Brexit -Democracy in action

On 23rd June 2016 Britain voted to leave the European Union.

It is an historic, significant and important event which has already had a political, economic and cultural impact even within the first twenty-four hours of the announcement, and will continue to have impact for the years to come.  Perhaps that is why as someone who has studied history I feel the need to document my thoughts today.

I voted to remain. The constituency where I live – a major UK city voted to remain.  And yet, almost 52% of the total population of the UK voted to leave.

Shock and disappointment has been the reaction today within my community.  It’s been a bit like tuning into the results of a reality talent programme and realising the favourite who could actually sing and go onto have success is out because not enough people voted.

But that’s not true here.  Over 70% of the population turned out.  We’re engaged in this debate, in this issue as an electorate.

Clearly the nationalistic rhetoric on taking back our sovereignty, the very real concerns people have around immigration and terrorism (leaving aside the more racist aspects of those arguments which undoubtedly were at the heart of some votes), and the inherent and historic bias against Europe which is so part of the British culture has all led to a winning vote for the Leave campaign.

The Remain arguments centred around economic strength, cultural liberalism and the position that we have more political leverage working as a member of the EU than as a single country – better in than out. It wasn’t enough.

Perhaps the forewarning of a negative economic impact was too general, too esoteric.  Perhaps the cultural liberalism which appeals to city dwellers who see the living reality of a cultural melting pot in action on a day to day basis is not the reality of the majority of the population (most major UK cities voted to Remain).  Perhaps cultural liberalism in a world which deals with the threat of terrorism does not provide the security blanket some feel is required.  Perhaps the fact that even Remain supporters sheepishly concede that the EU needs reform and is perceived as a gargantuan bureaucratic money-pit was a gaping hole in the argument.

I’m sure the coming days will see a lot of dissection of why the Remain campaign failed to achieve a successful outcome; why the Leave campaign was successful.  From my perspective it comes down to two things: security and identity.

People forget that the primary reason why Europe came together economically was to effectively tie ourselves so closely together (although admittedly France and Germany were the main targets of that binding) that a third world war would be too devastating to even consider.  We went into Europe to maintain security.

But in recent years, Europe hasn’t been the main threat to our security. 9/11 changed the world.  Terrorism rooted in Islamic extremism became the major security threat to Western civilisation. This was underpinned by the terrorist attacks that followed including the 7/7 attack in London.  The rise of ISIS and the continued terror attacks across Europe in the recent year has increased concern about security, especially when media reports regarding the Paris attacks drew attention to the ease in which terrorists were able to traverse across borders within Europe.  Compound this with a surge of refugees fleeing Syria and…and there is a valid and real security concern.

And security is important.  To feel secure is important.  It is an essential human instinct in order to survive.  If we truly perceive our being in Europe to make us less secure than more secure now…is it any wonder that this need in the end proves stronger than by contrast an idealistic dream of tolerance, peace and harmony which is not the harsh reality in which we live?

Personally, I believe that immigration is an essential part of growing as a society as it brings skills and ideas to our economy, politics and culture – needed catalysts and impetus for positive change which brings us closer to that dream of a reality of tolerance; that compassionate immigration is a sign of a civilised and mature society.  I believe strongly in Benjamin Franklin’s oft paraphrased proposition that those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.

To me, leaving the EU because of security is a sacrifice of our freedom.  It is saying to the terrorists that we are terrorised.

But I understand the fear.  I understand the concern.  And I don’t discount the validity of either.

Undoubtedly there are some in the Leave debate who have taken this concern and played on those valid fears; have taken the argument further into racist and bigoted rhetoric.  And undoubtedly there are people who sincerely agree with that rhetoric.  As a mixed race woman who grew up in a school in the Eighties with only three other coloured children, one of whom was my sister, it’s safe to say I know racism exists and continues to exist.  But I think it would be very foolish to believe that all Leave campaigners are racists.  Unfortunately I also think the second key reason why the Leave campaign won, cultural identity, has been co-opted in recent years by a political party which is a racist and bigoted organisation.

I like the cultural melting pot; I’m a child of the melting pot.  I like being able to eat from a different part of the world every night if I wanted to by simply walking down one street in the city in which I live.  I like the fact that we acknowledge faith is important no matter what the religion is and that everyone has a right to their faith.  I like that people can be open about their sexuality and have the same rights as heterosexuals.  I believe social and cultural tolerance is important and strive to work to correct my own prejudices and misconceptions. I like being a citizen of Europe.

But I like being British.

I love tea.  I like how the weather is always a topic for small talk.  I applaud our queueing behaviour and silent disapproval with raised eyebrows and pursed lips when someone jumps the queue.  I enjoy how every time there is a football tournament the country goes mad and we all get caught up in Wimbledon every year.  I have a soft spot for the Royal family.  I’m proud of our music, literature and art; our rich cultural history.  I love how there is a core of British upper lip and inner strength within our people when something goes wrong; how we can all pull together in a crisis.

Identity is so important to every single human being.  How we identify ourselves creates our world; it creates the perception of our world. And perhaps the truth is the majority of our population still identifies as British and considers Europe as ‘Other.’  There are culturally ingrained prejudices against Europe built over years of past conflict and skirmishes.

And let’s be honest; the paraphernalia of the European Union doesn’t help itself.  There is a perception of a lack of transparency with bureaucratic dictates conjured up in the corridors of Brussels coupled with an impotent European Parliament that holds no real power.  There is a cultural grumbling against European laws which make no sense; of the very real sense that we have lost our voice in the formation and implementation of many laws which govern us.

Despite my fervent desire to remain, I will concede I do believe the European Union needs to change and reform its machinery of governance and engagement.

And so I can understand why identity and the want to retain our identity through enacting laws in our own parliament and which we can hold our elected members of parliament to account for might be at the heart of many who voted to Leave.

In the end understanding the need for security and that we still hold such a strong sense of identity, it is perhaps somewhat explainable why the vote came out the way it did.   Which is good because I needed an explanation and a way to justify this for myself.  Whether I’m right or wrong, who knows really, but this makes sense to me.

Why do I need to justify this?  Because I am at heart a democrat.  I believe in democracy and the right for people to say to their law-makers ‘this is what we want’.  I believe that someone has the right to stand up and argue for the opposite position to mine and that they should be heard no matter how much I dislike and disagree with their point of view.  I believe that if we have a democratic process we need to follow it.  We’ve voted to Leave.  It’s not the outcome I wanted. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, economically, socially, politically, culturally.  I’m disheartened and disappointed that this is the result.  But as a democrat I acknowledge that Leave is the result.

So now we will need to put in motion the apparatus which will enact the reality of it.  We will renegotiate our treaties and agreements; we need to enact a number of legislative bills where the UK has been covered to date by EU legislation, and we need to work out what it actually means for our day to day lives.  We’ll need a new Prime Minister since David Cameron stepped down in the wake of the result.

Leaving will be long difficult process, and today has seen only the beginning of the impact it will have on our lives, on our economy, politics and society; on Europe. We are seeing history in the making, democracy in action.  And that both enthrals and terrifies me in equal measure.

 

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Wedding No.2

So, wedding no.2 and I’m not talking about the Royal event!

Health: Yeah, the migraine hit on Thursday.  I managed to wrestle it back into submission to attend my cousin’s wedding on Saturday but it came out to play again on Sunday.  It’s a definite sign I’ve overdone it so I’m dialling everything back this week and next to bare essentials.   

Family & Friends: Lots of family this week given the wedding, not to mention we did the neighbourly thing and attended the street party following the Royal wedding.  It was nice to see everyone again (although we had just seen everyone at the beginning of April) and both the bride and groom were very much in love so good all round. 

Psychology: Reading, reading and more reading!  I’m hoping to do a draft of the proposal this week and start requesting volunteers for the project. 

Coaching business: Mostly reading in anticipation of newsletter articles due this week and tweaking the website!  But otherwise apart from following up a few queries, it’s trundling along.  I have to keep reminding myself that if I put in the work, it will pay off.  Maybe later, rather than sooner.

Writing: Still writing but I now have a lot of stuff due for the online magazine and that goes into the must do this week. 

Most fun thing of the week: Actually the street party takes the prize this week because I was always come away from it feeling connected on a citizen level, as part of a community however tenuous and annual it is in how it comes together.

Least fun thing of the week: Being delayed 2 hours because someone decided that they’d like to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge onto the M1.  Apparently the police talked her round but not until she’d managed to bring traffic to a complete halt (which fair enough because I’d rather they did that than she cause a major traffic accident by landing on a car and causing a pile-up).  

Random thought of the week: One commentator in a newspaper said Wills and Kate should do their duty by immediately starting in on a tour of Britain doing good work and pressing the flesh, bringing a smile to the faces of the British people with their young modern sexy Royalness; that it was unfair to us that they were going to Canada on their first official tour.  I disagree completely.  I think its admirable that William wants to do his duty as a serving officer in our Armed forces.  I think Kate is imminently sensible, level-headed and admirable in wanting to support her husband in that decision.  And given the primary benefit of the Royal family these days is in the foreign investment and tourism they attract, their decision to go to Canada first is the best thing for the country.  Personally, I’m glad the next generation of Royals is actually following the tradition of the Queen and putting duty to country before any desire to become just another celebrity.

Love’s Labour Lost

So I just want to point out that I totally called Ed Milliband gaining the Labour leadership back on May 12th.  Search through the archives if you don’t believe me.  It was so obvious that he was the compromise.

Will he actually be PM in his life time?  Well, that’s harder to call and has a lot to do with whether the economic climate is in an upturn in 2015, the coalition holds its nerve and whether Ed does shift to retake the centre-left ground.  And also whether the world doesn’t end in 2012.

Duets

As the dust settles on the election I have to admit that I’m somewhat inspired to hope that David Cameron and Nick Clegg make their coalition work.

In their joint press conference they actually did come across as two men who really wanted to, not only get their parties into power, but who wanted and were inspired to use the opportunity to really create something different.  If they make this work, they will show the British public that politicians can be trusted to set aside their party interests and personal ambitions to create a stable government.  That has to be a good thing regardless of the party colours involved.

On the other hand, I do wonder whether either man, both of whom effectively did not perform as well as they should have done as leaders in terms of electoral results, has the strength of leadership skill required to take their respective parties with them all the way.

Labour now stands alone and needs to regroup.  In the immediate term, the leadership stuff is likely to have them naval gazing.  They need to reinvent themselves and regain trust as a party of social conscience who can govern.  Personally, I’m betting on Ed Milliband ending up with the leadership job because he’s the compromise candidate.  Obviously that means he’s also likely to be the least effective – John Major anyone?

Duets certainly seem to be the best bet this week not only in politics but also in the slightly less serious subject of American Idol where the solo performances were so-so but the duets rocked. 

Clearly, Nick and David are hoping that if their duet rocks that people will vote for them in the future too.

New Shiny Government

We have a new shiny government.

It is a Conservative / Lib Dem coalition.  It is a historic day in politics particularly in the modern era.  And one of those days, which you’ll know you’ll remember like the 1997 election and Labour’s historic victory then with the renewed enthusiasm and joy that swept the country or the complete horror of 9/11. 

Things that amused me about today: Nick Robinson’s increasingly manic expressions as something else happened.  How everyone suddenly liked and was quick to pay tribute to Gordon Brown after his resignation. 

Things that irritated the heck out of me about today: Reporters letting MPs whitter on needlessly pushing their own agenda.  That the news reporting on a Lab / Lib Dem was so overwhelmingly negative in nature. 

On a personal front: I’ve managed to get one essay written – yay for me!

Hanging Around (or Not)

So, Gordon has fallen on his sword and sacrificed his own political ambition for the sake of giving the Labour party its best chance of remaining in government.  It is perhaps a shame that he didn’t make such a move before the election.  Still I do think Gordon gets a bit of unfair press.  He comes across to me as a very intelligent man who seems committed to his family and who genuinely has a wish to serve his country.  I also think he has an unfortunate tendency to put his foot in his mouth (the whole bigot incident in the election being an example) but not in an endearing way and whose genuine wish to serve more often than not comes across as selfish political ambition and need for power. 

At present we really have no idea who is going to end up running the country.  The day started out with positive murmurs about the Conservatives and the Lib Dems with a whole series of meetings with the two leaders meeting various members of their own party, and the mood seemed to be imminent that some kind of deal would be announced for a Tory/Lib Dem pact.

By late afternoon that was all, if not in tatters, a bit ragged around the edges.  The Lib Dems had come out with saying that they wanted clarification from the Tories and to open offical negotiations with Labour.  Gordon effectively tendered his resignation noting he’d stay until there was someone else.  Suddenly, the mood was very different.

Cue the Tory party effectively going as far as to offer the Lib Dems a referendum on voting reform (talk about being bluffed into showing your hand). 

In many ways I think the electorate ended up telling the two major parties exactly what it intended; we don’t trust either of you to govern without a chaperone.

So we’re all still hanging around waiting for our nominated chaperone in the shape of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to tell us whether he and his party are going to be looking over the shoulders of the Tories or Labour.  Except for Gordon who clearly has decided not to hang around at all.

Left Hanging…

Unsurprisingly there was no new news on who gets to be Number 10.  I don’t blame Gordon for remaining in position – he is constitutionally the Prime Minister regardless of the election result because no-one won an outright majority.  Unfortunately for him, the numbers just don’t stack up to keep him there for very long.

Obviously there are reports coming out of anger at Clegg speaking to Cameron; that Brown should step down as leader of the Labour party; that the Tories aren’t happy with Cameron; that the Lib Dems aren’t happy with Clegg; and the whole thing is probably going to get very nasty before some kind of deal is done.

On a more personal front; I’m still dizzy.  The nurse who I saw on Friday when I went for a medical assessment suggested I raise it with the GP.  She might be right.