His fist connected with my lower jaw, throwing my head back several feet from the impact.
I didn’t feel pain as such but more of a huge disturbance, a very sudden and very real shock. I could feel something in my mouth, a tooth maybe, or part of one; I spat it out, I wasn’t going to need that anymore.
My assailant stood in front of me, his hands by his side and a look of disbelief on his face. He had just thrown the hardest punch he had and, for some unknown reason, I was still standing.
I’m sure that neither of us expected that.
I’d been hit before but never with so much force and never with so little warning; I didn’t know why I hadn’t fallen. If I’d had my mouth open it would have broken my jaw for sure; I wasn’t sure that my jaw wasn’t broken, the adrenaline that results from such trauma doesn’t always allow the damage to be revealed for some time.
He was stood there, looking at me.
The colour was starting to drain from his face and the voices of his friends that had, until a few seconds ago been loud and eager, were now hesitant and hushed.
I looked over to them; I was outnumbered 3 to 1. I knew that there was only one thing that I could do that was going to stop me getting a severe beating and it was something that I really didn’t want to happen.
‘This is not a good day for you.’ I said.
And with that, I swallowed hard and took a step forwards.
It’s not every day that something occurs that fundamentally requires you to stop for a moment and think ‘Right, what exactly has just happened?’, but on the morning of the 24 June 2016, I had to do just that.
‘We’re OUT!’ was the simple text message that I woke up to. ‘Whoa!’ I thought, the UK has actually voted to leave the European Union.
After weeks of campaigning from both sides, the outcome was now revealed and, irrespective of which side we all took, the process revealed one solid truth – people felt that they did not have the information they required to make an informed decision on how they should have voted on the UK’s future in the EU.
Both sides preferred the use of scare tactics over facts. There was a savagery about the referendum that was truly ugly and, at times, I was shocked at the language being used by the political elite towards each other.
It was true that people were very animated about the whole thing. My friends on social media were espousing opinions as facts as if they actually knew what the future would hold for either option.
And so was I.
But I’ve always felt that change is a necessary constant but, for some, the idea of leaving the EU was not one they could comprehend at all and for many, our membership of the EU was actually all they’d ever known.
But change isn’t a bad thing and to not change is to not evolve, to not grow but to stagnate, wither and die.
‘The ambition spurs rapid innovation…Standing still is tantamount to extinction.’ – Paddy Lowe, Executive Director, Mercedes Formula One
The results of being reluctant to change are all around us.
Blockbusters was a business that, for over 20 years, rented DVDs to customers. But their business model had become stagnant and they were failing to innovate. Change takes courage and it was easier for Blockbusters to stay as they were. They were market leaders in film rental at the time and when Netflix offered themselves for sale to the company in 2000 for $50 million, they were laughed out of the room. Blockbusters filed for bankruptcy protection on September 23, 2010 and Netflix is now worth $33 billion.
Netflix pushed boundaries and evolved, Blockbusters did not and died.
But why did the people of the UK vote to leave the EU?
Well, actually they didn’t.
Principally, the people voting in the EU referendum were not just voting about their country’s membership of the EU and they were given very little information on what staying in or leaving would look like.
The remain argument was simple – stay as we are or risk uncertainty and it was a popular message amongst my social media friends. But these friends are comfortable financially, they are generally on the housing ladder, have cars and can afford holidays overseas. For those who are not like them, who have nothing and have seen a systematic privatisation of essential public sector services by a Conservative Government hell-bent on austerity, to ‘stay as we are’ was not a message that they felt compelled to embrace.
To the marginalised and disenfranchised of the population who have very little, uncertainty gives them at least some hope that things might change.
To them it seemed that the companies, celebrities and politicians who were ‘well-to-do’, were telling those who weren’t, to ‘remain’ because they didn’t want change to alter their ‘comfortable’ way of life. So they got angry at the elite for their condescending ways, for their aloofness and for thinking they could ‘tell’ the voters which way to vote.
There was very much a self-righteous indignant tone about those telling us to stay in and the British people don’t respond well to threats as an American President was about to discover.
‘The UK is going to be in the back of the queue.’ – Barack Obama
Many people saw the EU as a tanker ship that couldn’t change course. Cameron receiving little from the Commission in March meant that it was apparent that the EU was reluctant to reform. It was inflexible and, more to the point, people didn’t understand why our politicians had seemingly given control of their borders to a remote council.
And above all this, people were sick of the banks being bailed out, big corporations not paying their taxes or, if they got caught out, being allowed to pay a reduced rate. People realised that they were living in a society where businesses were too big to fail. They knew that this wasn’t a capitalist society at all, not everybody had a fair chance to make a success of their lives because now there was regulation in place that stopped true free market economics from working.
Essentially the EU was becoming this, the free trade area was for those in ‘the know’ and the whole experiment was starting to resemble crony capitalism morphing into a bureaucratic socialism.
By trying to move towards a federalised Europe, the EU started to eliminated national identities forcing us social creatures to clamber for a new one so as to feel a sense of belonging. This started a dangerous trend in defining identity and led to many people leaning further towards right-wing politics than they would normally have and, in some cases, even moving to the extreme.
But it wasn’t rocket science to know that when you ignore the working classes for over 20 years, sooner or later, they will eventually get angry and rise up and I was shocked with the social media outpouring after the referendum vote; it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. People that I knew well were acting very out of character some even saying that they were ‘embarrassed to be British’.
Although nobody could be certain that the country had made the right decision, I couldn’t have been more proud to live in a country that had demonstrated that the vote of the people mattered – it was a demonstration to the world that the UK is fair, democratic and a place that you can do business in.
Have you ever wondered why there is so much overseas money in London?
It was depressing to watch the country split cleanly down the middle over a matter that was really only about one thing.
To change takes courage and sometimes that means facing the reality of what has just happened and facing the future however unpalatable that might be.
My father was an ex-Royal Marine and he used to tell me stories of the ‘Bootnecks’ attack on Mount Harriet during the Falklands conflict in 1982 and of how L Company of 42 Commando took 5 hours to advance just 600 metres against fierce enemy resistance.
‘You must always advance to contact the enemy using an overwhelming weight of firepower’ was what he would tell me time and time again!
But unlike the Royal Marines at Mount Harriet, whose courageous efforts eventually took the mountain, it was obvious to me that, after the result had been announced, many of our political elite were showing no such courage.
Before the referendum Cameron had said that he would stay to see whatever result through.
‘Three years ago I committed to the British people that I would renegotiate our position in the European Union and hold an in/out referendum. Now I am delivering on that commitment. You will decide, and whatever your decision, I will do my best to deliver it.’ – David Cameron, 20 Feb 16
‘If we vote to leave, will we carry out that instruction? Yes. Will I carry on as prime minister? Yes.’ – 12 June 16
But, on the morning of the referendum result, Cameron decided to stand down as he wasn’t prepared to deliver on the decision of the people as he had promised. It was reported that he allegedly told his aides ‘Why should I do all the hard s**t for someone else, just to hand it over to them on a plate?’
‘The British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path and, as such I feel the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.’ – David Cameron, on the morning of 23 June 2016
Even a five year old knows that if you make a mess, you clean it up and, although we can agree that the result was not one he wanted, it was the one he deserved. To leave Government because a vote hasn’t gone your way could be said to be behaviour that is more at home in the playground than in high office. Ironically, he had even criticised those wanting to leave the EU by calling them quitters.
‘Leaving is quitting and I don’t think we’re quitters. We’re fighters.’ – David Cameron on those wishing to leave the EU
But, after he had made the choice to take a side in the referendum, Cameron’s departure was inevitable. Had he stayed out of the arguments, remained neutral and kept his promise to guide the country whatever the outcome, maybe he’d still be in power.
‘Imagine how Mr Cameron could have dominated the modernisation of British politics if he had led his country to vote Leave. Instead, he has to be content with little more than gay marriage as his legacy.’ – Charles Moore, Telegraph
As Prime Minister, it was Cameron’s responsibility to have a plan for each outcome yet it became obvious that no such planning had been done. Those who campaigned to leave didn’t have a plan either but they didn’t have to, they could afford to be reckless – they were not in office and were not responsible for the future of the country.
‘The failure to outline a plan to address that contingency (Brexit) indicates the prioritisation of political interests above national security. If the National Security Strategy is to be credible, it must prioritise the maintenance of national security above political expediency.’ – Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy report which openly criticised the Prime Minister’s failure to set out contingency plans for Brexit in the last security review
It seems that Cameron failed for follow the military’s guidance for planning.
‘All battles are won before they are fought.’ – Sun Tzu
When the military plans campaigns it has ‘Plan Bs’, ‘What Ifs’, and ‘Alternative Courses of Action.’ But, as the Chilcott report recently highlighted from the aftermath of the Iraq war, planning isn’t for everyone. A recent report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee says similar on Libya.
‘Through his decision-making in the national security council, former prime minister David Cameron was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy…this meant that a limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change by military means.’ – Foreign Affairs Select Committee report into Cameron’s Libya Intervention.
Over the next few weeks, the British public was to see the real character of many of those who had been campaigning as aptly defined by Theresa May.
‘Like Indiana Jones, I don’t like snakes – though that might lead some to ask why I’m in politics.’ – Theresa May
Maybe history holds some guidance.
In 380 BC, soon after the end of the Corinthian War, Plato wrote the ‘Latches’, a discussion in which Socrates is asked a simple question by two Athenian generals.
‘What is courage?’
The question was asked to resolve a dispute between the Generals, Laches and Nicias, over whether boys in military training should be taught to fight with or without wearing armour.
In deciding that the purpose of the training is to instil courage, Socrates asks Latches ‘What is courage?’
Latches replies that ‘he is a man of courage who does not run away, but remains at his post and fights against the enemy…’
Socrates does not entirely agree with this and cites the Scythians fighting style of not persevering in battle unnecessarily but retreating to strike with skirmishes at a pursuing enemy as seen in the Scythians Campaign of Darius I in 513 BC.
After further conversation as to whether courage is aligned with wisdom it concludes with no definitive answer but the reader is left with one thought…
…that courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared.
Most of us won’t ever face the kind of courage that is found on a windswept South Atlantic battlefield or defined in a conversation over two and a half millennia ago and that is OK. But for many who have been in conflict and have displayed or witnessed actual courage in its most visceral of forms, they must now look at the British political landscape with incredulity.
Cameron will not face what is to be feared. On 12 September 2016 he left into political obscurity and probably a lucrative wage on the international speaking circuit to join other senior political figures who have also made exceptionally poor decisions whilst in office.
Cameron recklessly gambled with the country’s future.
An internal party squabble will end up causing huge instability across Europe and all because of his failure to understand that the referendum was never about the EU, it was about elitism, inequality and an establishment who had lost touch with those they were supposed to represent. His downfall was putting his politics before the people he was supposed to be leading. If Cameron had decided to put our membership of the EU to a public vote because he honestly believed that it was what was best for the people, his case might be easier to argue.
But he didn’t.
We can agree that there can be no greater example of public service than to entrust the people with the biggest political decision of a generation, and then to faithfully carry out their wishes. But, that is not why Cameron called the vote. His biographers Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowdon have said that the Prime Minister had three objectives when he called this vote: ‘to pacify Eurosceptic critics, neutralise UKIP, and take the EU off the front pages’.
This proves that high public office is not necessarily about public service and, it could be said that, by not staying in office to enact Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, it demonstrates that Cameron was anything but a ‘true public servant’.
A leader displaying true courage recognises that you must roll with the punches even when things don’t go the way you wanted them to.
Leaders lead, cowards cower.
‘Integrity is doing the right thing even if nobody is watching.’ – CS Lewis
Cameron did not do the right thing and everyone was watching and, as an example of leadership for future generations, it was a poor one.
So we voted and the country went into shock largely because those at the top failed to realise in their arrogance that democracy meant that their vote was worth just as much as the guy who picks up their rubbish every day – the one they’ve never talked to.
‘The public want honesty from their politicians. Not showy gimmicks.’ – Theresa May
Democracy can be an inconvenience for those in power but for those they represent, it is often all they have.
What we experienced was historic in democratic terms; it showed a nation that was determined to not be led from afar, from a faceless unaccountable bureaucratic entity. The people not only wanted to regain control from the EU but to punish the political elite for allowing it to be given away. The people were not to stop at the politicians; their vote to leave also was meant to punish the businessmen, ‘experts’ (like those who failed to predict the 2008 crash) and the celebrities who attempted to lecture the ‘little people’ about how they should vote.
‘No one wants to see me insult you rich, beautiful, over-privileged celebrities…you’re better than ordinary people…If we’ve learnt one thing it’s that famous people are above the law, as it should be.’ – Rick Gervais, Golden Globes 2015
People were angry at political correctness; they wanted something that was missing throughout the debate – authenticity.
What Cameron and his cronies had failed to realise was what the UK meant to the rest of Europe, something a French President was well aware of many years ago.
The UK has always been a reluctant European, even Président Charles de Gaulle said so in 1963 when he said “Non!” to Britain in Europe when he vetoed British entry into the European Economic Community.
He knew the British character well and that Britain would be reluctant to lose some of its preferences with trading in the Commonwealth.
‘England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has in all her doings very marked and very original habits and traditions.’ – Charles de Gaulle, 1963
It is over 50 years since those words were spoken and a fitting time to find a new course. Charles de Gaulle had signed the Élysée Treaty a week earlier, cementing a friendship with France’s former enemy, Germany. He knew that Britain could never be part of that sort of partnership and that it would never surrender its independence to create a European political collaboration.
If a French President knew this about Britain 50 years ago, then it should have been apparent to a British Prime Minister today.
So, as I learnt in a street fight many years ago, sometimes change necessitates doing something you don’t want to do and that is the very definition of courage. Being attacked in the street by some drunken yobs meant that my comfortable normality was shattered in a moment. Years of rugby training and wisdom from my father, however, meant that I was able to deal with the change and walk away largely unscathed.
Don’t get me wrong, I was always going to take a beating either way, but just less of a beating by having the courage to stand up to my aggressors.
So Cameron wasn’t able to display his courage in defeat to the British public and he has paid with his political reputation – the irony being that the ‘Big Society’ that he was unable to sell to the people back in 2010 was the same one that recognised his arrogance and cavalier actions in 2016 and decided to destroy his political career.
‘I think it was the most reckless decision to announce that he was going to hold a referendum in a few years’ time.’ – Kenneth Clarke MP
There is something almost comforting about the fact that you can’t ‘buy’ the British voter with subterfuge and duplicity. And, if you patronise and push them enough they won’t just ruin your political career but they’ll also change the political landscape of their country, forever.
My American friends said that the days after the referendum made ‘House of Cards’ look like an episode of ‘Sesame Street’.
And as a final insult to the public, in producing one of the most controversial resignation honours lists, Cameron used his final act of patronage to honour 46 donors, aides and allies.
Soon, our new PM will negotiate our exit of the EU and trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The change that the country will go through will take significant courage as we face the unknown but we shouldn’t fear change that is truly necessary.
We must embrace it.
And as a French President highlighted many years ago, we might be ‘bad Europeans’ but we are also a shining example of a democratic country which has proved that its Government is able to listen to, and act on, the will of its people.
And, on which ever side you voted, that should be something that we all agree must be celebrated.
NOTE: On 12 September 2016, the Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed David Cameron to be Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. The appointment allows a Member of Parliament to resign as it disqualifies them from holding a seat in the House of Commons.
Serving UK military personnel are not permitted to comment on Members of Parliament.