Lucy Mangan

“I am paralysed by furious helplessness”: Lucy Mangan on feeling like a stranger in the face of a new Britain

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Lucy Mangan
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Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan explains why she wants out, following Britain's ground-breaking vote to leave the EU

I feel like a stranger in my own land. Which is a shame, now that we have just voted ourselves into isolation.

We’re Out. Over 33 million people voted and 51.9% of them came down in favour of leaving the European Union. I’m in the 48.1% minority who wants to stay, but go we must.

I am paralysed by a more intense version of the furious helplessness that has been stealing up on me throughout the referendum campaign.

It began with the calling of the referendum itself.

David Cameron farmed the question out to us, assuming everyone would vote for the status quo, instead of taking on the Eurosceptics in his own party because he was scared it would cause a split that would force him out of office (pause, obviously, to appreciate the irony here, a few hours after his resignation).

It should never even have been something for us to decide. It’s exactly the kind of thing we elect and pay our politicians for. Investigating constitutional, legal and economic ramifications and deciding what’s best for the country as a whole is very much their job. But no. It was handed off to us by a man too cowardly to pursue his own course.

And then the campaigns began. One led by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, both of whose careers would inevitably prosper in the event of a Leave vote.

In an ideal world, an electoral result is the culmination of two well-fought campaigns arguing facts and figures with each other and an electorate taking a well-informed decision at the end of it, fully appreciative of the possible consequences – good and bad – of whatever change is under consideration.

It is the product of debate, conclusion, information, consideration and whether you agree with the outcome or not, you can take comfort in the rigour of the process. God, imagine that.

It never happens, of course, but everything about the referendum has taken us so far from even the usual depredations upon this ideal that the outcome has left many – 48.1% of us, I guess - feeling like we live now in an entirely different country from than the one that existed six months ago.

The campaign led by Nigel Farage - the privately-educated former commodities broker founder member of UKIP, now self-styled ‘man of the people’, and not a member of parliament – infected everything with his toxic brand of “dog-whistle” not-at-all-racism.

This became less “dog” and more “earsplitting” as time went on, as he stood in front of posters purporting to show queues of migrants at our borders (they weren’t) that directly recalled Nazi propaganda and called the murder of Jo Cox by a man shouting “Britain First” (a rabidly anti-foreign-blood group) “unfortunate timing”.

Not every Leaver is racist. I absolutely know this, not least because I am married to a keen Brexiter. But Farage and his ilk preyed on legitimate fears and stoked them with misinformation about all of ‘Them’ coming over here to take ‘Our’ jobs.

And there was no effective counteraction of this. Labour – headed by someone barely fit for leadership purpose anyway and a lifelong Eurosceptic himself who couldn’t bring himself to compromise for the greater good of stanching Farage et al’s poisonous spew – never mustered an effective opposition. Never rebutted a thing effectively. Never managed to organise themselves sufficiently to score even the easiest points.

Meanwhile, the best Cameron’s crew could come up with was Project Fear – trying to scare voters into staying because the future could be worse, instead of coming out with evidence of the peace and prosperity Europe brings, the benefits of immigration, disproving the endless lies pumped out by those with their own, unaccountable agendas.

So, furious helplessness, disgust and panic have been the order of the day for months now.  To that list I am now adding despair.

Farage’s gamey-smelling anti-authoritarianism fell on fertile ground because so many people have been alienated by politics and deprived of their basic needs and had their jobs threatened by austerity and other government policies. Their vulnerability can be easily exploited and their attention focused on the wrong targets; the EU and/or the people it lets in.

Meanwhile, the people who made people so powerless and frustrated that a leap into the unknown seems more appealing than maintaining the conditions of their current lives, who created the conditions for a rupture whose effects will be felt for generations to come, get off scot-free (resigning to take up a lucrative career on the after-dinner circuit does not count as punishment) or start lining up for even bigger, better jobs in Downing Street.

Fury. Helplessness. Despair. And sadness.

I’m just so, so sad. Not even that it came to this – who knows what leaving’s actual effects might be, though I cast my In vote according to my interpretation of such evidence as I could glean – but that it came to this like this

If this is the new Britain we’re in, I’d like out.

Photos: Getty Images