Brexit should unite – not divide – us

referndumvbenueI WONDER what Harold Wilson – the PM who coined the phrase “a week is a long time in politics” – would have thought about the last few days.

The EU Referendum last Thursday has sent the UK into a tailspin and its impact is being felt across every walk of life and community.

It’s been an unprecedented and extraordinary time – with things happening at such breakneck speed that you can barely dare to take your eyes off the news.

I reflected last Friday night how tumultuous the times are when the Prime Minister’s resignation is not even the lead story on the TV news.

The frenzy of resignations, shifts in stance, fluctuating financial graphs and political horse-trading has been dizzying – and it is far from over yet.

As this is an apolitical blog it’s not the appropriate place for me to address my feelings about the rights and wrongs of either the Remain or Leave cases in the referendum.

Nonetheless I do want to make some general observations about the campaign which apply to both sides because, at times, it was an unedifying spectacle.

The debate was often heated, misleading and negative. The language was often aggressive, barking and divisive.

I’ve heard many people on either side refer to “scaremongering” and that is something we should all be very worried about. That simply fosters distrust for politicians, important institutions and, worst of all, disrespect for other peoples’ views.

I still believe the public is capable of weighing up a rational argument with the facts laid out fairly before them, but that isn’t really what happened is it?

When people are saying days after the result that they now regret how they voted, that they were oblivious to certain consequences, or that they now feel like the final outcome will not be what they were promised, then we have surely failed to deliver a mature and informed debate.

This referendum was the most serious decision of our time yet it was conducted in an atmosphere that was consistently adversarial. It was yah-boo politics at its worst and that has continued since the result came in.

Exaggeration, hyperbole and speculation poisoned the atmosphere and that impacted negatively on voters too.

And I do think that the sensationalist tone used for several months by some elements in the media around the issues also helped to create that climate.

ReferendumThere are at least some plusses…

People got actively involved and interested in the debate, which is all too rare. You could not walk through a shop, café or street without hearing people talking about the issues – and that led to the biggest turnout in history last Thursday.

The challenge for politicians on all sides next is to try and maintain that level of interest and engagement – although that will not be easy given the mistrust that has been stimulated.

Following the result we have, regrettably, seen some instances of hate crime – although thankfully none have yet been reported in Oldham, and I hope that prevails.

This frenzied national climate has raised tensions and anxieties within and between communities.

I was shocked yesterday to see the footage of the vile racist abuse hurled by youths on a tram at Market Street in Manchester.

That kind of behaviour has no place in our society and we will not tolerate hate crime here. We didn’t tolerate it before the referendum and we won’t tolerate it now.

Whatever individual decisions people took we have to respect that and not jump to misguided conclusions about their motivations.  We have to respect the vote and the decision.

And we should also bear in mind the uncertainty this has created for many people, like EU nationals who currently live here.

To read interviews in the MEN on Monday where local Polish people said their community is now ‘terrified” was chilling.  Some have said they are staying at home because they have been subjected to taunts of ‘go home’

FLAGSIt’s bad enough for people having to cope with the uncertainty that all this brings – imagine your own family having to cope with that – but to be facing such ignorance in the places where you live and work is completely unacceptable.

I would urge anyone who experiences or witnesses hate crime like this to report it immediately to the police by dialling 101 – or contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

We all now await the triggering of Article 50, the ‘sandtimer’ that starts exit negotiations with the EU, and then there is at least two years of those talks to endure.

Ultimately it will be for the Government negotiators to agree those deals and clarify the long term impact on people. However, the impacts of Brexit are likely to be felt for a very long time by us all – whatever happens next.

This period of uncertainty will mean further challenges to the national economy and that obviously raises the prospect of more cuts to public services that are already decimated – plus questions about where this all leaves the so-called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ project and others.

I don’t have a crystal ball and I have no idea how all these pieces will fall at present.

My focus, as always, will be to continue standing up for the people, communities and interests of Oldham to ensure we are not big losers from the fallout.

Following last week’s result there was much talk about the links between deprivation, cuts to public services and the alienation of communities.

None of us should forget that.

National Government now – and in the future – must not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Jean

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