So that actually happened.
Judging by the fact that pretty much every intelligent person I know living in Britain was against it, I have to admit to being quite surprised that the British referendum on leaving the EU got through. I couldn’t see a good prima facie argument for leaving and it is hard to find a clear benefit to Britain. While much is uncertain about the future, the immediate impact on the British economy was pretty obvious. At least my Australian dollars will be worth more next time I go over for a holiday.
Certainly opponents of the Leave campaign will point to this result as a win for xenophobia and ignorance. It is hard to argue that this didn’t play a big part, but I also think there is another phenomena involved that needs to be recognised. Something that links the unexpected level of support for both Trump and Sanders in the US.
At risk of drawing the ire of all involved I would say Farage, Trump and Sanders (the Democrat senator not the fried chicken entrepreneur) are different embodiments of the same sense of discontent with the political status quo in many democratic nations around the world. (I wanted to say they were sides of the same coin but didn’t want anyone getting literal about coins with three sides).
Obviously the specific natures of their appeal and the way they go about things is different (I think Sanders is an honest and principled man), but all three have engaged a large section of the electorate who feel disenfranchised from the political process. Clearly many voters are tired of the dishonest and self-serving nature of their bureaucratic political systems and of their sense of impotence in choosing between two or three realistic candidates, none of whom they trust. And many voters feel that neither major party cares as much about their interests as they do about their financial backers and lobby groups.
There is a lesson here for Australian politicians as this phenomenon is also apparent here (to a lesser extent) with the increasing support for independent candidates. Our government is elected to represent the will of the people. The longer to continue to ignore those voters, the less rational and considered the voter backlash will be when it comes. Arguing that leaving the EU would be bad for the economy didn’t mean much to those who had been repeatedly failed by our reliance on the fallacy of trickle-down economics.
But there is also a lesson for voters. Many voted for Leave without understanding much of the consequences. They were voting to register their protest to the governments in Brussels and London that they feel deserted by. But they got much more than that. Exactly what it will cost the British people remains to be seen, but many who voted to leave are going to be negatively impacted in ways they had not realised because they cast their vote based on emotion not rational thought. No next week, when Australians go to the polls, hopefully they don’t just act on impulse, emotion or fear, but actually think about who they want to represent them.