I’ve just watched two straight hours of the UK parliament debating (and failing to progress) the best way for the United Kingdom to leave the EU. Watching politicians over the last several months thrash around trying to resolve an insoluble issue is endlessly frustrating. It’s like trying to make a cup of tea by solving a Rubik’s cube: you’re not really addressing the actual problem.
When asked to name a single economist who backed Brexit, political fumbler and Eurosceptic, Michael Gove, answered, “people in this country have had enough of experts”. And oddly enough, he was right.
Decades of deliberate vandalism of our public services, and being told that there is no alternative but sacrifice, has increased inequality in wealth and living standards in Britain to historic levels and, as a result, has separated the public from the political process. A generation of young people have been forced to put their future on hold and believes that, rightly or wrongly, protest is futile.
Whether intentionally or otherwise, this has engendered a consensus that the public no longer has control over the own lives leaving many feeling unrepresented by those tasked with doing so. It has created a politics of eternity, where change is impossible.
Political parties now exist only to enact the ritual of elections, where the end result can only be inaction. A politics of eternity has allowed right-wing nationalist parties and politicians, such as Nigel Farage, to dangle the carrot of a fictional rose-tinted past. Such populists project a golden age when Europeans lived in nation states without immigration, and that the 1930s was an age of prosperity rather a than the reality: a decade teetering on the abyss of war.
When factuality ends, eternity begins, and policy is replaced by propaganda.
A politician standing in front of a red bus proclaiming one thing as true, while knowing the opposite is the case, can be laughed away as just another political stunt. A tabloid newspaper with a deceptive headline may just seem like par for the course; after all, that’s what they do, isn’t it? A Facebook post promoting an infographic with inflammatory “facts” may seem like something to be brushed off, but put them all together and it creates a political fog where it’s impossible to trust anyone or know what is true.
Vladislav Surkov, a personal advisor to Vladamir Putin, said, “If citizens doubt everything they cannot see alternative models, cannot carry out sensible discussions about reform, and cannot trust one enough to organise for political change. Knowledge only gives knowledge, but uncertainty gives hope.” I chose a quote from this prominent Russian intentionally, as the same tactics are used by Russian intelligence to bombard their own citizens with propaganda, and enforce a stagnant political system where Russians fail to demand political change because they believe change is impossible.
So when Michael Gove said, “people in this country have had enough of experts,” what he should have said was, “people in this country don’t know who to trust.”
When the public can see no future, or any potential for improvement in their situation, their only option, instinctively, is to lower the status of others. We see this in the demonisation of immigrants and the European Union, and the perceived bloody nose that was given to mainstream politicians and policial parties in the Brexit referendum.
Brexit was never about facts, it was only ever about social injustice and inequality, and leaving the European Union will not stabilise or improve those things. Instead, we will see the continued degradation of living standards, which will be felt most by those who voted for Brexit, and the diminishment of British soft-power on the world stage. It will result in an expansion of the politics of eternity in the UK, and the continued rise of an unhealthy political populism.
Those expecting to quell nationalism by pandering to it will be most surprised to find that they have thrown fuel on to the fire of the right-wing. Leaving the EU will not solve the underlying problems that resulted in Brexit but will, inevitably, focus the burning hot lens of nationalism and extremism.
Knowledge only gives knowledge, but uncertainty gives hope.