Well, how are you enjoying Armageddon? It’s been pretty much like all the other days so far, hasn’t it? There’s been marginally more bitchiness and vitriol from right thinkers over here who feel Brexit has murdered their vibe, but other than that …? There really is nothing like us socially concerned liberals when it comes to sour grapes. We love democracy so long as it produces the right result.
Reality check: Brexit is bad news for political and bureaucratic elites in Ireland, Britain, Brussels and other parts of Europe. Whether the rest of us should give a damn about it is another matter altogether. Things will go on pretty much as they do already. Accommodations and easements will be negotiated. Money will talk as it always does. All those arrangements we were warned would be impossible before the vote will suddenly slip through the time honoured radar of devil in the detail. As to the future, it’s anyone’s guess.
I’ve just skimmed an article from one establishment Irish newspaper which claims to show five ways in which Ireland will be poorer as a result of Brexit. All five scenarios are highly speculative and can’t even qualify remotely as factual. That’s the problem with a lot of the stuff we’re fed in what’s laughably called ‘the news.’ It is why I suspect a goodly portion of those now being derided as ‘idiots’ by their better heeled fellow citizens voted to leave the European Union yesterday. They just don’t believe the bullshit any more.
In another headline, I read that Bertie Ahern, the man who broke the Irish economy, reduced an entire generation to penury and condemned another to emigration, is ‘bitterly disappointed’ about the Brexit result. Forgive me for reaching for the sick bag rather than the hanky, but somehow I don’t feel the urge to get upset by something Bertie Ahern is ‘bitterly disappointed’ about.
Far too much attention is paid (and this is one of the many problems with our current political dispensation) in our democracy to the daily hysterics of the financial markets, but even Friday’s contortions by the gutless ‘masters of the Universe’ offered an interesting clue to what might lie ahead. London’s FTSE partially recovered from earlier losses to close about 3% down on where it had been the previous day, whereas stock exchanges in Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid and elsewhere ended with double and treble those losses.
Brexit isn’t Britain’s problem. The stock crashes across Europe are because of fears – openly admitted by the German Government – that Finland, Hungary, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands may follow suit with referenda of their own. The entire EU project is in danger of unravelling, and in a frighteningly short space of time too. Angela Merkel responded with a nice soundbyte (she seems to be good at those) about Europe being strong enough to find the answers. Let’s hope whoever wrote that is right, because the usual Pavlovian institutional noises coming from Brussels suggest the opposite.
Among the many charges thrown at pro-Brexit voters has been that they’re a bunch of insular old farts who aren’t hip to the vibe of multi-culturalism and all those wonderful today things. Indeed, every effort has been made since the vote to marginalise the 52% electoral majority as racist, ancient and poorly educated. This is what democracy is worth when it contrasts with the interests of those who pay the wages of people on your TV screens.
Much has been made of the fact that 75% of voters aged 18-24 apparently voted to remain in the EU. Apparently, your vote should matter a lot less if you’re over 50. How I wish someone would bring that in for Fine Gael voters in Ireland. But let’s look at a little reality, shall we? Since the 1980’s, Governments in Europe – partly because of the EU – have pursued exactly the same economic and social policies regardless of numerous election outcomes. The EU has itself blatantly ignored democracy by bulling ahead with a single currency which has contributed to disaster for everyone except Germany.
The sad fact is that people under 35 have no experience of the capability of democracy to produce meaningful outcomes, i.e. serious changes in policy. For them, because of recent history, democracy is an abstract, academic concept. Globalisation continues regardless of what type of state you’re in, only older people can remember a time when it mattered a bit.
By the way, one side effect of the Brexit vote is that opinion polls are no longer worth the price of toilet paper. When media bias has become almost hilarious in its hysteria, people are now reluctant to tell pollsters something they think the liberal media might disapprove of, so they lie. Thus, opinion polls failed to predict Brexit and the outcome of the last British election. They will become ever more unreliable from here on in: Donald Trump’s opponents take note.
They who rule only govern with the consent of those who are governed. Europe’s problem is that it has never given people a reason to believe in it. Instead of bringing itself to the ordinary citizen, it has instead focused on creating a self-serving commonwealth of greedy old windbags who are ‘bitterly disappointed’ with Friday’s result, not because it threatens a return to the dark old days but because it might one day threaten their privileges.
In countries like Ireland, the permanent government, i.e. the senior civil service, has functioned on autopilot for most of the last 25 years, swallowing whatever nonsense came out of Brussels and passing it down arbitrarily to the citizen. Let the citizen cope as best she may, we’re getting paid anyway. They may have to do a little thinking now, a little finessing and nuancing of the now complicated relationship between Ireland, Britain and the EU. In short, the bastards might have to do a little work now, and that’s no harm at all.
In the meantime, if survival is to be even an option, Europe needs to dust off those ignored provisions in its existing Treaties about subsidiarity and the right of the ordinary citizen to fair representation. It needs to carry the decision making process down to the lowest units possible, such as community councils, and establish a chain of input, consultation and participative decision making which stretches all the way to the top. It needs, in short, to establish a meaningful participative democracy, and it needs to do it very soon, even strong-arming reluctant governments like Ireland’s if that is necessary (it’s had not problem doing that about other things).
Only then will the EU have given itself a lifeline by giving its citizens a reason to care about it, and by convincing people that it cares about them. Do its leaders care enough about the ‘European Project’ (not to mention keeping the peace) to do any of that? I guess we’ll just have to see.