For anyone even vaguely following UK politics at the moment, you’ll know that the whole thing is an abject mess. I’ve written a lot this year about Brexit, but at this point, it’s too uncertain and chaotic to really consider writing any more about with any kind of clarity or insight.
And yet, here we are anyway. Because I can write whatever I want on my own blog and I want to get some of the confusion and frustration out into the world, so we can bask in it together. Fun!
So, in the past few weeks, Theresa May has resigned, the European elections saw the Brexit Party take the biggest share of the vote – though staunchly pro-Remain parties took an even bigger share when combined – and a number of ghastly figures have put themselves forward to be the next Tory leader, with BoJo currently leading the pack, because Trump being an ocean away wasn’t enough and clearly we decided we want one of our own.
At this point, the constant stream of resignations, tears and bizarre policy decisions are failing to spark that much outrage. As with the dumpster fire that is Trump administration, eventually you acclimatise somewhat to uncertainty and shock, no matter how much you don’t want to.
Maybe it’s the effect of the small snippet, instant reaction 24-hour news cycle, but everything seems to be big news for a day or two before fading straight into history. Especially in the UK, politics currently seems very reactive, rather than proactive. Constantly responding to the latest dramatic incident, the latest Brexit bill, the latest politician embroiled in a criminal scandal, the latest election – it’s a string of defensive moves designed to head-off the next potential minor (or major) disaster rather than creating and enacting a long-term plan that will get us from this tough spot to somewhere, anywhere better.
What we’re lacking is vision. No one is stepping up to share an idea of what this country could look like in the future that goes beyond finding a lacklustre resolution to Brexit and finding a prime minister who can last a whole term in office. We’re so bogged down in the details of each political moment that no one is looking at the bigger picture. And with populism on the rise, increasing income inequality, massively divided political sensibilities and the climate crisis getting more and more concerning by the day, we need someone to be considering the bigger picture. We need someone to be thinking about the bigger story of this country.
If we spend the next few years continuing to flounder, scrapping internally and making absolutely no headway on crucial political and social issues, then we are moving further and further away from the steps needed to pull ourselves out of this mess. People will become even more disenfranchised with the government and, more importantly, people will suffer, through reduced NHS funding, deportation, decreased disability support and other damaging policies.
We – along with much of the developed world – need an overhaul. We are barreling toward a burning planet, losing species by the day, and constantly striving for exponential economic growth at the expense of wellbeing and quality of life. Income inequality is getting worse, as will public healthcare and education if we continue to slash the funding for public services. Racism and xenophobia are on the rise. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way! While no country is perfect, there are already other, similar nations on Earth who do it differently. Again, while the much lauded Scandinavian countries have their own problems, they are an example of how extremely possible it is to have a country with a better social safety net, better literacy levels, better health outcomes and an overall improved quality of life for the vast majority of its citizens.
We just need someone, or a group of someones, to come forward and push these ideas. I know the Greens are broadly trying, and Change UK was aiming to shake up politics (though failed miserably), but it still feels like the ideological cupboard is pretty bare, with everyone caught up in party politics rather than thinking: ‘what do we want the UK to look like in 100 years? And how do we get there?’
Current UK politics are very stale. We need a refresh. We need some energy. We need someone exciting and compelling to come along and shake things up, someone who sees more for the future than crawling to the Brexit finish line and trying to put out each small political fire as it crops up. I don’t know if this is what politics has always been like, surviving from each crisis to the next with no long-term plan, but right now, it’s clear that this strategy has its limits. I’m sure the fact that political terms are only a couple of years contributes to this, though longer terms could be either a blessing or a curse depending on who was in power (and long political tenure tends to be a feature of brutally repressive regimes). Democracy is important, but using that democracy to achieve things, improve lives and create a sustainable pattern of leadership seems important too.
I know this is partly a liberal pipe dream. Lots of people feel like Trump and Brexit are the refresh they’ve been waiting for. However, even if this hasn’t permeated the general consciousness yet, most hardcore right-wing, conservative policies are not good for the many. Most people rely on public services, a healthy environment, access to contraception and abortion and public education in order to live good lives. It blows my mind how many average US earners oppose a 70% marginal tax rate on everything earned over 10 million dollars, despite the fact that most people will never earn enough to be affected and will only be positively impacted by higher taxes funding public services.
However, regardless of what some people believe, there are other options. The countries of Scandinavia have long been used as examples of happier nations and only today, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand will now use measures of wellbeing, rather than economic growth, to guide policy. The examples are there; someone just needs to act.
Obviously, as a citizen, my influence is limited. The real power lies concentrated in Westminster and boardrooms around the country, with the people in charge of our government and our major industries. These are the people who get to write the next chapter. What legacy do they want to leave? What story do they want to tell?