes scares me.Nothing is perfect ,but hatred is not the answer.Putin will be pleased.

  7. I am the only member of my (birth) family, immediate and extended, who lives outside the United States. As an American abroad with close contacts to family members and friends across the USA, I can say with certainty that the people I know, almost to a person are NOT voting for Donald Trump and do not see terrorists under every bed, behind (or inside) every immigrant....
    This kind of fear-mongering about the "other" is a common thread linking Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders (in The Netherlands) and Marie Le Pen (in France).

    Unfortunately, with the Brexit vote I have to agree with comedian Lily Tomlin: "It's going to get worse before it gets worse."

  8. The problem wasn't with democracy or the vote. It was that a referendum was put before the people, even as most voters had (have) little idea as to what it means to be part of the EU. (I write this even as I am very much in support of the EU and the UK staying in the EU, and indeed, though I am American and live in the US, I am also a Pole and therefore a citizen of the EU.) Many people elect presidents, prime ministers, congress men and women without having a clue as to what the person will do for them or their country. But an EU referendum is different. It's very specific and requires very specific knowledge and it's a decision that should not be made by those who mostly vote on feeling.

    I listen to all this finger pointing at globalization, immigration etc etc. and I think -- wow, we didn't mind nor care so long as the world's poor stayed clear of our soil. Now that we do business there and they try to come here, we suddenly want to protect our turf. As if it really is "our" turf and "they" have no right to any of its riches.


  9. Thanks again for finding words when most of us have no words. Down here in London, the world has changed colour. We feel invisible, marginalised and betrayed. But now we have to ask, is that how the people of Wales felt? The North East? Yesterday I felt furious with the Brexit three, today it is Labour I am cursing. They failed to connect (Forster again) with their voters in the regions to make them feel both that Europe was the best way and also that they were included in our brave new world. So now we are all going to pay. I have never before, not even in the Thatcher years, felt embarrassed to be British. But then I suppose you felt that democracy was doing its work, and there was always the next election to right the balance. This time, I think Lily Tomlin is right (thanks previous commenter) It's going to get worse before it gets worse.
    When Jo Cox was killed last week I was in Turkey and I said to a friend, this has never happened in my country before. "Welcome to my world," she said. We've been lucky in Britain, with our established liberal values that stretch across left and right to find a hazy yet somehow functional centre ground. In other countries, most perhaps, they have more experience of this terrifying sense of instability. (My partner is much calmer than me right now because he comes from a country where you never felt that any-one, or any-one decent, was in control.) Sorry, I'm rambling. But right now, it feels good to connect, thanks as always, Rachel

  10. You must have Michaels number.....or call Sarah. Ask, "what now Michael? What is the plan now?" I'm shocked that you mention calling all of these anonymous friends with no mention of the obvious elephant on the blog - your friends Sarah Vine and Michael Gove. I'm sorry Tania but it's weird Timor mention that you have a direct line to one of the men who has brought about this utter tragedy. Rachel

  11. Rachel, my thoughts precisely. It is disingenuous of Tania to miss this connection off her list. Unless of course there has been a falling out between them all. I note with interest that the follow-up book Tania and Sarah were meant to have been be co-writing quite some time ago has so far not been published and is never mentioned on these pages.

  12. You have summed it up so well, Tanya. I have been unfaithful to your blog for a long time, but I will now visit more often.


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