Bonnie Greer: Britain is unbeatable when it embraces BIG FEELING

PUBLISHED: 09:45 17 October 2017 | UPDATED: 09:54 17 October 2017

Britain showed its true colours in Carnaby Street during the Swinging Sixties

Britain showed its true colours in Carnaby Street during the Swinging Sixties

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The question, in a quiet voice, came from a woman in the audience at the Henley Festival’s Brexit debate, in a quiet voice: “So what do I tell my children now? They planned to live and work for a time in Europe. What now?”

The question was aimed at Douglas Carswell: “What now?”

Carswell, a gentlemanly guy, sensing immediately that he was in Remain territory, answered as best he could. He gave the standard, smiley Brexiteer answer of reassurance. But what struck me is the thing that is beginning to emerge on our Remain side: emotion.

I do not mean that emotion did not factor in Remain. Of course it did. But the campaign never really employed it. It was frightened of it. The campaign saw ‘facts’ as paramount and constantly used them. Even ‘weaponised’ them. The facts were backed by people who knew what they were talking about, usually referred to as experts.

Now, we were all brought up to listen to experts, starting with our first ones: our parents. The stock market listened to experts, too. When it discovered, the day after the EU vote, that it had made the wrong bet and was therefore in the wrong position, traders moved quickly, causing the pound to ‘flash crash’.

It was literally sickening to watch the boards turn bright red as investors ‘got off the island’. Dublin, Paris, Frankfurt started touting aggressively for business. Even Athens, struggling back to financial health, looked good compared to the City of London with no guarantee of an EU passport for finance.

The pound is struggling, barely holding its own against the euro and the reserve currency, the US dollar. Investment banks, the engine, along with the Bank of England, for retail banks which in turn fund small businesses and mortgages, are making plans to leave the City of London.

Donald Trump, who has sworn loyalty to the Special Relationship and to Brexit, has slapped a massive tariff on Canada’s Bombardier as part of his America First scam. That tariff, in turn, affects thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland. And yet, Brexiteers persist.

They persist in spite of report after report detailing the fear of farmers about seasonal labour; the concerns of the service industry, the UK’s biggest employer, about the devastating drop in workers if Brexit goes ahead.

European nurses, one of the backbones of the NHS, are staying away. Science programmes are under threat; custody battles in which a child has been spirited away to the EU area by the other parent, will rage with no final arbiter.

The North East, which voted 58% for Brexit by 58%, is the only region in the whole of the UK which is actually losing salaried jobs. This is outrageous and yet philosophical Brexiteers, like Carswell, an intelligent man who listens to other points of view, continue on nothing more substantial than a wing and a prayer.

Bernard Jenkin, another intelligent guy, is now launching a full-blown Da Vinci Code-type theory involving a conspiracy against Brexit aided and abetted by HM Treasury. More and more Brexiteer pundits and press are urging ‘the People’ to set sail on literal and metaphorical high seas if the UK leaves without a deal.

The Brexiteer Ultras, like Bill Cash, have not budged. And the people who follow them haven’t either. Why?

The answer lies in the question of that Remainer in Henley. Not in what she said. But in what was behind it. Brexit, like Trump America, has allowed emotion to enter the political fray. Emotion, of course, has always been a part of politics. An important part.

But what I am talking about is ‘Big Feeling’, feeling without rhyme or reason and unashamed to show it. ‘Big Feeling’ was how Trump and Leave won.

Dominic Cummings, the coordinator of the successful Vote Leave campaign, and now a lost star in the Brexit Universe, continues to be not only a chronicler and archivist in regard to the campaign, but a kind of instructor. Maybe too much of one because he has recently deleted his epic, beans-spilling Twitter account. But he confirmed something I felt.

My playwright’s ear heard a tonal shift around the time of the late middle / end of the EU referendum campaign. Leave had ditched the UKIP / Farage barrage and shifted to something softer.

Suddenly, instead, there was Gisela Stuart of the charming German accent and benign countenance. She started ending every utterance with the phrase: “Take Back Control”.

Michael Gove began to punctuate his every pronouncement with the same hook and so did Boris Johnson. This was not just a tonal shift. It indicated the discovery of a key demographic of about 650,000 people. The Swing Voters.

Vote Leave’s analysts, some of whom were physicists and not part of the Westminster Bubble of politicos and pundits, were immune to the confirmation bias that may have contributed to the complacency about Remain for the win.

Known as the ‘Swing Fifth’, this demographic was nervous, angry, insecure, felt neglected and unheard. The people they called ‘the elites’ were mainly based in another country: London and the South East. The ‘Swing Fifth’ disliked and disbelieved them.

They were worried, too, about the NHS and the possibility that it would die from underfunding. Immigrants frightened and angered them simply because, like the marchers in Charlottesville, Va, they were afraid that they would be ‘replaced’.

They hated Cameron and Osborne as pure examples of what Conservative MP Nadine Dorries called “posh boys”. Everything that the Conservatives had promised, from their Northern Powerhouse flimflam to cutting the deficit and lifting austerity, had either not happened or not happened fast enough.

Above all, they feared being overrun. These were the fears and the anxieties that many could not articulate; did not want to articulate out loud. If they did they would be labelled ‘bad people’ by ‘the elite’. Vote Leave wrapped this all up into an internal mantra for all Leave workers: ‘£350 million/NHS/Turkey’. The NHS is obvious, and the £350-million-a-week was what would be repatriated to use at home; and ‘Turkey’ was Them. These were the three elements that won that ‘Swing Fifth’ and produced the narrow margin for Leave.

Brexiteers mean this ‘Swing Fifth’ when they say ‘the will of the people’. The Leave campaign was built on emotion: what I call ‘Big Feeling’. It has been a part of this nation since Neville Chamberlain said over the wireless: “this country is at war with Germany.”

There was no logical way that the UK was meant to beat Hitler’s Germany. But the UK did it with hard work and ‘Big Feeling’. Churchill used this, as did Atlee.

‘Big Feeling’ was dashed by Eisenhower when he instructed the UK to stand down over Suez in 1956, but it revived again during the Swinging Sixties; the early Thatcher Era; the early days of Blair’s ‘Third Way’ and may have found its way inside of Leave.

It means not being afraid or wary of emotion. Just like that sedate woman in the audience at the Henley Festival. What she really wanted to know was if her children would have the kind of life she had. If they would have a better life than she had. She let all of us know that she would fight for this.

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