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POLITICS: Winter is coming - geekdom must reclaim Britain

Having recently read all the Game of Thrones novels and actively avoided the glaring spoilers of the final forthcoming book (damn you, Sky TV posters!) I'm still caught in George K Martin's universe of tribalism and uncertainty. The Northmen are scattered and divided, and the recent events affecting Jon Snow (the parallels with Channel 4 are glaring!) mean that "Winter is coming".

GoT nerds will know that this expression is synonymous with war, tribalism, uncertainty, the horror of the 'others' invading. An army of spirit wights appear to rise from the dead and kill off great warriors indiscriminately. They can't be killed or fought through conventional methods; only one fat, effete, failed soldier called Sam has figured out an experimental way of defeating them, and he's isolated. Nobody takes him seriously, with his camp, mumbling, bookishness. 

See, in the testosterone-fuelled, Hobbesian, Medieval fantasy universe of Game of Thrones, intellectuals aren't taken seriously. Even those (especially those) who have answers to the threats affecting the realm. Experts like Sam are goaded, mocked  by the ruling warmongers; sarcastically christened with nicknames like The Slayer for their chubby, battle-unfriendly physique. The nerd-types lack - or are seen to lack - the chutzpah and testosterone to survive in a dog-eat-dog world of brutal, pitiless competition and tribal warfare. The knowledge of 'experts' is treated with mockery, contempt and even loathing, partly out of genuine dismissal, but also from a deep-seated fear. After all, a bookworm may in fact have an evolutionary advantage over a weapons expert in a war. Knowledge is power, but brain without brawn is suspicious.

Any parallels with the Leave campaign mentality emerging from my Game of Thrones synopsis yet?

Winter is coming to us in Britain. It's late June and the long, fine days of Glastonbury and Wibledon will shore up the depression post-Brexit for the next few weeks. Euro 2016 football, the Rio games... so much opium for the masses to distract themselves with during July and August when many Britons have cheap holidays booked up and paid for and will splash about in swimming pools in Spain. There will be plenty of petitions, newspaper campaigns and tabloid commentary on Brexit Britain now we are out of the EU. Economists and political leaders will meet and plan, fret and calculate, whinge and write. But the tribes of Britain, the Cornish and the Lancastrians, the Mancunians, the Geordies, the Essexmen and the Yorskshiremen are still in summer mode. Shirts off and beach towels out when on holiday in Spain or Portugal. Carling and choc ices aplenty to get through the working week.

But winter is coming.

Quite literally too. Soon enough the sports competitions will be over, the Olympics been and gone, and holiday money spent on paella and street party food. Britain's workers will need to face the harsh reality of darker days, a devalued pound and likely inflation, leading to worse quality of living. Business owners and entrepreneurs will have to face renegotiations of trade deals, possible downsizing or relocating of their employees or the business itself to keep up with changing, uncertain markets. Our pound will be worth less, and Christmas won't be cheaper than it was last year.

And there's the election to think about. The social cost of finding new leadership post-Cameron, born of a deeply divided Tory party and a still-fragmented Labour. The reality of the Scottish secession taking its toll on our economy and Northern Ireland going its own way, taking its Belfast business and industry with it.

I hate to be so pessimistic, but I simply can't see all this going smoothly. There may be unexpected windfalls from all this; I like surprises. Britain might in fact find that Obama is keen to negotiate great trade deals; I just don't see it.

The ugly spectre of English nationalism worries me more than anything else. The UK has dealt with horrific political odds and come out trumps before, whether with World War II, Northern Ireland, Enoch Powell, Thatcherism or any other ideological battles fought in the last century and this one. This is a wonderfully resilient island, full of resourceful, inventive people, entrepreneurs and intellectuals who have enriched the world with new ideas. We should be proud of the Brunels, the Alan Turings and Stephen Hawkings, the Mary Seacoles and Emily Pankhursts who have come from this tiny island and proved again and again that Britain matters. But they need our backing.

This strand of anti-intelllectualism promoted by Gove's recent statement "I think that people in this country (...) have had enough of experts" really taps into this. An Oxonian tapping into the zeitgeist of beer-swilling, flag-waving idiocy which seems to have fuelled the working class to vote against a European Union which has provided them with infrastructure, rights, investment in Britain's poorest regions... this is the stuff of fantasy novels. Gove is the Littlefinger of Britain, if you know your GoT lore. He plays the Machiavellians, the fools and the brutes againist one another, tapping into their common enemy; the brainiacs.

Let's fight back. Let's challenge him where he stands as well as anyone else who claims to prefer ignorance and populist slogans over expertise and knowledge. Let's put science back into policy-making in this post-Brexit realm, and give a voice to the Sams and the Jon Snows that support them.

Winter is coming and we'd best be ready. Gove couldn't be more wrong: we need experts more than ever before. We need the public intellectuals who have helped this island make its mark on the world to speak out and campaign all the more vociferously for what matters. We need economic experts, epidemiologists, social scientists, physicists, biologists... Geeks and nerds to form a Republic of Letters worthy of the early Enlightenment. 

All the geeks. Get off the sidelines, out of the lab or the bookshop and into politics. Let UKIP and the cynical populists of the Tory party know we won't be pushed around.

The pen may not be mightier than the sword in a fistfight. But when winter comes, we need brains more than brawn to see it out.


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