A few days after my gentle poem, urging everyone to vote and suggesting staying in Europe might be the best option, our world here in Britain and Northern Ireland has changed. And I don’t want to add too many words to the mountain of them already written.
Except to say this. If you voted to leave you might be right. And if you voted to stay you might be right too. The Leave vote was slightly higher than the Remain and I respect that, because I respect democracy. But the campaigns that led to the vote and the state of things afterwards risk a deep and abiding division between us all that I would like to do my bit to help us avoid by asking these two questions. What was it just over half of us wanted to leave? And what was it just under half of us wanted to stay in?
If you wanted:
- A country where you get a real say in how things are run
- In cities, towns and villages run responsibly by their own people
- And not by career politicians who’ve never done any other kind of work and look after themselves rather than the country when there’s any kind of crisis
- A friendly life in neighbourhoods where we can all feel a sense of pride, ownership and togetherness
- With good schools run by teachers with the freedom to teach
- Living in a secure home you can well afford and knowing your children will be able to choose the same when the time comes
- Having a choice of places to work in with good conditions and fair wages
- And a decent and protected pension for when your working days are done
- A health service that looks after us all at the point of need
- In a country where we’re free to trade with and visit all of our nearest neighbouring countries, and they us
- And in a world where progress always means life getting steadily better for everyone
If you think some or most of these things then I’m with you. And if they’re most of the reasons you voted to leave, then they’re also most of the reasons I voted to stay.
I did not vote for:
- The current political systems here and in Europe because I think they’re both broken
- Or the current financial system here or in Europe because that’s broken too. Capitalism as we knew it broke in 2008 and we have not yet replaced it with anything the majority of us can trust
- I also did not vote for the Remain campaign. It was as spineless and threatening as the Leave campaign turned out to be too
So I think we all need to find a way of talking about these things that unite us. Because electing new leaders of the systems and parties that are failing us will change nothing.
And I think we need to find ways of talking about the things that we are being told divide us. Mature conversations about immigration. And discussions clarifying that we don’t in fact think all black or brown people are foreigners, that all foreigners are dangerous and certainly don’t think that all Muslims are potential terrorists. I know very well there are a very few dangerous people who think precisely those things and commit acts of terrorism because of their beliefs. But I don’t believe they are anything like a majority of us.
What started all this was a friend much younger than me asking on Twitter this morning:
“What’s England’s next joke?”
They might have been talking about the football, though I doubt it. So I replied:
“That picking a new leader of…you name it, will change anything. Leaders got us into this, now it’s up to us.”
Then I went out for a run and thought some more about what I mean by ‘it’s up to us.’ Resulting in these few words.
While all the talk continues to be about coups, resignations and leadership candidates then I think we’re all looking the wrong way. This is not about individuals who are either to blame or will lead us out of this mess. It’s about all of us coming to some broad agreement about the kind of country we want to live in. Then sorting out how we’ll get there. In the words of the old cliché, if we do what we’ve always done – rely on new leaders – then we’ll get what we’ve always got.