The past is a foreign country…
Leslie Poles Hartley CBE (30 Dec 1895 – 13 Dec 1972).
I am reflecting on the fact it is one week on since the Referendum and never in my fifty-something years have I ever felt such a second-class citizen as the day the Referendum came to town.
In shock (as one of the winning majority voters), I took a conscious decision not to inflame the vitriol any further but rather take a few days to get my head around what was happening. And why.
I’d witnessed bullying at my all-girls school in the 1970s. Let me be clear – this was NEVER targetted at the 3 ladies from various ethnic minorities in our year. We had one lady from an African-Carribean background – she was sporty and had this wonderful mass of afro hair that I stared at during Maths. And two were from eastern shores one, a delicate flower of a personality that achieved straight As in everything except PE and the other, a chatty social character whose skill at that young age was bringing people together.
The bullies repeatedly taunted one girl (probably) because she had red-hair and was slightly over-weight. Glad I wasn’t her, I felt terribly upset for her. I did have one brief run-in with a bully but I like to think because I kept my cool and didn’t fight back or look too upset, I was left alone thereon. But that one moment made me feel – scared, on edge and helpless, a victim and it stayed with me. And apart from one senior manager’s incompetence in her own job role, I’ve not experienced it since – until Friday 24 June, polling results day…
The way the Remain side behaved en masse battering the Leavers took me right back to the classroom – bewildered and missing the point for the attack completely. What was my crime? But it did make me realise something else very important – how the ethnic minorities and indeed anyone slightly different may well feel living with a regular threat of verbal attack, a head shake, a certain look and the arrogant contempt by another in a country that is supposed to belong to all of us. And here was I in the majority camp feeling like I should hold my thoughts and opinions back. I’d have felt more comfortable walking into church on Sunday trying to convince the congregation there is no God.
A week before the vote, I did consider the Leavers might win. Then things got a bit out of sync and by the eve of the Referendum, I was convinced there was no chance of beating the Remain camp. I felt sick (a word some of the Remain camp also used after the results) about what staying in would mean but I accepted it and that it would bring a slow decline deeper into my existing concerns about the EU.
I did my homework. As a responsible citizen (like being on a jury) I gathered my facts, I listened to hours of evidence and I weighed up the information before turning out to deliver my verdict. Before long, my suspected belief became a deeper opinion. I was not happy about the growing control Europe had over us; I felt more should be done to keep us safe and secure without the EU dictating to us and I wasn’t happy that we were a magnet for unsustainable immigration. For years I’ve watched the corporate world have to shift and change to fall in line with EU human rights and employment law. Political correctness went mad.
Waking up and silently turning my mobile on last Friday, my face lit up with disbelief as I read that the Leavers had won. I watched TV over breakfast then happily went off to a wedding for the day. Meanwhile panic set in for the others waking up and within a short time en masse, we were subjected to vile comments, mocking thoughts dressed up as humour, and plain, nasty (untrue) accusations. The Remain camp screamed with all their might.
Leavers were not in their right mind, the Referendum had got it wrong! A petition was started up to overthrow the decision. Comments hit social media ‘Good luck you are gonna need it’. Vicious, venomous, angry and attacking our intellect, ability to make a judgement and worse still – our intent. What had we done? You must all be sorry now? Some hadn’t understood what they’d voted for and now they’d change their mind so therefore we needed a re-vote. Crazy, crazy hot-headed thoughts. What was a vote for in the first place if not to make a decision?
Rewind. I went back over my reasoning. Nothing had changed except the Leavers vote won. And while every vote in my lifetime had probably been to try and keep one party or other out of power – this time I had the freedom of restraint and voted from the heart. I remembered a friend on polling day had been into a care home and witnessed a distraught woman with dementia not being able to make herself understood, alongside a woman whose first language wasn’t English. This was not good enough and it swung her vote – Leave. Of course I’d made the right decision.
The likes of J K Rowling had written about loving the differences in Europe – well guess what? If we don’t take steps to preserve some of those differences we will end up in one swirling mass of sameness, and culture will be confined to glass cabinets in museums. I don’t want that for the next generation. I’m not anti-Europe or Europeans, I’m pro-Europe and those differences, just not the EU.
As the voting stats were released, the attacks got worse because there was the introduction of labels to hang blame on: white, older, working class, pensioners and they were spitting at that. The young had voted Remain, as apparently had Scotland and London.
Ricky Gervais’s media profile questioned why the old hated the young so much. The young became aggrieved. If only 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote they’d have won it! Sorry but you aren’t old enough yet and there’s a reason for that – you aren’t old enough – yet! When you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, look back and see how much more you know you’ll understand how better you are equipped for these decisions. And it is because of that experience that we voted with authority and no apologies.
Foreigners piled in – ex-pats who were concerned they’d lose their dual nationality when we were trying hard to hang on to one. The lady in Australia who wrote in the Guardian a lament over the loss of her bluebell-wood childhood because of the Leave vote and how she was going to stop delaying her Australian citizenship after 9 years in Oz. Well her old world was over the day she left our shores – anything else is just memories.
And why carve up the voters in terms of age or gender? I want to know how many vegetarians there are; which way the eldest versus the youngest siblings in the same families voted; how did short people vote compared with the tall; what about married versus single? Or what about what star signs people voted from? Now that would have been interesting!
We are custodians of the United Kingdom built on the back of some grim events if you dare to look back in history far enough. We and our ancestors have been through a lot to get to this point. 2016 has already seen a high number of big celebrities pass-away and in my mid-50s I really get a sense that life is changing and moving into a world I don’t like very much. The longer we live and the more technology infiltrates our lives, the quicker that change appears to happen and the longer we live to see it.
Lines have to be drawn where decisions are made and where the line falls people will fall on both sides of that line, and sometimes right up against it. I worked for an exam awarding body auditing papers once and I understand all about the wrong question coming up and the consequences of that. But it was fair – as fair as we could get it. Everyone had a chance to read up the facts, to ignore claims that might be too fantastical, make the judgement that if you can’t use a comb how can you run the country, and analyse it any which way you wanted. But it’s done. No going back. Another little notch in history and it’s way to early to be able to assess the merits of this Sliding Doors moment in political history, but I believe there will be some; much as I accept we are wide open to criticism.
Finally the country is getting on with the task of living again. Slowly apologies have crept in by some naturally more loving people or those who’ve realised they exploded a tad too hastily or far too honestly for anyone’s good. The smart-ass comments have done the rounds and are retreating; now we can talk real politics about how this decision pushes forwards.
I recently had a typed exchange with an extended family member who lives in Scotland. Their perspective is way different because their needs up there are different. We agreed to disagree as we could see we were on opposite sides of what is best for us as individuals and family units. Practically everyone she knows voted Remain and she is fearful for their future. Most I know voted Leave and I’d have been fearful if we were staying. That is one hard call to make and why this brush with politics is the closest I want to be to it for a very long time. Feeling like I’d lost a country is one thing but family and friends – I really want that thought to be history.