Understanding the new world we are in


Originally published in Bromsgrove Standard 08/07/16

Three weeks ago it all felt so different. Britain had not yet voted to leave the European Union. The Pound had not plummeted. The Bank of England had not yet had to step in to steady the situation. The Prime Minister had not announced his resignation and the UK’s major political parties had yet not appeared to be in turmoil.

None of us have lived through anything quite like this before and nobody can know what lies ahead. As we now try to navigate a new course through the uncharted waters which lie ahead, though, here are some markers that I believe should guide us.

First, the sharp division our country has experienced – with over 16 million people voting one way and 17 million voting the other – means all of us should try to understand some of the key reasons why people voted a different way from the one we did.

We Remainers – particularly those of us involved in party politics, must understand that the vote to leave was about a lot more than the EU. It came from a feeling that politics and political institutions have for years been out of touch with people’s daily experiences, their hopes and their fears for the future. The centrality of immigration to people’s concerns arose from genuine grievances about jobs, public services and opportunities to get a decent home. Whatever happens about funding of the NHS, free movement of people between countries in a post Brexit world – and the promises of the Leave campaigns are already unraveling there – the grievances are real and addressing them is long overdue.

For those on the Leave side, please understand that Remain votes – particularly among the young whose future this is all about – did not come from an attachment to the bureaucracy of the EU but from a vision of cooperation between peoples in countries in ways which value national identities but are not constrained by them. It is a vision that stands four-square against the xenophobia and hate that has been emboldened to come to the fore during and after the referendum. That culture of hate does not reflect of the majority of people who voted Leave or who voted Remain. We must all unite to reject it.

I don’t pretend any of this is a substitute for our rapidly crafting the practical policies needed to tackle the economic after-shocks of the vote on June 23rd or the complex negotiations ahead which will determine our future relationship with our European neighbours and the rest of the world. But it is about the things we should not lose sight of as we do so.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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