What was it you wanted to leave?

And, equal but opposite, what was it I wanted to stay in?DSC04096

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.

It’s time to talk. And here’s as good a place as any to start.DSC04085

Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place: http://asenseofplace.com.

Join the Conversation


  1. I’m sure that a large group of both Leave & Remain voters would agree with your bullet list. Unfortunately I think there’s a question which may be missing.

    “If you wanted:

    A country where EU foreign nationals are free to come and live.”

    I spoke to a couple of people I don’t see that often at the weekend, both Leave voters, and both put it firmly on immigration. One fella didn’t surprise me, he’s a fairly open racist, but the other did. Both of them however appeared to have almost no understanding of the EU, or even Euro politics in general. Their ignorance was almost a badge of honour. There was nothing I could say….

    If there is a mature conversation on immigration, it honestly seems to be getting drowned out. The lines of division have been drawn and one side of that line now feels hugely empowered.

    1. By ‘mature conversations’ I mean ones where we can all know what the facts are, then actually discuss our feelings based on those facts. You’re right that the whole discussion has been drowned out so far, wilfully by politicians who do actually know better but are posturing for the sake of power. And of course by much of our press, as usual.

      1. Absolutely, it almost feels as if there is a deliberate misinformation campaign, but somehow involving all sides at once!

        The tragedy is whether anyone can now make any sense of it?

        Corbyn will be booted in a bloody coup that will see many Labour supporters leaving for good, and he’ll be replaced by a far more anonymous right of centre, tv friendly, general election losing journeyman (Dan Jarvis?). The Tories will somehow glue themselves back together but with Boris in charge – a man I seriously doubt could find Liverpool on a map, but his leadership will be poisoned by invoking or not invoking article 50. They’ll still feel confident for an easy win in 2020 though.

        Everybody else, and I think it will be everybody with any political angle will argue among themselves at every turn.

        UKIP, despite now having no reason to exist will be the only out and out winners. Farage, who took his party into a dead end at the general election has somehow turned out to be the clear winner – and he will stir up shit in the press constantly at any sign of the Tories going back on the Ref. He will in effect keep the Tories to a hardline rightwing agenda.

        As someone who considers themselves on the left of the political spectrum, I think we all just took one hell of a proper kicking.

        I can’t get my head around it really.

    2. Its sad that you missed the point of this wonderful post. Its happened and we must find a way to move forward if we value this great but dented society. If the people you spoke to felt it was completely about immigration then thats their right… in the same way as its your right to think freedom of movement is essential. It is not your right to tell Ronnie what he should have put in his list … its his list…. Thats what has got us in this mess in the first place… each to their own. The bigotry from the remain and ignorance from the leave campaigns before and after the result has shocked even me. (Someone with a cynical mind designed to ask why)

      1. Thanks for the support. I am, though, perfectly happy with what was said and the spirit in which it was said. This is a discussion where we are quietly exploring the possible futures of our country and we’re bound to find differences of emphasis between us. Keeping on talking until we create a future we can broadly agree on and then do something about is my aim here. No one in parliament seems to be bothering, so it’s up to us, all of the people.

      2. Sorry, maybe my point came across wrong.

        I feel that both sides of the debate would actually agree with the majority of the bullet points. Good people on both sides will share common ground.

        However, I think it may be worth considering on what points people are divided, and in conversation, by far the most divisive aspect of Brexit has been immigration. It’s also interesting to consider even if people were making an informed choice. I heard people openly state that they were voting out because of Turkey, or because of ‘uncontrolled’ immigration (and the language used was far rougher than my description). It is, of course, their right to hold this opinion, but I was genuinely surprised by the lack of information and understanding shown by many people on both sides.

        Right now ‘moving forward’ seems like rowing against the river. It will take a ‘progressive’ movement years to get back to where we were 2 weeks ago, and the Labour party may yet turn out to be mortally wounded.

  2. Firstly my wishlist is/was pretty much as yours.

    As a result of the plebiscite having undoubtedly been misled, the current debacle may turn into one of the biggest disasters for our (soon not to be United?) Kingdom since before we two were born.
    I sincerely hope something can be salvaged from the present situation & the ‘system’ can change for the better in our lifetime.

    The media and politicians have always been liberal with the truth but the recent campaign hit new lows & neither of the main parties demonstrated to the electorate the potential consequences which we are about to see. (The EU is a long way off perfect but is a country mile better than going it alone in the global marketplace.)

    We need complete change to our politicking but I fear this is a Utopian ideal & wouldn’t know how you could realistically move change forward as small groups never mind individuals?

    ‘Mature conversation’ is a beginning however you have to have logical truthful speakers & listeners. They must also have the strength & tenacity to bring about this much needed reform (something many in the main parties lack at present).

    However there are so many things ‘broken’ and so many who lack the ‘facts’ I find it difficult to see positive change accomplished at present?

    Good luck with continuing conversations.

    1. Thanks John, with the continuing preening and plotting in Westminster and Brussels today, talking to each other and not about virtually all of our debased political class is an absolute necessity. Not to get caught up in their career negotiations, but talk quietly and constantly about the kind of country we want to create for ourselves and with all the young people who’ll have to inhabit that future longer than we will.

  3. Thank you Ronnie for putting in words some of how I’m feeling. I spent time feeling anxious about who was in charge and what/where the ‘plan’ was. Once that feeling abated I rejoined a party, spoke (emailed) my MP and have started having local conversations about how we move forward from here. Don’t have answers per se but faith that talking and starting to do something better than moaning into the ether via Twitter. It’s a beginning in what feels like darker times

    1. Thank you Siobhan. Talking and moving forward are the only way. We can all take up righteous positions on Twitter and think we’re achieving things, but after a while that just feels hollow.

      When the Sunderland vote came in the other night I gave up on the day and went to bed. So I’m not surprised it feels like darker times for you in the North East. But we have to respect the fact that so many voted for Leave and change for many valid reasons. Be good to explore these with some Leave voters on here?

  4. I was visiting my mother in Southampton before the vote: it’s a pretty chatty place at the best of times and people were talking about the way in which they would vote. Leave was in the majority. But I heard no racism, just a fury with the way in which successive governments had left ordinary people fearing for their children’s future in a society where solid jobs had disappeared.
    They seemed no more enchanted with Johnson than with Cameron – two sides of the same coin – and seemed to be treating the publicity of both sides with scorn.

    1. Thanks Helen, I suspected it might be for these sorts of reasons. Perfectly understandable too. If a system isn’t giving you the basics like decent employment then what good is it?

  5. I voted Remain because I have a sense, from travelling fairly extensively in Europe, that a pan-European society is currently emerging that is at the same time both European and celebrant of national uniqueness; and I felt that was something important that we ought to be a part of. Sadly, it seemed to me that plain tribalism took over (or was deliberately cultivated by some people).

    As for immigration, I believe that the best places in the world attract people from all over the world. End of. Obviously, that creates a situation that has to be managed in some way. And whilst I have affection for the place I grew up, I don’t have either that unconditional love that you have, Ronnie, for your Liverpool home or the more extreme tribalism. It seems that I’m in a minority of a minority with views like these. The Remain campaign was never going to talk in these terms.

    I’ve also had experience in the past of the average voter preferring their own beliefs to the facts, even when those facts are explained to them in terms that everyone can grasp. And that makes me worry more about the state of public education, and the extent to which vested interests can capture the channels of communication.

    1. Thank you Robert, for the enviable quality of your wisdom on this. Sad about ‘the average voter preferring their own beliefs to the facts’ and the state of public education. Would still like to hear some voices of reason from Leave voters to consider or even challenge these contentions?

  6. Conversation is difficult in society. Patience is in short supply. Willingness to listen and to hear is in short supply. If things are seen as binary then there will always be divisiveness resulting in fear and hate. I am listening to you because, as you said on Twitter, your reaction is calm and you have qualities I don’t – like patience! My reaction has been bewilderment and I am still wondering what on earth I can do to help heal. Well, one suggestion I have seen is to join the Electoral Reform Society – certainly the first past the post system has failed many people. Those who follow Niigel Farage (and the Green party) were right to feel aggrieved that their voices were not being heard in parliament. The natural reaction to this in certain quarters has been frutration, aggression and anger. Winning then leads to FU kind of behaviour in certain quarters and in others to things like the many abusive messages I have received in the last 24 hours on Twitter for the first time. I am worried about where all this is going, but perhaps also we should see it as a real opportunity to nurture our grass roots … I have expertise in communication, in influencing opinions, and I know how hard and long term a task that is … we can but try and make it work a different way. I could, but won’t, say more about why the tactics used in the campaigning were wrong on the remain side, it is too late for that now other than to say it is quite plain that the central powers had no idea how many people out here are feeling. But the lessons shoud be learned. Look forward to reading more Ronnie and your ideas for changing the world!! No pressure!

    1. I’m opposed to referenda precisely because they’re binary. A complex set of questions with only a yes or no answer to all of them together. So we end up with individuals potentially believing a yes or a no decision means lots of people agree or disagree with their own complex reasoning. Which we don’t necessarily. Hence the mixture of confusion, disappointment, anger, and in some cases triumphalism of these last few days.

      And as you say, much of this applies to our first past the post electoral system too. Where the winning party never want to change to some kind of proportional system because, well, they’ve just won. And this does mean minority parties of all kinds being under represented in parliament and leading to some of the isolation and feelings of powerlessness that seem to have contributed to many people’s ‘Leave’ decisions.

      So all of us talking through these issues is how we will change our world to a fairer one, where we’re all better informed and also better geared up, through a fairer voting system, to shape the parliament and the society we need.

      Let’s all keep talking.

  7. I’ll put it in blunt terms; I am bitterly dissapointed with the result, because I am certain that it was largely driven by racism and xenophobia, not by any understanding of economic and political factors. I am an electrical worker and have worked in the construction trade since 2013. I am of mixed black and white heritage, the majority of the people I have worked with have been white British, and casual racist and xenophobic, as well as sexist and homophobic language, is the norm in the construction industry. I have argued with other workers about it and written letters to construction companies urging them to include equality and diversity in their site inductions; several companies have just ignored my letters.

    Quite a number of construction/electrical workers I worked with have ranted on about wanting to get out of the EU to “Close them borders” and keep immigrants and foreign workers out, so the result didn’t surprise me, I knew it was coming, though as I say I am bitterly disappointed because of the reason. As far as I am concerned, what we saw on Thursday was not democracy in action, but fear, ignorance and prejudice, and Cameron was criminal for giving in to right-wingers in his party and allowing it to happen.

    I personally want to see another referendum,BUT this time one without any interference from politicians or biased campaigners in the run up, just neutral, unbiased and factual presentations for and against E.U. membership that will enable people to make an informed decision. If anyone is interested, I have put up a petition about it on change.org, below:


    Because of my background, and my previous field of work, I am an internationalist who believes firmly in unity between nations and freedom of movement for people. I love the concept of the EU; it was not perfect, I had my criticisms of it, particularly of the Common Agricultural Policy, but the way to deal with it was to get involved, to argue and debate in its Parliament, in which, by the way, we had 73 elected MPs, more than any other countries apart from Italy and France, so much then for the EU being unaccountable and undemocratic for us.

    My dear late Dad was a black African immigrant, from Senegal in West Africa. He served Britain during the Second World War, he was a merchant seaman on the Atlantic Convoys. After the War, he settled down here, worked hard and paid his taxes for 25 years. I was a support worker for immigrants and refugees here in Liverpool for eight years, 2003 – 2011. Many of the people I and my colleages helped 10 years ago and more came to the U.K. with nothing. Today, I personally know many of them who are working, paying their taxes or running their own businesses. One of my clients was from war-torn Rwanda; he came here 13 years ago alone, with nothing except emotional problems perhaps because of what he had experienced in the genocide. Eventually, his wife and children joined him from Rwanda. I ran into him about a year ago; he and his wife are now working, his daughter has qualified as a pharmacist and his son is studying chemical engineering.

    And those ignorant morons who wrote “Go home Polish vermin” last week had perhaps never heard of the Polish 303 Squadron, one of the best fighter squadrons in the Battle of Britain, shooting down numerous Nazi warplanes. Farage and his lot never told stories like that.

    Anyway, the damage is now done. I can only hope that there is either another referendum or that a more left wing Government is soon voted in and gets us back into Europe somehow.

    1. Thank you for your passion and all of your reasoning here David. I don’t actually want to see another referendum. As I was explaining earlier I see them as an over simplistic way of reducing a complex set of questions to one brutally insensitive answer. What I’d prefer is that our politicians do what they should have done in the first place and show a bit of leadership. Pause from squabbling about their own careers and take some time to care for the country they’ve thrown into such chaos, and decide what to do through parliament.

      People can’t unsay all the brutal racist and xenophobic things that have been said, of course, over these past few days. So we’ll have to face a future where there will be hurt and suspicion between us for a long time now. But my purpose in starting this discussion is to provide at least this small corner where calm reflection and mature intelligence are taking place. So thank you David.

      1. Hi Ronnie I just wanted to add to the unsay concept you mentioned. I was very close to voting either way. Being the son of an immigrant I hate bullying/racism in the same way as 99% of this country. My belief is that some of that extreme view has been caused by the very thing that is happening now…. a complete lack of understanding that some people have different opinions. I’m not talking about the extreme sides of each argument or even slightly right or left of the argument, but if you currently say you did or considered voting leave you are labeled a racist or stupid. In fact since the result I myself have not seen any xenophobic or racist behaviour (but know it’s happened) but I have seen many cases of hate from the remain side.

        If I suggest that it’s bigoted they say ‘that’s rich coming from a bigot who voted leave’ (They have no idea which way I voted) and this cannot be right!!!! It is happening everywhere and I feel so sorry for my friends who voted leave for genuine reasons, well thought through and justified, who now are being subjected to hateful comments.

        I really do believe that Westminster has ignored fair concerns all over the country and it has driven the conversation to extremes. I know its a cliche but there is a liberal elite who charge headlong into conversations and expect everyone to follow, lashing out at anyone who dares to think differently. The irony is that they then call people racist and bigots when in fact it’s them who are the guilty party.

        We must all now challenge our politicians to listen to the people and I suggest have more decentralisation to further defuse this poisonous atmosphere. An example….Not liking any immigration at all is not xenophobic or racist… it’s clearly not sensible, but discriminating against someone because of their race is….. Having an un-rational fear of foreigners is…… The biggest fear I now have is that the name calling by the remain backers will make things much much worse and I will not do it… There was an outcome…. not right or wrong but an outcome….. that’s the bottom line now. For the good of our children and their children we have to find a way to give every section of society peace of mind in some small way….. Might be hoping for too much but not trying is insane.

      2. Thanks, this is a very good point about the arrogance of some on the Remain side and a tendency to view people who voted Leave in bigoted ways themselves. This too is possibly part of the polarisation of a referendum. To view your side as ‘clever’ and the other as ‘stupid.’ Both campaigns were despicable and we’re now reaping what was sown, while the Whitehall elite queue up for their next jobs.

        So yes let’s ‘find a way to give every section of society peace of mind in some small way’

  8. Thanks to everyone for the quality of the writing and thought on here over the last two days of deeply rich discussion.

    Of interest to everyone who took part, and perhaps to you Leave voters who just watched the discussion will be this separate post by one contributor to the discussion, Helen Devries. Helen is British, has lived in France and now lives in Costa Rica. And makes clear she would have voted Leave in her own post ‘Life in a Small Country.’ Go and have a read and see if you agree that we may indeed now have the chance of letting go of being a faded world power, at last.

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