Monthly Archives: July 2016

Dear Britain,

You have very recently been through a fairly traumatic event. Granted, not an earthquake or hurricane; not drought or a famine; not a terrorist attack or a war on your doorstep; but threats do not always come from external sources, and it is sometimes the internal threats that are more insidious and root their destruction more deeply into a society, causing cracks in the foundations. The EU referendum posed a question that strikes at the very core of your identity, and the circus around it ensured that you would be left with a burden of stress and anxiety. You’re anxious because you voted to remain, and now you worry for your future after exiting the EU. You’re anxious because you voted to leave – what if the decision is kicked into the long grass, smothered in the notorious red tape of the EU machine? You were manipulated into a state of fear by the main referendum campaigns, and it doesn’t look as though those fears are going to be allayed any time soon.

I suspect that short-sighted politicians thought that they could whip up this fear and then tell you ‘it’s all right’ like a soothing mamma, and you would go back to sleep. Not this time. Westminster has driven you a step too far to reassure you with well-meaning platitudes, and you have become far too used to politicians who make promises and then conveniently forget them a few months or years down the line.

I think that the anger towards your political leaders has been growing for some time. Anger that curled for a while in its lair, present but dormant while you were still able to pretend to yourself that the next government would have the answers. Anger that woke slowly and found its voice in that huge and unexpected vote against ‘the establishment’. And then it didn’t take long after the referendum for the whole edifice to come crumbling down – how quickly those campaign promises were reneged on! So much for triggering article 50 immediately after the referendum if that was the will of the people. So much for the extra £350 million a year for the NHS. So much for stopping the free movement of labour.

No wonder your anger sprang from its lair and pounced. Yes, you have directed it towards many different culprits, and expressed it in many different ways – you are after all an entity of multiple personalities – but I believe that there is a unity in that anger; that it springs from a sense of being betrayed, and a deep insecurity. After all, who is there left to trust?

You cannot thrive while you are insecure. And I believe that insecurity runs throughout the entirety of you: whether politician or constituent, public or private sector worker, Royal family member or Benefits Street family member. It runs deep into the core of your establishment, as it navigates its way through a changing global landscape of terrorism, Middle Eastern unrest and an uncertain global economy. No easy task, but those with public influence nevertheless have a huge responsibility to recognise their power to influence your mood, and to exert that power with caution and delicacy.

Dear Britain, I believe that you can thrive again. I believe that you can learn courage in the face of fear, courage that enables you to confront your own inadequacies and learn from them. I believe it is possible for you to rebuild trust, with patience and time. It will require you to question yourself over and over and over again, holding yourself to account for every decision made, and examining claims made through your media carefully before deciding for yourself whether they are true. You will need to be alert to the powerful influence of the private sector, and you will need to raise up a new generation of politicians who will not bow to its demands. Above all, you will need to believe that a better future is possible, one in which political honesty is no longer considered a weakness; one in which you don’t simply consume soundbites, but question the ways in which you are being influenced; one in which you are truly able to listen to and help those who are afraid or vulnerable. I believe you can become all of this – do you?

 

Advertisements

Dear World,

I don’t think us British have much of a sense of what effect our recent domestic wranglings have had – and will have – on the global stage. Some of us do, but I suspect not enough, or we wouldn’t have got ourselves into the state we’re now in. So we’ve got ourselves into this massive political tangle, our economy has crashed and needed some quite fancy footwork to get back on its feet, and that small element of our society who thinks racial hatred is OK has felt validated in its actions. Add to that the economic and political shockwaves felt in many other countries by our decision, and to me it feels like we’ve got a lot to apologise for.

For a start, our ruling party has unleashed a beast that they had little idea of the size of, and next to no idea of how to contain. The beast is fear, conceived in an uncertain economic climate born of too many years of austerity, that have made the poor poorer, and are now rocking the economic stability of the middle classes.

And so we, as a nation, voted to raise the drawbridge and seal ourselves off from having to confront the politics of difference any more. Those who are already here can stay – they’re just about OK – but no more foreigners for us, thank you. It’s dreadful indictment on our political classes that they managed to sell us the lie that immigration has caused our economic vulnerability. Not just because of the rift such discourse opens up in our own society, but also because it has a huge impact on our interactions with the rest of you.

My burning question in the midst of all this mess is whether our political establishment will ever apologise for its role in all of this. Sadly, I’m not sure it even recognises the full extent of its culpability.

To begin with, a referendum should never have even been held on British membership of the EU. I realise that a lot of fellow Brits will now stand up and shout ‘oi! We had a right to reclaim our sovereignty!’ But the fact is that until David Cameron decided to placate the small but powerful right-wing element of his party by holding a ‘safe’ referendum, most of us didn’t know what on earth the EU was or what our relationship was with it. Most of us probably still don’t have much of a clue even now. What we were fed in the campaign was an indigestible mess of spin, propaganda and ideology that bore very little relevance to the actual costs and benefits of EU membership. Costs and benefits that we exercised our sovereignty in agreeing to.

So in effect, David Cameron placed a bet on a sure thing in order to unify his party, only to find that his horse fell at the last jump. Boris Johnson also thought he was quids in, expecting to raise up a large army of disappointed leave campaigners to support his bid to become the next prime minister. His morning-after face on June 24th was very telling indeed. Then, of course, every Tory MP who went along with this charade is also held culpable, if they placed more importance on their own position and power than on the welfare of those their actions have an impact on.

And talking of placing more importance on one’s own position and power than on anything else brings us neatly to the Labour Party. Imagine what they could have achieved, if they had made even the slightest effort at some kind of unity. Jeremy Corbyn, adept as he is at opening up dialogue in conflict situations, could not sway the intransigence of the Labour right. It seems clear now that from the beginning of his leadership, minds were set against him despite his strong mandate from Labour party members. What we’re seeing now is rank opportunism at its absolute worst, played out at a time when Britain desperately needs a strong and unified opposition party. I shouldn’t need to point out that unity does not require all members to agree on everything, it simply needs the grace to concede with one another and to compromise. I had hoped for so much better from the Labour Party.

And there you have it. Our political establishment in all its glory. Its campaigning on both sides of the argument was breathtakingly inward-focused, appealing predominantly to British self-interest. It didn’t seem to matter what the rest of the world thought or felt, even though plenty of politicians knew that a decision to leave would create economic shockwaves across the globe. Nor did it matter if we sent a message about the strength of fear and xenophobia, because whose business is it what we get up to? Well I believe we have as much global responsibility as we do local, and so you, dear world, have my apology, for what it’s worth. I’m just not sure you’ll ever get one from the people most responsible for bringing all of this about.

The Return

It’s been a while, I know. I’m afraid I had to let this blog lapse whilst I did the whole returning to work after kids thing, which involved a great deal of puzzling out as to what I could do that would fit in with all the other things that I already did.

I think I may have come up with a working solution, which is in its early stages but nevertheless is looking hopeful. However just as I begin to establish a new career, of course, we happen to experience political upheaval in Britain such as I have never known before. Whilst on the one hand vaguely hoping that the outcome of the referendum won’t affect my business plan (such as it is), on the other I am acutely aware of the shock experienced by a political establishment whose complacent expectations were proved so misguided given the referendum result.

So that is why I am here again. There are so many, many questions raised in the wake of what you might call a cataclysmic event, and I want this to be a place where I and anyone else can ask those questions. It is in many ways a selfish project, since for me it is therapeutic to launch my thoughts into a public space, but I hope whoever ends up reading this will find it helpful in opening up and exploring their own questions as well. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has experienced restless nights and stress-infused days since the result came out. Nor am I the only one who wants to see a stronger, more compassionate and courageous Britain emerge from the chaos of what has just happened. Perhaps this blog can, in some small way, help to bring that about. I look forward to giving it a try, at any rate.