A quick preface to say that I’m not going to ever delve into political commentary with one of these, for the sole reason that I find it easier and more legitimate to write about things I have either a passion for or know a little bit about. One such thing I do feel passionate about is the much underrated skill of being engaging. I used to teach an English Literature class of about eight secondary school students, and finding the balance between being a charismatic person that they could relate to and having to teach them effectively so that they retained information and their parents wouldn’t have any qualms against me was a difficult, but ultimately rewarding experience. It’s not easy to be a personality or to capture an audience’s attention, or even teach 13 year olds about figurative language as I discovered. lnformation in itself is extremely linear and boring, but by presenting the information in a way that is engaging, there is the potential for it to really resonate with people. And it really does work. It also really doesn’t work when a lack of clarity and charisma can evaporate any care for engaging with vital information or indeed a process.
It’s been well over two years since the UK decided to leave the European Union in a constitutionally historic and divisive referendum. Steering well clear of the entangled politics as promised, ultimately, this was a brand new opportunity for the country. Even if you disagreed with the decision and whatever ramifications you believed would emanate as a result of it, this was a never-before seen situation in British political history. Untapped potential. A bold risk, loosening security in search of new prosperity. The very idea of it is exciting. Politicians, legislators and the public entering unchartered waters in an attempt to forge a new identity for Britain. Even if you wander out on a ship into waters that are potentially dangerous and you end up shipwrecked, it doesn’t change how thrilled you were for the prospect of a new voyage into pastures new. Leaving the European Union as an idea, should have been filled with optimism and possibility, despite the pitfalls. Those who are truly successful see a glimpse of opportunity amongst a sea of difficulty.
So why has this not materialised? How can there be such negativity over something that had the chance to capture the hearts and minds of a generation? I think it’s primarily due to the current state of affairs in this age we now live in. where people would much rather choose to be right than to be effective. Of course the Remain campaign was so unbelievably flat and often resorted to calling the opposition a bunch of unpatriotic bigots that want immigrants to be kicked out. Of course the Leave campaign sold a flurry of fake promises and often resorted to calling the opposition a bunch of unpatriotic bureaucrats that aren’t taking sovereignty seriously. Of course the referendum wasn’t legally binding and was essentially just a glorified strawpoll. But regardless of which way you leaned towards, come the 23rd of June 2016, we should have all been saying, ‘Right, the people have voted, that’s the result, let’s get on with it then’. Whether you liked it or not, Britain had made a choice. 30 million people turned out to vote, this wasn’t some fringe or obscure crowd. Instead, the result has since been met with mass outrage. Outrage over an outcome that was decided by the public, rather than bureaucratic MPs for once. This was genuinely a decision entirely in the hands of the people.
Yet, those who had opted to remain were shocked and horrified that there were other British people that held a different viewpoint than them, and felt that leaving was better for the country. It’s almost as if individuals in a society have different backgrounds, experiences and sub-cultures that allow them to form opinions based of independent thought, and not just collective group think. Even though I am being sarcastic, this was a deeply terrifying realisation. I remember seeing mainstream media and social media erupt in a way that I just could not comprehend. How could Remainers have been so encircled and invigorated in their own worldview, that they forgot that there was another one? This to me showed how arrogance has started to hijack opinion, where any left-field or simply alternative opinions are met with disgust and pretentiousness. There is so such thing as an incorrect opinion – there are just those that are either popular or unpopular in a current social landscape.
It was incredibly sad to me that this was the place I was observing, where respect for other people’s perspectives were attacked and vilified. I personally voted to Remain in the EU, but I completely respected my friends, family and anyone else that took the stance that we should leave, how could I have not? How can I deny someone else’s right to an opinion just because it doesn’t align with my own? Quite a few rhetorical questions, but it’s just to illustrate how ridiculous I find it. There was so much refusal to accept the decision, and this has manifested in calls for a second referendum to be held dubbed ‘The People’s Vote’. So was the first one not a people’s vote? Were the 17 million-odd Brits that voted to leave not worthy enough to have an opinion to count the first time round? The symbolism that accompanies the title for this new referendum campaign is very sinister and paints those who voted to leave as not only a group that doesn’t hold valid opinions, but also as a group that is not united for what ‘the common struggle’ has been fraudulently depicted as. To me, this is an attempt at genuine censorship.
I cannot be the only one thinking that having referendums are a generally useless idea, because as with any choice there are people that are happy with the outcome and those that are not. We have elected representatives for a reason, to make the decisions that we could not possibly make, to tackle problems that we can’t even the understand the scale of. There is a lot of blame being thrown around, but no one is blaming the Etonian who placed us in this mess in the first place. But let’s entertain the idea that the result of a second referendum has come through. It weighs in that 17 million people actually want to remain. How do we now judge that this result somehow carries more substantive weight than the last, given that after all, it’s just a big nationwide poll?
It doesn’t help that we lack inspiring, engaging political figures for inspiration. I feel bad for Theresa May having to deal with arguably the most complex task in European politics surrounded by a cabinet that’s ready to plunge a dagger in her any moment that her back is turned. But I instantly don’t feel bad for her at all given that she voluntarily took on the role. Jeremy Corbyn. where the hell is he? He attained almost cult status through endorsements by Stormzy, appearing at Glastonbury and showing that he’s a rare breed of politician when addressing the victims of Grenfell Tower – one that has a beating heart. Where is he now when Labour need him the most? The country is in turmoil and the fact that he was so apathetic back in 2016 to one of the most important constitutional moments in the UK’s history speaks volumes. It shows the importance of sustained engagement, that in order to captivate people into caring about politics, you have to be a figure at the forefront, and not reside in the periphery whenever it suits you.
This is the crux of the matter – people don’t want to engage in debate. People don’t want to engage in meaningful and often uncomfortable discussions, not at the expense of forsaking the idea that they might not have the most sound logic or well-supported basis for their view. Frankly, no one knows whether in the long term, remaining in the European Union or leaving it would have been better. We can of course extrapolate based on past economic and social events, but we have no infuence on external pressures that might pop up in the future that may affect them. I feel that the very fact that people were dismissive of the result is indicative of this time now, where people who are genuinely trying to be progressive in shutting down controversial opinions with the best intentions, are inadvertently constricting the arena of independent and free thought in an act of regression.
Whether you’re a Brexiteer or a Remainer, the fact we as a nation have not backed the outcome in the past two years, shows that we really aren’t as democratic or patriotic as we like to think we are.