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Netflix’s Top Boy shows the scorched earth of Brexit Britain

The seeds of the Brexit pantomime were sown years ago. We see that now, says Sam Delaney

The country is fucked, this much we know. But Brexit isn’t the cause, it’s just the symptom. Blame David Cameron for calling the referendum, sure.

Blame Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and all the other dickheads for using the whole thing as an opportunity for career development, fine. But blame all of them for something much worse than these fleeting acts of gutless vanity.

Blame them for the political decision they made nine years ago to inflict austerity measures on ordinary communities to help pay for the crimes of banks and brokers.

Systematic erosion of the state is what cultivated the anger, anxiety and divisions

Systematic erosion of the state, the safety nets it provided to the vulnerable and the contributions it made to our collective futures, is what cultivated the anger, anxiety and divisions that brought about Brexit and all its toxic fallout.

The news media, gripped by existential fear caused by freefalling revenues, tell the story of Brexit as if it were a pound shop Shakespearean tragedy, played out in Westminster by a cast of blubbery-faced toffs, golf-club wankers, bearded lefty freaks and those arseholes in yellow vests.

The headlines are all about blithering political leaders, crinkly-faced judges, befuddling court rulings, mad parliamentary motions, shifty chats with the Queen and that absolute shithead Dominic Cummings.

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Mind you, today’s news media just doesn’t have the resource to tell the story with any greater depth. Don’t blame the hacks: you’re the ones who want all your news for free and only seem to click on stories about football or celebrity tits.

At least there are still writers out there with the ability and opportunity to do things differently. When it first aired on Channel 4 in 2011 Top Boy painted a delicate and thoughtful tale of inner-city life that should have warned us all of the way things were headed.

Ronan Bennett, a white, middle-aged Irishman, immersed himself in the real lives of black youths on East London council estates in a way that most journalists have long since lost the opportunity or resource to enjoy. He learnt about the real lives behind the drugs, gangs and knife-related headlines. He joined the dots between social injustice and crime; emotional neglect and violence; poverty and mental health.

He dramatised these complicated and messy themes in a way that wasn’t just smart and compelling but actually entertaining. So entertaining that, when Channel 4 unwisely axed it after two series, rap superstar Drake – a dedicated fan of the show – felt compelled to broker its comeback on Netflix.

While series one and two were set amidst the early stages of austerity, season three unfolds on the scorched earth of Brexit Britain. Racism and violence abound; all sense of community has dissolved into what the gangs call ‘zero tolerance’ for outsiders.

The drama unfolds on impoverished council estates overlooked smugly by the glittering lights of the City Of London. This isn’t Westminster. Boris isn’t making any funny speeches. The Supreme Court can’t fish any of these characters out of the scrapes they are in.

This is the true story of an overlooked Britain. God bless you Drake. No wonder everyone’s on drugs these days.

Top Boy is available now on Netflix

This article was originally published in The Big Issue magazine. Get your copy now from your local vendor or Big Issue Shop

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