Before this session about Brexit started, a strange and annoying man in a purple top hat came and started talking to me. As the session began, he started shouting “boo!” and telling me what to type. The woman next to me told him to go away (kia ora Charlotte!). He slunk off, muttering something about free speech (his not mine).
David Slack did a good job of chairing this popular session: British Muslim author Ed Husain and Scottish crime writer Denise Mina, both lively participants with a lot to say. They weren’t the only ones – boy did we, the audience, have reckons. Sometimes when question time comes round the chair has to coax the first question out of us. But here as soon as the lights went up so did at least a dozen impatient hands.
Husain, a former Islamic radicalist who has also worked as an advisor for Tony Blair, told us he was optimistic about the post-Brexit world, reminding us about the positive effects of Henry VIII’s break with Europe to create the Church of England. He spoke reverently of British democracy with a fervour that bordered on the un-English, pointing out repeatedly that it was more important to honour the democratic process than to remain in the EU.
As well as being NZ-born Pākehā I am also British – specifically, I am English. I remember when I learned about Brexit. It was very upsetting – I put my cup of tea down so suddenly it probably almost spilled. Good heavens, I may have stated aloud. What the gosh-darned heck do you fellows think you’re up to. I turn my back for five minutes and you leave the EU! And after the London 2012 Olympics went so well. Someone hold my crumpet.
Like, I suspect, most of the audience, I took Brexit personally. If you’ve been following the Brexit news at all, the ground covered by Husain and Mina was pretty familiar. But I was struck by Mina’s characterisation of Brexit as a ‘big baggy bundle of grievances’; lots of personal annoyances and affronts wound up by scaremongers and misinformation into a spasm of protest that was against a lot of things without being for much in particular. ‘People were looking for some sort of social rupture to make them feel alive.’
Mina also made the interesting point that the UK still needs migrant workers in the care sector, and since they can’t come from Europe as easily they’ll instead be coming from Africa. Because care work is so intimate, it will hopefully lead to more people of different ethnicities becoming friendly. Mina sees this as a potential challenge to the racism that has become more open and violent since Brexit: ‘I’m quite excited by that’. She also pointed out that, since the EU is essentially neoliberal, leaving will mean that Britain can have more control over its labour models, amongst other things.
I had to duck out a few minutes early to dash to the FAFSWAG Vogue workshop, but my spies tell me that the purple-hatted chap returned to angrily disrupt the end of question time. He was irritating and rude, but it was an apt reminder that, in this crazy thing we call a democracy, his vote counts just as much as mine. Voilá: Brexit.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage