Written by David Ricketts |
After the summer of 2016, in which the United Kingdom wrestled with the decision to leave the EU or not, I started my Politics degree. I voted Leave that summer and, ever since, I have wondered whether I made the right decision.
There currently seems to be an influx of stories stating that many leave voters have changed their minds. Bolstered by polls and individual anecdotes, many people (remain voters) think that, if a referendum were to be re-held today, the UK would decide to remain.
First of all, I want to be clear this is not an article about the pros or cons of a second referendum, though I do believe one would be catastrophic (as will become clear). It is a plea for us, the electorate, to take charge. The politicians have failed, and it is up to us to fix what they broke. And to do that, we need to listen to each other.
“[This article] is a plea for us, the electorate, to take charge. The politicians have failed, and it is up to us to fix what they broke.”
An event held at the University on January 18 by Cornwall for Europe provided me with the perfect opportunity to start practising what I preach. The panel boasted some of the so-called ‘high profile’ voices for the Remain campaign, with Jack Dart, Joel Baccas, Madeliena Kay, and Jason Hunter. I decided to attend and see if there was any truth or weight behind these anecdotes and polls. More importantly, could I be listened to as a leave voter at an event so unashamedly remain?
After about ten minutes at the event, it became clear to me that none of their arguments had evolved. It was like being teleported back to pre-referendum 2016. I was blasted by catastrophic facts, some about the economy, with a few Farage-bashing moments, and jokes about buses attracting big laughs. Then there was the token “Where is Corbyn?” outburst. As if he is some miraculous saviour who can single handily deliver the people a remain deal, all the while ignoring 17 million members of the electorate and thus relinquishing any chance of becoming prime minister (but more on that later).
I have some sympathy for the economic arguments; I do believe that people are going to be poorer outside the EU. I am also partial to the odd Farage-bashing joke. However, it was the behaviour of Remain leaders and voters that instead horrified me personally: former political allies judged me to be a racist or stupid, incapable of political decision. People I had marched with side by side at anti-racism rallies stopped listening to me.
Once the questions started, it became clear that the event’s audience had lapped up all the old arguments. Any key suggestions about listening to leave voters had been ignored.
This approach continued through the whole duration of the Q&A, until, in the penultimate question, someone suggested that the event may resemble an echo chamber, and asked if there were any leave voters in the audience. Excited, I saw an opportunity to engage and I stuck my hand in the air. Only to realise I was the solitary leave voter in the room, or the only one who brave enough to put his hand up.
“In the penultimate question someone suggested that the event may resemble an “echo chamber”…”
I was consequently allowed to ask the final question, in some last-ditch attempt to the evening some semblance of balance. A token gesture that I feel represents my point: active listening shouldn’t be the last port of call, it should be the first.
My question referred to the elephant in the room: austerity. For me, it encompasses an area of politics where the ideologies of remain and leave converge – an area dominated by the words of Corbyn and the policies of Labour epitomised in the phrase ‘for the many, not the few’.
The response came from Jason Hunter, who had made it pretty clear on his stance on Brexit: he will do anything to stop it. Anything but engage on a human level, it seems. The barrage of his self-purported economic facts characterised his detachment from reality, as did his unwillingness to engage with emotional responses to what are viewed as failing institutions. There are approximately four million people in-work poverty – that’s 1 in 8 workers. Answering the question ‘How has the EU been protecting me?’ by simply barking economic facts is, at best, counterproductive and, at worst, lacks any empathy.
“The barrage of Hunter’s self-purported economic facts characterised his detachment from reality…”
To the young attendee who shouted, “Where is Corbyn?”, my answer to you is that he is where he should be. He is mending what the Conservatives broke under Thatcher and was continued under Blair – trust in British politics to have a heart.
He is listening to those that are struggling, who feel left behind and, more importantly, to those who voted leave. He is giving you the opportunity to so as well.
Corbyn is placing emotion back at the heart of British politics refusing to bow down to the irrational rationality of economics. Because the harder you shout “we can’t leave!” or “it’ll be a disaster!”, unless you somehow bring a significant amount of the Leave voters with you, you are destroying any hope of reconciliation.
This reconciliation is not just the responsibility of politicians, but of us all. Because, whatever happens in Parliament over the coming months, whatever is decided, we are the people who have to live with it and with each other.
So, I reiterate my opening plea. I challenge you to start dialogue with those who oppose your view – let us show parliament how it is done. Go to meetings that don’t represent your outlook, talk to friends or colleagues and, most importantly, listen. Forget economics. Not all political decisions need to revolve around capital and by reducing it to that, we play into the hands of the xenophobic and racist politicians.
“I challenge you to start dialogue with those who oppose your view – let us show parliament how it is done. Go to meetings that don’t represent your outlook, talk to friends or colleagues and, most importantly, listen.”
The leading voices in the remain camp have failed to grasp this, as the Cornwall for Europe event showed. As a result, we are being frog-marched towards a second referendum, with the same level of arrogance as David Cameron three years ago. A referendum, I fear, which will deliver the same results as before, but with more serious repercussions.