Out, and into the world

It’s quite a curious feeling to be in the majority but still feel isolated and defensive. As a postgraduate degree level Londoner I share my social media, office, commute and friendship groups with an overwhelmingly pro-EU remain crowd. Standing up, standing out within this group and asserting my own pro-Brexit position has been profoundly uncomfortable but (yes there’s a running analogy of course…) just like a threshold effort 10k, when you suck-it-up and get on with it, the very action of doing so is liberatingly enjoyable.

In the days leading up to the referendum, I posted a few timeline posts on Facebook, generating hundreds of comments. I tried, diplomatically to respond and debate. I had some  enjoyable and educational contributions combined with no little animosity and incredulity elsewhere. It was a hard ride, one minute I felt grateful for the praise levelled at my thoughts, the next I felt bruised by unwarranted aggression, spite and misunderstanding. In the days immediately following the decision I spent my Facebook time simply liking or single-sentence commenting on others’ output. I have posted nothing on my own timeline since it is not a time to be overtly triumphalist. I’ve been a big fan of Daniel Hannan’s approach throughout the campaign and his sensitive and mindful reconciliatory words on the morning of the 24th stayed with me – the 48% who voted to Remain will be distressed indeed.

I’d like to think that, had the Remain camp won, then we Leavers would have been magnanimous in defeat, of course we can never know. By contrast, Remainers have not been, and my goodness me how they showed it! Post after post after post flecked with invective and bilious anger at the millions of people who had the temerity to disagree with their view. May were the same people who not 24 hours before had insisted we vote for ‘love not hate’ and were out there in spades howling at their heretics. Hate for those with age on their side for example; A particularly asinine table was widely shared that showed the demographics of Leave voters skewed towards the older generation. Interesting and worthy of debate as to why, of course, but the addition of a ‘Number of years they have to live with their decision’ column showed a bitter and arrogant side to the millennial that was hard to swallow. By this logic, they would presumably accept their own views will be nullified when they reach 65+ or  presuming they were to be diagnosed with a terminal illness they would not be allowed to vote? The trouble is, rational thinking has taken a leave of absence. Presently, the inner Chimp is in control. Countless preposterous, petulant petitions were set up to variously move London into a City state inside the EU, invoke a second (third, fourth…) referendum, annul the result and so on. The tub-thumping Shoreditch socialites were clamouring for marches and protests whilst conveniently forgetting that their last uprising resulted in the ineffectual Corbyn being elected. So right now we find ourselves very much in the anger and denial stages of the Kübler-Ross model:


Whilst this model has been challenged, I find it a compelling articulation of what I’ve seen and read in the past 48 hours. To that end, and perhaps the discomfort of many, I have taken snapshots of the worst of these angst-ridden posts to create a time-capsule and monitor the progress of their output as the country moves toward its new future. Will their predictions prove correct, their fears unfounded and their outpourings tinged with shame in years to come? For balance, I have taken snapshots of fellow Leavers’ comments – will their optimism and positivity bear fruit or will regret take hold? Everyone, of course, has their right to be sad, to be angry and confused and it’s simply symptomatic of the digital age that we see far more of it now that it’s shared so effortlessly online. A generation ago the sentiment of the country would trickle into the media slowly from bus stop chatter, office conversations, neighbours and the letters pages of newspapers, now it’s here, ejaculated into the miasma through the Facebook timeline algorithm.

It was something I identified (irked by Toynbee’s piece), then posted and got rounded-on eight days before the vote:

[Have any of you] thought just for one second that your rosy view of the EU and its titanic contribution to the nation might not be shared by the nation outside the M25, and crucially, why not?

The pitchfork wielding yokels disappointed you by voting Tory didn’t they? The idiots, how could they be so ignorant? And now, the stupid regional leather-faced builders, hygienists, cafe owners, dry liners and postman are at it again. Sucked in by stupid Bojo, Gove and Farage … they’re so gullible, they’re so naively racist and bigotted! Why can’t they SEE how great Europe is, they should meet our Polish builder, he’s amazing and our Portuguese cleaner is the nuts! Can’t they see the redeveloped waterfront the EU paid for, aren’t they delighted by the clean beaches, their booze cruises and the working time directive? Of course, now it’s looking a little too likely that Leave might win, it’s time to roll out the Op-Ed pieces that we should never be trusted with important decisions because we make the wrong ones, you know, just like that snaggle-toothed winner on X Factor and Boaty McBoat Face. Democracy is brilliant you scream, but only when it’s sensible Londoners voting like we did with the mayor and certainly not when it’s this complicated.

Or maybe, just maybe, you could walk a mile in their shoes and understand why it is that millions of people just don’t quite march to the same beat that you do in Camden, Shoreditch, Peckham and Islington.

You might be angry they’re about to vote out and flood your feeds with cerebral musings from the broadsheets, lists of the great and good on the Remain side and sub-Vice videos of hipsters handing out tenners. Well done! Social media echo chamber FTW!

I’m angry and disappointed too that tolerance, empathy and understanding seems to be something the metropolitan elite can dip in and out of at will.

John Gibbard, Facebook 16 June 2016

I took some comfort that in the days following the result, much more capable writers than I addressed the ‘filter bubble’. The Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon railed against the whinging  whilst Owen Jones and Ian Leslie offered thoughtful pieces about acceptance, followed by what we should learn and practically do about the evident divisions. More than any other, this paragraph from Leslie’s piece stands out:

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

Hindsight, or perhaps more accurately, post rationalisation, has given me a chance to satisfy some of my own anxieties around the decision I made to vote Leave. This was a decision I made a month or so before polling day and one from which I barely wavered. My thoughts are fortunately documented on those Facebook posts and I stand by them today. I’ve questioned a little why it is that I found myself suddenly taking strength from the plight of the regions, a plight to which my own pro-austerity position has hardly assisted. This is the revelation, I discovered through the past weeks that the quiet and angry regions have suffered for longer and from more insidious and egregious policy decisions than I realised. Will Davies’ piece calls out many of these issues and the sociological implications of them and I’ll not repeat them all here, but one which stood out was the electorate’s pride and a desire to help themselves – to not be beholden to EU handouts. In effect, it was seeking to redress the London and Brussels-centric view of a people that could be marginalised and ignored whilst being propped up through poorly-considered welfare decisions. Austerity  tried to reduce the reliance on welfare and at the same time these communities developed a perception that immigrants were also getting the opportunities that they couldn’t. Personally, as a Londoner surrounded by immigration and integration I had no negative view on immigration and it didn’t affect my vote but I did get a sense that the regions had a grievance that we weren’t giving full credit to and that that grievance was could not be lazily attributed entirely to racism.

The ‘head and heart’ decision I came to took elements of nostalgia, of course it did, but nostalgia for the spirit, creativity, architecture, and engineering achievement of the Olympics in 2012, not the bucolic vision that AA Gill insisted we Leavers were trying to capture. It took elements of frustration, at the manner in which friends insisted that an out vote was one for ‘hate not love’, ‘isolation not inclusion’ (ignoring that non-EU countries like Norway and Switzerland are not this way); but it took more from my declared belief in this nation’s incredible capability. I asserted it thus:

I’m voting to leave the EU in order to think beyond an inevitable short-term economic storm, to think about a reset to the economy where an inevitable rise in inflation would lead to interest rates rises that could provide relief for investors and reset the dysfunctional housing market. I’m voting to see the exchange rate slump some, resetting our trade deficit and encouraging investment in export and production. I couldn’t give a toss about mobile phone bills in Europe, European safety standards and innumerable trivial issues all of which would end up being resolved by adopting existing practises or being legislated back in the UK by sensible and rational human beings.

I’m thinking beyond the self-interested parliamentary term. This is a long game where the first years may well be uncomfortable and tinged with uncertainty – the inconvenient truth is that economic modelling is woeful, truly awful and trying to make decisions on a 15-year prediction is nonsense. I seek a certainty where my son and his generation lives in a Sovereign nation in charge of its own affairs and able to negotiate not as a homogenous bloc of nations but as a capable, confident and assured nation with the world’s most spoken language and a growing economy ranked 5th in the world. Where the democratic process in Wards and Boroughs around the UK reflect the people who make the decisions in Westminster, Stormont, Cardiff and Holyrood.

John Gibbard, Facebook 7th June 2016

I read left and right wing press but was more compelled by the latter. I studied but didn’t fully understand this comprehensive critique of the Project Fear case, I listened to Hannan’s superb speech at The Spectator debate. I voted as a technologist who is passionately engaged in the expedition of trade, commerce and interaction across the world – a world that makes it as effortless to trade and engage (as my company has done) with India and South Africa as it does with Europe. I find it curiously amusing that so many of my colleagues find such relevance in geography at the same time as booking long weekends in Dubai and FaceTiming friends in Portland. In my piece from 7th June I  highlighted my expectation and desire that we would not turn away from Europe but would simply exist outside its bureaucratic interference; that we would remain members of NATO, the UN, EEA (with some concessions), WTO, Interpol, Europol, the G8, G20, the Council of Europe (which includes Russia and Turkey) all of these things are about cooperation and togetherness, a vote to Leave does not define me as being for isolation. Scientists clubbed together to insist that Brexit would be a disaster for collaboration their fields, conveniently ignoring the most successful scientific project in Europe, CERN, exists in Geneva outside of the Union.

In no other part of the world do we expect nations to apologise for wanting to set their own laws, regulations and agreements, the US would never concede to having to take regulations imposed by its neighbours, the Australians are not expected to join a law-making union with New Zealand and the Pacific Islands nor admonished for not doing so.

Happily, in many ways, my vote was aligned with my academic and professional career for customer and user centricity. Making Britain able to write independent trade agreements with whoever we choose under terms that benefit our relationship with our customers. Opening us out to the world, not fixated on the EU (and shackled by their sclerotic trade agreements), to rebalance our appalling trade deficit, reawaken our ‘exportise’ [sic] and provide opportunities to help ourselves meet the demands of the eager audience for our goods and services.

Consider this then my subdued celebratory post, that a nation voted by a majority for an idea I believe in, an opportunity not for a risk and that now we can put our shoulder to the wheel and begin to set ourselves to that task. I write this fully in the knowledge that there are terrible idiots surfing the same wave and using it as an opportunity to pedal racism and division, that is inexcusable. I have to believe this is as temporary as the more harmless social media Remain backlash. As mentioned in my opening, I have stayed quietened in part it is that there is a general assumption that by simply voting for the same political outcome I am assumed to share the beliefs of a minority of anti-immigrationists. I don’t and have said as such many times. So whilst I can sit watching the FTSE and Sterling self-level in the coming days and feel happy that the economy will be ok, I cannot be so sure that the social divisions will heal so quickly.

Finally, perhaps there’s still that chink of light for the Remainers to flock toward, Teebs’ comment in the Guardian hints that the Government have the option at least to ignore the country and teeter on the brink of Brexit for a little while yet.

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