Category Archives: Sophie is pondering

Writing at the end of the world

Let’s just take stock of where we’re at.

The UK is hurtling towards an ungainly Brexit, voted for by just over a third of the adult population and headed up by an unelected Prime Minister who is swiftly making Margaret Thatcher look like some sort of socialist saint.

The US, not to be outdone, has voted in a billionaire who openly gloats about tax avoidance and assaulting women. The percentage of the population who are happy about this is even lower than the ‘overwhelming mandate’ leading our country into disaster, and both of our nations, who can thank for their successes generations of immigration and open-mindedness, are battening down the hatches for an extreme right-wing orgy of which Hitler would be proud.

Alongside this, the world is still facing (if not yet facing up to) the worst humanitarian crisis since World War One, military leaders from Russia to China are seemingly putting things in place for yet more global conflict, and our media is having a field day in this post-truth age which has never been less interested in the facts of the situation where there’s a good story to be had.

And don’t even get me started on the travesties that are quietly being played out on our doorsteps behind this international shitstorm. The health and education services that are being dismantled and sold off to the highest bidder, the fat cats getting fatter whilst the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are living hand to mouth, or dying behind a smokescreen of spin.

img_1746

It is hard to know what to do.

It is hard to know what the point is of doing anything.

And yet…

I was reminded the other day about why it is I am a writer: why I love books, and art, and culture. Why it matters even more when everything else is falling apart. It was one of those rare moments when the different parts of my life collide: I was at a Torbay Culture Forum meeting to discuss ideas for the future of Shoalstone Pool, and I found myself surrounded by a table of inspiring, talented people who have an unshakable belief in the ability of culture to affect change.

I do, too: that’s why I was passionate about teaching literature and drama and film as well as the more functional elements of literacy and media studies. It is why I trained as an actor many moons ago, and is why I have spent so very many hours over the last few years carefully crafting three novels whilst learning what it is to be a mum.

It is easy to forget, though, at times like this. It is easy to think that it is only by addressing politics head on that you can really make a difference, and that artistic endeavour is frivolous and self-indulgent. I think I’ve been stuck in that space for a while now.

But it’s time to break out. Something clicked when I was away last week, and I have come back with a renewed sense of what I’m doing and why.

I have an idea for a collection of short stories, inspired by this impending sense of doom but altogether more hopeful than that sounds. I’ve been putting pen to paper, playing around with words, and finding the whole process quite therapeutic. As stories emerge I’m planning to set them free into the world and see if any of them can find a home, but I’m feeling strangely liberated by the fact that I’m envisaging this as a collection too, a cohesive work that I might be able to put out there myself someday soon.

I say soon, but I still have no idea where that bigger picture of submissions is taking me. What I do know, though, is I need to own this writer hat, to separate it out from the new-mother angst that spawned this blog. So I have a separate writing blog in the works, which hopefully will be ready to launch in the new year.

This links in to another realisation I’ve had, about what it is that ties together all the stuff on this blog that isn’t about writing – and that is, surprise surprise, linked closely to that sense of creeping armageddon too.

It’s all about changing the world, basically. About nurturing a new generation – as a parent and a teacher – that will do things differently. Do things better. And I think I want to explore this more explicitly, with a blog dedicated to this idea of child rearing as a quiet and determined revolution.

It fits quite neatly with all my thoughts already about parenting and education, but I think the time has come to own that side of me too – not just to voice my thoughts and apologise afterwards for failing to embrace the status quo.

So.

Change is afoot.

Time to silence that demon who has taken a break from criticising my writing to laugh at me for believing that I can make a difference, however small that difference might be.

Because if not me, who? And if not now, when?

Writing Bubble

What History of Art A-level meant to me

I have got used to shaking my head in disbelief when the government’s latest education initiatives are announced, but when I read this week that A-level History of Art had been removed from the options lists forever it hit me harder than I was expecting.

This is not the only subject to have been made a relic by the Tories after all – the full list of opportunities that are no longer available to our young people filled me with fury. But twenty-two years ago History of Art succeeded in saving the dying dregs of interest in academia from the apathy of my sixteen year old self – and it is no exaggeration to say that without it my life could have turned out very differently.

I moved from Birmingham to London for my sixth form studies. I didn’t want to at the time – nothing against London per se, but my mental health was fragile and I couldn’t see a way forwards without my small but trusted circle of friends by my side.

My academic record was strong, but the ‘A’ grades hid a complete lack of interest in my studies – and a complete lack of confidence in my self. I selected my next raft of subjects pretty randomly – A-levels in History, English and Biology, and AS level in French. I wasn’t much more inspired by these than any of the other, mainly traditional, offers on the table, but I figured I’d be able to see them through.

Then in my first week at my new school, and my very first lesson with my new French class, I mustered up the confidence to speak and was laughed at by the stranger who was my teacher because of my (admittedly pretty dodgy) French accent. I walked out of the lesson through a blur of tears, and after a brief conversation with the administrators switched to an A-level in History of Art – one of the few subjects still with space, and something that piqued my interest with its novelty.

It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

IMG_1686.jpg

Our class was small – there were six of us I think, meaning that in today’s cash-strapped educational climate the course probably wouldn’t have run at all. I couldn’t be invisible in that room though – not like my other classes where I often slept behind a carefully placed hand propped on the desk.

I learnt so much more than was contained within the confines of the subject. I learnt how to plan an essay – techniques which I applied to great success in all of my A-level subjects and have used endlessly since as a student and as a teacher. I learnt how to revise, and how to organise my time. I learnt that it was ok to be interested in something that not many people saw the value of – and that in fact sometimes the most obtuse pursuits can bring the most personal reward.

The subject itself, it turned out, was so much more than I could have ever hoped for.

There was an interplay between art and science, which appealed to the way my brain works: I never have been very good at putting things in boxes. This was particularly true with our study of the history of architecture, with the exploration of classical forms bringing mathematical certainty into the sometimes nebulous analysis of artistic endeavours, and the ways generations of architects riffed around them giving me concrete examples of how creativity evolves.

Understanding how buildings and towns were designed made me think, too, about the way our society is structured – something which we also discussed animatedly when we looked at the work of artists who protested explicitly against the societies they worked within, comparing that in turn with those who played by the rules to fit into the canon. Generally I learnt loads about our culture, and that of other countries. We went on a group trip to Paris (where finally I got to work on that French accent) and wherever else I travelled then and since I found myself looking at the world through a new pair of eyes.

Beyond the studies, my personal self was developing too. I had found my first intellectual tribe – a very necessary counterpoint to my emerging new social group who whilst they would go on to include lifelong friends did not encourage the healthiest of pursuits.

Weekends of clubbing, house parties and festivals meant that (at least) the start of each week often passed in a blur – but I could not let myself let things slip entirely because I didn’t want to sacrifice the learning and the community that my History of Art lessons gave.

This motivation, and the skills I learnt as a result of it, carried me through to another surprisingly good set of grades, and from there on to university – to study History of Art, along with Philosophy.

My History of Art A-level taught me that I am on a fundamental level an intellectual, but that the intellectual study I enjoy is one firmly rooted in society. It taught me that I respect those who know when to play by the rules, and when to break them. It gave me the confidence to express my opinions about the world around me and the people who inhabit it: that even if my opinions are not the same as those shared by others my ability to explain them is more important than just fitting in.

I’m not saying that every teenager would respond the way I did to this particular subject, but I honestly think that the fact that it was not as ‘pure’ as the other subjects I was studying, not quite so epic in its scope, made it easier to delve deeper into it, to create links for myself rather than having to regurgitate the views which were expected of me. It gave me an outlet for my stifled creativity, and the confidence to think.

Studying History of Art gave me the skills to collaborate with a friend to put on art exhibitions, to develop my photography, to teach Media and Film. It enriched my analysis of literature, and ultimately gave me the confidence to put pen to paper myself and give voice to the stories in my head.

It makes me so sad that because besuited politicians in Westminster cannot see the value in this subject future generations of teenagers might not have the opportunity to ignite the spark that might propel them along an unexpected path.

Like so many of the educational reforms that make me angry, this reduction in options seems to be driven by a misplaced certainty in what our society needs. What we really want is the space to make that decision for ourselves.

 

Writing Bubble

On pulling together and pulling through

I remember the day at the start of last summer when the nightmare began – for me anyway.

I was at a blogging conference in London, and had just stepped out to get some fresh air when I picked up the call from my mum. My Aunty Jan was sick – nothing too serious, but she had a jaundice that she couldn’t shake and they were starting to worry there might be something wrong with her liver. She wanted to pick Leigh’s brains who, fresh out of his fourth year med school exams, was looking after Arthur at the time.

We discussed it over the next few days, confused but not overly concerned. Jan was healthy, strong and active – it would just be a weird infection, surely, that would go away on its own.

Except it didn’t.

Over the next couple of weeks her condition worsened daily. She was admitted to hospital, the doctors still none the wiser of the cause but increasingly concerned about the impact it was having on her body. Both Jan and my Uncle Tony were subjected to repeated questions about their lifestyle – had she been an alcoholic the cause, and the treatment, would have been somewhat easier to discern.

But she wasn’t, and she kept getting worse.

At hospital in Truro, Jan’s other organs began to suffer, and the doctors had no choice but to put her into a coma to try to conserve what strength she had left. Now on the super-critical list for a transplant she was transferred by helicopter to King’s College Hospital in London at the earliest opportunity.

She went straight to the top of the list for a suitable organ, leaving us all in disbelief: how was it possible that this strong, youthful woman, who we had partied with at my brother’s wedding six short weeks before, was now battling for her life – the cause of her illness still evading the highly qualified team who was looking after her.

Tony kept vigil at her bedside, updating us all with an incredibly erudite commentary of the surreal and heart-stopping experiences that were befalling them daily, always careful to praise the exceptional care they were receiving.

None of us wanted to give up hope, but it became increasingly hard to believe that this nightmare could possibly have a positive outcome.

And then, one day, the tide turned.

A viable match was found – a liver that was healthy enough, in theory at least, to cope with the damage that had already been done to Jan’s other organs. The risks of surgery were huge, but as Tony put it ‘without the transplant there are no options’; and so they took it.

The operation was a success, though in its immediate aftermath there were still fears of infection, rejection and thrombosis. We were all on tenterhooks waiting for Tony’s updates, and there was a shared sharp intake of breath when two days after the transplant Jan was returned to theatre to fix a bleed. She made it through that, and began the journey towards breathing independently as her body slowly began to heal itself.

Throughout this journey, Tony continued to stress the ‘fantastic’ level of care that Jan received. In his words, ‘Jeremy Hunt should spend a weekend up here and then hang his head in shame!’

And he should know – they spent six long weeks in Liver Intensive Care, and witnessed at first hand the miracles that can be achieved within our NHS. Having learnt to breathe again, Jan went through the gruelling process of learning to speak and then to walk, assisted by rigorous and determined physiotherapists. In the middle of August, she was transferred from London to Derriford in Plymouth, and two weeks later – a year ago this Sunday – she was discharged, and finally able to go home.

jan and tony.jpg

The recovery journey didn’t quite stop there of course. In fact it never really will. But the degree of progress that has been made in that year is quite astounding.

It is all really quite astounding.

Tony shared with me the comments of Jan’s consultant at her most recent check-up, who admitted ‘If I was a betting man I wouldn’t have put money on you pulling through’. Tony said ‘he went on to qualify that statement explaining that so many things had to line up to ensure her survival – management of her transfer to King’s, maintenance of her condition in the induced coma, monitoring and treatment of the various stages of multi organ failure, avoidance of infection, identification of a suitable donor. Whilst knowing that up front would have terrified us, looking back we see nothing but positivity.’

Next Saturday, Tony is rowing in the Thames Great River Race to raise money for the Kings College Hospital Charity: 21.5 miles down the Thames in a Cornish Pilot Gig. I would love it if you could sponsor him – whatever amount you can spare would be hugely gratefully received.

At a time when NHS budgets are being slashed, it is more important than ever that the funds that support vital research are replenished whenever they can be. The resident professors at King’s, as Tony and Jan discovered when they recently went back to the hospital that saved her life for a behind the scenes tour, have a clear development plan for how they can optimise care from paediatrics right through to geriatric patients. But they need the money to do this.

As well as your sponsorship (thank you) there are two more things I ask of you as I reflect on this incredible journey my lovely Aunty has been on.

If you are not already signed up, please consider adding your name to the organ donation register. And if you ever find yourself in the heartbreaking position that the family who gave Jan another chance at life were in, please try to remember the incredible gift your own loss and sorrow can bring.

And finally, support our NHS.

It is more fragile now than it has ever been in its seventy year history, and we need to pull together to ensure that the exceptional care that saved Jan’s life is not undermined by political and economic game playing. It is our NHS, and you never know when you might need it. Make sure you are there for it when it needs you.

 

 

Crocodile tears?

So there is something that’s been bugging me, and I haven’t said anything because it’s all a bit contentious. I can hear the arguments already: about how I’m cold-hearted, or blinkered to the concerns of others, or so biased that I just can’t see the hurt some people are feeling. But do you know what? I’m going to say it anyway.

So here it is: what on earth is going on with all these female MPs being reduced to tears lately?

IMG_1553.jpg

It started with Labour leadership challenger Angela Eagle, bemoaning her ‘agonising decision’ to resign by insisting that ‘it’s just not working’. A couple of days later we had Margaret Beckett, again pleading for Jeremy Corbyn to resign by comparing him unfavourably to the eight previous Labour leaders she has felt able to be ‘loyal to’. And then of course there was Ruth Smeeth, who left an antisemitism event in tears after being accused by a supporter of Corbyn of ‘being part of a media conspiracy’.

As a woman, I am embarrassed.

This is an incredibly stressful time for our politicians, I get that. The disastrous EU referendum project brought out the worst in everybody, breeding hatred and animosity that has been felt at every level of our society. My social media timelines have been filled with anger and with grief, and I have no doubt that many tears have been shed behind closed doors over what is happening to our country.

But to do it in public, when what is happening to our country is actually your job, your responsibility? No, that does not sit comfortably with me at all.

I know what it feels like to be pushed to the edge, to be beaten down by the system and by the task that lies before you. As a teacher and a leader in secondary schools I felt that biting pain of tears behind the eyes both in the classroom and in meetings, but I did not let my smile drop until I was alone – or at least alone amongst the most trusted of my colleagues. It takes strength, but keeping those emotions at bay is vital not only to maintain a semblance of professionalism but also to be able to continue to act professionally.

These women who have let down their guard have not been overlooked in some private place: they have let their emotions rise to the surface in front of politicians and journalists. And I do not believe they have done it because they are weak. If I did then I would not be writing this. These are strong, powerful, empowered women – they are choosing to let themselves cry.

The reasons why are to me pretty clear. There is a narrative at work here, a narrative which is placing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in role as bullies. There are undoubtedly within the people who have flocked around Momentum (as with any political cause) those that give the whole movement a bad name. But to blame it on the movement itself is laughable. Jeremy Corbyn is a peacemaker, a champion of kindness and equality, a speaker of truth. He is not a bully. He is being bullied, that much is certain, by the PLP and the media. But I have yet to see his emotions show in public beyond a flicker of resentment and a determination to continue with the job he was elected to do.

And this steely resolve is being used against him. Women are crying as they say his name, and he is being aligned with the bullies. And I do not think that is fair.

It is not fair on him, and it is not fair on us.

Just over a year ago, Tim Hunt and Boris Johnson were at the centre of a furore over gender discrimination: Hunt said, and Johnson agreed, that ‘when you criticise [girls], they cry’ – that ‘it is a scientific fact that women cry more readily than men’. They were despicable comments to have made, and revealed a truth about the underlying misogyny in our society that women have to battle against every single day in order to be taken seriously.

I cannot help but feel that, with their tears, Eagle, Beckett and Smeeth have taken us back even further.

 

Writing Bubble

 

Beyond Brexit

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.

IMG_1518.jpg

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.

 

Writing Bubble

26/52

IMG_1517.jpg

“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

It has been a strange few days. The EU referendum result has ignited such shock, grief and anger – not just amongst me and my friends, but amongst many millions of people in the UK and beyond.

I have spent hours dwelling on the impact that impending Brexit will have on the life of this little one – the identity shifted, the opportunities missed, the unity unknown.

We had to escape on Saturday morning, taking our van to a campsite not far away but far enough to immerse ourselves in nature for a while. It didn’t entirely drag me away from social media and its outpouring of emotion, analysis and dismay, but it stopped me from going completely mad.

There was something strangely comforting about the fact that most of the weekend was mired in cloud and slow drizzle, belying the forecast of sunshine we had been looking forward to all week. It was as if the universe was grieving with us for all that we have lost.

And then this morning the sun came up, and bathed our campsite in warmth and beauty. We went for a swim in the sea, cool and invigorating, and I began to see things with fresh eyes.

I still believe that something terrible has happened to our country, but I am beginning to see the referendum result as a symptom rather than a cause – and as a call to act, for all of our futures.

Looking at this boy, poised and full of wonder at the heart of an ancient tree budding with new life, gives me hope that we, too, can find a way to bring ourselves back from the winter that has befallen us.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

On words, and truth

This past week, for me as for many others, has been almost entirely consumed by the EU referendum.

I have been pretty certain of how I would vote since the idea of a referendum was even mooted – I feel more European than I do British, and the thought of walking away from an institution that has successfully secured peace on our volatile continent, and has always been there as a buffer to protect us from the increasingly right-wing leanings of our government, just does not sit easily with me.

IMG_1512.jpg

Still, though, I have wanted to put my conviction to the test – both as an individual and as a town councillor I have wanted to ensure that I am not missing a trick: that I am not so blindly caught up in an emotional response to this seminal issue that I skirt over the facts, and promote a stance that is, in fact, not in the best interests of me or my community.

I expected to discover, as I delved deeper into the realities behind the propaganda, that things were not as clear cut as my gut was telling me. That whilst there were good reasons to Remain, the Leave camp would also have compelling evidence to support their point of view. After all, there are many people just as passionate about getting rid of the EU as there are about staying within it – almost exactly as many, if the polls are to be believed.

But the more I dug, and read, and reflected, the more I became convinced that not only is remaining in the EU the right thing do, but that a huge number of people who are planning to vote to leave are doing so not because they believe that it will lead to a better future, but because they are fed up with the status quo.

They are fed up of there not being enough money to go round, of our resources not being enough to sustain us, of other people deciding their destinies. With this referendum, they have been offered a scapegoat: and bolstered by the lies of the Leave campaigners they have been fuelled to protest against this (to them) faceless organisation that (they believe) has done far more harm than good.

Except they are participating in a ‘revolution’ led by the very people who have the most to gain by reducing their voice even further, and they are protesting against a reality which doesn’t actually exist.

Take fishing, for example.

This is probably the key issue for voters here in Brixham, and the reason why even breathing in the direction of the Remain campaign gets you labelled a traitor and an enemy of our community. When I started looking into what it was that had prompted the fishermen to bedeck their boats with the livery of the Leave campaign, I was almost certain that this was one area where I would be proven wrong: everybody knows that our fishing industry has suffered at the hands of the EU, right? Meaning that, surely, leaving the EU would solve all their woes.

Except the reality isn’t quite that simple.

There is little doubt that, over its lifetime, the fishing policies introduced by the EU have had a negative effect on our fishermen. However, the policies were introduced in response to very real concerns about over-fishing – the impact of which has a potentially devastating effect on both the environment and fish stocks, and therefore on fishermen themselves.

Since Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign the Common Fisheries Policy has actually been subject to considerable reform – and is one of the best examples of how we as a member state of the EU can affect change from within. The figures now actually point to a real growth within our fishing industry, which is heavily reliant on the EU as a market for its exports.

There is still a problem with quotas, but the allocation of these is within the hands of the U.K. Government – it is them that have chosen to favour the huge commercial players at the expense of smaller-scale fishermen.

I completely understand why people in the fishing industry might want to use their referendum vote to retaliate against past injustices, but I do not believe that their position reflects the current realities. Given how many other areas – the NHS, the arts, scientific research (to name but a few) – will suffer if the UK votes to leave the EU, a Leave vote as a protest seems a very, very risky move to make indeed.

This whole issue of risk seems to be the thing that the referendum is hinging on right now. The Leave camp have somehow manipulated themselves into the position where to support them is the maverick move, the thing to do if you are fed up with any aspect of your life within the current system. Nigel Farage, with his hate-fuelled political career, is on the verge of precipitating the biggest shift in our government in my lifetime: he has made people believe that this is the only real opportunity to effect change that we will ever be offered.

But let’s just leap forward thirty-six hours to Friday morning. Let’s imagine what that vote to leave would really mean. We would have not only rejected the views of our current Prime Minister – someone who, on the vast majority of issues, I am utterly polarised from – but we would also have rejected the views of the vast majority of our academics, our business leaders, our artists, our scientists, our health practitioners, our trade unionists. The only group who would be united in celebration of this outcome would be UKIP, and in a blur of fear and propaganda they would have leapt from being a minor political force to the key drivers of our future as a country.

I really hope that is not going to be the case.

There is no doubt that Europe is not perfect, but no aspect of our political system really is. If we vote Leave, we are decisively saying to all of the European countries who want to be our friends, that we have no regard for them – and we have no regard either for the myriad of experts and professionals who have been warning us that this is a very bad idea. And that vote to leave would be conclusive: whatever the consequences there will be no going back, not without convincing the rest of Europe that despite us shunning them so hugely we deserve to be welcomed back into the fold.

If we vote Remain, we are putting our faith in unity. We are recognising that, in the words of the late Jo Cox, “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

There is still a long way to go before this European Union that we are a part of is the perfect fit for all of its members, but those are words that I would like to strive for, and a truth that I believe is the key to the future of our world.

 

Writing Bubble