It has come to something when, five days since I woke up to discover that the people of the UK had voted to leave the EU, this news has now been relegated to third in my list of things that are keeping me awake at night.
Firmly at the top is my incredulity at what is happening within the Parliamentary Labour Party. As a fully paid up Labour member, I am incensed that they have chosen now to mount their nefarious coup on Jeremy Corbyn. It has little to do with the referendum result – Corbyn after all succeeded in bringing two thirds of Labour voters with him into the remain camp – and everything to do with the fact that, for a range of reasons, a huge number of Labour MPs just don’t like him or what he stands for. Their numbers have swelled now, of course, with others making a frenzied guess as to the most likely winning side and plumping their allegiance there, and the leader of the Opposition, elected by an overwhelming mandate less than a year ago, is left clinging on by his fingertips. The PLP has yet to present a single alternative candidate for the leadership role, and polls suggest that even if they did Corbyn would still win the support of the members – and rightly so, from where I stand.
Then over in the Tory camp, we have had the resignation of Cameron (even though he said he wouldn’t) leaving us with the terrifying prospect of Boris Johnson for PM. He might not win, but our other options don’t exactly fill me with optimism: Theresa May, who wants to repeal the Human Rights Act, Michael Gove (or his successor Nicky Morgan) who have ripped apart our education system, or maybe perhaps Jeremy Hunt, who is still in the process of dismantling our NHS. I quite genuinely want rid of the lot of them, but given the state of the Labour party I can’t see that happening in a general election which could be called as early as October this year. In fact the only people who are likely to benefit significantly from all of this are UKIP, who despite the continuing odious behaviour of their leader are currently celebrating the validation of everything they stand for.
Which brings me to the fallout from that Brexit vote itself. Naturally, pretty much every major claim the Leave camp made is proving to be false – from that £350 million a week for the NHS, to the reduction of immigration, to improved fortunes for our fishermen, with more revelations coming out each day. Our economy is in dire straits, Osbourne is promising tax rises and spending cuts, and the EU seems intent on making an example of us despite the government’s continuing assertions that they can use this as leverage to cut a better deal.
More important than any of this though is that seemingly the vote to leave the EU has opened the floodgates to a torrent of racist and xenophobic abuse up and down the country. My own work recently on the resettlement of Syrian refugee families in Torbay has shown me how close to the surface these racist views have been hiding, waiting for validation that a hatred of ‘the other’ is not only ok, but a justified move in the name of self defence. That validation has been growing in the rhetoric of the Leave campaigners over the past few months, most notably that of course of Nigel Farage, and now that the Leave campaign has ‘won’ there are many who seem incapable of extricating that ‘victory’ from supposed proof that the rhetoric was actually fact, and that those who would never before have voiced their racist views in public can now do so with impunity.
As someone who generally has a pretty strong sense of self-efficacy, I have been almost completely floored by this barrage of contradictions to my conception of the world we live in. When I haven’t been frantically cross-referencing media sources to try to discern some sort of truth in the midst of it all, I have been scouring property websites for somewhere to hide on a distant Scottish loch, and eagerly encouraging my husband to renew his lapsed Canadian passport.
But actually, I quite like where I live. I am quite fond, despite all of its efforts to put me off, of the UK. And so, through stubbornness or denial or a combination of the two I will not, for now, be going anywhere.
There are, however, some things I need to do for myself if I am going to survive in this post-Brexit world:
1) See the result of the referendum for what it is
Despite the glee of many factions of the Leave camp over the narrowly won referendum, I do not believe that there is anything to celebrate here. That is not just because I staunchly believe that remaining in the EU was the best thing for our country, but because I believe that the vote to leave was a symptom more than anything of a broken society.
I wholeheartedly appreciate the motivations behind those calling for a second referendum – it is becoming increasingly clear after all that the Leave campaign was won on lies, and that no-one actually has a plan for what to do next. However I also believe that a second referendum would only succeed in disenfranchising further the millions of people who have voted for change, and whose trust for the political system hangs from a fast-fraying thread.
For what it’s worth, I’m not entirely convinced that we will actually be leaving the EU at all given the various barriers that still lie between our government and that decisive action, but we cannot simply ignore the seventeen million people who voted for that, however unfounded or misguided we might believe their reasons to have been.
Rather we need to look at those reasons, and look at how we address them moving forward. We also need to seriously shake up our politicians and our press, who have wilfully moved from barely acceptable propaganda to outright lies in order to deceive and manipulate the population. Those are not the foundations on which a democracy survives, and all of us deserve better.
2) Re-evaluate my political engagement
Since I was elected to my town council last May, I have been directly involved in politics in a way I haven’t been before. As a teacher, I was always politically engaged – keen to work with the unions, and to recognise that being a public servant was not just about the very important business of teaching itself. I worry, though, that in local politics my view has become narrowed.
You would not believe the amount of things a town council has to do in the wake of government funding cuts, and the upshot of that is that a group of volunteers who care passionately about their community are being kept extremely busy just making sure no vital services fall through the gaps, with very little time or energy to engage in the bigger picture of the real forces that are making everyday life so very difficult for so many people.
I don’t think I’m ready to step down from being a town councillor quite yet, but I do want to become more involved with my local Labour party – perhaps even actually switching my allegiance to them as a councillor rather than continuing as an Independent. More and more I believe that it is Labour’s vision, on a local and a national level, that will really make a difference to communities like mine. Though of course that vision at the moment is under threat, and unless Labour can maintain the commitment to progressive politics rather than returning to a dance around the centre line with the Tories I may have to have a serious rethink.
3) Join those standing up against racists and bigots in pursuit of a tolerant, inclusive society
It drives me to distraction that this even has to be a ‘thing’, but there is no doubt that our society is currently experiencing something of a free-fall into the past as far as equality is concerned. The myriad of incidents that have been reported in just the past few days are no doubt only the tip of the iceberg, and whilst I have yet to witness anything myself there is no way I will be ignoring it if I do.
In the meantime I have a safety pin firmly attached to my lapel, and I will continue to support and promote the groups who are working tirelessly to ensure that the bigots do not win.
4) Take a step back from social media
There is a difficult balance to be found, here, between making sure I am as informed as I can reasonably expect to be and not getting completely suckered in to the internet at the expense of the real world. There are so many incredibly complex, multi-layered issues to grapple with, and there will be for some considerable time to come as all of this crazy takes its course. I need to somehow accept that there is no panacea for my aching brain to be found amidst the conflicting words flying around the world wide web, and that if I am going to maintain some semblance of sanity I need to take a step back and trust that somehow good will prevail. If it doesn’t there’s always that loch.
5) Make time for the things that are important in my life
Friends and family, and my writing. When all is said and done it comes back to these.
I have lots of events to look forward to over the next few weeks where thrashing out the truth in all the chaos can be done over a cold drink rather than through a keyboard: who knows, we might even be able to talk about something else!
And then there’s Arthur of course, who is most definitely getting frustrated with the political monolith that has inserted itself so ungraciously into our lives. Whilst it is his future I am most afeared of in the middle of the night, I clearly have a responsibility not to let it impact unnecessarily on his present – and to be present, both physically and emotionally, as much as I possibly can.
And finally there is writing, and the plans I made for summer before this cataclysm hit. Those poor novels are still languishing on my hard drive, and I can’t let political turmoil be just another excuse for not showing them the light of day.
For better or for worse, we are living in interesting times. It is up to us – as it has always been – to make the most of them.