I have spent a lot of time in the past few months talking about Brexit. We probably all have, to varying degrees. It’s been almost three years since we voted to leave the EU in June 2016 and we are still talking about it, largely because it remains as confusing, uncertain and shocking as it was then. Somehow, it manages to keep getting worse! And we still have no idea what’s happening! What a fascinating and stressful time to be alive!
I talk about Brexit a lot at work, from a political and economic standpoint. But I don’t feel that’s right for this blog. You can read the BBC if you want a detailed explanation of Brexit, but there’s no way I’m positioning ER as a hub of up-to-date, accurate and insightful political commentary. No thanks. Though I do have thoughts on pretty much everything so if you get me in person a political diatribe is only one wayward comment away.
Watching the Brexit carnage makes me both pessimistic and apathetic in equal measure. While this may sound oxymoronic, sustained negativity often has the outcome of deep apathy, as a self-preservation method more than anything else.
I feel pessimistic because the country is deeply fractured over this seemingly never-ending issue, pessimistic because our government are incompetent and have been flailing for months with no real scope for intervention and pessimistic because we really might leave the EU, throwing thousands of people’s lives, jobs and stability into chaos. I feel pessimistic because it is clear that when shit hits the fan – whether it’s Brexit negotiations or Trump putting children in cages – there is very little you can do as an average person to change anything. Despairing constantly about something you have almost no scope to change, stop or influence in any way is bad news bears for mental health, but most of us are doing it, because to not care about the political climate right now makes you seem callous, bigoted, unaware of your privilege or uneducated. So we’re all here, talking and sharing and caring constantly about enormous social and economic policy issues we cannot impact, for fear of admitting that the news is a pit of misery and re-watching A Christmas Prince, scrolling through Instagram or shutting down your device and reading a fucking book is altogether more enjoyable.
Anyway. Those are some of the reasons I’m pessimistic. We’re out of control, potentially on our way to massive economic hardship for the vast majority of UK citizens – though, crucially, not for those who are actually negotiating the split – and most of us can’t do anything. Fuck yeah, democracy!
But regarding the apathy. There’s something about watching this group of individuals – ostensibly highly educated, thoughtful people who have been elected because of their perceived ability to put the needs of the many above the needs of the few and not set everything on fire – completely fucking everything up that is very alienating.
It is painful to watch politicians across the globe making childish errors and realising that you can reach the highest national office without necessarily being competent or able to take responsibility for your mistakes.
That might sound ideal to the Trumps of the world, but I feel like, for the vast majority of us, it’s disconcerting. It feels like, if you are going to run a country or orchestrate one of the most complicated, uncharted, political, legal and economic deals of recent history, that you should have at least a basic level of communication skills, perspective and experience.
And yet, someone gave the post-Brexit ferry contract to a company with no ferries. And the contract involved whole sections copy and pasted from a similar contract for a takeaway company.
It’s a total joke. It makes a mockery of everything we are told we need to succeed – hard work, discipline, paying a modicum of attention to what you’re doing. It’s hard to get invested in your country as a community when it feels so out of hand and so out of your hands. This leads people to defend their own bubbles more strongly, which only furthers the separateness and isolation that creates these divides in the first place.
Of course, it is emboldening too, because it is clear that there is space for different, better leadership. But politics looks like a thoroughly awful place to be right now. While the thought of more measured, effective, intelligent governance is extremely welcome, the nature of our now divisive society means that whoever’s in charge is going to be hated by a large portion of the population. The combination of deeply divided political sensibilities and the Internet means that every candidate is subjected to constant negative feedback, hatred and mocking, which sounds… terrible, honestly.
I remain invested because what happens regarding Brexit is relevant to all of us. I remain invested because it is, quite literally, my job to be up to date on political and economic news. I remain invested because it is worse, somehow, not to care.
But it often feels like two different realities are playing out in parallel. Both my online and offline spaces are full of progressive, intelligent, kind people, who are well-versed in social issues, put time and effort into educating themselves and caring about the realities of people who are different from them, and, obviously, all voted Remain. The echo chamber is real. As numerous Democrats announce their candidacy for the 2020 presidential elections, with women and people of colour making up a significant portion of the candidates, Trump’s government shutdown continues and he buys McDonalds for a sports team at the White House and brags about it on twitter. It’s two different worlds, except they aren’t different and that lack of distinction becomes obvious when you’re forced to pit the two against each other.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with Brexit. I don’t know what’s going to happen after Brexit. After the dust settles, there may be space for a new kind of leader. Currently, there is no prominent figure in the government showing the kind of leadership that we can aspire to and the distance between the government many young people hope for and what we have currently feels vast. I guess you just have to keep signing petitions and reading the news and paying attention and hope the whole thing doesn’t drive everyone to madness before we have an opportunity to step up.