Month: June 2016

The mourning after….

Writing this comment after Britain just voted for Brexit feels like an obituary to a dear friend.

Not to the EU. But to my own country.

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Britain as we know it is no longer

A freudian slip by my local authority illustrates this. Referendum polling agents were invited to attend last night’s count at the town hall on a ballot to decide what it described as whether “the UK should leave or remain in the UK”.

How prophetic. Because today the UK is no longer a united kingdom.

It’s not just the 52-48% fracture, the renewed prospect of Scotland leaving or revived pressure for a united Ireland, it’s that in England and Wales the overriding perception is that we are no longer a country comfortable in its own skin.

The divisions between young and old are especially acute and depressing. As a dad I am ashamed my generation let them down. What damage have we done to help our children’s job prospects and other opportunities across our continent?

But we have to acknowledge that millions do feel a real sense of loss of control – even on a day when they have had thousands of pounds uncontrollably wiped off the value of their hard-earned pension funds.

For many that perceived loss of control has given them personally poor or no jobs, inadequate housing and declining public services. It resonated well but it had nothing or little to do with the EU. It was this anger that made the difference.

And Leave campaigners cheerfully rode Farage’s xenophobic wave to exploit these understandable anxieties and tip the vote in favour of Brexit.

And it has left us as a divided nation. It seems it is no longer at ease with itself.

Some will urge “don’t mourn, mobilize!”. Yes, after a period of grieving mobilisation will happen, after which we may have to accept our new constitutional fate and hopefully build a more genuinely united country that is more content with itself and with its continental neighbours.

Brexit: the bad neighbours’ choice

Let’s consider what our country would feel like if we woke up on Friday 24 June with Britain about to exit the EU after more than four decades.

The issue is more than a debate about immigration statistics, economic prospects and budgets for Brussels. It is about who we are as a country. How we define ourselves. How we  behave towards each other and those who visit or settle here. Fundamentally it is about values.

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EUverybody needs good neighbours. Will Brits on 23 June be good?

If you are someone who feels comfortable around and enthused by people who do not share much of your own background, you are likely to feel more relaxed about getting together with them to work on common problems.

But if you feel threatened, inferior or superior to them, you are probably less likely to want such co-operation.

It’s a generalisation of course.

But exit would feel like suddenly changing your character on your typical urban street. It used to be a relatively calm place to live with neighbours mingling, children playing together, morning greetings exchanged, windows left open and nextdoor’s holiday plant-watering promise fulfilled. There might be the odd tiff over irregular parking, gobbling all your BBQ sausages or an extension application, but it is mostly a contented community.

But on 24 June it would be as if the normally cheerful Brits at number 12 decided suddenly to fold their arms tightly, purse their lips, close their windows, keep the kids indoors, stride belligerent and blinkered to the station each day and generally ignore the neighbours. It would then stumble into repairing relations with them ignorant of how it would end up.

It’s like taking an insecurity pill which suddenly transforms a relaxed and friendly household into a charmless, buttoned-up, po-faced family that cancels its annual Christmas drinks party, withdraws its offer to mow Gladys’ lawn at number 14 and stops the kids sharing their toys at playdates with number 11.

It smacks of a fundamental insecurity and suspicion of others. It exploits base values. And that’s why I freely admit my emotions are now driving my referendum choice to remain in the EU on 23 June as much as the facts and my supposed early career policy expertise.

Now, who in my street has an axe I can grind?