Brexit: a few thoughts and next steps for liberal minded folk

So the UK has voted to leave the EU.

For those of us who saw the benefits of the EU this decision is a crushing disappointment.

There are a lot of angry people, and they should be allowed their grief. I learned a long time ago the seven stages of grief apply equally to politics, even more so given the campaign we’ve just had. Take some time to talk to each other and don’t make rash decisions.

A few things have given me pause for thought over the last few days and I thought it worth capturing it all somewhere. This will be my attempt to make sense of the results and hopefully get us thinking about where we head next.

1. The anti elite backlash is a global one.

With pronounced local variations. From Rome this week, Austria in May, the US now and France and Germany next year?

The battle as most see it is between those who feel in control of their own destiny, part of something bigger than themselves and can chase their dreams and be who they want to be vs those who feel they can't. Those who have been ignored and want to 'Take Back Control'.

Look at any recent election result and you’ll see this played out to some extent as a battle between wealthy cities where opportunity is abundant and areas that aren’t.

2. Remain voters existed in an echo chamber.

A symptom of that split along urban lines was that remain voters didn’t talk to those outside the echo chamber. As someone pointed out - the fact that you didn’t know anyone voting leave is a reflection of the chasm. There is also some suggestion that leave voters were three times more likely to engage than non-leave voters.

But there are wider issues around how we do politics, debates used to be public ones. Instead we now get our news through social media memes and we view likes as validation of an argument however misplaced.

Facebook algorithms that give prominence in your newsfeed to things you are more likely to like, means that people aren’t being exposed to opposing views - on both sides - unless perhaps so that you can sneer.

Being unexposed to opposing views is not a healthy situation for democracy.

3. Let's not totally trash the Remain campaign, as some will inevitably do.

The result was close and could have been very different had circumstances been otherwise. A higher turnout in Scotland, a Labour leader who put his ego to one side? A longer campaign? A voting age of 16?

We’ll never know, but those who put their blood sweat and tears into the campaign can be proud at the result achieved against the odds of 20 years of misinformation and a political class that failed to spot the warning signs earlier.

4. Our electoral system is doing us all a disservice.

The UK is now plainly a divided nation - we can't shoehorn that into our electoral system anymore.

Just as we have more proportional voting systems in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales that allows people to feel their voice has been heard, so too do we need to change the system in the rest of the UK for Parliament.

This is so we not only have fairer representation but also that the pressing worries of those not represented equally amongst the elites (such as immigration) can be heard and heard regularly and addressed.

Suppressing a debate doesn't get rid of it, tackling it head on is the only way to avoid it spilling over to something as dramatic as we've seen this week.

5. The EU will change, the irony is the UK won't benefit.

The argument that the EU is undemocratic is valid if you appreciate that at present, EU rules agreed and implemented by one government, can't be undone by future governments - even if they make a promise to their electorate that they will.

The EU will have to recognise the need for flexibility where countries can change the nature of their relationship without leaving.

We’ll no doubt start to see some countries opting out of various aspects of the four freedoms and equally others opting in. E.g. Greece should be allowed to leave the Euro if it isn’t working for their economy.

6. We all have a role to play in deciding exit terms.

This is perhaps the most crucial and I agree with others that there should be a General election.

The UK's terms of exit are not between leave and the EU, but between the UK as a whole and the EU. Leave doesn't speak for all of us, the results alone makes that clear.

The battle for the future direction of our country has already started - now is the time to talk up what we value from our previous EU membership and what we should keep going forward.

Now is the time to explain why these things are of value and keep making the case.

What do you value? What should we keep?

For many this will be new, we've never had to before - debates were won and 'locked in' as part of our EU membership.

It'll be a brave new world for liberals, but one we have an equal chance of winning. If we ensure we engage and not sneer, and take people with us we can also see our ideals 'locked in' as part of the fabric of society, which will give them better longevity for future generations.

UPDATE: I’ve written a follow up to this post which looks at how the government may be able to bridge the gap between those areas that want to maintain a relationship with the EU and others that don’t.
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