There’s no doubt that it is a bad day but it wasn’t difficult to see it coming. Every day of this campaign, and well before, five million newspapers rabidly opposed to immigration and the European project have been published every weekday. It has been a huge and uncontrolled leafleting campaign frequently bordering on lies and confusing news with ideology. Its major success has been to shift the agenda so that the campaign has all been about immigration, refugees, foreigners taking your jobs, and the EU taking your money.
You don’t need a degree in psephology to guess that the age weighted readerships of the Telegraph, Daily Mail and Express all voted for Brexit. The broadcasters haven’t challenged this agenda and, possibly, neither have many of the politicians involved. One of the most frustrating things about this whole campaign has been that we have been talking about the wrong things for most of it. The other is that the image of the UK projected by the Leave campaign has been bought hook, line and sinker by many people living in areas where there simply are no immigrants to be seen.
So, where are we now? First, this is a tiny majority and it is absurd that it should have such an impact on our national politics. When David Cameron set it up to serve his own interests and win the last election he didn’t think through the possibilities. He appears always to have thought it was a rather clever ploy to get rid of some irritating Conservative right-wingers and it has hopelessly backfired. We shouldn’t be sorry to see him go and we should talk up the need to move slowly. I think his gradual departure is a dramatic device to allow Gove and Johnson to rip each other apart over the next three months.
I hope the result doesn’t allow the mean spirited people on the right of the Labour party to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. He has been out talking about worker rights and mutual security and the gripe is that he didn’t get involved in the right wing agenda. He took a principled stand and I respect that. I don’t think some ‘steps to curb immigration’ from Labour would have made the slightest difference against the media onslaught.
Also, we shouldn’t ignore that we have accidentally restarted the Scottish independence discussions. I think Scotland now has a mandate to stay in Europe and will be warmly welcomed by the EU and that means leaving the UK. I don’t see how anyone can argue against that if the first past the post argument applies to the rest of the UK.
Where does that leave us? Conservative grandees would like to see a smooth transition in the leadership and a strategy for withdrawal developed in the autumn which would make UKIP look pointless since it is a single issue party that has achieved its objective. They could ask people to tighten their belts a little more in the national interest and enjoy a honeymoon basking in the facade of independence before the difficult issues reared their ugly heads.
What might disrupt that? I’d like to see the SNP propose a vote of no confidence in the government. Labour would have to do a deal to support it and recognise the case for independence which would be hard but not impossible and the fractious Conservatives would have to be more united than they probably can ever be to defeat it. Then, we could have a General Election with a radical manifesto from Labour based on economic growth, housing and turning back the tide of austerity. Would it work? Who knows, but it might be worth a try!