On Wednesday morning a talented young, black musician was beaten up in a park in South London and told to ‘get back on the boat’. He was born here, so too his parents, my friends, both of whom worked for many years in the NHS. On Tuesday an email arrived from Albert Persaud, director of a prestigious psychiatry research centre. Doctors in his team are concerned about the breakout of racial hostility and it effect on black and Asian patients. In another email, Sheila Melzak, a consultant child psychotherapist who works with young asylum seekers and refugees, claimed the children have been severely bullied in the last four months. I was recently spat at and abused on a bus in High Street Kensington by a woman in her fifties: ‘ Fuck back off Paki. This is my country’. This squalid referendum campaign has released the stench of chauvinism, the germs of infectious bigotry. Prejudice is irrational and intoxicating, emotive and powerful. Throw in introverted nationalism, nostalgia and reassuring lies and you get a seriously potent narcotic. Farage et al cynically doped millions of voters and here we are, a small, mean, nasty, divided, vicious, boorish and also deluded Britain.
In 1963, In Smethwick, Tory Peter Griffiths overturned a massive Labour majority by repeatedly using one simple slogan: ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’. Lamentably, we have returned to those dark old days. The unspoken Brexit slogan was ‘If you want a migrant for a neighbour, vote remain’. Those trapped in austerity poverty, many working class grouches, middle class jingoists and anti-elite, anti-intellectual populists all ganged up against the hapless, hard working EU worker. I doubt they really believe that once this lot has been seen off, jobs will go ( or be taken up) by the true-born, hearts of oak men and women. But realism has no place in this fantasy land.
They say they want their country back. Which country would that be? Not the one that was reflected in the upbeat, optimistic Olympics. As A.A Gill observed in a magnificent tirade: ‘ We all know what they mean. Back from Johnny Foreigner, back from the brink, back from the future…’ Even though it smelt like, looked like and sounded like racism, Brexiters insist that the vile anti- immigration rhetoric reflected genuine, nativist anguish. On Friday night, even Ukip’s Douglas Carswell expressed his dismay at the way refugees and migrants were demonised by his party. I share his dismay. Worse still, many of those who turned paranoid and xenophobia had once themselves been refugees and economic migrants. I am an exile, forced out by Idi from my homeland Uganda. Thousands of my people voted for Brexit, some because they are obnoxiously selfish, others because they pathetically think this gives them brownie points for patriotism.
On Friday morning my working class English husband and I said we both felt sorrow, terror and shame. Is this what we have become? Has Nigel Farage replaced Jessica Ennis as the face of Britain? Yes. A plague on those who brought us here.
Published GQ magazine 25th June 2016