Do you remember a time before the referendum when we were all worried but knew it would be okay?
We’d stay in Europe and we’d have at least another 4 years of a democratic White House in the US. The world seemed unstable but that common sense would prevail.I’d been participating in the debate for the Referendum, very much on the side of remain and although it looked perilously tight we should pull through.
I tell this as a true story – I had not intended to as it upsets me greatly, it is told from my perspective but it is very much what I witnessed and in light of the horrific results in the US presidential election and the ongoing referendum fall-out it seems appropriate to try and put into perspective why this image summed up the referendum for me.
A battered Y registered, turquoise Opel Astra with a near collapsed suspension thundered up behind me. In the car was a rather grubby, drawn faced looking man with the stench of tobacco and weed about him I noted as he pulled up beside me, his one arm driving technique making me take a step further back on to the pavement. In the back of the vehicle three children sat, but I barely had time to notice them as the driver bawled at me ‘where’s this fucking polling station mate?’
I offered the information he was looking for, ‘first left and a couple of hundred metres up on the right, it’s the local church centre if you know it?’
He pulled away without saying a word and by the time he had driven up I had pretty much arrived too. There was a queue and he was before me, turned out his name was ‘Michael’ and he had been speaking to some of the others about his vote. I listened because here, in this man, I could hear the voice of discontent and also the level of ignorance that hadn’t just invaded my community but much of the country.
‘Kick ’em out,’ he said, ‘I mean not all of ’em – Alvin at the Chinky does a lovely lemon chicken’. Michael was making me want to vomit, partly due to the smell, partly due to his quiet tirade. Perhaps he didn’t realise that the pizza he had recently ordered is more famously associated with Italy or that his Opel Astra has long standing German links. The people around him didn’t shuffle uncomfortably at his words, they merely smiled politely, they were older and tried at least not to encourage him.
Michael eventually voted, I’ll assume ‘Leave’ and I voted ‘Remain’ we both left.
He opened the door to his car, telling his children it was time to pick up the pizza (that’s how I know what was on the menu that evening) and he left, driving as wildly as when I first encountered him.
I returned home in dismay, worried about the result.
I can’t know for sure but Michael didn’t appear to be a regular voter – his lack of knowledge of the polling stations location despite his local accent suggested he had made a special effort to vote. But the things he said while waiting where hideous and given the evidence of the months since the referendum result we can see that he really isn’t alone.
I know not everyone who voted ‘Leave’ is a Michael, but I wonder if we really want to hand the keys of the UK to people like this? If they get what they want where do they stop? Michael didn’t mind Alvin at the Chinese takeaway but I wondered how he felt about the local barber who is actually an Iraqi refugee. A young man who fled conflict in his own country and has made a good life for himself here, married to a lovely Polish lady and now with a British born child. How far does the anti-immigration view go? How far has hate in England and Wales engulfed our nation and our national identity?
Last night I was told by the lovely Lesley that ‘we’d lost’ but to everyone who thinks it’s okay to just accept defeat then I’d ask you to look again.
Do you know a Michael? Do you want the future of the UK to be determined by a vision built on fear and loathing. I want my daughter to know I fought every single day to give her an inclusive, tolerant future and if that means being less tolerant of the ridiculousness the people of the UK and the Westminster elite have brought down upon us then so be it.
Being an ultra marathon runner you come to realise that the starting gun or vote is just the beginning of the race and I’m hoping that those who want to be part of the EU feel like endurance runners because this race has a steep profile, lots of evil elevation and big fast downhills but by holding steady, getting our nutrition right we might just finish this. Let’s hope those who dream of an EU-less UK have gone out too quick and blown up at checkpoint one.