Last Thursday 17 million people in the UK voted to, well, what exactly did they vote for? Not what they were promised, that’s becoming increasingly clear.
The referendum asked a deceptively simple question: should the UK remain in the EU or leave. I say “deceptively” because it was an attempt to put an exceedingly complex issue into yes/no terms.
I’m sure a lot of people, like me, saw the question as one between the known quantity that was remaining in the EU and a leap in the dark. Equally, many suffering under the results of years of austerity felt that any change, any hope was better than keeping things as they were.
I woke up on Friday morning to the result and immediately suffered a huge attack of anxiety because it was clear that my stable little world had fallen down and we were in uncharted territory. I don’t handle change well and this has been change on a massive scale.
At a time when the country needs clear leadership more than ever the politicians are running around like headless chickens. The Prime Minister, by resigning, has become little more than a figurehead while the two factions of the Conservative party fight between themselves for supremacy.
The tensions in the Labour party between Jeremy Corbyn with the support of grass-roots members and unions, and his MPs, many of whom oppose his leadership, have decimated the effectiveness of the opposition.
The country’s economy has been severely weakened with stock markets and the pound falling. The Chancellor, George Osborne, announced this morning that taxes will have to rise and spending will be cut. Not only is austerity here to stay for a long while, it’s going to get worse.
And with key figures from the victorious Leave campaign retracting their pre-referendum claims and promises, Boris Johnson talking about effectively remaining in Europe on similar terms to what we have today, I find myself wondering what it was all for.
The country has been weakened and it will take years to recover. Deep divisions in society have been exposed and the wounds remain open. Although a majority voted to leave there were almost as many who voted the opposite way: it really is a split right down the middle of the country.
Parliament is a representative democracy, but how can they represent such polar opposites? Politics is often a balancing act but right now they have one foot either side of a chasm that is widening.
Things must be resolved quickly to end the uncertainty. That means compromise; there’s not the time to build consensus. The country needs leadership, somebody to establish its direction, but nobody today wants to be the one to make that move from which there might be no going back.
The referendum was an ill-considered response to a problem that had nothing to do with the EU: divisions in the Conservative party. It’s resulted in the country being dragged into a situation that nobody wants: we’re standing on the edge of a cliff and the ground is crumbling under our feet. We either launch ourselves forward or step back, but that needs a leader to make the call. We don’t have that right now.
I want to see some honesty from the politicians. I want to know whether they have any idea what to do, where to take the country. Because all the signs at present are that they do not have a clue.
I believe that if they do not know how to achieve the goals they promised when campaigning to leave then they should abandon the attempt and return to where we were before this mess. Start over. Ask people the right questions. Listen to their concerns about poverty, loss of services, the erosion of community, the increasing disconnection between the average person and the governors in Westminster.
People are angry and with good reason. Angry people look for someone or something to blame and this was manipulated by referendum campaigners who offered a series of scapegoats: immigration, EU bureaucracy. Slogans like “Take back control” and “Stronger in” appeal on an emotional level, deliberately, so that people do not question what they really mean.
Televised “debates” that were just Britain’s Got Talent contests to put on the best performance. Never mind what they said, who said it in the most convincing tone? The end result: a hideously complicated issue reduced to soundbites.
It took me days of research to begin to understand the issues, and even after that what I came away with was mostly the feeling that international relations and the economics of nation states are almost beyond human understanding. I have little confidence in my ability to make an informed decision, which convinced me that it was better to let things continue as they stood.
Is that even an option now that the referendum result was to leave? Do we have to continue to head out into the unknown, given that the first few steps have resulted in serious negative consequences? We’ve had a little taste of the dish in front of us and it’s unpleasant. Do we have to clean our plate, or can we send it back and order something new?
We know where we stand and it’s on the brink. The question is where do we go from here?