Three years on, and still we are polarised by Brexit

By Dr David Cliff, Managing Director of Gedanken

If ever there were a time when confidence has been lost in our political system, it is now. At the time of writing, Britain’s departure date from the EU still hangs in the balance. The absence of clarity is palpable.

The lack of consensus comes about because there isn’t an acceptable position that would meet the most basic criteria in the minds of our political classes, or, indeed the wider population. Remain voters are bitter about being torn from the state of Europe. They fear a loss of identity and that we are descending into right-wing anarchy. Leave voters are not all racists, and most can embrace the complexity of the arguments, risks and responsibilities that independence involves. But even amongst these, very few assumed when they voted to leave, they would be doing so with the actual risk of saying “just go”.

Whilst Europe has been quite inflexible, the UK has been plain confused on how we can go about negotiations, tasks, timescales and notices such as article 50. Whilst untangling 45 years of a relationship with the supercontinent is a task reminiscent of unpicking the Gordian Knot, the UK does not deserve honourable mention in the world for the way we have conducted ourselves.

It is my belief that the UK brand has been tarnished. We are no longer seen as world leaders. Worse than that, there are many amongst the population who do not want to take pride in that position, preferring to see us as imperialists and exploiters of the past that now need to know our place.

Yes, the UK has an identity crisis but it’s not about coming out of Europe. We live in a diverse, multicultural community. Many young people take off and fight for a religious state; others feel actively discriminated against in a heartless benefit system. We live in the sixth richest country in the world; this system neither gives the young a platform to get on their feet, or the chronically dependent a dignity of life.

Our preoccupation with Europe continues and people fear what will happen after we leave. Frankly I do, for the forces that brought about the vote have remained substantially unaddressed. In a February viewing of Question Time, it was heartening to see members of the audience very happy to give up the HS2 investment locally in favour of the North, where it would confer greater benefit. Yet, this train will be hard to stop given the perverse mentality of a sink investment and vanity project all rolled together.

The turbulence of the coming and going of jobs, the gaining and losing of fortunes and a period of financial uncertainty pales into insignificance, next to the failure of unity as a nation. A unity that is possible and can be seen to be possible when the people actually engage in debate. Despite this, our politicians fail to listen and fail to trust in those processes, simply deriving mandates every 5 years that result in a vote for Labour or the Conservatives.

Our political system is as polarised as the Brexit vote itself and this itself reflects the underlying divide in our society. Proportional representation was kicked out some time ago, but probably needs some resuscitation at this point. However, even this is valueless if we cannot get over the ability of politicians to listen to what people are truly saying; to weigh the quietest voices in our community alongside the might of connected movers and shakers. The favoured and connected typically operate above the glass ceilings. But far beneath, there are many are who couldn’t even bounce up far enough to hit their heads!