Granny storming the barricades

Granny storming the barricades

La Liberté guidant le peuple

Richard Nabavi on the post-BREXIT world

You know the drill.  It’s a scenario which has played out many times in countries around the world, sometimes peaceably, sometimes with much violence: the old elite is overthrown, an iconoclastic movement tears down the old structures and grabs power.  Regimes and institutions which looked as though they would last for ever are suddenly overthrown, with breath-taking speed.  What seemed permanent vanishes in front of you.  Old certainties no longer apply: suddenly, a new lot are in power, drawing their support from a popular movement which ignores expert opinion and, in a burst of enormous energy and self-confidence, wants to do things a completely different way.

And make no mistake about it – this is an iconoclastic revolution; not violent like the storming of the Bastille, but extraordinary all the same.  Like all revolutions, it started as a result of legitimate concerns being channelled into an enormous well of popular anger, inchoate and unfocused, but raging against the Other.  Most such revolutions end in tears.  Most end up not with the elite being overthrown, but with the old elite being replaced by a new elite.  Deep-seated problems, and real or perceived grievances, turn out not to be susceptible to quite such easy solutions as the revolutionaries thought.

We shall see how this one turns out, but in one respect this revolution is already quite unlike any other. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive”, wrote Wordsworth, “But to be young was very heaven!”  And that’s the oddity of this extraordinary event:  revolutions are supposed to be the work of the young:  brash, excitable, over-confident, energetic, thinking they know better than their risk-averse elders, and with little to lose from the overthrow of the status-quo.  But in this case it’s the other way round: according to YouGov, 18-24 year olds voted 75% for the Establishment option of Remain, but in the 65-plus age group, 61% were up there storming the barricades.  The young have had their preferred Establishment shattered on their behalf.  It’s an inversion with profound consequences for the politics of the UK.  I wouldn’t pretend to be able to guess how it will play out.

Richard Nabavi

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