Saturday, 2 July 2016

A Week is a Long Time in Politics

This has been one of the longest and most extraordinary weeks this country has experienced in my lifetime, following the referendum on British EU membership on 23rd June. The phrase "a week is a long time in politics" coined by former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson has never been more apt. Despite the close recent opinion polls, the assumption was that the Remain campaign would win and Britain would carry on in the EU as before. The assumption was wrong and a narrow vote to Leave has thrown the country into confusion. The Prime Minister has resigned; the pro-Leave contenders for the job have indulged in a bout of back-stabbing of Shakespearian proportions; the Labour Party is imploding with a leadership election of its own pending, one of such significance that it could split the party apart and finish it as a serious political force; Scotland is likely to hold its own referendum on whether to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU. Politically, all is chaos and confusion. 

In the aftermath of the referendum I wrote this on Facebook, which I'll share here as it still reflects how I feel a week on (apologies for those of you who are Facebook friends and get the same thing twice):

"I have said before that I don't normally do politics on Facebook, but I am going to break my own rule again. I spent yesterday in a sleep deprived fog (one hour of sleep just doesn't cut it) trying to process the referendum result. I began the campaign open minded and unsure which way to vote, but as it developed I became increasingly convinced that Remain was the right option. In the wake of the result I am shocked by how viscerally upset I feel. I know I am not alone in feeling an acute sense of loss, of bereavement. Many of us are grieving the loss of our sense of who we are, what our country is, and its place in the world. I also fear that the law of unintended consequences is going to run amok. Already we seem to be heading for financial upheaval, years of uncertainty, the possible (probable?) break up of the UK, a new prime minister, and a government with an agenda radically different to the platform on which it was narrowly elected last year. As for the rest of Europe, who knows what damage our decision to leave will do and what knock-on effects it might have.  

As a natural optimist I usually manage to find something positive in any situation. Yesterday I struggled to find anything in this. Today I am trying harder. It is going to take at least two years before we have any real idea how things will play out and nothing yet is a given. We may - or may not - get increased border controls (both ways). We may - or may not - stop being a net contributor to the EU. We may - or may not - be part of a European Economic Area. And so on. And that means that we all, whether we voted Remain or Leave, will have opportunities to influence how our country will look post-Brexit. Surveys show that for most Leave voters issues of sovereignty and democracy were their primary concern, with immigration a significant but still secondary issue. Most Leave voters are not narrow-minded racists. Remainers and concerned Leavers can work together to answer the questions we face in the aftermath of the referendum. How do we build an independent Britain that is open, tolerant and cares for its weaker members? How do we ensure that our kids have the same opportunities, both here and in the wider world, that they would have had before this vote? How do we protect the rights of individuals if the checks and balances provided by the EU are removed? How do we heal the divisions left by the referendum? Where do we start? There are no easy answers, but whichever way we voted, and wherever we stand on the political spectrum, we need to start thinking very hard about how we answer these questions. My optimistic side wants to believe that we can find some good answers."

I still hope that we are able to find good answers. This is still the very early stages of what will surely be a long process. It has been shocking, though not at all surprising, to see the complete absence of a plan on the Leave side as to how they would follow through if they won. Neither the Conservative nor the Labour parties seem to have had any clue how to respond to a Leave victory. Labour is imploding amidst recriminations against Left-Wing leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is supposed to have been at best lukewarm in support of the party's Remain campaign, and at worst actually obstructive. Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition is currently in no position to oppose (or propose) anything.  The Government is leaderless and a long way from formulating any sort of constructive plan as to how to move forward. It may have been a long week, but it is also going to be a very long few years before the UK, or whatever is left of it, comes out the other end. 


Wendrie Heywood said...

A quote I keep being reminded of is from twitter,

my heart goes out to any aspiring dystopian fiction authors who keep having their ideas stolen by the conservative party

Penelope P. said...

I need a like button! Both for the thoughtfully written post, and for this comment which made me laugh out loud!

ellie said...

And now look at all that has happened since you posted this .... What a tumultuous time it has been and is, politically speaking, in so many nations just now! (The US, the UK, Australia, Japan etc!). I have great empathy for you all. {{hugs}} and prayers