Further thoughts on Brexit

Further thoughts on Brexit

Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

I’ll be honest, I voted to Leave but I did not expect us to win. I don’t ‘Begrexit’ I just assumed from listening to the media, my peers and even senior figures in the Church of England that Remain would win the day. Yet I am shocked and saddened both by the reported spike in racism and simultaneously the antagonism that has come about from my largely young and urbanite peers towards those who voted to leave. Theres an almost masochistic mood in the country currently that is revelling in the division, trying to explain away and wallow in our collective discontent. I’m uncomfortable stating my vote publicly, not because I regret the decision but because of the venom it would inevitably invite on myself. It is unmistakable that this vote has exposed very deep and serious fault lines in our society at a time where we are lacking the leadership to act in any decisive manner in any direction.

The thing that I think has shocked everyone is the distinction between the more rural, older generation and younger, urban generation. The vote isn’t as simple as this distinction, but it is noticeable. Yet I was surprised when in the weekend following the vote I travelled to the midlands, through Birmingham and saw an unprecedented amount of Union Jack and St Georges flags flying from homes, businesses and pubs. The atmosphere was palpably different to that of London which was despair bordering on hysteria in places. There is something in this distinction and it was the flag waving of the pubs in particular that stood out to me.

I wonder if the racist sentiment reported in the media is the cruel and violent edge of a ‘blood and soil’ nationalism rooted in the collective loss of community in a lot of the less urban, less individualistic communities of the UK. People feel lost and so cling to the idea of a country as the only thing greater than themselves that they believe in. Nationalism is all we have when our communities are broken apart by a government that at times has seemed positively antagonistic and apathetic towards the majority. This vote was in large part carried by a sense of disenfranchisement on the part of a large swathe of the population (that has rarely voted at all) that has largely been ignored by the movers and shakers in our country for a long time. This post on Brexit by Anna Rowland has some really powerful insights.

Despite collective (cosmopolitan) surprise at the prevalence of such a complex sense of loss and aspiration … there is not much new about this. These are pan-European (now global) trends that Tony Judt, left-wing public intellectual and self-described Euro-pessimist, wrote about two decades ago. He believed that European elites were failing to grasp that the narrative of “Europe” stood increasingly for the winners, the wealthy regions and sub-regions of existing states. The losers were “the European ‘south’, the poor, the linguistically, educationally or culturally disadvantaged, underprivileged, or despised Europeans who don’t live in golden triangles along vanished frontiers.” It turns out much of the post-industrial English North feels rather like the European “south.”

Anna Rowlands, The Fragility of Goodness: Brexit Viewed from the North East

The issue in Britain is a cultural one as large parts of the population have been left behind by a top down, arguably neo-liberal corporatist, approach to both the media and government. One that has subsequently blown up with the ‘abdication’ of David Cameron and the ‘insurrection’ against Jeremy Corbyn, with no real alternatives on offer and both major parties in uproar. We are told what our country stands for, by various talking heads, but we do not really know what it stands for. Many people identify with particular ideas or subcultures more than nations today. So when we are asked to vote in such a way that is likely to define our nation in such a dramatic fashion, something so many think so little about generally, these ideological distinctions have erupted in ugly ways.

Polling day politics – Par the course for quality debate on EU membership

I do not know what the future holds, but I worry that this referendum is a watershed moment when we realise that our country doesn’t have a core anymore. Its been carved out, deconstructed and hollowed, in its place we have tried to manufacture something different along the ideological lines of those with power. Like an X-Factor winner in the hands of Simon Cowell. We’re a nation of strangers scowling at each other across any number of divides. Nationhood is an illusion, we are only individuals now who happen to share an abstract political union on a patch of earth we bear no connection to. At best we have our tribes. Maybe society was always like this? I doubt it, but it feels particularly appropriate now. I fear that Democracy is in danger as a result from both sides of this referendum.

As a Christian I can take comfort that God is sovereign irrespective of our present circumstances, that I am a participant in the ‘Kingdom of God’ more so than the ‘United Kingdom’. I pray the Church and its formal representatives doesn’t get sucked into partisanship and that we can disagree amicably within the church if we do so. More so I am grateful that many Christians I know personally have been some of the most gracious towards those who have voted differently to themselves despite the abuse they might of received at the hands of the enraged or emboldened elsewhere. I feel now more than ever that the church needs to rediscover what it means to make a public declaration of faith as a source of unity. Christianity is a public truth that was once a part of our national Character and it might one day be so again as a unity which can curb the excesses and dangers of nationalism and simultaneously bind us to an identity larger than any nation (or indeed anything else on this earth).


Thoughts on Brexit

Thoughts on Brexit

Its only a few days now until the referendum, the debate on the merits and failures of the EU have been at times inspiring or a cause for despair. I know what way I will vote but at the same time have felt inspired by the fact that this vote feels like the ‘most’ democratic thing I’ve ever done. The vote has cut right across party lines and shaken up a lot of the core parties. Things are actually different in this election and people are revealing a lot about themselves in how they articulate their reasons for voting.

Myself? I’m fairly sure now I will be voting to leave the EU. I don’t think the EU is democratic, we did well out of dodging the Euro and I think the EU’s handling of both Greece’s debt, their relationship with Ukraine and the handling of the migrant crisis have given serious cause for concern. I also think their are massive swathes of the UK that have been left neglected after the collapse of our national industries (fishing, farming, mining and manufacturing) and see a chance of that changing outside the EU which currently undercuts or legislates against it (although this is perhaps rather naive). I also see the EU as an increasingly neoliberal institution that is particularly susceptible to lobbying by multinational corporates (TTIP alone is enough to vote out for me). It is also increasingly infringing on the basic freedoms afforded to its citizens in policing ‘hate speech'(and getting technology companies to do the same). I also think its not even really done that good of a job at upholding workers rights as the existence of zero-hour contracts highlights. I also think we could better off interacting more fully with the world at large without a EU lens changing our view of trade and diplomacy.

I am a European, thats a fact not a matter of perspective. I love Europe and would gladly sign what we did in the 1970’s again but for me the issue is precisely that we didn’t sign up to anything like what we have today. Despite all of that I feel like this vote could possibly be one of the most important things I vote on in my lifetime. In some ways right now is a unnerving time of great change but it is also one of great opportunity, for society and also the church. The recent murder of MP Jo Cox highlights the deep divisions appearing our society partly as a result of this rapid change and the Church has a big job in simultaneously staying faithful to God, his word and those who laboured for the sake of the Kingdom of God before us in this country and adapting to speak into these situations. Massive debt (public and private), decreasing social liberty, broken communities, individualism, materialism, state surveillance, idolatry and heresy are abundant. We need to be conversant with these things and generally speaking I feel the church has done a good job at dealing with Brexit in a way that doesn’t give way to ‘Project Fear’ and gives me hope for these other areas.

The other thing I am grateful of is that unlike other ideologies out there, Christianity is transcultural. What started off as a minority sect of Judaism is now the worlds largest religion, and that is in no small part due to its ability to praise and emphasise the best of the cultures its encountered whilst denouncing and standing against that which would gives ground to sin and idolatry. Whatever way the vote goes, theres going to be pain and upset but the church will find a way in the UK wherever it is. Whether a state of an increasingly federal EU system of government or a independent European island nation looking to the world. The Church has evangelised Europe several times in its history, each time Europe looked fundamentally different and the approach to evangelising it changed in kind. God willing we will do so again and irrespective of the vote British christians will have a part to play in that.

For a good debate on the subject I recommend the recent Unbelievable? broadcasted debate on Brexit from a Christian perspective. Should we stay or should we go?