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Post-Brexit, where’s our head of state to provide leadership amongst the chaos and anxiety???

When historians come to write the history of Britain’s historic EU exit they will struggle to convey the mood of despondency that has taken over the country.

I felt this the minute I stepped off a plane from New York in Manchester on Monday morning. It is tangible. There is a mood of anxiety, disquiet, and anger but most of all there is a feeling of dejection.

Brexit has thrown the UK into constitutional turmoil. Tension is rising and there are fears of further violent confrontations on the streets. Racism and xenophobia are undoubtedly on the rise. Little England has won but with Nigel Farage in Brussels and the leadership of the Tory party uncertain even the Little Englanders seem to lack a figurehead and are instead turning on immigrant communities.

While there is tension, though, there’s this overwhelming listlessness.

This stems from the fact that politically we are left with a real mess. David Cameron, who has foolishly thrown away his prime ministership by calling this utterly unnecessary referendum, is redundant. His party are tearing themselves apart. As I write this, the Labour opposition is in disarray too with Jeremy Corbyn losing a no-confidence motion by 172 to 40 votes. Meanwhile the economy is at risk and people are seeking answers about what happens next.

In time of uncertainty leadership is needed

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Brexit, it’s happened now. But it’s the mood of dejection and the sense of rudderlessness which is now the big problem. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has rightly condemned the leadership vacuum in Westminster. In this mood of dejection, political leadership is badly needed.

And this ties into the bigger constitutional questions now being raised by the Brexit vote.

The overwhelming point, constitutionally, is that we have no effective head of state who can provide a voice of leadership at times of crisis. We need a leader elected by the people, of the people, who can provide stability and reassurance in this time of confusion and anxiety.

Where is our President to guide us through this?

Instead of a President, elected by popular vote, who can appear across the media to appeal for calm and to reassure the populace, have Elizabeth Windsor.

The Queen is supposed to be ‘above politics’. Since the Scottish referendum, as she hits 90, she has increasingly let the mask slip on the nonsensical notion of her being above politics, with reports of her remarks on sensitive issues leaked by the press. And when it comes down to it, of course she’s not above politics – the very idea that the Queen, in her weekly meeting with the PM, discusses the racing form or the weather is a joke.

But the problem is this: she must be seen to be above it all, effectively gagged from intervening.

This is just one of the paradoxes about a hereditary head of state – because she is unelected and because of the history books displaying what can happen to an overly political monarch, the Queen must keep her mouth shut on political issues.

But at the same time, she is supposed to be a unifying force. The head of state should be the first to step forward at a time of crisis like this – to smooth the unease, to provide political leadership that is not partisan but in the interests of the people. To be a force for stability and reassurance in testing times.

No Constitutional Clarity

We have none of this.

The British people currently have no clear leadership and no clarity about how the constitution should now work.  We need a written constitution that is clear and we need a head of state who can provide national leadership during times of great uncertainty like this.

The far-reaching consequences of Brexit may deliver changes I would welcome – an independent Scotland, a united Ireland. But in the interim we need a head of state with leadership, political nous and clarity providing calm.

This speaks to the fact that in the constitutional shake-up provided by Brexit we now need real change that puts real power in the hands of the people and which provides the means to weather political storms.

The Queen and the Windsor family are both unable and unwilling to offer leadership during a time of unprecedented turmoil.  Instead of a monarch motivated to protect her own position we need an accountable head of state who can speak to the nation and help guide us through the turmoil.

If Brexit delivers one positive thing in the long-term, let’s hope it might be this.

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The infantilisation of the Brexit debate

This morning I was listening to a radio debate around British membership of the European Union when one of the participants dropped a bombshell. We’d all heard the big news that, during the week, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s negotiations with his fellow European leaders had dragged on so long that breakfast was postponed, then lunch, then dinner. But now came the revelation that in the absence of formal dining what had ‘fuelled’ Cameron and his team during the tortuous process  was Haribo Fangtastics.

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For the uninitiated, Fangtastics are a chewy jelly snack manufactured by a German (yes, German) confectionery giant. A playground favourite, they take your tongue on a sensory journey from extreme sweetness to extreme sourness. And they pack a fizz, too. Perfect sugar hit to get you through Double Maths or, if you’re Mr Cameron, high powered political negotiations.

Fangtastics-gate illustrates the fact that, thus far, the debate around whether the United Kingdom will leave the European Union has been characterised by infantilised rhetoric.

By now, we’re used to this when it comes to politics. ‘It’s just too boring’ fret television and radio producers. As a solution you get programmes like BBC’s Daily Politics, all cheap graphics and smiles to break up the serious stuff. The Daily Politics duly delivered today: Cameron’s cabinet were crudely depicted as rival sets of football fans, with bobble hats and scarfs bearing either the words ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ depending on their stance. Chortle.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage – leading figure in the ‘out’ campaign – has in the last couple of weeks delivered rejoinders to Cameron of which a school bully would be proud. He first called him ‘a chicken’ over his trifling reforms to Britain’s conditions of EU membership. He then went further in deploying schoolboy taunts: Mr Cameron, Farage informed us, had secured but ‘tinsy winsy’ reforms.

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Over on Sky News, anchor Dermot Murnaghan was busy reducing the debate to a matter of personalities. Boris Johnson versus David Cameron, Murnaghan told viewers, would be like ‘a superhero movie’, ‘like King Kong fighting Godzilla’. Sounds light? Well, this was actually taking the debate up a notch. The previous segment of the show had featured ‘in’ campaigner June Sarpong (she formerly noted for presenting shows about pop music on Channel 4 which brought with it tough interviews with the likes of Britney Spiers over what she eats for breakfast). June’s argument for staying in the EU seemed to be largely based on an image of ‘out’ campaigners Nigel Farage and George Galloway linking arms. She goaded the Tory ‘out’ campaigner sitting beside her in the Sky Newsroom with that classic argument that goes something like this: ‘Euuhhhhh! Look at the state of your friends’. Or, to directly quote Sarpong, ‘look at who you hang out with!’

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What does all this suggest about the state of political rhetoric?

It speaks to the fact that the British negotiations over questions such as migrant benefits, sovereignty, movement of labour, law-making etc actualy turned out – unsurprisingly – to be slow and boring. Very boring.

Now, The News doesn’t like this. So even the most high-brow news magazine shows stooped to the tabloid. Thus on Thursday BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning politics show ‘Today’ wheeled out an excitable American commentator to spice things up. Suddenly a boring set of negotiations sounded like Superbowl showdown. ‘Cameron’s going in there on the offense’ he enthused ‘and how is Denmark going to respond?’ Pass the popcorn!

More worryingly, it shows that some of the profound consequences that will follow the British people’s decision on European have been reduced to the sound-bite and dumbed down to an alarming degree.

I would argue that this is part of a broader infantilisation at work in society. Young-ish people are penalised and neutered by house prices, age-geared benefit restrictions, the early debt burden of study, and austerity politics. They become infantilised, some living with mum and dad well into their thirties and forties (and beyond?) because there is little other option for them. They’re also spoon-fed a diet of computer games and superhero movies so that infantilisation has become masked beneath the new respectability of the 40 year old nerd.

Does the infantilisation of the debate around Brexit, with cartoonish and pop-friendly rhetoric, reflect this? I would discuss this further, but the X Factor has just come on the telly. Sorry. Have to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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