The moment Boris bobbled his head, stared straight down the camera and declared that June 23rd could be “Our Independence Day” I smirked, at an oversimplified, tub thumping catch phrase that surely everyone would see through. But my smirk did not last. It was replaced by amazement, then shock, then anger and then fear. People weren’t smirking, they were standing. They were cheering and clapping and I was realising. From then onwards and crushingly on 24th June amazement, shock, anger and fear have coursed through me in a way no political event has ever come close to causing. Politics has never made me cry, but on the 24th I sobbed repeatedly and uncontrollably.
I lay all this on the table, for fear that what I am writing now will seem shallow, seem patronising, or just plain annoying. I recognise very much the need for people to feel amazed, shocked, angered and a million other emotions. I understand the desire to blame others for the decision we have made. I understand the clamour to re-run the referendum, or to laugh at the people madly googling “What is the EU” to see what we had voted to leave. But despite all these reactions we have to accept that a decision has been made. The British people have voted to leave the European Union and in my opinion, that is what we must now do. Yet nothing is decided. All the reasons I wanted to stay in the EU are still up for grabs. I wanted a progressive, peaceful outward looking Britain. I wanted better environmental protections, I wanted an economically and politically stable Britain which we could all be proud of and those things are all now up for grabs, in fact they up for grabs in a way in which they have never been in my lifetime and we have to seize that opportunity. The decision to leave the EU has been made, but that means little compared to how we chose the Britain we start to build now.
So this is my five point post referendum manifesto.
Markets don’t like disruption, they don’t like uncertainty. Most of us agree. We favour safe, known, understood normality to scary change. We tend to see disruption as a bad thing, but business opportunists and entrepreneurs tend to see disruption very differently. Talk of disruptive technology, instead of prompting fear and concern is seen as an opportunity, creating new possibilities. We have just experienced the biggest political disruption of a lifetime. Huge swathes of UK law needs to be reviewed and reassessed. The political status quo has been blown wide open. Our major political parties face leadership changes and policy review, and gaps are opening across the political spectrum. There are terrifying elements to this, but what fills those voids is up to us and with the uncertainty and nervousness, it creates huge opportunity. So we have to embrace the disruption, identify the opportunities it creates and work energetically to maximise them.
To pick out just one example, decisions about our countryside have for many years been largely dominated by payments to farmers through the Common Agricultural Policy and environmental laws from EU directives – there is a big reassessment coming. Whilst many environmental organisations rightly fear a bonfire of environmental legislation, we have to unite and fight, harder than ever to realise the massive potential and perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to review payments to farmers and the interaction between those and our environmental laws to create wide reaching environmental benefits.
Entrepreneurs do not fail, they learn
Following the entrepreneurial theme – there is lots of established research and theory to back the idea that entrepreneurs don’t fail. What this really probably means is that successful entrepreneurs don’t see the failures they undoubtedly do have, as failures. They see everything they try, every disastrous new product or bankruptcy as an opportunity to learn. I think this is how we have to try to see this referendum. For some, of course, the referendum is a glorious success, but for those who campaigned strongly to remain it is a crushing, heartbreaking failure. But we have to try to now reflect on what we can learn from what has happened. It is maybe too soon to clearly reflect on what those lessons are. But for me, I have certainly learnt that living in an echo chamber of similar thinking, consenting voices is dangerous and no way to win a referendum – our major political parties will perhaps reflect on the same. We have all also had clearly revealed and declared to us that a large proportion of our population are not actually disengaged from the political process – but they are disengaged with our major political parties. Given the opportunity to tell us all what they thought, the British public came out in huge numbers to vote. There is of course an irony that whilst many of us liberal lefties have been bemoaning the apathy and disengagement of the general population for years – now they finally come out and vote – many of us don’t like what they have voted for. So if nothing else we have learnt that the population can be engaged and encouraged to come out and vote – but that the ability of the traditional mainstream politicians and experts across other fields to influence the opinion of this newly engaged electorate was found sorely lacking – working out how to achieve this is certainly a lesson we all need to learn and fast.
Think global, act local
Amidst all this change and disruption it feels reassuring to fall back on something reassuring clichéd – think global and act local. This simple idea to focus on simple, accessible, every day acts which we can do, which together can change the world on a larger scale, seems apt for this period. The inability of large scale politics and advice from experts to influence people’s vote is stark evidence of a simple reality – people’s votes, and indeed their thoughts and opinions are largely influenced by their day to day experiences. A large proportion of this population have told us clearly that their day to day experience of life has told them that they do not trust the ‘political elite’. They feel remote and isolated from a whole field of ‘experts’ and they feel strongly that their lives are on the wrong end of large divisions of power, influence and wealth. We also have to face an uncomfortable fact that many (and I am not suggesting all) of these people see the influx of migrants into this country to be responsible for many of the issues they experience in that day to day life. On a micro scale each of us can seek out opportunities to reduce those inequalities, to build cross-cultural communities, to show people in real, simple practical terms, an inspiring vision of a multicultural, outward looking, progressive society – where the poverty, inequality and divisions we see in the UK are diminished rather than enhanced at this critical time. We need to build in many tiny steps the world we want to live in.
We might need to fight
At the age of 39 it may be a little late, but I think this referendum has made me grow up. My daughter is just 6 months old – and she is quickly learning that things work out – that after a bit of crying and a bit of guesswork, Mummy and Daddy will fix the problem and things will be well again. I think I have only just grown out of this. It stopped being Mummy and Daddy years ago who I thought were able to fix every problem. But living surrounded largely by like minded, forward thinking, progressive people, I have maintained a film of Teflon allowing me to think that terrible things will not happen and, despite of course many ups and downs, the human race will essentially continue to progress, life will improve and we will find a way to work out the many challenges we face. Though climate change and environmental degredation are huge challenges, we will work it out. Though Donald Trump’s rise to power is concerning, the American people will not really vote him in. Surely, the world has created the systems, the structures and frankly the basic common sense to avoid ever again plunging into large scale international conflict – in the end, overall, we will find a way. But this referendum has shaken, in a terrifying but important way, the cosy reassurance of that way of thinking. I am not for a minute suggesting that now we have voted out of Europe environmental catastrophe and world wars will inevitably to follow – but I am suggesting that if your vision, like mine is for progressive, socially and environmentally responsible country then we can’t just assume those things will follow – we need to work positively and energetically to achieve these things. If anything good can come of this situation it’s that an awful lot of people have wept and raged about what we have lost and realised quite how much these things matter to them – we have to use that energy, it is needed now more than ever.
Two days before the Referendum, my wife – in one of those hollow, but sometime powerful Facebook memes pledged to make our daughter as proud of her, as Jo Cox’s children will be when they grow up to hear of how she spent her life. It seems a suitable call for arms. Britain now stands at a time of massive change, uncertainty and in many quarters fear for what the future holds. But it is also a time of political engagement and opportunities. Ultimately our children will judge us not on the decision to leave the EU, but on the society we build and that starts today.