Thursday was one of the best and worst days of my life. My eldest son graduated from Grade 8, and we went to a Graduation Dinner, planned and hosted by the students. It was amazing. His class put on food, decorated the tables , did a long musical turn and showed a funny video sketch, made by the students. I have never been so proud, as a dad, of my son and his wonderful friends.
At the same time, I was sneaking looks at the British referendum results, which were just starting to come in. As a Briton abroad, and having been out of the country for a fraction over fifteen years, I wasn’t eligible to vote. But you don’t forget the country of your birth that easily. I could tell right from the off that things were awry. By late in the evening, I knew that the worst had indeed happened. My fellow citizens had voted to leave the European Union.
I was very depressed that night, and couldn’t sleep. At three in the morning I had to get up and do something. So I wrote a book review for the Times Higher Education Supplement. I hope it’s okay, it might not have been my finest prose.
It is not pleasant when you find that your compatriots are willing to side with people with an unashamedly racist agenda. I can understand the alienation of large parts of the country though, as a result of terrible governance by all political parties over the last forty years. They have simply failed to distribute the wealth generated around the country in the right manner. Proper steady jobs evaporated, replaced with temporary jobs or no jobs at all. Low pay or social security handouts are demeaning and do not make for a happy community. I first noticed the huge disparity in wealth in 1980, when I travelled by train down from Chesterfield, through Birmingham, to Bristol, where I was a student. The North of England and the Midlands were an industrial wasteland. The South, much more prosperous. And that was back in the Thatcher era. And nobody, in any political party, got to grips with that.
I still believe that an Exit vote was the wrong decision. Everything I could read on it said “Don’t Do This”. But the Remain camp put on a pretty feeble campaign. Plenty of blame to go around. The supreme irony of course, is that the referendum was called purely to put down an ideological split in the Conservative And Unionist party. It may well result in the dissolution of the United Kingdom. I would not blame Scotland and Northern Ireland to leave, if they wanted to.
Part of me wants to go back. In its hour of need, the home country calls. I can’t go, for many reasons, but that doesn’t stop the call. But someone is going to have to heal the splits in British society. Xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment cannot be allowed to triumph. We are not that. But where are the leaders to inspire and reunite the people? They seem to be thin on the ground. I hope that some of Jo Cox’s friends and colleagues can pick up the mantle. Someone has to speak for the disadvantaged, the poor, the helpless. We are Great Britain, we must rise to the challenge.