Some words are extensively overused in political debate. Journalists and academics are often guilty of peppering their analysis with words such as ‘catastrophic’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘seismic’, giving stories more gravitas, and more appeal than they might otherwise have. The extensive use of these words since the early hours of Friday 24th June is not only fitting, but actually doesn’t quite seem to express the magnitude of the events that are unfolding minute by minute, hour by hour, in the fallout from the EU referendum result. In some ways, the result itself has a become a mere backdrop to more immediate events, and its significance will only really become clear in the coming months, once domestic politics return back to ‘business as usual’ – or something like it.
The EU referendum result was shocking. While many are now arguing that they saw the writing on the wall well before last Thursday, the truth is, many of us, whether we be academics, journalists, or the man and woman on the street, did not see this as a realistic political reality. These enormous political changes rarely happen and the status quo is just that, because it tends to weather the storms and carry on regardless. There will be no return to the status quo following this vote. That was clear on Friday morning as we watched David Cameron, voice breaking, resign as Prime Minister, and we watched Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the victors, give a victory speech which reminded me very much of the last scenes from the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones. Indeed, Gove and Johnson looked as surprised by the result as everyone else, and it is safe to say they didn’t look very victorious. In actual fact, they looked like men contemplating the massive impact of what they had done, and wondering if perhaps they hadn’t gone too far. What became very clear very quickly was that the ‘Vote Leave’ camp had been doing a very good job of papering over the cracks in their different attitudes by ignoring issues which would inevitably need dealing with in the event of a ‘No’ vote.
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