“Only a revolution can save us now,” said UK independence maven Nigel Farage this morning. Indeed – it’s starting to look that way.
Today, March 29th 2019, was supposed to have been the day that the UK left the EU. ‘Brexit Day’ was a date pencilled into many a diary and wall calendar – the date the UK would either experience the joyous state of elation that comes with full independence – or the day that Armageddon finally kicked off – a depending on your point of view.
Instead, all we have is a heap of broken promises, a mass of frustrated and aggrieved voters and a dispiriting display of parliamentary shenanigans that would put a chimps’ tea party to shame.
So, what next? Well, apart from an undignified political free-for-all and a raft of new ‘meaningful’ (meaningless?) votes, as well as an endless series of parliamentary amendments (assuming the Remain-voting Speaker John Bercow deigns to allow them to be debated) – it seems like it will be a continuation of business as usual, with the political class doing everything in its power to ensure the status quo is not threatened in any way.
How will this go down with the electorate? More specifically, how will it go down with those who voted for Brexit and now feel a deep sense of betrayal? If nothing else, Brexit has shone a light on the way power works in this country and revealed to a great many people the limits of the democratic system. How, many people ask, can such a seemingly simple thing as leaving a trading bloc have morphed into something so contentious and difficult?
One thing is for sure: anger and dissatisfaction is mounting as the disconnect between voters and their representatives in Parliament becomes clear.
I’m thinking of France’s Yellow Vests and wondering if the same thing could happen here in Britain. The Yellow Vests, by and large, are a grassroots movement of regular working people who have an acute awareness that they are being thrown under l’autobus by the elite strata of society which has done so well out of globalised capitalism. Just like people who supported Brexit, the Yellow Vests have been on the receiving end of a tirade of abuse by the national media, in the case based in Paris. They are routinely called troublemakers and ‘right wing activists’ and are looked down upon by the folks who, just over two centuries ago, would no doubt wonder why this noisy rabble couldn’t just eat some cake and quieten down.
But the Yellow Vests have been very successful in their protests against President Macron and all that he represents. By refusing to back down, and being willing to have their fingers blown off by police grenades, their heads caved in by riot batons and their eyes blown out of their sockets by rubber bullets, they’ve proved that they are a different breed from the internet clicktivists that governments everywhere are so fond of precisely because they are so easy to ignore. The Yellow Vests have even forced their petulant president to bring in the army with orders to use live rounds on their own citizens, at a stroke reducing him to the status of a tin pot dictator.
And the bright fluorescent yellow vests worn by the French protestors are entirely appropriate. They are cheap, highly visible and all motorists must own one by law. In fact, it is one of the burgeoning laws foisted upon the French public that has made them feel they are suffering from death by a thousand cuts. What’s more, the vests are a blank canvas for writing slogans upon, and you can’t be arrested for wearing one. They might be armless but they’re far from harmless.
Is there a British equivalent symbol of protest?
Why, of course there is – the humble umbrella. Consider its properties as a symbolic motif for the building sense of frustration with the political class.
· It’s portable and utilitarian
· It’s inclusive – you can buy one for £1
· The very term ‘umbrella’ symbolises a unity of disparate causes, bound together under one overarching principle
· You can’t be arrested for carrying one
· It has defensive some properties if you find yourself under attack
· It’s a blank canvas on which to display your individual message or cause – you can even pimp it with technology such as webcams, or strap it to a drone and make it fly
· It’s an ironic statement, given that the umbrella is perhaps most associated with images of civil servants, City bankers and other members of the London elite classes who govern and otherwise set the rules the bottom 90% of the populace must live by
· More people are likely to turn up to protests if it is raining
Of course, it’s not an entirely new concept to protest using an umbrella – a movement in Hong Kong used it in 2014 to object to China’s lack of democratic reforms.
So any British Umbrella Movement would need to distinguish itself.
Perhaps that’s what they could be called – the British Umbrella Movement – or B.U.M. – the bottom 90% of society.
I expect to see plenty of BUMers on the streets if this political impasse persists any longer.