Now the dust has settled slightly in my mind since yesterday’s news, I have begun to feel more and more a sense of unease with my own privilege.
I was reminded of an interview with Rowan Williams after 9/11 – he was present in New York and had to seek shelter in a building as the dust billowed through the streets of Manhattan. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury then and the interviewer wanted a comment. He responded by saying that what he had experienced was nothing unusual, it was happening all around the world every day – people fleeing terror and bombs.
A little niggly thought I had yesterday in the middle of my grief (and yes it was a grief reaction) was ‘perhaps it is my turn to see what it feels like to be ignored’.
A little over half of voters yesterday voted to leave the EU. Most of my feelings against those who voted to leave ranged from snobbery, to anger, to patronising them as unthinking and stupid. To brand all those voters with the same brush of xenophobia or stupidity is not fair – that is just dropping to the same level as those who exploited the whole debate to espouse their racist views. Over half of voters, that is the person next to me on the bus, that is half my congregation at church, that is people that I know and love in my family.
Something that arrested my anger and vitriol yesterday was the arrival at my house of my cleaner (who is 22). Already I am cringing slightly by saying that I have a cleaner, but we do. She is bright and conscientious and just an all round lovely person. She arrived and I said ‘sorry, I’m quite upset today, not quite myself’ and she said ‘oh, is it because we’ve left?’ and I said ‘yes’. She then told me she’d voted leave. Then she said ‘but I heard that Farage saying this morning that there wouldn’t be the money for the NHS, but it was on the leaflet!’ She had quite sensibly read up on both campaigns and thought that it sounded like a good idea to give £350m a week to the NHS instead of to the EU and cast her vote. She then said ‘I was quite chuffed as it’s the first time I’ve voted for something and we’ve won!’
I posted on Facebook yesterday that one of the saddest things about this whole affair was that it wasn’t ultimately about the EU. It was about the fact that increasingly there is a huge gap between Westminster (and London) and the rest of the country; that we have a Tory government making cut after cut to public services; that people feel that nothing ever changes so to put a cross in the ‘leave’ box was a punt, like buying a scratch card, that may or may not bring about some change.
So many people in this country feel they are not in control of their lives, for the first time this referendum meant that every vote counted, so people did take back a little bit of control and were able to say ‘up yours’ to those rich people who govern the country without a care for those in real need.
The consequences are terrible, many people voted on gut instinct, I know a few people who only decided once in the polling station. We are so used to our votes not counting for much (cf. 4m people voting for UKIP and getting 1 MP) that many of us thought it wouldn’t really matter.
I’m challenged to think: yes, this is what it feels like to be ignored, not listened to.
I am challenged to think: how can we reform our country so that everyone feels they have a say?
I am challenged to think: what contribution am I going to make?
It is tempting to blame those who voted leave as idiots and to leave the blame for the fall-out of Brexit at their (or indeed at David Cameron’s) door. But we are literally all in this together, we are all part of this culture that has developed that has led to this monumental change to our political landscape. I just hope we can rebuild now, using the inspiration of Jo Cox’s example, to heal our fractured nation.
The prayer of St Francis comes to mind, I know that I need more to seek to understand than be understood.
May the living God guide us into all truth.
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Update Sunday 26th June
Although we are now all in this together that does not mean we should be complacent. I feel a bit like I’ve gone back to the anger stage of grief! I am very angry about the lack of a plan from the Leave campaign. It is becoming increasingly obvious that neither Gove nor Johnson thought they would win. We need a new political movement and we must call our government to account.