Brexit was a wake up call - but a wake up to what? A nightmare of Farage proportions that drags Britain further into an Atlantic of fear and chronic isolation? Or a wake up to mend our broken democracy and heal a profoundly torn society? If you agree we want a society where ‘taking control’ means our being capable of shaping a future with the rest of the world, not one where we are ‘controlled’ by our past like a straight-jacket, then we need to understand, I mean really understand, why Brexit happened, what it means and how we build a future we want.
On the night of 23rd June the country signalled a democratic intent to stop being a member of the European Union. It did not stop being European – and Europe’s positive ambitions of cooperation, civility, progress and enlightened hope lives on. As Europeans we can still keep this flame alive. If this is what you want – then this is a book for you.
As both a passionate European and a long time campaigner for democracy and liberty, I analysed the referendum in openDemocracy, writing a weekly overview, Blimey, it could be Brexit! Now, I’m building on this to write a forensic explanation of why Brexit happened and a call to action: THE LURE OF GREATNESS.
I’ll show how the forces that lay behind Brexit, each explosive in its own way, shook the world and have started something like a democratic civil war here in Britain. I’ll argue this creates an extraordinary if painful opportunity. The forces include: the English question of voice and identity; the intensely unequal nature of the neoliberal economy and its mantra that ‘there is no alternative’; a venal political class personified by Blair and Cameron; the cartel character of the EU itself; the strange absentee weakness of the left and the rise of new, mass movements of all kinds.
The immediate result is paradoxical and contradictory. Immigration was attacked but England itself is now like an asylum seeker on the world stage looking for partners. EU regulation was spurned but ‘Take Back Control’, the slogan of the Leave campaign, is a call for more government not less. A fundamental pillar of the unwritten constitution - that our legislators decide what is best – is shattered. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe and may separate from the English and Welsh.
The last months of 2016 are likely to be the phoney war before the real battle over Brexit begins. Can the people of these European islands regroup to create an honest democracy, environmentally balanced, economically fair, institutionally inventive and politically free?
Help me show how we can. Please subscribe to THE LURE OF GREATNESS. We aim to have finished copies early in 2017. Thank you.
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INTRODUCTION: THE REVOLT OF THE NATIVES
If you are young and British you have had your freedom to move, live, love and work in another country of our continent taken away from you by the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Your right to be a European and, just as important, your right to welcome Europeans to live with you, has been removed. Perhaps your expectations were unspoken and it is only now you realise something precious has been lost that is akin to bereavement.
Since the end of the Second World War we have seen both individual freedoms and shared human rights develop and strengthen across Europe. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel grew up in East Germany behind the wall that literally divided her country. No one was at liberty to cross it without permission or they put their life at risk. For her in an extreme form, but also for hundreds of millions of us, freedom to move means the end to a kind of imprisonment. Even if most of us decide to stay in our own country, this is a chosen destination when we have the freedom not just to travel but also to settle, temporarily or permanently, anywhere across the EU. Now, a new wall has been thrown up across part of Europe. At the moment the barrier is just a declaration. Perhaps it is all the more alarming because its meaning and consequences are still unclear.
Put the pain to one side for a moment. When 17.5 million people voted to take the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland out of the European Union by a majority of one and a quarter million, they did at least three things: they repudiated their governing elite; they challenged the oligarchy of the European Union and its associated network of global power, even if they did so by walking away; and they tore our country apart from our neighbours in a dangerous fashion that risks turning it into a closed and bigoted place.Read more...
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