Breaking the Impasse

Breaking the Impasse

The referendum was a disaster. There, I’ve said it. I’m not talking about the result. I mean the whole ill-conceived exercise. And its outcome: the uncertainty we now find ourselves in the middle of is not doing anybody any good, inside the UK or out.

Nobody appears to have a plan for exiting the EU: if they did we’d have started the process already. I believe the problem is that if you ask a hundred people what they want the future relationship between the UK and the rest of the world to look like you’ll get dozens of different answers.

The one big positive of the referendum has been to expose the immense dissatisfaction across the country with the current state of affairs. But just as people had many different reasons for choosing how they voted, so there are many different causes for that dissatisfaction.

I’m all for leaving, if by leaving you mean the huge inequalities between the rich and the poor, the increasing squeeze we feel on our ability to simply carry on with our day to day lives, the way that politicians in Westminster feel more and more remote from the realities of life in the UK, the way so many people feel their needs are ignored.

All these things and more came out in the vote to leave. Against them were a fear of the unknown, of some calamity in the event of such a big change. But also a feeling among many remain voters that their situation was bearable and that the ideals for which the EU was founded have deep meaning and significance.

By making it a stark choice between in or out the referendum completely ignored the fact that many on both sides share common concerns about pressures on public services like the NHS, on schools, on housing, on jobs. For me these are more important issues than whether or not the UK remains in the EU. But they are not being addressed. Both sides in the referendum used them to score points but since the result was called nobody has put forward any plan to improve the state of things.

I think it’s time for a revolution. A revolution in the way we as a country approach the issues directly affecting us, the people, right now. Our democracy is broken. We don’t feel our representatives in parliament really represent us: we vote for them every four or five years and after that we go back to being ignored and told what to do.

The current system lacks feedback; it lacks the input from the people at the bottom, the electorate, about what we need. Not what a political party thought we wanted and promised years ago in order to get our vote, but what we want and need today.

I propose putting together a representative group of people from across the country. All ages, all political leanings, all levels of education. Selected by lot, like a big jury. Give them full access to all the information, all the experts, and let them decide between them what needs to change and how to go about it. We trust juries a lot more than politicians, and that is how juries work.

They won’t be experts themselves, at least not when they start. But they will represent us with all our hopes and fears. They will be us. I’d certainly trust them to work for the benefit of the people of this country. More so than the politicians. I’m sure that between them they could work out a set of priorities and a new direction for the country. One that a clear majority of people could get behind and support.

It’s an idea that is being used (in similar form) in Ireland today to work on constitutional issues. It could work here too. And it would give people a real voice, not only to decide on issues but also to decide what issues are important. Out political system is failing us. Let’s do things differently going forward. Let’s make our democracy more direct. Let’s involve the people directly. And we’ll have a chance to make things better for all of us and not just the 1%, the elite, the rich.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Where Do We Go From Here?

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?