Brexit and what’s next — a personal perspective

We Remain-ers have to think hard and move beyond “I told you so”

This is a purely personal perspective. For Entrepreneur First’s position, see here.

Yesterday was a difficult day, perhaps the worst in politics (except last Thursday) of my life. It feels a devastating result, but when I read the Facebook posts of my friends and the commentary on Twitter I am anxious about how we ardent Remain-ers are responding.

The really important thing is what happens next. Yes, we — largely educated, professional, urban, international, liberal — hoped to stay in the EU, but the range of possible outcomes from here is vast and the gap between the best and the worst is terrifying. There is a role for us all to play in pushing the UK towards the better ones.

The starting point, though, is surely that we refuse to demonise the Leavers. One of my recurring thoughts all day yesterday was that it was the first time that British politics has felt really scary. But when I reflect, I realise I really mean, “it’s the first time that it feels as though politics might have a negative impact on me”. For a lot of Leavers, they’ve felt like that for a long time — and this is one reason they voted Leave. The structure of our political system has allowed us to ignore this. Too often, we’ve even seen the unresponsiveness of politics to those concerns as a feature, not a bug (“Thank God UKIP can get 13% of the vote and only one MP!”), and pretended that this will have no consequence.

We are, even now, the powerful ones, the ones who have the opportunity to avoid the really negative economic consequences of Brexit. We’re so shocked because we’re used to winning — not necessarily in an electoral sense, but in the sense of our life outcomes. This feels like a referendum about powerlessness. I feel the Labour Party, tragically, has had nothing to say about this to a large section of the population for a long time and the rise of Corbyn, appealing largely to people who thrive under Governments of all stripes, has made things worse.

It’s easy to blame the voters for being stupid or easily influenced, as I’m seeing endlessly on social media, but it’s our fault and we need to own it. If we had an authentic relationship with the rest of the population, we’d have been able to make our case. We didn’t.

It’s telling that so many of us — me included — avoid talking politics on social media when party is the primary dividing line, but we were happy to jump in vocally on the referendum. Why? Because we were assured of a cosy consensus among those in our social circle. In retrospect, that should have worried us; a consensus that strong is not many steps removed from a conspiracy.

We are not used to despair, but so many people in our country are. If you feel your life is painful and hopeless and no one is offering any solutions, is it really so irrational to want to inject some chaos into the system? Is it crazy to think that the blowing up the status quo is the one chance to shake things up? It’s incorrect, I think, but it’s not crazy. And, again, it’s our fault. What world have we built if half the population think radical uncertainty is better than the status quo?

We lost because we didn’t know our fellow citizens and we had nothing to offer them. We just told them again and again that everything is basically ok and could be so much worse. Imagine if we’d have won, narrowly: we would have hoped to carry on as much like before as possible. That is a horribly impoverished politics and we should be ashamed of it. Spending the aftermath in a social media bubble of condescension and anger will do nothing to enrich it. Now is the time for empathy and new ideas.

Yesterday was a horrible day. But politics is always about struggling for the belief that we can build a better world. Even — especially — on the darkest days, we cannot give that up.

This is a purely personal perspective. For Entrepreneur First’s position, see here.

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