Where Do We Go From Here?

After the chaos comes the entrenchment. It’s the natural swing of the pendulum. There were a few days when the earthquake of the vote threw up some of those real but inconvenient emotions like regret, shame, horror at what had happened, and then the desire for stability reasserts itself with its concomitant stubbornness. Whilst stability is desirable, it’s only under the pressure of chaos that change can happen (the status quo being so seductive). We really need change, but it’s an unruly beast; we need to think extremely hard about what good change might look like.

George Sand declared that an ideal state was like an ideal marriage – it should be founded on the principles of equality and mutual respect – and she was onto something, I think. Especially now that the UK has served divorce papers on the EU and any number of dependent unions have spiralled into confusion, including the union of the political parties, the union of the United Kingdom, and the union of the voting people. The result has not made those in either Inner or Outer camp more understandable to each other. There’s been a painfully fascinating programme on BBC2 this week about divorce, focusing on the work of mediators. I’ve got a theory that any ugly human behaviour arises essentially out of defensiveness, and the couples on this documentary are the most amazing examples of angry and bitter defensiveness. They are so entrenched in their sense of resentment, so wrapped up in their own feelings that they are completely blind to each other. I think it’s a risk we all run in this country at the moment – understandably, given what’s happened – and nothing good comes of it. The mediators’ first job is to try to get the warring parties to listen to one another, actually and genuinely hear what the other is saying. As I’ve been watching the news unfold (obsessively) over the past week, there have been several things that have struck me as worth hearing.

I’ll include a link at the bottom of this post to the brilliant video by Michael Dougan, a law professor at Liverpool University, whose argument is that the Leave campaign was one of systematic deception at an industrial level. If you listen to him factually dismantle every last one of their weasel claims, I’m not sure how you could argue against him. Which begs the question: how can politicians be allowed to get away with public lying? There was a very good letter to one of the broadsheet papers from a doctor, who said that if a surgeon had knowingly misled a patient about the treatment of his condition, and made the first incision with no idea what to do next, he would be struck off the medical register. So why on earth don’t we have a political register, which details those who are eligible to stand as decent representatives of the UK. And why don’t we legislate against public lying in the service of winning votes? If politicians had to face legal consequences for misleading the public, maybe they would do so less often? Here’s a thought: why don’t all those doctors who voted Leave in the hope of getting money for the NHS take out a class action for their money, from the personal pockets of Gove, Johnson and Farage? If there is one thing to come out of the political mess we find ourselves in, it must be some kind of regulation of political practice. We reached the absolute zenith with Boris Johnson – a man sacked twice for lying – standing as a candidate for PM. He may not still be a candidate but there is nothing to stop him from returning to public life in the future – and there should be.

As for this question of a second referendum, Switzerland is the country we might care to take a look at. Back in 2014 Switzerland voted against the imposition of immigration quotas by the EU. The Swiss are not full EU members but they have bilateral agreements so they can trade in the single market. Since that time, the EU has steadfastly refused to negotiate on the immigrant question and the Swiss have no desire for the economic suicide we are contemplating. So it looks inevitable that a second referendum will have to be called in the (possibly vain) hope of breaking the deadlock. In fact, there are several small countries who are agitating against the EU’s quotas (Hungary has started up this week) and it might have been sensible to consider some sort of alliance among all these countries in the hope that a block protest could shift EU thinking. There is much that is wrong in the EU and many who’d like to change it, but evidently the EU will be determined to show entrenchment at the moment in order to discourage other countries from staging referendums. And of course we can no longer be involved in any alliances because we’ve already voted out and have nothing to bargain with. If you leave book club because you don’t like the book choices, you don’t get to choose books for book club. We can only sit on the sidelines now and hope that something happens to make the EU rethink its stance.

The current downturn in the economy is nothing compared to the disaster that will hit us if and when we invoke article 50. Because the EU has undertaken all our trade negotiations for the past 40 years, we have no trained international trade negotiators. A fact China underlined this week by saying (I quote Dougan) that it didn’t realise the UK had the 500 people and 10 years at its disposal to broker a deal with them. Well hang on in there, China, because we may soon have more than enough unemployed who need to retrain. And maybe fill the offices of Whitehall with the staff required to undertake the unimaginable mass of paperwork that will constitute divorce from the EU. But what will we do in the UK if we lose the bulk of European trade? Well, I guess we could become a tax haven, given the London banks have been close enough to singleminded money laundering for the past few years. And I guess we could trade with the countries in the world no one else will have anything to do with. We’ll have to be a lot less picky about where we get our money from in the future.

My last point is a cultural one, in a week that has seen the rather frightening rise of the Far Right. It’s been coming for a while now, this creeping endorsement of hatred. I say hatred rather than racism, because race is just an excuse. In my mind, it began with the internet, and all those open comment forums where people were free to leave whatever bile was in their mind unreproached by moderators. The comment section of the online Guardian newspaper is evidence enough of the kind of thing that goes on. Hatred isn’t something  you can persuade or educate away. If people are open to that kind of angry hatred then it just lives in them, waiting for the spark to light it. You can only restrain it, let it be known that that kind of emotion is not acceptable in a civilised world. Because if you let the energy of hatred loose, it’s one hell of a genie to put back in the bottle. I can only urge all internet users to act firmly against this sort of hatred – do not accept it or allow it permission in the interests of showing all sides of a debate. Do not let it have any kind of voice.

Finally, a point made by Mr Litlove in response to this week’s commemoration of the Battle of the Somme. While the bravery of those who went into battle is unquestionable, Mr Litlove pointed out that no one got to do anything heroic. The soldiers were told to walk towards Berlin without stopping, and they were simply mown down in their thousands within minutes. It is one of the most strategically senseless battles of modern history, in which tens of thousands of young men made the ultimate sacrifice because of the stupidity of their leaders. If it stands for anything this week, let the Battle of the Somme stand for the unimaginable extent of human folly, in the toxic combination of panic, pressure, the need to ‘show’ other countries what we’re made of, the underlying viciousness of humans to one another and the objectification of individual life in the service of some greater cause. Let’s think carefully about the potential extent of human folly, and do what we can to stay sensible.



20 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here?

  1. You make so much sense, thank you for a calm, collected, thoughtful voice! When I come back to the UK, can I come and visit you whenever things go into meltdown?

    • Ha! Well of course you can, though you should be warned there is a fair amount of teeth grinding and incoherence and annoyed bewilderment chez Litlove before anything like calm reasserts itself! 🙂

  2. Oh, and spot on about Switzerland. The citizens voted something that the federal government did not much like but had no choice but to accept. So they’ve been stuck in negotiations with the EU for their trade agreements and are eagerly awaiting to see what happens with the UK, because the EU can only deal with them once they have dealt with the bigger problem. They only have less than a year to go to solve the issues – and I am curious to see if they will be able to have another referendum. Meanwhile, the ‘fear of foreigners’ is not going away… and Swiss universities have already felt the dire consequences.

    • I am glad to have your eyewitness confirmation of that as you are so much closer geographically to that particular issue than I am. And interesting to think how linked our fates are – if only there was some way to work positively on international alliances now, and productively too. We live in a multicultural international world and it has so many advantages if we are wise and brave enough to exploit them.

  3. What a wonderful post – so clearly put and rational. The ghastly bigoted actions of some in this country has made me ashamed to live here this week – as someone Scottish by birth I even thought about upping sticks and going home as Sturgeon seems to be the only one making sense just now. And Mr. Litlove is spot on – why are we celebrating death? There’s nothing heroic about slaughter and dying, is there – or am I missing something?

    • I think we’ve all been wondering where we might move to, if worst comes to worst! The message of permission that the far right has been given is the most immediately worrying element of this vote – though heaven knows it’s hard to know what will do the most damage in the end. And absolutely, I think we should be cautious about romanticising slaughter. It’s right to remember what happened, never forget the fates of those who died too young, and all that they went through. But was it glorious? No. Just tragic.

  4. Eloquent and excellent post, as ever, Victoria. What an unholy mess we’re in! We speak of little else in our house at the moment. While I began the week thinking that we must have a second referendum I’m not so sure now. Given the degree of ‘buyer’s remorse’ that seems to have been expressed we might win but there are still 27 aggrieved countries, anxious about their own electorates, to convince. Then there’s the question of the anger it would unleash amongst some Leavers who were never told that a referendum isn’t binding. That said, I do know that I want us to remain as close to Europe as we possibly can and I fear that this won’t happen in a political vacuum.
    As for your hatred point. I agree, absolutely. Each and everyone of us must intervene, quietly but determinedly, if we hear or see this kind of abuse. We need to see prosecutions given a high profile, too.

    • It’s been exactly the same in our household too, Susan! The problem is a political one rather than a constitutional one, and whatever government we end up with, it must have the greater national interest at heart. My feeling is that the divorce we are contemplating should be reconsidered every step of the way, as any divorce might be. And after all, if we think of a marriage, there’s an moment, even when the presents have been given and the wedding breakfast is being cooked, when the couple are asked, Are you sure? This sort of union is too important and too significant not to be continually evaluated. We need some time to pass, though, before any more decisions are taken. Time makes everything look different. In the meantime, we’ve got a lot of problems politically and socially that could usefully be addressed!

  5. There seems to be no end of it does there? I’m hoping that Teresa May can take charge and inject some calm into things so that the mediation can start. I think the Somme events are meant to be about remembrance rather than celebration, but it doesn’t always seem that way. But on a more positive note, I hear that New Zealand have offered GB their expert trade negotiators

    • Well thank you, New Zealand! That is the most positive thing I’ve heard all week. Though part of me hopes we don’t have to use them. I read once that memory is looking backwards into a looking glass – how we remember does say a lot about where we are in the present moment. Which is sort of interesting right now! And looking at the line-up, Teresa May does seem the most reasonable choice. Just so long as the dreaded Gove doesn’t get it….

  6. It’s alarming that we have ended up in this situation because many people couldnt be bothered to spend time to understand what was at stake. They simply voted like sheep. Some of the comments I’ve seen on tv when they go out into communities and ask people why they voted leave, make me despair

  7. Good points, all of them – I hadn’t even thought about the lack of negotiators. I think it would be very wise for us to borrow some from NZ. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

    • I used to have a friend who was fond of what he called the Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ We are definitely heading into them. Maybe NZ could lend us some decent politicians, sensible journalists and creative economists, too? 😉

  8. What a great, sensible post. I’m really all too confused on the subject to add anything. But rest assured that if a referendum would be opened in France on the same question, we probably would do the same mess, because hatred and fear and distrust and blaming the others and not bothering to get proper information is nothing particularly British/English I’m afraid.

    • Oh ma chere amie! That is so sweet of you to say. I am just hoping that we can act as a terrible warning to all other countries. Don’t do it like this!

  9. We were pretty shocked about the outcome over here and then the media began talking about what it might mean for our presidential elections and how it could be pointing to Trump actually being able to win and the whole things has been spun so much I am dizzy and out of breath. I hope rational heads eventually prevail and, well I guess it can’t be fixed, but maybe made not as bad?

    • We are relying on you now to prevent Trump from ending up in the White House. If he does, I will believe the whole world has gone mad! All of us who wanted to remain in the EU hope very much indeed that something can be retrieved from the mess. It will be a while before we even reach that point, however, now that all the politicians who got us into this mess have resigned….. Just keep your fingers crossed for us! Sometimes hitting rock bottom creates an opportunity to do things differently.

  10. We absolutely never will learn from our mistakes. Apparently history has taught us nothing or we simply refuse to listen and think about it intelligently. Where do you think that sort of hatred comes from? I never understand it. Ignorance and fear–fear that politicians and press LOVE to play on? And scarily it is happening all over. Are we so afraid someone is going to come along and take away what is ours? So much for christianity and all that nonsense, eh? Well, if this is essentially a divorce proceedings and I guess it comes down to that–good luck, because divorces are awful business–nasty affairs that take a very long time to get over both emotionally and legally. And that’s even in a case of reasonably amicable divorces. I wish more people had your understanding and clear-mindedness over this.

    • Oh absolutely, Danielle. The press and politicians – far from creating the stability we desperately need – do take full advantage to sow dissent and fear. Do they think we will be more biddable that way? Actually, no, I think they just think sensationalism sells papers and fear makes us jump the way they want. Well, it all went badly wrong this time. I do think it is exactly like a divorce, with all the bad feelings and the confusion and shock. It will take us a long time to see a way forward, I think.

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