What That Viral Apocalyptic Vision of Brexit Means for Us
Leaving the EU will impoverish us all, according to someone from the 'Leave Alliance'.
(Photo by Oscar Webb)
Sometimes, when the world seems to buzz with maddening tension, I want to see what the worst would look like. The world is well on the way to destruction and almost entirely irredeemable anyway, but not completely; it's not complete – it gives me an itch in the brain. It's the waiting that's unbearable. Enough sniping and chattering on the Korean peninsula: let's fire up the jets, put all those artillery pieces in gear, send out the nukes in every direction and finally know how it feels when the ballistic missiles arc in fluffy white trails towards you and everyone you love, to hold that last glance into another person's eyes and think: 'Well, that's that then.'
Forget the intolerable slow-boil of climate change, evaporate the oceans now. The Brexit negotiations are boring and endless: I should be dead already, from poverty or chlorinated chicken or some obscure sub-clause in the WTO regulations that demands a daily blood sacrifice. I demand to die from Brexit at once.
It's the same impulse that makes you secretly want the villain's monstrous plan to succeed in every hammy action film: you'd like to see the spectacle of it, all those CGI cities crumbling under the wave of killer robots or frazzling up in a death-ray's careless path, until the hero finally arrives to ruin the fun and save your bad conscience. So grudging thanks have to go out to Pete North of the Leave Alliance, this week's hero, for finally defeating the allure of the apocalypse.
The Leave Alliance is a kind of motley residue of the Brexit movement. Made up of something called the Campaign for an Independent Britain, something else called the Harrogate Agenda, an algae-choked old Thatcherite think-tank called the Bruges Group, a piece of UKIP flotsam called Futurus and a campaign group called Restore Britain's Fish, it never had the headline-grabbing, star-studded manic death-drive that powered the mainstream parliamentary Brexit campaigns. The Leave Alliance represents the moderate wing of fanaticism, which neatly explains why nobody on either side has been paying much attention until now. They stood for a soft Brexit from the beginning, leaving the EU but retaining Common Market membership – the "Norway option", the kind of miserable compromise that interested absolutely nobody during the referendum, and still interests nobody now it's our last best hope.
You'd expect, then, that the Leave Alliance's Pete North would be horrified by what he's pretending to have helped wrought: a Britain slipping slowly and tediously off its axis, spit out of Europe, foundering in the sea. He should be running for the safe blanketing snow of Scandinavia. But he's not. As he explains in the title of a blog post this week, "I don't like this Brexit, but I will live with it." It's not perfect, he says, but it has one upside: it will kill me, and probably it will kill you too.
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It's sobering to see the end of everything itemised like North does in his blog, in the final accountancy-adjustment of doom; it makes it all a lot less exciting. North runs breezily through all the likely consequences of Theresa May's try-it-and-see Brexit: first we "are going to lose a lot of manufacturing". Before long, "food importers will have crushed all UK competition" before raising prices on essentials "simply because they can". There will be a "spike in crime". The NHS will become "more of a skeleton service than ever". Brexit will "wipe out the cosseted lower middle class and remind them that they are just as dispensable as the rest of us". (As Pol Pot said, "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss.") All in all, he concludes, "culturally it will be a great improvement on the status quo".
All in all, it's going to affect you the most. Yes, you, the artisanal, VICE-reading soft-arse, involuntarily celibate, emotionally literate reluctant gentrifier and all-round sluggish stereotyped dullard. You, still worrying about which types of fermented tea are and aren't cool, as if you're not slipping on the cusp of your thirties, as if the coolest thing isn't a sound portfolio of investments and the metallic taste of oncoming death. You, blinking like Nietzsche's last man in the face of a calamity you can't face or explain. You, safe in the bubble of extraordinary prosperity we've all been enjoying these last ten years, as if people aren't being murdered in their hundreds every day for no reason other than that fate despises the unlucky.
Pete North has a plan for you.
"I expect," he writes, "to see a cultural revolution where young people actually start doing surprising and reckless things again rather than becoming tedious hipsters drinking energy drinks in pop-up cereal bar book shops or whatever it is they do these days. We'll be back to the days when students had to be frugal and from their resourcefulness manage to produce interesting things and events."
He concludes: "I'm of the view that in recent years people have become increasingly spoiled and self-indulgent, inventing psychological problems for themselves in the absence of any real challenges or imperatives to grow as people… A little austerity might very well make us less frivolous."
Consequences that will be most devastating to the most vulnerable are justified, because they were too rich. When the NHS collapses and tens of thousands of people die from preventable illnesses, it will be worth it, because it'll stop you buying all those energy drinks you love so much. The loss of yet another generation to poverty and hopelessness will be instantly redeemed in our cultural balance-book, so long as a few of our notoriously cash-rich students put on an interesting puppet show.
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North's shtick probably isn't representative of Brexit voters as a whole, but it's there in the discursive background, muttering away. Behind all the ephemeral guff of economic necessities and difficult decisions, there's a timeless, ageless stink. It shouldn't surprise you that this flabby social sadism is coming from a moderate Brexiteer, pushing a reasonable Brexit: reason and moderation are just a basic acceptance of what already is, and what exists is spite, all the way down.
These are not new ideas. It's a petty, mildewed, etiolated version of Oswald Spengler or Edward Gibbon: the opulent comfort of our society has made its people weak and overfed, unable to stand up against threats to decency or morality, soaking in a puddle of decadence. What's needed is a dose of real suffering, to thin out the weak and make the rest tougher. Kill the poor – it's for their own good. New men will arise, hard and warlike, joyful in destruction.
"We will glorify war," the Italian Futurists wrote in 1909, "the world's only hygiene – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman." For war, read Brexit. "The oldest of us is 30," they wrote, "so we have at least a decade for finishing our work. When we are 40, other younger and stronger men will probably throw us in the wastebasket like useless manuscripts – we want it to happen!"
But young people aren't interested in glorious apocalypses any more; they'd quite like to live. So the old must overthrow them, creaking with superannuated vitality, bringing back a strength and youth that looks a lot like the supposed stupidity it's meant to be replacing. Pete North never considered that he might be one of the spoiled and self-indulgent, acting out his own spiteful fantasies, another symptom of a dying age.
Pete North was contacted for comment on this piece. He replied: "I might suggest you dig deeper on the blog and have a look at some of the more prominent Leave HQ pieces. What you will find is that few people have put in more time and effort to prevent a hard Brexit. And if more hacks had taken the time to read those pieces rather than misrepresenting my views we perhaps would not be where we are. We've been quite clear that a WTO option Brexit is the worst Brexit outcome. You might also want to take into account how we got to a dangerous precipice – and the political failures that led us here. Look at that and the political dysfunction behind it, you might then see why, as a second prize, I don't mind if politics collapses."