Shortly following the momentous and the altogether surprising EU Referendum Brexit result, I have found myself, for reasons that are entirely unrelated, whisked off to the other side of the world with limited access to the Internet and news media but having the agreeable luxury of being able to read widely and contemplate deeply. In one sense that was a good move as it had become quite evident things were hotting up with many of my friends bemused and angry at the outcome with maybe it better for me not to be around to add fuel to the fire, at least in order to allow for a cooling off period. While along with many others I have reflected at length on the result and the various ramifications, I am mindful of developments and deliberations. While I don’t wish to appear disrespectful or insensitive, I do feel there is a place for my reflecting on these matters, especially given some of what has been written I profoundly disagree with, but at the same time to be mindful that feelings still run high and some believe with good reason leaving the EU will have disastrous consequences and even now there may be a way back so we remain in the EU.
In my community activism over the past several years, I have come to recognise that people do see things often very differently. My mantra has long been to try to come to terms with those who see things differently and work together if at all possible on the basis of agreeing common ground and what might deliver the best, albeit imperfect, outcome for those whose needs are greatest. While I take an interest in politics given it is something that cannot be excluded from the mix, I have generally managed not to have to nail my colours to the mast and, besides which, my mix and match approach to things political has often found myself identifying stuff I profoundly agree and disagree with from all main parties. I have found that when it comes to election times and identifying winners and losers, even if feelings do run high, in general people knuckle down and work with whatever the new paradigm happens to be, with limited acrimony. But the EU referendum debate that has gone on for ages is in a different league given its far reaching consequences. I sometimes reflect on history when what follows is civil war with the victors determining the outcome. Not only did this cut across traditional party divides, and I should also add widely differing views expressed by my many friends and acquaintances, there appeared more than the normal number of casualties and bitter division. If my role is to be that of a peacemaker, I have my work more than cut out. However, I feel I would be letting readers down if I don’t first say what I really think on the issues that relate.
Lies, damm lies and statistics
I first came across this phrase when I was at college. At the time, I thought it was quite smart although later I came to a view this was something smart alecs came out with. But as I reflect I realise this encapsulates a good deal of the rhetoric we were exposed to by both Remainers and Leavers in the referendum campaign. As I consider the reasons why some feel we should ignore the referendum verdict and maybe even have another referendum, a recurring factor is the statement put about by Leavers that the £350 million that is paid every week by the UK to the EU as part of the deal we have signed up to, instead should be paid directly to the NHS. Anyone with any sense will realise that is a nonsensical statement and that a good portion of that £350 million comes back to the UK to pay for other essential services etc., the big question being how much? Nearly as important is coming to terms with the strings that are attached. When I saw the picture of the Brexit bus blazened with that astonishing claim, my heart dropped and I wanted to strangle whoever it was that came up with the idea. While £350 – X doesn’t quite gel, it is at least nearer to the truth and that should have formed the statement that needed to be made! Instead we had a dammed lie, and if backed by statistics at least a lie, regrettable for all sorts of reasons, not least in that it portrayed Brexit campaign leaders as a bunch of untrustworthy charlatans. Yet as for this being a reason for calling for a referendum re-run, it was in my view a poor one. Sadly lies are told in practically every political campaign I have ever witnessed. It occurred to me that the tone was already set when the government sent round its booklet to every household in the UK trying to convince people that they and the UK will be better off by staying in the EU. While I had no problem the government presenting its position, what I did object to was its selective alluding to statistics in order to argue its case and at the same time creating an atmosphere of fear and we the experts know best. Maybe not a dammed lie but a lie nevertheless and one of the unintended consequences is that it backfired big time.
Democracy is a bad form of government
Some years ago I listened to a speech when the speaker quoted Winston Churchill, who said that democracy was a bad form of government but better than any other form of government. The fact it was Churchill who made the claim gave the statement extra credence and as I reflected on this over the years I believe it contains much wisdom. As I said earlier, I try not to identify with the politics of the left or the right but I have an ongoing beef when arguing with some of my Green and Labour friends as to whether or not a referendum should have been called in the first place. After all it was in neither of their manifestos and arguably the only reason it was in the Conservative manifesto was in order to appease a significant vociferous euro-skeptic section of the party. It was also likely that the government did not expect the vote to be anything other than to remain, but they gambled and lost. I am taken by the arguments that my friends on the left make that we do not have a true democracy and many are effectively disenfranchised by our electoral system and also the one that goes along the lines that the governments we end up with in the UK are so bad that we need the EU to deliver the right policies when it comes to such things as workers rights and environmental protection. And yet I feel decidedly uncomfortable with the underlying sentiment that we cannot trust the people to decide what is right and good as if we are resigned to giving into the wishes of an unaccountable liberal elite. It seems to me they want their cake and eat it, on one hand letting the EU override government and the government overriding the people according to what in their view constitutes the desired outcome. From where I stand, the EU referendum was long overdue. I have seen that as a country we have been gradually giving up sovereignty and the will of the people to the EU ever since the last referendum, 41 years ago. While I agree many who did vote to leave did so for the “wrong” reasons, the same might be said for those who voted to remain. While significant sections of the populace e.g. the Scots, Londoners and the young may feel disappointed that their wishes to remain in the EU were overridden, it is well to be reminded that the majority of those eligible to vote voted to leave and the turn out was a lot higher than in general elections. While none of this is ideal and leaders in the Brexit campaign may well have been a motley crew with little idea what to do if the vote went their way and clearly divorce is painful and our EU partners may want to make an example and life difficult for us, the fact is the people have decided. Whilst recognising like Churchill the huge flaws in our democracy and probably every other democracy, the referendum vote should be binding and we abide by what the vote outcome was and what our democratically elected government said would happen, and it needs to be without further ado.
Brexit and gay marriage
I realise by trying to link Brexit and gay marriage, two subjects that strictly speaking have nothing to do with each other, I find myself on potentially dangerous ground (if it is a peaceful life I am looking for) and I have seen enough evidence to know that statements made in good faith can be turned around to condemn those making such statements. I am mindful though there are some interesting links between these two quite different subjects and why I am identifying some here. Given my observations concerning those who I know and how they voted, I suspect the voting demographic is such that more who support gay marriage would vote to remain and more of those who do not support gay marriage would vote to leave. There are, however, many exceptions. The fascinating imponderable from the voting that has taken place is that while the vote was whether to remain in or leave the EU, it was more than that and related to some extent to the type of country we want the UK to be, and also explains why the fall out from the vote outcome is so significant. It was interesting to me that when David Cameron gave his speech that he was standing down from being Prime Minister that he cited equal marriage as his greatest prime minister achievement and in a rare act of praise Jeremy Corbyn recognised the same. There are of course some who see it as anything but and others otherwise critical of Cameron who would agree with Corbyn. Now the gay marriage question has been settled, it seems that while feelings did run high on the matter at the time, things have, in the main, settled down and one wonders if something similar might happen concerning the Referendum outcome. One of the ironies comparing the two happenings, which between them arguably represent the two major changes of recent years, is that the Conservative led government pushed through the matter of gay marriage even when the majority of the parliamentary party was opposed, it was not even mentioned in its manifesto, the scrutiny that one might expect for such a far reaching change did not happen and the 600000+ who told the government they were opposed to the government’s ideas on gay marriage were effectively ignored. The reason I find this so ironic is many of the same people who were supportive of what the government did concerning gay marriage, irrespective of the above concerns, are now vehemently opposed to it carrying out the referendum verdict despite it having made perfectly clear that this would be their intention should the people vote to leave the EU, although regrettably there is an absence of detailed planning.
Politics and religion
I was once told that politics and religion are the two subjects to be avoided when in polite company and not wishing to create a stir that could give rise to untoward consequences, leading one to conclude maybe that combining the two could be a lethal cocktail. I find it interesting that when comparing the USA and the UK, in the USA it is often expected that politicians should hold strong Christian views, but not so in the UK. It often struck me that when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, while he claimed to be a practising Christian he managed to dodge potentially awkward situations when through his spin doctor he claimed that his administration did not do God. David Cameron, managed to deal with possible conflicts between religion and politics by advocating a brand of Christianity that was undogmatic other than when it came to being nice and respectful of others, something few, other than dogmatists, would have objected to. As we look at the two leadership contenders to take over from David Cameron as Prime Minister and lead the Brexit negotiations with the EU, it is interesting to note that both of them claim to be practising Christians. While Theresa May would seem to espouse a milder brand of Christianity, Andrea Leadsom has the temerity to claim that God actually speaks to her (which according to my theological stable is how it ought to be) but which has created nervousness among some. Reading some of the Facebook comments of my mainly leftie, liberal leaning “friends”. May’s support for some form of Sharia law appears unwise and Leadsome’s claim to be a better candidate because she has been a mother appears insensitive, but I would need to dig further. I realise both women have their critics, and I am not qualified or am required to adjudicate on who leads the Conservative Party when members vote in September. As recently as the last general election, I voted for a non Christian as opposed to a Christian since what mattered is having the right person to address the challenges that face us. And challenges there are when it comes to negotiating ourselves out of the EU into something that is hopefully better. All I can add is that now more than ever this country needs the benevolent hand of the Almighty to help it. As for me, I will continue to do what I need to do and that is to watch and pray and just maybe influence some for the good!
[Hot of the press and proof that things can and do move fast in the uncertain and unpredictable world of politics, is the news that Andrea Leadsom has quit, in my view regrettably, the Conservative leadership contest. Other than the UKIP contingent, with its inherent credibility issues, Leadsom’s withdrawal represents the last hope for a Brexiter leading the UK in post referendum EU negotiations. It seems now the way is open for a swift transition and for Theresa May to take over as Prime Minister and begin the awaited EU withdrawal process. At the same time we learn Angela Eagle has launched her not unexpected Labour leadership bid – interesting times, especially now it looks like that we have no Leave supporter leading any of the main parties – the big question is where it will all end and what will happen in-between which no-one can predict, e.g. will there be a watering down spin placed on the verdict of the electorate. Then there is another important factor and one most choose to ignore – the hand of God and our need to turn to him for the good of the nation and the world it could influence for the good – ed]