WARNING: Having read back over this post since I started writing it I have found it to be pretty brain dumpy and incoherent. My apologies, I will hopefully be more structured next time.
So its a couple of days later. It wasn’t a horrible dream – 52% of those who turned out to vote actually took us out of the EU. It was always a possibility. The polls indicated that this was always going to be a close vote one way or another and it certainly was. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has torn itself apart over this referendum and although I’ve been on a stag weekend I have had plenty of time to think things through and plenty of opportunities to talk about what happens next.
Fight. Struggle. That’s what comes next.
I’ve spent time wondering how much of what has happened was my fault. Not in an “Oh my god woe is me, the world is on my shoulders” kind of way, more of a “Why didn’t I do more to try and shape the politics in this country?” I’m relatively articulate (when not drunk), I have mostly well reasoned opinions, can analyse information from different sides of arguments and live in a society where it is permitted to speak out and where it is permitted to get involved in the political process. Why haven’t I contributed more?
Apathy is definitely one reason. Although I came from a very shitty housing estate on the border between Solihull and Birmingham (Chelmsley Wood, BBC3 did a “wonderful” expose on it) I have been lucky enough to improve my standing in life and now consider myself “comfortable”. I don’t have kids of my own, I don’t have a mortgage and have never needed to rely on the NHS. I was complacent. Very complacent. Although I was always interested in international politics, domestic politics always struck me as dirty and largely unproductive. The issues seemed largely unsolvable without a long term strategic viewpoint…and that is one thing that domestic politics does not provide for. For me domestic politics was something for others to do and to put it bluntly I couldn’t be arsed. I fucked up there and I’m sorry.
Confidence is another reason. Having the strength to stand up and debate or argue my position with anyone I may encounter, not just close friends, was/is something I’m not sure I possess. Even writing these posts is daunting. Whenever I publish something and it gets “likes” on Facebook, not only do friends on there comment on my writing and engage with it positively, they share it around so that other people, people I do not know, can see it and potentially engage with it. It freaks me out a little bit. Even though I am inwardly confident in my knowledge and skills and the position(s) I put forward I still suffer from the Imposter Syndrome. This is where you feel like a bit of a fake in your chosen activity and that anyone who challenges you is probably right…after all you’re (I’m) probably just talking bollocks right?
I’ve voted every time I have had the opportunity. I think about which party I am voting for each time. Although I tend to be mainly centre left in my thinking I don’t blindly go out and vote for Labour just because at one time or another they have been closest to the mark or because my Dad has voted for them all his life. I do the reading (but never enough really), I think about the positions and what they could mean. I think about the past and where it has led us. I then make my decision. I encourage others to vote but I don’t press too hard as I feel its not really my place and I don’t want to piss people off (my Mom and Sister never vote). I happily talk about politics to people I’m comfortable with, as long as they don’t have a position or debating/arguing methodology thats overly ranty. But I actively avoid the more difficult conversations and debates with strangers or with friends and acquaintances who do not fit into the above box. My Facebook turned into an echo chamber as I removed people who just annoyed and frustrated me. That was a mistake. I compounded my apathy with an unwillingness to engage with others whose viewpoint differed from mine.
I have to change that. I have to engage with others who disagree with me, although I still won’t engage in an online forum with people who rant and try and type over me :-). I have to engage more in the politics of the country, now more than ever. The rise of racism and the overwhelming negative aspects of nationalism over the campaign period and even more starkly in the wake of the Leave victory has the potential to be just the beginning in the slide of Britain into a dark and horrible place. Where facts and experts are derided in favour of well stated rhetoric, where anybody who is not “us” (“us” being an arbitrary grouping decided by those in power at the time) is treated at best like a second class citizen and at worst subjected to bigotry and violence.
“That couldn’t possibly happen here!” I hear you cry. Really? Why not? With a disenfranchised and angry electorate who are seemingly easily swayed by the mass media (which is controlled by a handful of individuals) and who find solace with public figures who claim to be “just one of them” and “who understands their fears and concerns and will work against those intellectuals and foreign elements that cause it”? At this point these forces are riding a wave provided by the Leave victory, built on a foundation of increased UKIP popularity at the last election. Although they have yet to gain a major voice in Parliament (one of the few, if only, things we can be thankful for First Past The Post for) can we be really sure it will remain this way?
Once enough people buy into the messages they are putting out then it becomes more and more possible for those forces to increase their representation in Parliament which gives them increased legitimacy. As the years fall by many people forget (or were simply not aware) that Hitler and the Nazis didn’t rock up one day as a fully functioning political party and seize power. They became part of the system and took power from within. They played on the fears of the masses and took advantage of a political class that seemingly failed to represent the people.
I’m not saying the above is imminent. But I am saying we have to fight against any chance of it happening. We can’t sit here and say time and time again, “it will never happen here, I don’t need to do anything” because before you know it, it will be too late. We have to fight against the rise of these forces, fight against the ideas that facts and experts have no place in the political discourse of this country. We have to ensure that our voices our louder, that our arguments are better evidenced and better presented. We have to ensure that we do our utmost to engage all areas of society and above all make sure that the messages that are presented are communicated in ways that the differing sections of society can relate to. The level of debate has to be raised and wherever possible sweeping generalisations have to be avoided. Labelling whole sections of the populace racist bigots without actual evidence to back that up just pisses people off and turns them away from you and into the arms of the opposition. Calling people stupid for not seeing your point of view, again just annoys them and turns them away.
And that is something I particularly relate to. Another reason why I have shied away from engaging and debating with some people is my inability to control the anger and frustration that it often triggers. I struggle to understand, emotionally, why they can’t see they are wrong. Out of the heat of the moment I can be objective and see more of why they are in opposition. I have often struggled to not lose it, and failed, and that just results in my argument being weakened and my credibility lessened. I have to find a way to control those emotions whilst at the same time learning to communicate my message (whatever it may be) effectively at all levels.
It is the responsibility of everyone to get involved to protect the society we all belong to and to form the society we want to see in the future. Not everyone can commit in the same way, not everyone can devote themselves as much as others. The reality of the current society is that it is just beyond the capabilities of many to get involved and fight for change. But for those of us who can, for those of us who want to remain we have to stand up and be counted. Somehow.
My first step is emptying my head onto this blog and getting as many people as possible to read it. Then engage with people who wish to engage with me, even if they are in opposition to me. I know its not enough in the grand scheme of things, but its my starting step. I need to decide about how to be more proactive. Do I join an existing political movement? With the exception of Nicola Sturgeon (who I have a lot of respect for, despite being on the other side of the independence argument) none of the Opposition have shown much in the way of leadership, precisely at the time we need it the most. Some of them seem to want to rip themselves apart instead. Perhaps it was to be expected. The referendum has torn society apart, why should I think the main political parties should be above it?
I need to consider what it is I would look for in a political movement. I struggle to visualise what my ideal manifesto would be other than strong in defence, ethical in foreign policy as much as possible, strong in social programmes and recognition that crime is not just a policing issue. If I can work that out in more detail I might be able to work out what my next steps are. I do know that my country, the United Kingdom, is worth fighting for, at least from my point of view. I just need to work out the best way to do that.