Oh how the British laughed when Donald Trump announced he was running for president last year. “Oh how funny,” was the general reaction, “only in America”. 12 months on he’s the Republican nominee, has a decent chance of being in the White house and no one is laughing. Not least because while Trump has been rising to dizzying heights within the GOP the British government unleashed its own strain of madness by announcing the referendum on the EU.
The campaigns by both sides are characterised by fear, desperation and very little regard for the truth. We are now a week away from voting day and in the last 24 hours chancellor George Osborne has threatened a £30bn ‘punishment budget’ if we vote out, Leave has released an immigration poster which more than echoes those used in Nazi Germany and Bob Geldof made a wa***r sign at Nigel Farage as they floated down the Thames on opposing EU flotillas.
We are past the point of parody. When did Britain decide it was okay to throw off the traditional cloak of mild mannered insults and over italicized budget figures which usually define political campaigns in favour of all out hysteria? It’s excruciating. At the same time English fans are being accused of forcing begging children in France to drink beer for coins at Euro 2016 and a Labour MP has been shot.
The impression you get from afar is that the UK is a pretty nasty place to be. That it is unwelcoming and angry. The referendum has shown its politicians to have as little faith in the voters as the voters do in them, and the only way to win votes is through cheap stunts and fear. By calling the referendum Britain could have shown the world that in the age of social media and viral videos a country can still hold a dignified political debate and, whatever the outcome, respect process and democracy.
It could have been the welcome contrast to a US political campaign which is unprecedented in recent times for vitriol and falsities. Instead we choose to shout and leer and make lewd gestures. The media blame the politicians, the politicians blame the media and the voters blame both. Everyone thinks everyone is against them. We have descended into the worst kind of ‘us and them’ mentality.
As I write this news has broken that Jo Cox MP has died from a vicious and unprovoked attack. She is the first British politician to be killed since the IRA assassinated Ian Gow in 1990. What affect this will have on public sentiment and British democracy is unclear. What is clear is that the UK can no longer look over the pond and sneer, we have too many problems of our own.