Rachel Lewis (LDCF Exec) writes Brexit: The Real Challenge. An excellent read!
Brexit: The Real Challenge
In the time since the Referendum, even if the wisdom of leaving the EU hasn’t materialised, a particular reality has made itself very clear: the result exposed the crisis of inequality that is endemic across Britain. This is something that we as Christians and Liberal Democrats must respond to.
I’m one of many who have worked through difficulties with family members on the other side of the Referendum debate. My parents and I have decided to just not mention it – mainly because my younger sister’s cancer diagnosis has brought what’s truly important into sharp focus. However, especially during the early, bewildering weeks, I was guilty of speaking with facts but little compassion or respect when things got heated. It’s not just me, though, it’s a national trend. Why have so many in Britain developed an appalling case of rudeness? Not just with Brexit, but across public life?
In 2015, University of Florida researchers, publishing in the Journal of Applied Psychology, said that rudeness is as contagious as a cold. If you’ve been on the receiving end of rudeness, you are much more likely to be rude to someone else. On Twitter, with its restricted character limit, it’s easy to see how a culture of rudeness develops. In his book I Can’t Believe You Just Said That! Danny Wallace found that 65% of people he interviewed believed that the decline in standards was coming from social media, closely followed by imitating the behaviour of celebrities and politicians in the media. This week at The Convention discussion event, civility and respect were once again highlighted as absolute priorities in the debate towards a possible people’s vote. As Christians we must set the tone.
It’s not just in our speech that we need to be a counter-cultural force, we also need to be better at listening. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has used talking therapies. In the collection of essays, The Causes and Cures of Brexit, (Sept 2018) researchers from Compass and the Open Society Foundation, went to the areas of the UK that voted Leave, to ask people about their lives and how they felt about Brexit. Researches heard first-hand that politicians didn’t care about those outside London and the feeling that the regions had been left to rot. It’s a humbling publication to read and brings home very clearly the charge that Westminster isn’t listening to a large percentage of the population.
For many years, reports have highlighted the need for community rebuilding, best done through grass-roots initiatives. As LibDems it’s pretty much our specialist subject! Not just through craft and social events, but also through action - fighting the closure of banks, libraries and other services. In Lancashire, where I’m from, the residents have taken over the local library to run as a community partnership.
With local governments unable to provide services and businesses pulling out of our towns, it’s community organisers and social entrepreneurs who are improving services and creating jobs. As our national identity has a bit of a wobble, rebuilding our communities through local and regional partnerships becomes an important way of genuinely taking back control.
We also need to give back control. In the EU Referendum, people understood that every vote mattered. For the people of Britain to feel like they are properly heard, we need to reform our democracy at local, regional and national level. If we learn anything from the experience of holding the Referendum, it’s that every vote must count.
Finally, it’s a matter of urgency that we take steps to create a fairer society. The inequality that the referendum exposed is a sad indictment on this country. As Liberal Democrats, we are in a privileged place of having an economic policy that functions as a checklist for the change many social researchers say we need. The Archbishop of Canterbury in his book Reimagining Britain (Bloomsbury, 2018), speaks at length about the need to reform our economy, to set economic priorities that reflect new values and to put human beings and human dignity at the centre of them. “Brexit”, he says “brings the need for new imagining into sharper focus.”
It’s my hope that the platform-sharing and cross-party campaigns will continue. Greater collaboration can only help as we work with others to bring the country together, rather than polarise opinion even further. For now, we can only wait and see which way our future relationship with the EU unfolds. Whatever it yields, I hope that we, as Christian Lib Dems, will respond to the challenge that the referendum has provided.
January 14th 2019