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There has been so much talk since the referendum – so much has been said and written. I don’t have much else to say which hasn’t already been said in terms of analysis of what happened and why – whether it was good leave the EU or whether we should have stayed. I did my own research and thinking to cast my own vote – but feel like I was only scratching the surface of a really complicated topic.

I’m not posting this as an EU expert – but I did want to reflect on the level of “other-ing” I heard from both sides of the EU debate after the vote. Huge sweeping statements were made about Bremainers by those who voted Leave. Massive generalisations were made about those who voted to Leave by Bremainers.

And these generalisations were largely negative, failing to understand the context and humanity behind people’s decisions. I picked up the following descriptions from my Facebook newsfeed and from some articles I read.

Leave voters were described as racist, bigots, ignorant, having lower intelligence, “fucking baby boomers” not having a sense of community, only voting on an anti immigration platform and willfully betraying the future of the young.

Remain voters were described as middle class elitists, intolerant, establishment supporters, out of touch, snobs, too fearful to challenge the status quo, betrayers of their country, sore losers and anti democratic.

Both of these characterisations are deeply offensive and I believe overly simplistic. I tend to think that the reasons behind people’s votes were complex – as often is the case with big decisions. They have their roots in history; in the actions of governments going as far back as Thatcher,’s government in the 80s; in the gulf between different groups in societies; (North and South; old and young; middle class and working class; white British and ethnic minorities to begin with); in different ideas about how to go about achieving a better future for the country.

My personal opinion is that we had a vote informed by decades of experience and visions of the future which the media, and then the two campaigns, managed to translate into votes by explaining that experience and future vision using the narrative of fear. Yes there were hardliners, extremists, voting on both sides, but I strongly believe that they were in the minority. Most people were either scared, pissed off – or a bit of both. And with this referendum – your vote REALLY counted. There were Remainers and Brexiters across all the political parties so there were no “safe” seats as it were.

Both campaigns played hard and fast with fear – fear that the economy would never recover; fear that freedom of movement would mean no jobs for local people; fear of isolationism and undermining peace; fear of losing control.

As a result of all this, in the referendum aftermath, people started to talk about those who voted the “other” way, using the stereotypes above. Suddenly, we put judgements based on our knowledge of peoples characters and personalities on the backburner and instead made our judgements based on their referendum vote and the type of person the campaigns told us those people were likely to be like, through the rhetoric they were using.

I’ve heard of stories of closet Leave voters (closet as they were concerned about damaging relationships through declaring their vote) listening to their friends who voted Remain, pour out how betrayed they felt, how they felt like they’ve lost their country, how scared they were as they felt a tide of racism had been unleashed and that the economy was going to tank. I’m not surprised they were afraid – if they were making their judgments on the doom prophecies of the Remain campaign, the hand wringing of the Guardian and the racist rantings of Nigel Farage.

I’ve heard stories of Remainers listening to people who voted Leave talking about how they now “have their country back”, how everything is now going to get better for them as we’ve left the EU, how we will be “British Bulldogs and not Brussels Sprouts”. I’m not surprised many Leave voters felt afraid and disempowered if they were basing their judgments on the “Take back control” mantra of the Leave campaign and the fear based propaganda that is otherwise known as the Sun, the Mail and the Express.

At the end of the day the majority voted to Leave. The country was split in two as it was a very small majority. However, I feel that now we have all licked our wounds, the vote could be a real opportunity for some bridge building, to  look beyond the simplistic reductionism of BOTH campaigns and do what we can to understand why people voted in the way that they did, to not judge them for it if we disagree with them and to look beyond the stereotype of the campaigns to the humanity of the people and where they are coming from. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stand up against things that we find abhorrent and that are alive and well amongst hardliners, things such as racism or elitism – but to judge each person as a complex individual, not as a label that they have been given by a political campaign purely because of they way they voted.

Many of us were completely surrounded by people who voted the same way as us. Maybe this is a bit of a wake up call to diversify our social networks a bit (the ones were we see people face to face, not just online)? I don’t want to shout into an echo chamber – I have limited energy and I don’t like the idea of expending it by preaching to the converted! If we’re not getting out of our social and cultural circles of comfort I also reckon we will find it harder to understand or tolerate another point of view, struggle to grow and mature in own opinions (as we will never experience any real challenge), be vulnerable to fear mongering political campaigns and play into the hands of those who would want to divide us as a society even further.

I’m with Jo Cox on this one. We have more in common than that which divides us. I want social progress and social change – but if that’s going to happen, how we relate to each other is the first place to start. And it needs to start with me. I need to start the face to face conversations before heading out onto social media. I need to begin to really listen before pushing for my voice to be heard. I don’t like the person that politics can turn me into – I’m a person of faith so I want to be known by the characteristics of the God whom I worship…which means compassion, kindness, gentleness, love. If I’m pursuing Jesus then these things will begin to emerge – leaving no room for fear, judgement, pride – and making me less vulnerable to manipulation by political campaigns. Given my previous reactions to the election results ( I remember keenly the bile I spewed after the Tories won the 2015 election) I’ve clearly got a long way to go…

 

As a postscript…

If you know me personally I know the real question you want to ask me is which was did I vote in the referendum! All things considered, I voted to Leave as I had serious concerns about the lack of democracy and disconnection from working class people in EU countries and the way this democratic deficit was being instrumentalised by right wing parties to whip up an anti-immigration agenda. I was also concerned about the lack of meaningful reform over the past two decades – especially the Common Agricultural Policy which I feel is grossly unfair towards poor farmers in developing countries and an unnecessary drain on EU member finances. I studied the EU institutions for my politics A level and apart from the European Court of Human Rights, do not think they justify the investment. I love Europe and Europeans – just not the institutions in place and how they work. I think we can do better and the more local, and closer to the people it is, the stronger it will be. I know there are lots of other valid and strong arguments and I do respect them – but this one was the one that swung it for me in what was the hardest vote to decide on that I’ve ever cast.

Here’s some articles and videos which I’ve found illuminating in the analysis post referendum in relation to the working class vote, particularly that from the north of england (as that’s where I live). This is an article from a Brexit voter on the divisions within the country; this article talks about the impact of inequality on the vote and this piece has some good points about the lack of representation for the working classes in Westminster.

And this is quite frankly hilarious delivery from Jonathan Pie in his assessment of the role of the Tories in all this…!

I have also found these articles on responding the vote by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and on having a civil dialogue (by Donald Miller) useful when thinking about how to respond to all of this.

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