Brendan O’Neill

Brexit is the most punk thing to have happened in years

Brexit is the most punk thing to have happened in years
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It turns out rock didn’t die when Elvis joined the Army in 1958, or when the Beatles accepted their OBEs in the 1960s, or when Vivienne Westwood went from making filthy t-shirts for punks to being dressmaker-in-chief to the filthy-rich bourgeoisie. No, it died last Thursday, outside Liverpool St, when an NME distributor shoved the latest issue of the once rebellious mag into my hands and I glanced at its cover and realised it is a special issue on how to cope with life outside the EU. For real.

In the words of NME editor Mike Williams, this latest issue is chock-a-block with ‘sage advice’ on how to cope with the post-Brexit ‘madness that’s engulfed the UK’. It’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. ‘Anarchy in the UK’ screams the front-cover headline, next to photos of Nigel Farage with devil’s horns, Boris looking bonkers, and Cameron looking stressed out. Remember when youths thought anarchy in the UK might be a good thing? When Johnny Rotten snarled, ‘I want to be anarchy… get pissed, destroy’? Now the NME loses the plot over a bit of political unpredictability and pumps out advice like: ‘Make sure you have savings.’ I’m not making this up.

This issue is more therapy than anarchy; less punk, more PSE classroom hug. 'The world we live in is terrifying,' readers are told. ‘Your rent could go up,' they’re warned. The mag brings together various talking heads and music people — journos, financial advisers, rappers — to outline what an absolute nightmare Brexit is. ‘Get yourself a help-to-buy ISA,' says a money expert. ‘Tell your MP what you think,' says Mhairi Black. Try to ‘feel less alone in the confusion,' says Sam Duckworth of Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (a band, apparently). Ironically, I wasn’t worried about the state of Britain until I saw this copy of NME. Now I’m freaking out. There are really teens and twentysomethings mourning the loss of a bureaucratic machine? Fretting about ISAs? Feeling lost and confused because the people voted against a faraway oligarchy? What’s going on?

Of course, as with most Brexit-bashing commentary, the NME defames the plebs who voted Leave. ‘The public are being more openly racist,' says one of its headlines. Where? What public? Everyone? ‘It’s like the scab has come off,' we’re told, and Brexit has ‘allowed people to feel more open about something that before they would have had to hide out of social nicety.' It never ceases to amaze me that Remainers who openly sneer at the scabby, dumb, brainwashed masses who voted Leave have the gall to wring their hands over the return of prejudicial chatter into public debate. The beam in their eyes is enormous.

Perusing the NME’s sad, stuffy, small-c conservative freakout over this big change in British politics got me thinking: Brexit is actually the most rock’n’roll thing to have happened in a generation. What we have here is ordinary people, including vast swathes of the working class, saying ‘No’ to the status quo, sticking two fingers up at an aloof elite, channelling Rotten and Vicious to say screw you (or something rather tastier) to that illiberal, risk-averse layer of bureaucracy in Brussels. It makes the student radicals of the 60s and even the anarchic punks of the 70s look like rank amateurs in comparison. Sure, those guys might have waved flowers against the Vietnam War or put safety pins through their snouts, but did they send the political class, the chattering class and the business elite into an existential tailspin by delivering a severe sucker punch to these people’s favourite institution? No, they didn’t. Brexit did, though.

The NME shows what side it is on by this week replacing the 'E' in its name with the Euro sign. So it is openly celebrating a currency that has caused chaos for so many working Europeans. A currency that is viewed as so holy by the rulers and banks and businesspeople of the European Union that protecting its standing is considered more important than the livelihoods of Greek people or democracy in Italy. There you go, folks: the NME is on the side of The Man against the people. The sellouts. The rebels have become the squares, the youths have become the authoritarians, and the spirit of rock’n’roll no longer lives in the middle-class music scene or leftish activist circles, but in the hearts and minds of the little people.