How to break through the film of dread and write something, anything?
One option’s to quote from the terrifying vision of W B Yeats’ ‘Second Coming’ (1919) and hide. No: two sentences of prose instead.
To be defeated and not give up, that is victory. To be victorious and rest on your laurels, that is defeat.
He should know. That was said by Józef Piłsudski, Polish hero of the fight for independence and leader for many of the interwar years. (Quoted by Timothy Garton-Ash in the Guardian – a piece like many this week but with added historical depth.) It’s looking as though we’ve rested on our laurels of peace and security within (most of) Europe for far too long.
Now the 48% need to not give up. So often we only really care about something when we risk losing it.
The bitter irony of the referendum is that it’s the people who voted Leave because their lives are fraught with difficulty who will suffer most. Their expectations have been failed in the last 8 years and will be failed again – and then what?
It would be madness not to try to find a path through this that ends back where it started: in Europe. The country’s future is at stake! Leave campaigners’ lies/promises are already being reneged on. Scotland’s heading for the door (my biggest dread throughout the campaign: nightmare of a truncated UK with all that it implies) and Northern Ireland is smouldering. Racism’s rearing its head as if given the stamp of approval. Money is falling out all over the place and Putin & co are having a laugh.
Reasons to be positive: the passion of the 48% and of the young, the parliamentary majority for Remain, the referendum’s advisory nature, the political and economic turmoil, Leavers’ regrets, a new urgency about addressing Leavers’ concerns, Angela Merkel being calm. Reasons to be negative: the political and economic turmoil, the tabloids, the Eurocrats who want to teach us a lesson so others don’t follow, the main UK parties’ failure to address the problems and perceptions (most of all those around immigration) that motivated the 52% leave vote.
It must be possible to call another referendum on the terms of departure, once these have been negotiated. And/or delay until circumstances and opinions have changed. And in the meantime do some hard thinking about how to address things that aren’t working well in the world (here’s Gordon Brown on globalisation). A general election might help, if one gets called; or not help. The scary thing is that various complex elements would have to fall out right for there to be a good outcome.
So: back to Piłsudski and not giving up. For Europe, for peace and stability, for a UK that remains united, for equality of opportunity, for progress on the environment, science etc, and for tolerance. For the 52% as well as the 48%. Shelley, too, 100 years before Piłsudski and Yeats, 200 years before us, ended this sonnet with hope:
England in 1819
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th' untilled field;
An army, whom liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.