The day the union died
I wanted to talk to you about how my son, Felix, is developing. I wanted to tell you that he’s started teething and that he can now roll over on his own. But instead I’ll tell you about how he sleeps.
Since spending his first three months in a house full of screaming children, he’s always been able to sleep through anything. Today was no exception. Felix slept through the start of what will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, geopolitical earthquakes of his lifetime. Today the UK decided by referendum to leave the European Union.
As I waited for the kettle to boil for my morning cuppa at 5am, I turned on BBC News only to see the ticker along the bottom displaying a larger number next to “Leave” than that next to “Remain”. I had to squint as I wasn’t wearing my contact lenses or glasses. But yes, I had seen it right. About a million more people had voted to leave the EU and it was forecast that this would be the end result.
I peered over Felix’s cot before I left, wondering what world he was going to wake up to. As I cycled past the various early morning joggers in Victoria Park I wanted to stop and talk to someone, anyone, about what had happened. I was angry, and I was hurt.
If I’m going to be really honest about this - this referendum brought out the real snob in me. I saw the Leave campaign as narrow-minded uneducated racists. Yes, uneducated, but I don’t refer to the type of education provided by university, I mean the kind of education we give ourselves by choosing to read a book or travel or watch the news or, in this case, choosing not to. I always knew those people were in the backwards corners of our country, as they are in every country. But living in London and working in the financial district I felt safe in the knowledge that the real power, i.e. the economy, was in the hands of a wise few, and the rest were kept on the other side of a window through which they could look but not touch. Well today the angry mob shattered that glass and penetrated my world with one aim, to throw Brussels on the pyre and burn it for heresy.
These people see it as a victory for the underdog - how the small man wasn’t bullied by the system. Oh how wrong they are, because the system is there for a reason. I’m so upset and angry with our Prime Minister, David Cameron, for putting a decision like this in the hands of the public. This was not for us to decide! We complain about politicians and a lot of the time we’re justified, they can be a corrupt bunch after all. But the fact is, as much as we sometimes hate to admit it, the vast majority of them are good at what they do - they know politics, they know economics, they know international relations and, above all, they know the rule of law. The man on the street doesn’t, yet today that man decided the world my son will grow up in.
As soon as I reached work I went straight to see my friend Gustavo who works early mornings in the office's post room. Seeing a friendly face almost brought me to tears. We talked about how sad we were with the result. He said he’s going to go Latina on me (meaning he’s going to be overdramatic), but he feels like he’s lost a friend. I told him we’re all going to be Latina today.
The fact is that we have lost a friend. The EU has been there for most of our lifetimes. It forms our identity. When I backpacked as a kid I’d always feel pride at the wonder in people’s faces when I said I was from London. It truly was a beacon of progressiveness in a world that could be so dark. But today I feel like that beacon has dimmed and my country has taken a big step back. A step into a world that has been over-romanticized as a Great Britain in its heyday, where jobs are there for everyone who was born here and burkhas are replaced by friendly white faces that speak Queen’s English. I'm ashamed.
I went into the gym, which is in the basement of my work building, for some pre-work training. The plasma screen in the changing room was showing BBC News. By now they were reporting the shockwaves throughout global capital markets and that the pound had dropped sharply. They said that David Cameron was expected to make a speech before the market opened at 9am. I entered the gym floor with zero energy but forced myself to do a few exercises. I did the best I could before giving up. To exercise you need motivation, but today there was no motivation, and no hope.
I went back to the changing room and got ready for work. As I was walking out I heard the newsreader on the plasma screen interrupt his interviewee to say that the prime minister was emerging from 10 Downing Street. I ran to the screen and saw others come running too. A crowd of half-dressed men gathered in front of the TV to watch David Cameron walk to the podium and begin the most important speech of his time in office. He spoke with optimism for the future, but still with the feeling that we were approaching uncertainty. It felt like a pivotal moment, almost as if our leader was announcing that we were going to war. He ended his speech with the news that he would be stepping down as leader. I knew this made sense, but I couldn’t help but feel that he’d steered us into an iceberg and taken the first lifeboat.
Throughout the day I continued checking Facebook and saw the sad posts of people as they digested this new world. A lot of them were saying how they wanted to move to another country. I suppose those of us who represent diversity want to give a great big “Fuck you” to the Leave crowd. But the fact is that when the dust settles, we’ll all just get on with it. It will be another major political decision that was disputed by the population but, in the end, had to be submitted to.
You know something strange? I keep thinking of that old Rupert Brooke poem that says something about a corner of a foreign field remaining forever England. Well I think that in some way there will be a part of me that remains forever part of the European Union. It’s funny how things work out.
It’ll be a few years before the Brexit takes effect, by which time Felix will be walking, talking and asking for bedtime stories. Maybe I’ll tell him about something nice, like Harry Potter - the story of the boy wizard who watched the shadow of Lord Voldemort darken the politics of the Ministry of Magic, and how the wizarding world was slowly turned against muggles as it became obsessed with its own supremacy. And if he has nightmares about this story, I’ll do what every parent would. I’ll tell him not to be afraid, because these things don’t happen in real life.