Were you one of those who was left despondent by last Friday’s decision to leave the European Union? I definitely was. I was one of the 48% of voters, and upwards of 70% of under-25s, who voted to remain. The result left me feeling annoyed and deflated, but I think that I’m over such feelings now. I feel very strongly that, rather than losing faith in politics, we’ve been presented with a great chance to use the emotions prompted by the verdict to inspire our next steps.
Firstly, and as defeatist as this may sound, I think it makes sense now to accept that our chances of remaining in the EU are very slim indeed. By all means, sign the petitions which are doing the rounds on the topic, but bear in mind the words of Suzanne Moore immediately following the ‘Leave’ result: “there is a petition. There’s always a petition.” I feel that that’s very much the root of the problem: nowadays there seems to be a petition for each and every cause going, to the extent that the concept has almost reached the level of cliché and lost its force of meaning.
Whilst politicians will be mandated to debate a petition, most of them believe that the referendum reflects the will of the British people (unless the number of signatories exceeds the 17,410,742 who backed Brexit) and leaves us with little option but to leave. My bet is that they’d dismiss any such motion with short shrift: to challenge the mandate of a majority of over a million people would be seen as undemocratic, regardless of how many Independent articles you may have read about ‘bregret’.
Whilst we seem to have moved beyond the red mist which seemed to descend the day after the result, it’s important that we continue to address scattergun criticisms of all ‘Leave’ voters. By all means, have a go at Farage, Gove, Johnson, Hannan et al: you have every right to, given that promises have been made and reneged upon already. But it’s important that criticism doesn’t venture too close to the personal – after all, especially when bearing in mind the immensely tragic death of Labour MP Jo Cox, there has never been a more pressing need to think about the way in which we treat politicians in this country. Whilst the key Leavers aren’t necessarily likeable people, they are actual humans with actual feelings, when all is said and done.
It’s important to recognise just how vitriolic and divisive this campaign has been, with both sides appearing to be willing, at times, to peddle lies (or misleading statements) and play on the electorate’s deepest worries and fears. Analysis of results is showing that the UK is more deeply divided than many on either side of the debate feared. It has thrown chasms based on region, age, socio-economic background and educational opportunity into almost unbelievably stark contrast. To disparage Leave voters as ‘racist’ and ‘stupid’, however, was and is completely out of order. In my opinion, this is a prime example of how a broad brush can be used to tar an entire group and this approach can only ever lead to tears. ‘Unity’ was a key word in the campaign literature produced by Britain Stronger in Europe and it would be a real shame to risk causing further division with rash reactions to the result of the vote.
Furthermore, I noticed a large number of fellow students slagging off older people this week, which saddened me a lot. Yes, older people may well have turned out in great numbers to vote to leave the EU, but they didn’t do that purely to spite us. Once again, reactions on a personal level seem futile; I think that a smarter approach is to think about how we can do things differently in future. I don’t think that a great deal more could have been done to encourage young people to vote, but if you didn’t and feel saddened by the result, I’d encourage you to register for next time (whatever issue you may be voting to decide). You can register to vote at any time on the www.gov.uk/register-to-vote website: ultimately, older people only ever had a say in the result due to low turnout amongst young people. I would also agree with those who say that it’s worth speaking to older relatives to let them know how you feel about political issues – as we’ve heard ad nauseam over the past week, it’s our generation who will be most affected by this decision and we can all do our bit to help others to take our opinions into account.
So how can we help to shape the way in which our government responds to Brexit and try to make sure that its impacts on our generation and those to come are taken into account? If that’s a concern for you, you’ll be relieved to hear that you are far from alone. Whilst it’s not my place to suggest affiliating yourself to a political party (especially at such an uncertain time for both Labour and the Conservatives!), I’d certainly recommend taking a look at groups such as the European Movement and Youth for Europe. Formerly known as Students for Europe, Youth for Europe has the broad aim of responding to the result of the vote in order to ensure the best possible – or possibly ‘least harmful’ – outcome for young people. The group is in its infancy, but is looking to organise quickly in order to communicate with politicians about the key issues which could arise in any exit negotiations.
I think now is the time to be pragmatic and accept that a ‘Leave’ vote means that we will see an end to free movement of people between the UK and the EU in the not-too-distant future. That doesn’t mean, however, that I believe we should forgive those who presented social issues (such as a national housing shortage and strain upon the NHS) as direct consequences of immigration rather than our Government’s austerity policies. If you feel empowered to join the fight against austerity and search for truth on this front, I’d recommend investigating a group called 38 Degrees. 38 Degrees campaigns on all sorts of issues both locally and nationally and is committed to the pursuit of social justice. Whilst we’re on the topic of austerity, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is another cause which you may wish to investigate, should you share my belief that austerity has disproportionately affected young people and other socio-economic groups.
Xenophobia and outright racism were real causes for concern throughout the build-up to the referendum. Again, I will re-iterate that not all Leave voters are like that (as is often the case, these are the views of a dangerous minority), but it would be unwise to argue that hate crime incidents are not on the rise. A widely-reported figure of a 500% increase since last Friday is of particular concern and has rightly been raised for discussion in the House of Commons. ‘Hope not Hate’ was one of many causes about which Jo Cox was incredibly passionate. The campaign group rose to prominence due to their hard fought campaign to take on the bigotry of the BNP, and have pledged to mobilise anew to address the issues arising in the wake of a divisive referendum campaign. I feel that there is a great opportunity for people to get together behind this banner to help to change society on the whole for the better.
In a nutshell, rather than being dispirited by a result to leave the EU, I believe that ‘Remainers’ such as myself are far better off turning our energies to related causes and getting more, rather than less, politically active. I’ll end by saying that ‘active’ is the key word in that sentence: whilst it may be satisfying to watch the Facebook likes roll in from your University contemporaries, or to join them in signing a petition, real change cannot be achieved in such a vacuum. Last week’s result shows that the hard work is only just beginning for those of us with more liberal beliefs – the need to reach out of our comfort zone by getting out of ‘the bubble’ and campaigning is more pressing than ever.
– By Liam David Hopley