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Garry's Blog

Wed 11 Sep 2019

So, I have avoided the topic for months, but it seems there really would be little point this month, in me talking about anything except….. Brexit.

However, I hope to give a different and perhaps more positive take, whilst also walking the political tightrope that Charity leaders must.

We find ourselves in highly charged political times, where every action and reaction is an outrage, a disgrace, a constitutional abomination. I’ve become somewhat immune to these terms when they emanate from politicians, whether they have some truth to them or not; because they are being seriously overused by all parties. And this is indicative of the extreme polarisation that has resulted from the Brexit saga. Leavers and Remainers, the two opposite identities that we must each now embody. Winners vs Losers. Parliament vs the People.

Let’s rewind. Back in 2015 when the referendum was a manifesto pledge of the David Cameron Conservative Party, was the EU question prominent in most folks’ minds? Amongst the NHS, Education, Policing, Social Care, Climate Change, Housing, Jobs and Employment? I don’t recall it being up there in most ordinary voters list of priorities, let alone capable of such division. It now splits families and communities down the middle if we are to believe the media. I know some will say it affects all these things and they are right, but how many of us, hand on heart can really truly say we were genuinely, truly, very, very bothered about the EU, back then?

And even when it came to the vote, how many of us were truly ‘die in a ditch’ leavers or remainers? I don’t mind saying that I was a late remainer, perhaps 65:35 remain in the end. I like some of the ideas of leaving (even now), especially of more local decision making and more direct accountability for elected leaders. But I also like some of the ideas of remain – current trade and travel arrangements (and I’m not a frequent traveller abroad by any means, nor do I trade internationally). I also like the more general sense of being part of Europe in terms of security and solidarity on global issues. I was probably 50:50 until some of the narrative descended into racism near the end, and that personally, pushed me to vote remain. But really I’m not a remainer or a leaver; I’m a middler and I don’t think I’m the only one.

I also think it’s pretty much an undeniable fact that we all know far more now than we did back then about the EU in general, and the implications of leaving or indeed of staying. Now, I’m absolutely not saying the much trotted out ‘you didn’t know what you were voting for’, nor ‘leavers are all stupid’ that is so often characterised and leads to pointless arguments. I’m pretty sure almost all people who voted leave had and still have a very clear idea and rationale as to why they voted leave and that the majority didn’t do so solely because of promises about the NHS which have since been brought into doubt. They voted leave for very good reasons.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that we now know leaving causes a serious headache around the Irish Border, a potentially irresolvable headache, at least in the short term. We also know now that it is really very complicated when it comes to things like customs borders, especially for fresh food and some medicines (not irresolvable, but very complicated!) And these things might possibly mean some folk have changed their mind, even if most have not. At the least it brings into doubt the decision by the Cameron Government, to sum it all up in one very short and simple phrase ‘leave’ – because it’s just not that simple. I hope we can all agree that any future referendum would benefit from a little more detail in the options presented.

This brings me onto two final points, even though they seemingly contradict one another.

I absolutely sympathise, very much, with those voters who feel let down, having voted for the first time in their lives, and now finding their (leave) vote is being ‘ignored’ by the parliamentary machine. However, on balance I don’t think that calls for a second vote (or a proxy in the form of a general election) are undemocratic. I mean, what if the Suffragettes had given up at the first hurdle? If you truly want to leave, including having considered any extra information you now have, well good for you. Vote again, it will take you all of about 10 minutes and a cross in a box. That’s not so very undemocratic or demanding is it? Two votes to leave would be incontrovertible, even the most ardent remainers would have to concede.

And in that vein, and despite my underlying feeling that there are so many more important issues, and the fact that I personally voted remain, I strongly suspect that we do now need to leave. We need to leave soon, with a deal if possible, but without one if no such deal can be found (which is a pretty foggy question to me at least). Because I think the many many reasons that underpin the mood of leave, the cry for change, are driven by dissatisfaction with the status quo. People are tired, they can’t see how their lives can be better. They lack opportunity, they lack fulfilment. They lack hope. Brexit is for many, that hope.

It might be false hope (many remainers will believe so), but we need the 52% (leavers) to engage if any of these things are going to change and having hope means they are engaged – we need to grasp that opportunity, to involve them in wider political change, locally and nationally, to say ‘Brexit is done – so how are we going to tackle the problems we face’. I personally doubt Brexit in and of itself will actually address many of those issues, but it seems to now be a necessary precursor to their engagement in other solutions; and I’m absolutely certain that those problems won’t be solved whilst 52% of the population are disengaged with politics and social policy. The 48% have to do this, even if we don’t really like it, because the 52% aren’t an alien species, they are our friends, our neighbours, our families. They are us and we have a duty to them.