Hoping for hope

Processing the shock ‘Brexit’ vote

Image: Kendall Lane

I made it clear last week that I was for Britain remaining in the European Union. Sadly, to the shock even of those leading the Leave campaign, we have chosen to say goodbye to our EU partners. Right now, as I shared on Facebook once the outcome of the referendum was clear, I feel pretty devastated:

What have we done? This is devastating news to wake up to. I don’t question the will of the people; I do question the state of our politics that has led to such an absolute distrust of our politicians (who are mostly pro-remain).

Also, does anyone have the remotest clue what happens next?! (Other than our economy probably tanking for several years due to the uncertainty while everything gets worked out.)

Sadly, it seems many of the poorest areas of the country have voted leave the heaviest and it’s the poor who will suffer the most during the seemingly inevitable recession that will come. I genuinely fear we will look back at this moment as the worst decision in our history.

I don’t doubt our resolve to make the best of it no matter what, I just think we’ve made a horrific mistake. I desperately hope I’m wrong. It’s all made worse of course by the fact it’s the younger generations who will feel the long-term consequences of this choice and yet it’s the older generations who have voted us out (younger vote massively more pro-remain). Sigh.

In the few hours since the count was completed, the pound has plummeted and the stock market has crashed. The Leave campaign have already started to admit many of their statements were lies.

It’s hard not to feel despondent. It’s also hard not to blame those who voted for out. But it is never right to blame the electorate. Voters always must be respected. Strangely enough, calling people who see things differently from you stupid and ignorant doesn’t seem to win them over. And, who knows, if we had their exact same set of circumstances, we might see things the way they do.

I think it is reasonable, however, to blame those who have told lies and deliberately misinformed people. It’s impossible to deny too that there has been an undercurrent to the immigration debate that has fuelled xenophobia and racism. As a country we should be ashamed that someone like Nigel Farage, without any democratic mandate, has ended up with the amount of influence he has, stirring up fear and bigotry.

We are a better country than we have shown ourselves to be in recent weeks. We have to cling on to hope. It is easy to be cynical right now, but cynicism is the last thing we need. It’s okay and natural to need to express anger and despair and frustration in the immediate aftermath of the vote, but we have to quickly move forward.

After we’ve mourned, we will need to become more engaged, not less. Like never before, we need to make a stand for the values of love, freedom, inclusion, decency, and more. We cannot let bigotry increase its foothold in our nation. We have to find ways to build bridges with those who see the world so differently from us.

It’s not enough to stand on the other side and shout, ‘Idiots’. We can’t wait for them to build bridges to us; we have to take the lead, we have to establish common ground and then build and invest in that common ground and gradually extend it.

Change won’t happen through our posts on Facebook and Twitter (important as they can be for our own sanity at times). We have to be the change we want to see. We have to bring about change through action and not words. We have to rise above hate and fear and demonstrate love and hope. And we don’t demonstrate love by calling people stupid and ignorant.

We have to listen too. Really listen. And that means taking the time to truly hear and understand why people are seeing the world and our country so differently from us. It’s not enough to say, ‘We’re right, and you’re wrong,’ we have to proactively seek out to those different from ourselves and forge new alliances.

Rightly or wrongly, many people feel a complete disconnect from the politicians who lead us. This disconnect is felt even more with the politicians who represent us in the EU. We have to find a way for politics to work for everybody again.

It’s tragic that the poorest regions, who receive the most EU support, will be the worst affected by our exit. Looking in from the outside and wondering how they couldn’t see this doesn’t help them. Questioning their intelligence doesn’t help. Did we listen properly to their concerns and anxieties? Did we take the time to understand why they felt like they did? And if they felt ignored, is it that surprising that when others came along promising — falsely — to magic away all their fears, that they went sided with those who appeared to understand?

I don’t believe that most of Britain are bigots. I don’t believe that at our core our nation is full of racists. We have a problem though because fear brings out the worst in us. And if we allow these fears to grow, we will start to become more bigoted and racist. This is what we must resist.

Separating ourselves from them isn’t going to help our nation. Being ashamed of the other half of our country won’t move us forward. Even if we end up losing Scotland, those of us who are left have to work together to find a path forward that works for us all.

This is not the time to give up. This is the time stand up and be the people who put the great in Great Britain through the way we respond to this outcome with hope, optimism, inclusivity, boldness, and creativity. We don’t stop. We don’t settle. We keep progressing. We accept the circumstances for what they are, but we rise above them. We keep believing. We keep persevering. We keep working for a better Britain and a better world.

Only time will tell how big of a step back this proves to be for Britain. But let’s be the people who — at the price of losing the chance to say, ‘I told you so’ — stand up to minimise the impact of that backwards step by refusing to let this hold us down and pull us back.

It is vital we don’t let this despair lead to apathy. We have to engage young people in particular with politics like never before. If we want to be a progressive nation, we will have to fight for it. Not with weapons. Not with lies. Not with hatred. But with love and tolerance and inclusivity. By listening and learning. By working together and, yes, at times compromising. We need to have our ideals, but we have to be pragmatic too.

Sadly, I don’t feel like I have a political party that comes close to representing me right now. A Labour party with Corbyn at the helm is not the party for me (and won’t ever get elected to government). And a Conservative party that veers off towards the right is definitely not for me either. I used to have some hope in the early years of Cameron’s compassionate conservatism, but that hope has long gone.

In truth, it feels like there is real need for a healthy, engaged, relevant, inclusive, pragmatic-yet-idealistic political party that takes up the centre ground. If nothing else comes of this upheaval, then I hope that a fundamental re-shift in how political parties engage with the electorate can emerge.

Tempting as it is to dwell in my despair, I am determined to not stay here for long. There is hope. There is always hope. Every situation can be turned into an opportunity. I remain convinced that the world needs to become more united, not less, but this setback doesn’t mean we give up on that dream. We keep pursuing it. We work hard to listen to those who don’t yet share the dream. And we do everything we can to compassionately help them understand how and why a united world is a better, stronger world. We don’t ignore their doubts and fears. We don’t stuff their concerns under the carpet. We hear them. We understand them. And then we work together, one step at a time, to try and keep making a country a better, more united place.

I’m probably being hopelessly naive, but right now, I have to find hope because despair is too painful to linger in.

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