It’s taken until now for me to feel ready to write about the results of the UK Referendum on our membership of the European Union. I made no secret of the fact I was voting to remain, and while I stand by my decision, I am more in despair of how we seem to be reacting to the result than I am by the result itself. I keep waiting for us to respond how everyone says we will “we always stand together when the going gets tough” and “Us Brits are great in a crisis” must be the most common phrases I’ve heard since the vote. As I write this, however, I have yet to see signs of either of these being true.
When I was growing up, my parents were among very few adults I encountered who didn’t believe you shouldn’t talk politics or religion; they positively encouraged it and on more than one occasion I sat enthralled listening to heated discussions over their dinner table that went on into the small hours. I got my love of debate from listening to them talk about the Israel/Palestine crisis, Socialism and how it was being diluted and manipulated, who had which part of our Press in their pocket and how we could change any of these things. It drove me to want to be part of the change.
Currently, the trend seems to be that talking politics is a dangerous thing, to be avoided or shouted down. Indeed, many of my friends, whichever way they voted, have received angry abuse aimed at them on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. It’s shameful how quickly we are prepared to pounce on the views of others and say they are wrong because they do not agree with our own. This, for me, has been one of the most unpleasant aspects of the Referendum. Watching the language of people I know and respect turn from measured and thought-through to angry and reactionary and often down-right offensive. Aggressive defending of a political position and the desire to say “Told you so!” are not only unattractive behaviour, they also show a lack of control, a limited vocabulary and a side of someone that can make many review connections. I personally stopped following over thirty people on Facebook during the build-up to the vote as I did not want their remarks on my timeline.
Had we been living in a country like Syria, indeed anywhere in the Middle East or many of the areas to the East of our planet, then perhaps I would understand the anger that boils over to hatred. Lives have been touched by politics and religion in many parts of the world that we, in the West, can only read about or imagine. Images on TV and in the media do not come close to experiencing these awful situations first-hand. In the protected, wealthy (relatively speaking), safe haven of the West, we are living lives than most of the refugees we read so much about cannot even imagine. And yet instead of seeing hope, community, the chance to make change happen and express our opinions, we choose to create hatred, spread lies and call each other names.
I’d love to see a change, to the way we “do” politics in this country. I’d love to make it compulsory for every single adult in the UK to vote and for it to be a subject taught at school not simply as an A level of choice but as a subject of real pride; we are living in a country where our voices are heard and listened to and where they can make such vast change than our entire government has had to be changed to deal with it. I’d love to see proportional representation where every single vote matters and the opinions of every member of our society is heard. I’d love, more than anything, to see our Politicians held to account for their promises and actions, meaning they would leave behind their shouting and hatred-fuelled words, their words that incite violence and anger.
Do I believe that this vote will lead to these? No. Sadly, with what I’ve seen, I don’t believe Brexit will be the “holy-grail” that the Leave campaigners are now claiming they’ve handed us, if only it could be. Sadly, however, I have seen only evidence that the people’s vote has not been seen for anything else than a mis-guided decision and almost without exception, the remain campaigners are responding by saying “well you got us into this mess, now deal with it”. Hardly the in-it-together approach I was hoping for. Even our new Prime Minister has appointed people to roles which seem to be saying “get in there and sort this mess out – if you can” rather than appointing talented politicians who might negotiate a deal for our nation that we can be proud of.
We voted to leave; and yes, I do include myself in that, because above being a “remain voter” I am a British citizen. I want my country to succeed. I watch the Olympics with pride and wave my Union Jack flag and wear my Team GB T-shirt because I am in love with my country and hope to always be. I want the very, very best people in charge of our exit from the EU and I want new, inventive and creative people in charge of our negotiations with our nearest neighbours to ensure they still want to work, visit and play with the UK.
The people of my nation have spoken and I have to accept and embrace what they have asked for in a way that sits with my values. There have been times I have struggled with this, and I suppose that is part of the reason it has taken a while to write this post. I came across so many angry, hateful posts filled with words that I cannot embrace; racism and patriotism should not be seen as the same thing. I am British because the people who brought me up chose to live here, no other reason. As an adopted daughter, whose birth mother came from Egypt and birth father from Denmark, who had adopted parents with families that had been refugees from Poland and Russia, fleeing from oppression because of their religion, I believe I am a typically British woman. I am proud to be British, to be a melting pot of humanity, a mix of cultures and faiths that have produced me. I’d confuse most racists, who would never see me as anything but a white, middle class woman. Racism is just a load of fear, tied up in ignorance and nasty language in my opinion. I am one of the lucky ones; unless I tell you my history, I go under the radar of the haters. Only when we accept there is a huge problem with racism in the UK can we begin to beat the fear behind it.
The racists will always be here, and their fears will not be tackled by any vote or distancing of our nation. They should not be the voice we focus on. Spreading their message just gives it air-time it does not deserve. It was a shame for the people I know who voted to leave the EU, that racists hijacked their arguments and that our media was so fast to tar them all with the same brush. Time to move on.
I choose to focus my positivity and belief in the future we can choose to create if we continue to be involved, empowered and engaged, if we continue to take part in our political futures and if we turn up in the kind of numbers we did this time round, for the rest of our lives. I see it as a duty to encourage the future generations to vote whenever they get the chance and to ensure they do their research before they do. Don’t depend of the words of the media for that insight that will help you make your political choices; listen to conversations over dinner tables, go to debates, visit museums and read books. Above all, express your voice and right to make change in a country we will all be responsible for shaping, only if and when we admit we all “do” politics. It’s in everything we do and every decision we make for our country.