Why we are all Alabamans now
PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 December 2017
Zuma Press/PA Images
As Alabama elects its first Democrat in almost a quarter of a century BONNIE GREER discusses what this means for the both sides of the Brexit argument.
I told my taxi driver that since the odds were that we would never meet again, we could be straight with one another.
I said that I was 90% sure that he had voted Leave, and would he mind telling me why.
He said that he had been born near the Tower Of London. He had grown up in a council house. Life was hard, but the point is that he understood everything around him.
He knew everyone. It matters; knowing everyone. The safety and confidence in that is important, he explained.
No one seems to understand that anymore. People are ridiculed now for wanting to live out their lives surrounded by the people and the things that they know, he told me.
He never talks like this to the younger cabbies, he explained. They lack the basic cabbie-etiquette, like helping a passenger with bags. How could they understand what he was now saying to me.
Hatred and bigotry do not set well with him. He stops it whenever he sees it. Always has.
But people make assumptions about him, how he feels about certain people and certain issues. And are rude about it. The truth is that he is ‘live and let live’. Always was, always will be.
He has his two children still living at home, now in their late twenties. At their age he had his own council flat and the possibility of inheriting the job his uncle had.
He said that he and his wife sometimes discussed the fact that they knew their children were waiting for them to die. Because it was not possible for them to have their own home in London, the place of their birth.
He voted Leave because he felt that it would allow more housing to be available for people like his children. If the UK left the EU, maybe some pride would return to one and all because, as far as he could tell, there was little of that around.
He pointed out again that he had nothing against immigrants or ethnic minorities. He just wanted something for his kids. That was all. He knew nothing about the European Union. Except that he read stories about corruption. His brother-in-law wanted to hang Jean-Claude Juncker, whoever Jean-Claude Juncker is. That sounded extreme.
We both laughed when I mentioned The Sun’s infamous ‘Up Yours Delors’ headline.
He said he was angry with David Cameron. He was very angry. David Cameron had imposed austerity. He had let everyone in the country down and he wanted to say that. The EU referendum was the only way that he could express himself, the only way that he could say something and do something directly.
The country would make it. Nothing was worse than Hitler, and the nation got through that. I thanked him for his words and he thanked me for listening without condemning him because he guessed that I had voted Remain. He assured me that he understood the risks.
But he would not change his vote if there was another referendum. Not for anything. That was where we parted. He had done me a favour.
He had confirmed something that is becoming clearer and clearer.
Historians in the future will note that the Leave vote was part of the great populist right-wing surge of the early 21st Century.
This surge elected as president of the United States a reality television star, real estate tycoon, the self-publicist’s self-publicist, and the guy they call ‘Don The Con’ in his own hometown.
This same populist right-wing surge sent a far-right party – one that debates the necessity for more ‘German wombs’ – to the Bundestag for the first time since the Second World War.
This surge gave Austria its youngest and most right-wing Prime Minister in recent history; and this surge is infecting Hungary and Poland. And us.
This is the club that the UK has joined; the marker that history will use to distinguish this great nation at this moment in the early years of the 21st century.
We on the Remain spectrum – from Soft Brexit all the way to flat-out refusal to leave the EU, come what may – must face the reality that millions used the EU referendum as more than just a vote.
It was a cauldron of anger; it was a tool for push-back and rebellion.
Yet Brexit has already failed in real terms; it is bewildering the rest of our fellow European nations and much of the world; has caused serious reputational damage to the UK and wobbled the currency. Nevertheless Leave prevails.
One poll showed that older Leave voters would sacrifice the future of their children in order to leave Europe.
Most people thought the response a joke, a piss-take; or the result of meeting people on a bad day.
To believe that – along with believing Leave voters to be, for the most part, under-educated, venal, or worse – is to miss what is called ‘the signal in the noise’.
The signal: Brexit was a point of view, that became a vote, then a credo on its way to becoming a religion. For many, it is on its way, too, to becoming a war within. One of the worst kinds of war: civil war. A civil war over the minds and the hearts of the UK now and to come.
That is what the Steve Bannon wing of the Republican Party tried to unleash in Alabama. But he forgot one thing: the folks there did not want to go backwards.
They did not want to pull up the forward motion of history. They wanted to be part of the times. Not outside of it.
Pollsters complained that the State was impossible to poll, that the numbers were all over the place.
This was simply because no one had bothered to take the pulse of Alabama for a while. Alabama was always the same.
It had not elected a Democrat in about a quarter of a century. Donald Trump swept the state in the election last year.
This year, he made a campaign rally in support of Judge Roy Moore, the Republican Party’s ‘suicide pill’ as one moderate Republican put it.
Trump had even made robo-calls duelling with the human being he is totally obsessed by – Barack Obama, who was robo-calling for Doug Jones, the ‘no hoper’ Democrat who was Moore’s opponent.
Jones won because he was seen to be who he really is. The people knew already that Jones was a prosecutor who had fought the Ku Klux Klan and had won.
They knew that he would fight for them, too. He does not fit a mould. He is honest and straight. Doug Jones proves, as one pundit put it, ‘that boring can be beautiful’.
We need leaders free of the fear of the People’s fear, and wrath itself. People on both sides of Brexit are looking for this: the Alabamafication of politics.