Post-Brexit: division, flux and mutual responsibility

By Jill Segger
July 7, 2016

Referendums should only be used in the most exceptional of circumstances and certainly never as a remedy for a prime minister's insecurities with his own party.

They should have clear rules of engagement from the start. The percentage constituting a valid majority, a required minimum turnout and whether the result is to be advisory or binding, should all be defined and clearly understood.

Going on from an inauspicious beginning, the tone and deportment of the EU referendum campaign was a disaster. Building on the universal temptation toward confirmation bias, it has brought front and centre the categories of 'post-fact' and 'post-truth' politics. The cynical opportunism of politicians who have shown no shame in manipulating or even making up 'facts' to support their cause, only to deny them once the goal was achieved, displayed contempt for the electorate. It has accelerated the collapse of trust in politicians, prime minsters and decision makers, creating a climate in which there is now minimal belief that any politician will tell the truth. Caveat emptor is not a concept which should be applied in an upheaval of this enduring magnitude. In this period of febrile change and of flux in the two largest parties, all politicians now need to make this fact central to their every utterance and action.

The referendum has divided the nation in an unprecedented manner. This division is now distorting management of the resultant economic, constitutional and social fallout. Theresa May, who would appear to be in pole position in the Conservative leadership contest, is being disparaged as a 'Remainer': the implication being that she cannot therefore best lead negotiations for Britain's exit from the EU. So hollowed out has trust become that the very idea of competence and the capacity for objectivity – essential qualities for leadership – have become dangerously near to unthinkable for many.

The 'born to rule' strand of the Conservative party seems to have had its day. None of the new kids on the block who initially lined up to contest the leadership, are the children of privilege and there is much talk of the rise of blue-collar Conservatism. What is happening to the Labour party is equally, if not more seismic. It appears to be on the brink of splitting into two factions – possibly into two parties – as the gulf between the membership and the parliamentary party is widened by the astoundingly clumsy 'coup' confected by opponents of Jeremy Corbyn.

These are kamikaze tactics. The party members in the country and those on the green benches need each other. A power struggle between them, where there should be dialogue, cooperation and mutual support, can only have one outcome: the final abandonment of those who are most in need of a re-vitalised Labour administration. Harold Wilson once described the Labour party as “ a moral crusade or it is nothing”. Post-Brexit, it seems perilously close to being nothing. As the old, all but binary nature of UK voting preferences fragments, there will be many who will begin to look elsewhere for progressive politics.

Politicians and voters now have to meet the challenge of this very different landscape. 'Business as usual' cannot be an option and there is a shared responsibility to cast the new in a far better mould. Entire communities and demographics can no longer be ignored and belittled. If this lesson is not learned, it is inevitable that UKIP, under a new leader, will now turn its attention to colonising their resentment and dispossession. Politicians will have to learn – and quickly – both consistency and a far greater degree of truthfulness. They will also need to recognise the damage done to democracy and social cohesion when these qualities are not valued.

The clashing, noisy egos of this campaign have provided a warning that unfettered ambition and self-interest are inimical to the building of a just society and that the electorate have had enough. Ambition can never be taken out of politics – and to think otherwise is idle – but it can and must be held to far closer scrutiny and accountability. An electorate challenged to understand that being of good character is not the same as being 'a character', will have a significant part to play in this regard.

David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, politicians who acted with varying degrees of mendacity and self-interest during this lengthy campaign, marched their troops up to the top of the hill and abandoned them there. Their successors have an immense responsibility, not only to negotiate uncharted waters, but to begin the demanding task of restoring trust in a badly damaged system. Both they and we, the electorate (and the commentariat) have some thinking to do about the outcomes we desire and the means by which they are to be achieved.

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen



Further resources from Ekklesia on the EU referendum: *What kind of European future? (Ekklesia, 13 June 2016) – http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23160
* Assessing Christian contributions to the EU referendum debate (Ekklesia, 20 June 2016) – http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23188* Ten principles to guide voting in the EU referendum and beyond (Ekklesia, 21 June 2016) - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23194
* Ekklesia’s EU referendum briefing and commentary: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/eureferendum

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.