I’m a Baby Boomer, born in 1948 and, in my nearly seventy years of life, as a British subject, I can’t remember a time when our nation was so divided. The issue of Europe and our membership of the EU has pitted young against old, cosmopolitan against rural and region against region. It’s fractured families, friendships and communities; and has created monumental splits within both of our two largest political parties.
Many people are critical of the Cameron government’s decision to hold a referendum in the first place, accusing it of pandering to it’s right wing and hard core Brexiteers. But this is too simplistic because it ignores the considerable anti EU views that have existed within the wider British population, since we joined, what was then, the Common Market in 1973; but particularly since the Maastricht treaty of 1992, which projected the EU towards ever closer political union.
The emergence of UKIP has also been extremely influential. Whilst it has failed to gain a significant parliamentary presence, it has gathered a groundswell of support as a single issue political party.
The problem for the government of the day was that this groundswell has been growing rapidly and, as we now know, it hasn’t been coming from just traditional Tory voters, it has as much, if not more, support from within the ranks of traditional Labour voters. You could argue that Cameron was the unlucky Prime Minister, who happened to be in office when it all came to a head. But in truth, if Cameron hadn’t called the referendum, when he did, it would only have delayed it; and a future government, of whatever political persuasion, would have had its hand forced, within a comparatively short time.
This anti EU feeling isn’t unique to the UK. Many other European countries have a growing level of discontent with the EU. The UK is merely the first to bring that discontent to a head.
The EU has worked extremely well for some people in most member countries but it has not worked at all well for others and this is at the route of the problem. The EU bureaucracy and individual country Governments have ignored those people, for whom the EU hasn’t worked. Throughout Europe and North America, we have seen the rise of an intellectual liberal elite that has permeated the upper echelons of politics, public services, financial services and business and commerce. Overwhelming, these are decent people working incredibly hard in very difficult and challenging roles. They do a huge amount of good work, from which we all benefit enormously. However, they have become too detached from the wider populous and imbued with a certain arrogance that says, “we know better than you what is best for you; therefore, we don’t need to listen to you”. As a result huge swathes of people feel ignored, disenfranchised and powerless to do anything to put matters right.
The rise of Donald Trump in The US and the success of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK have happened because they are talking to the people that the establishment has ignored. It’s interesting that Trump is from the far right and Corbyn the far left. There have been all sorts of complex and convoluted reasons put forward for their success; but actually it’s very simple and they both know it. They offer hope to those, who feel disenfranchised and have no hope.
Based on past experience, it seems unlikely that either the far right or the far left are capable of delivering the kind of society that most of us want. Most of us in the western democracies gravitate from centre right to centre left. In the UK that could be described as One Nation Tories to Social Democrats. But the detachment of the Liberal Elite is creating fertile conditions for more extreme politics.
Getting back to the EU issue, we’re not in a good place at the moment. The divisions between us are creating an almost impossible position for any Government to resolve. This is probably the most serious threat to our nation since the second world war and, unless we start to come together and unite, the UK will enter a period of very serious decline. In principle, the UK could almost certainly look forward to a great future either inside or outside the EU. We are an industrious and innovative nation that has been a world leader for centuries because of our ability to adapt. But if we keep fighting between ourselves, there is only one outcome possible, namely serious national decline.
Given where we are, it seems inevitable that we will leave the EU. But there needs to be compromise. No one will get everything they want but we’ll all get some of the things we want.
It’s time for the silent majority from One Nation Tories to Social Democrats to make its collective voice heard and to unite so that we can achieve an outcome that enables our country to thrive.
The treat this nation faces, is the greatest since the second world war. In those far off days, my parent’s generation put aside their differences and united. Their fortitude and determination won through and secured a future for those of us alive today. We owe it to them and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to do the same now.
The current government may not be everyone’s choice. It may have lost the confidence of many of our people through its botched general election. But it is the government and it faces a massive challenge. We must put aside our differences and support it rather than continually undermining everything it tries to do. When Brexit is complete and our country is secure, we can return to our tribal politics just as my parents’ generation did in 1945. If we don’t do that, our future will be bleak, whoever holds the key to number 10.