Moving on from memes and mutual prejudice

After the morning of Friday 24th, three feelings struck me. The first was surprise… I hadn’t expected the Leave campaign to win, and especially not by with the largest number of people who have ever voted for anything turning out to support them.

The second thing was shock. Since the 24th, my social media feed has been overrun with people expressing their disappointment, sadness and frustration with the result. I can understand this. And whilst some expressed their feelings thoughtfully and graciously, others were angrier, or more insidiously, expressed shame – both that they were ashamed at the country’s choice and that people who voted to leave should feel shame. It left me feeling depressed and fighting off implicit accusations of racism, xenophobia and stupidity for voting to leave.

The third thing was a little while in coming… a mix of disbelief and frustration as the headlines started, and memes began to flow – at best comic gallows humour, at worst explicitly designed to denigrate or belittle the views of those who voted to leave.

Why am I writing today? Because I think that Remainers probably empathise a great deal with each of those three feelings I expressed (although for very different reasons), but that I think it’s time to focus on the positive things we can now do, and move on from this debate or we risk hurting each other over something that has already happened.

But so many people have changed their minds since voting to leave! There were so many lies!

Partly because it was unexpected, there has been a continued media focus on whipping up interest, and the de facto continuation of campaigning by Remainers through social media and other channels. You’d expect this to have an effect.

Lies? Oh, lies and damned statistics. Without wishing to revisit every claim of a lie, there were enough ‘fact checking’ websites springing up before the referendum date, and enough debate around the points for anyone who wished to check to be be able to do so. Lies were not exclusive to one side of the campaign or the other.

The biggest bone of contention seemed to be around the ‘£350m per week to fund the NHS’ claim… which would have been possible of course, but would have left a hole in other areas to the tune of £155m a week, more or less. It is all about the choice, and the main reasons people chose to vote leave were around sovereignty and migration – not the economy.

You simply have to trust people to vote however they will at the referendum, and in the case of any uncertainty, either go with the status quo or not vote at all. We had a campaign period of several months to debate it all: it’s done now.

But it wasn’t a proper ‘majority’ – we need to validate the result

It was the largest electoral turnout in more than two decades, and the greatest number of people voting in favour of a single thing, ever. This is the way we’ve always done things in the UK, and this was the way the referendum process was agreed on by all parties in advance: we can’t move the goalposts as people are now unhappy about the result.

As far as validating the result goes by holding a re-run or an early general election… really? Would we be asking the same had the result been to remain in the EU? What we essentially have is a scenario where 48% of the voters are saying, “we don’t like the result, can we try again?”

The people voting leave are prejudiced idiots

I saw a very comic banner at a pro-remain rally, “An immigrant with a degree is NOT coming over here to ‘steal your job’ when all you have is a standard grade in P.E. and an STI.”

Classy: answering one prejudice with another and proving yourself guilty of the crime you are accusing someone else of.

Other less provocative statistics have been shared around social media, often with some cynical comments, showing the typical demographic and educational achievements of the people voting each way, and in general, those voting to leave are likely to have less educational achievements.

So is it that only “stupid” people voted to leave? For me, the most viable reason for voting to remain – and one I wrestled long and hard with – was around the potential economic benefits of staying with the union, and the likely short-term costs involved in leaving. Whilst this clearly gained traction with some voters, a huge number of other ‘educated’ people voting to remain did so for more instinctive and moralistic arguments. In the case of younger, educated voters, it was all they had ever known. For others, they wanted to ‘stay in community’ with Europe, or felt that staying in the EU represented remaining tolerant, loving and inclusive.

Personally, I struggle to understand how a customs union claiming unjustified supranational governance over a country can be the only basis on which ‘community’ is formed, or how it helps us be more tolerant, loving and inclusive than any other method.

Presumably we are less tolerant or loving of North Americans or Commonwealth nationals because we’re not in a union with them? No, of course not. Shared interests, trade, customs, the internet and – probably – low cost airlines have all contributed to this tolerance far more than a membership of a union has. And while morphing into a single world state might count as creating ‘more community’, in reality this would be an incredibly nuanced and complex matter. Yet this is what the EU was basically proposing on a smaller scale, and which the UK rejected.

Some people voted to leave for stupid reasons. Others voted to remain for stupid reasons. Yet more people voted one way or another for good and thoughtful reasons that mattered to them. We had the opportunity to debate them all in the run up to the referendum. If you want to be more inclusive, loving and tolerant, it’s time to stop abusing the people who voted another way to you.

The markets have gone up and down, and the value of the pound has dropped – sure signs of economic obliteration! We can still escape this madness.

The uncertainty created by the referendum (over-egged in my view) has led to a lot of short term volatility in the markets and a drop in the value of the pound following the result. Yet nothing has substantively changed yet: it is simply the markets crawling over every utterance from any government official and reacting disproportionately. They’ve just bounced up again following Andrea Leadsom’s statement today that she will be withdrawing from the Conservative leadership contest. What’s changed? Not a lot.

The true impacts will only be seen in the long term once the various impacts work their way out, and the ‘new normal’ comes into being. Focussing on the short term effects as a reason to dismiss the vote is a bit like rejecting surgery because it hurts when the anaesthetist’s needle goes in.

There will be some work to be done in terms of reminding the rest of the world that the UK is still open for business, but acting as though we’re James Frazer in Dad’s Army and shouting, “we’re doomed!” is unlikely to foster any sense of positivity or confidence.

The fundamentals of the UK economy are strong. The drop in the pound will hurt your holiday budget, but will help our export economy. There are lots of things which can be done to boost the country now. We are not going to economically implode overnight.

Time to stop talking it down.

Boris, Farage and Gove won’t hold any of the key positions… we can’t do a Brexit when they’ve all quit!

We can and will. A lot of people I know voted to remain because they didn’t like the idea of Boris, Gove or Farage leading Brexit negotiations! Presumably they’re a lot happier with the prospect now.

Those guys set out some of the reasons to leave persuasively, and challenged the status quo. Someone needed to do it, and they did – whatever their reasons were.

We now have a Prime Minister in waiting who voted to remain, but is committed to putting in place the effect of the referendum. I have no problem with that – Theresa May is a capable person and i’m sure she’ll be a very capable PM. Stop looking for people to throw mud at.

The referendum wasn’t legally binding – I can’t believe it’s going to happen… I don’t know anyone who voted to leave!

It is not legally binding, but it would take an incredibly brave political party to choose to not implement a very clear decision which attracted significant support across all parties.

One brave (or opportunistic) thing to do would be what Tim Farron has chosen – to form the Lib Dem’s next manifesto around taking the country back into the EU if the Lib Dems gain power. If you want a yardstick of how much it means to people, measure how much bounce the Lib Dems get. Neither Labour or Conservatives will reject the referendum result as a significant proportion of their support could jump ship.

Theresa May has said Brexit means Brexit – she is about to become Prime Minister. A legal challenge might be made to force Parliament to legislate for it, but fundamentally it’s just ignoring the inevitable.

Social media is mostly quite a left wing and liberal bubble. It’s not particularly surprising that if you spend any amount of time there, you’re going to end up swapping views with people who think quite similarly to you. It becomes a bit of an echo chamber rather than a reflection of the real world.

Time to move on.

I’m done with blogging on the EU referendum, and I reckon you’re all done with me blogging about it too by now. Whatever your views were, a choice has been made and we will carry on. Continue to speak out against social injustice and hatred, but it’s time to move on from the memes and mutual prejudices that aren’t necessarily going to help anyone, even if they make you feel better for an hour and rack up some likes from your friends.

Find the positives and grab hold of these. I think there is much to be hopeful about, and so many other important things to focus on that I will be focussing on them.


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