Although it is exasperated by the ongoing dramas of Brexit negotiations with the EU the most noticeable thing about our leaving the EU is the amount of passionate divisions the Leave result has left within the UK body politic some 17 months after the event. Those who voted Remain still haven’t accepted the result to Leave and the ‘Leavers’ don’t accept that there won’t be backsliding so that in some way, we never get to actually leave the EU !
It is all rather odd, yet if you stop and think about it and especially with an eye to our history, this very sharp division in opinion is not unusual on Britain in fact it seems to be in our very DNA.
The Adversarial System
Perhaps it goes back many hundreds of years and the concept of “Trial by Combat” where some disputes would be settled by strength of arms. It is certainly true that from these origins there evolved the concept where it was possible to appoint a champion to fight on your behalf, a thing we still have to this day in our Courts where Lawyers take the place of armed men.
Although the establishment of English Common Law is seen as having started under Henry II and the Birth of a State, his ‘reforms’ in practical terms were based upon a system well established under the Saxons and further added to by the Normans after the 1066 invasion. But what is common is the concept of a ‘battle’ albeit held in a Court of two opposing sides and in effect a binary choice, Guilty or Not Guilty. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_law
It is an oddity of our political system that whilst there is no legal or other bar to it, we have rarely seen coalition governments in the UK, we have always maintained a two party system with one in power and the other available to take over if they fail, third parties rarely get a look in. Now whilst this may change in future years, up until now this is how we have worked as a nation and generally it seems to suit our temper.
I would suggest that the conflict over Brexit despite the extreme head bangers on both sides is actually healthy and in line with our history, all our major events and decisions have been that way, fierce and sharp divisions whether in the Wars of the Roses, the Reformation, the Civil War, the ‘Glorious Revolution and at many junctures along the way. The supposed ‘harmony’ the winners and supporters of the one view that prevailed, put over everything retrospectively is always baloney. A good example is WWII when “we stood alone”, prior to the outbreak of war there were many of the chattering classes that thought Adolph “quite an okay chap”, Winston Churchill was not universally loved but when the bombs fall, you have no choice which side you are on, you just get on with it !
Brexit will work out fine though inevitably not in the way anybody expects be they Leaver or Remainer I’m sure, life is rarely so simple nor so linear.
A bit like “Black Wednesday” when the UK got ejected from the ERM, George Soros made a billion by shorting Sterling and over the next couple of years the UK rebuilt its industrial base courtesy of a devalued £. Of course in the process the Conservatives under John Major had lost their reputation for “being good with the economy” with many of the electorate so that even though things were getting better that set up Blair and Labour to walk into Office in 1997 with a massive majority. Politics can be a bit of a fickle pig like that !
The Problem With the Establishment
I always find The Economist and the FT very funny because 17 months afterwards, they still haven’t got over the referendum result and seem to spend their time praying daily for plagues of locusts, famine and the deaths of the first born to fall upon the UK economy just to say they were right ! But their real problem is that their very orthodoxy and lack of insight prevents them from seeing what is in front of them with the result that although they are being shown the same thing expressed in many different ways, they still don’t grasp it. They say, “This isn’t right !” when really what they should be saying is “This was unexpected and different, what might this indicate ?”
If you go to a party where you are not known, most often people will ask you what you do for a living, this is natural because it is human nature to tie labels to other people, it makes them feel more comfortable it seems if they can classify everyone they meet. However when it comes to society and especially in periods of time when dynamic changes are taking place, you would be very foolish to tie labels on to things, far better to try and understand what is going on.
To those who imagine that “They know better and are the gatekeepers of all wisdom”, looking at Trump, Brexit, Marine Le Pen and the AfD in Germany, they look down their noses, tut about ignorance and populist movements. What they are missing is the understanding that whilst they may seem similar, each is peculiar to its own place and time, rather than focusing of the supposed ignorance of them collectively, they should look at what really unites them which is a grass roots desire for change, for trying something different from what is on offer from conventional sources.
If you look at Donald Trump, it is obvious that he is a doofus and totally unprepared for the job he’s got, in that respect he is just like Jeremy Corbyn who likewise is totally unfit for High Office. But you would not lump these two together apart from that because they maybe unfit but they are unfit in very different ways. Their respective supporters aren’t entirely stupid and most can see the “flaws” in ‘their man’ only too clearly but it isn’t the point, they their supporters are frustrated want change and any change will do.
The Next Revolution
It all probably started with Martin Luther, the Reformation, went through the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and ended up with the universal franchise where everyone has a vote. The next equivalent event will happen a lot faster which is if you like the “democratisation of wealth” where economic power will no longer be the sole province of the wealthy, control of wealth will become spread more broadly across society. The reason for this is that it is the only way that this electoral discontent will be able to be managed.
I had to smile the other day when I saw that Centrica who trade as British Gas announced that profits would be down because of tough trading conditions both in the UK and the US. In the UK British Gas has lost 823,000 domestic customer accounts, nearly 6%, since the end of June when they like the other big UK gas suppliers raised their prices. I smiled because I was with EDF who did the same and I switched to another and cheaper supplier so Centrica won’t be the only one feeling the pinch when customers vote with their feet and they have to report on profits.
The reason for including this is to underline the point, a conscious use of consumer power just like casting your ballot is certain to loom large in the coming years and it will have a major impact on the way large businesses will be able to operate and the price of survival may well be profit sharing with their employees.