To the conventional leftish mind, the European Union is one of those sacred institutions handed down as though from on high as an unquestioned blessing to the human race, like the UN or Greenpeace or the ABC. It never does wrong. To the Australian leftist in particular the EU has, or as we can now say, had, the additional virtue of keeping Great Britain, ‘invader’ of this land, once ruler of the waves and still the seat of a monarchy that republicans think stops Australia taking its full place in the world, safely pinioned inside a supranational cage, reduced to being just another part of ‘Europe’.
Until the Brexit campaign began several years ago the EU probably didn’t figure much more than that in the thinking of leftish Australians. Richer members of this class, what you might call the Greenish travelling type, renting or owning holiday houses in France or Italy or staying in smart hotels during their regular European trips, are more aware of the exchange rates of the euro than of the political project that engendered it. For the less politicised it was just nice to have the EU there making getting around Europe easier. For the more politically minded, the EU was a visionary contrivance of postwar enlightenment that supposedly will restrain Germany from going for its neighbours’ throats again.
Britain’s sudden breaking free from an entanglement it got into 43 years earlier under the mistaken impression that it was joining a free-trade zone has come as a nasty shock to EU-lovers. In Australia, around the world and in Britain itself, they are furious. Social media sizzles with their outrage. Few if any, from the British prime minister down, thought it at all likely that Britain would actually withdraw from the EU. Good Lord, they said, just look at the kind of people in favour of leaving. From the start, when David Cameron threw the bone of a referendum at the Eurosceptics in his party to quieten them down, advocates of Brexit were portrayed in the bien-pensant world as nutters of various sorts, geriatric nostalgics or ‘little Englanders’. ‘Swivel-eyed loons’ was one of the less charitable descriptions, apparently employed by Mr Cameron himself. People who thought the UK would be better off outside the EU got the kind of treatment that here in Australia the ABC and Fairfax reserve for Pauline Hanson or Cardinal Pell.
If Pauline herself were elected Prime Minister on 2 July it could not be a less palatable surprise than Brexit has been to Australians who think the EU a good idea. Lefties are always bad losers but with this referendum the ABC especially has excelled itself. Some might think Brexit the best news for Britain since the end of World War II but not our national broadcaster, which reported it as though announcing the end of civilisation. ‘It is a catastrophe’ were the opening words of the first ABC radio news after the result was confirmed. The speaker was Keith Vaz, one of the dodgiest MPs at Westminster and probably the only British politician the ABC could find prepared to damn the result with the required vehemence. Sundry ABC correspondents followed, telling you as is their wont nothing you had not read or heard already, but talking up the doom scenario of collapsing pound and crashing shares with undisguised relish. As for Fairfax, a ‘s— sandwich’ was how their London correspondent Nick Miller defined the result, with characteristic elegance.
Social media opponents of Brexit, in Australia as in the UK, have been apoplectic. An Australian with a senior job in a London bank (banks and the financial world were in cosy solidarity against Brexit), well paid enough to have a house in Europe, wrote: ‘How quickly can I move to [Italy] full time and leave this cesspit of insular, economic (sic) illiterate, self-harming racists?’ They might be glad to see him go.
Are these people annoyed because the polls had reassured them that though the battle would be close the Remain campaign had the extra point or two to win and the loons would never carry the day? Or is it because they have been defied in their belief that the world should behave just the way they in their superior enlightenment tell it to? Or is it because democracy, that inconvenience that leftists have to find a way around for their social engineering schemes, has reasserted itself in favour of the silent majority who usually have to put up with being patronised by and pushed around by ‘experts’?
The ABC and others have made much of the referendum being ‘divisive’ and they are right but not in the way they mean. The division was not one of class but between those who have a vested interest in the EU and those who don’t. People of all sorts and conditions, not just what superior people consider ‘plebs’, voted for Brexit. People who don’t work for quangos and NGOs or in the public service and could see that whatever benefits the EU supposedly brought were paid for dearly in loss of sovereignty and in ‘dues’ used to employ hordes of bureaucrats answerable to no one or build palaces of justice from which to override British legislation. Ordinary Labour voters (rather than their vacillating leadership), ordinary Conservatives, all expressing their democratic will against a steamrolling Remain campaign funded by the British government, with contributions from the EU itself and, reportedly, the sinister George Soros pulling strings somewhere in the murky background.
Brexit was like a cork popping out of a bottle of fermenting resentment. Resentment at years of pettifogging EU regulation that had passed being wearisome and become a bad joke – diktats on the shape of bananas, the design of your kettle and, waiting to be imposed, the technical specifications of toasters.
The Remain campaign lost in part because it tried to frighten voters about how they’d be poorer with Britain out of the EU and the scare stories became too exaggerated to be credible. But even with the referendum over, the ABC and its media soul sisters were still harping on disasters to come. They play them up because they want them to be true, they want the British economy to collapse so they can say we told you so, you should have listened to us because our world view is the right one. The Left takes this line on everything, from human rights to climate change to gay marriage. We know best.
Brexit won’t change that conviction. But it has shown that no one else has to believe it.
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