When a deep injury is done to us,
we never heal until we forgive.
The hashtag #thick is trending on Twitter.
Most of the tweets are from Remainers and non-Tory voters castigating Brexiters and Tory voters for their choices. Many of them say things like,
“Well done UK boomers. You learned absolutely nothing from the war you never fought in, the communist dictatorships you never had to endure. You just enjoyed the peace and prosperity and PROTECTIONS afforded by a united Europe. Enjoy your robber barons, you voted for them #thick”
“Have you ever heard of the term ‘transition period’? Let me explain. This morning we find ourselves still under our EU agreement, but with no say in any laws. This will continue for almost a year whilst we try and get a trade deal not as good as the one we had yesterday. #thick”
This anger is understandable. The government is preparing to unleash a second round of austerity and Brexit – when we leave the transition period – may cause significant further economic damage to the UK. Furthermore, there has been a significant rise in racism since the Brexit vote. As a result – not irrationally – many people are confused, fearful and angry.
But being confused, fearful and angry is precisely the reason why other people voted Leave and voted Tory. During the era of Market Capitalism, many people’s lives became harder – and this is even more true of the austerity period since 2010. Most people in the UK have a lower income today than they had in 2007 (once inflation is taken into account) and yet their costs have risen. Housing, utilities, and transport costs have all risen faster than inflation. Good jobs are harder to find. The prospects for many millennials look bleak in comparison with the deal offered to their parents.
And yet most of the media project an image of the UK as an economic success, so many people feel that they have been left behind. And they have been. It is not irrational – or thick – for people to feel confused, fearful and angry when they look at their own lives, or when they think about the prospects for their children’s lives. And when the bulk of the press pushes the story that their problems are down to immigrants and the EU, in the absence of a competing narrative, it is not surprising that many people believe it.
It is not easy for Remainers to be gracious at a time when Leavers are celebrating and in many cases simultaneously expressing sentiments like,
“The Chancellor Sajid Javid has unveiled the new Brexit 50p coin, with 3 million due to enter circulation on Friday. Our thoughts and prayers are with the bitter sore loser Remoaners, who will now be reminded that the UK is an independent nation-state when they get their change”
“#thick — here come the nasty (yet claim to be peace and unity loving) Remoaners. Suffering from their meltdown hangovers, abusing the underclass with loving bullying and bigotry. Thanks for reminding us why we voted leave and won’t help Labour win an election for many years.”
while calling for Remainers to get behind Brexit.
In the face of this, it is hard for Remainers to act magnanimously. Hard but vitally important.
The UK is split roughly 50:50 on the issue of Brexit. In the months and years to come, many of the people who voted for this government and for Brexit may be disappointed. They may find that what they have been promised does not materialise – and indeed that the opposite seems to be happening. They may wonder, with hindsight whether they voted against their own best interests and those of their children.
How they react to that realisation will depend to some extent on how they feel they have been treated by Remainers and non-Tory voters. If we mock them and welcome their misfortunes, they will turn elsewhere for understanding. Perhaps to even more extreme right-wing parties that promise to ease their pain.
If, however, we act as a welcoming committee, recognising that the problems that drove their votes are real (even if they are often wrong about the causes of those problems) and constructively sharing solutions, they may join us and help us to turn the tide of mass impoverishment. Every time I feel it is too hard to do that, I remember the inspiring example of Daryl Davis, a black musician who successfully befriended senior members of the Ku Klux Klan and, through force of personality rather than by logical argument, was able to free them of their prejudices.
Personally, I do not have the courage and openness of Daryl Davis, but I can try to remind myself that:
- people who hold views I disagree with always have some reason for holding those views – and sometimes I can empathise with that reason;
- they may have personal experiences, or their families may, which will lead them to change their minds;
- at that point, I need to welcome them without judgement.
And we do not need a great proportion of the disappointed to join us to make a difference. And to reverse the process of mass impoverishment that is the cause of much of the anger. In fact, it will take only five relatively simple steps to do so.