Once there was a country. A strong democratic European nation. A respected world power.
Following a devastating war, it’s economy hit crisis point. Inflation spiralled out of control. Savings became worthless. The price of everyday goods rocketed.
People had worked hard. They had saved. They had done everything right. And they lost everything.
Following election after election, none of the political parties seemed to have the magic solution. People were disillusioned, jobless and desperate.
And then a party came forward who showed hope. They were radical and they promised radical solutions.
The party promised to get people back to work. They promised to put the country back in its’ rightful place, to return it to a great world power.
They promised the people they would get their county back.
When all the political parties are so close to the centre, are offering the same old and tried solutions, and along comes somebody offering ….no… promising…a new dawn….no matter how educated people are, no matter how irrational the solutions may seem, people are drawn to the glimmer of hope.
Once the party was in power, they quickly geared up a more intense strategy;
Divide and conquer.
Unite against a common enemy.
It’s the oldest military trick in the book right?
So the party began to identify some common ‘enemies’, specific groups within the county’s population who were already not extremely popular anyway due to deep rooted historical tensions, making it easier to justify and bring people along with them.
They constantly wove this emphasis on their enemies through their rhetoric and philosophy.
It was the enemies who had ruined the country. It was the enemies who were bringing the country down. Taking the jobs. Invading their space.
The enemy were taking over! They weren’t giving their country room to expand and become great again. They were taking over THEIR COUNTRY.
They wanted their country to be independent. They wanted their country to be self sufficient. They wanted to take back what was theirs.
They wanted their country back.
It was within this context of dangerous political narrative and rhetoric, of extreme nationalism, of economic crisis, mixed with the promotion of fear, hatred, and anger that gave permission for a whole country, ordinary people like me and you, to turn against the enemy. In a ‘legitimised’ way.
It was this context, along with many other factors, that enabled discrimination, which rapidly led to to persecution, which culminated in the most systematic and deadliest genocides in history.
“How on earth did they get in to power?”
“ How did ordinary people allow this?”
“We must learn from this….we must never let this happen again.”
“Where was the line and when did they cross it?”
It’s taken me a while to write this post.
I voted remain and I was truly gutted with the result, and was very open in loudly shouting this disappointment across social media. Standard.
It was more than disappointment, it was anger. I needed chance to let the anger subside, and when it did, what was mostly left was an extreme sadness.
On reflection, I know that my initial reaction to Brexit was one of a petulant child.
Basically I had massive strop that it hadn’t gone my way. I immediately took on the “I’m right and everyone who voted leave are misguided idiots” stance.
I now accept that this stance is arrogant, it’s very condescending and actually hypocritical given that I had beef with many leave campaigners generalising people and then I was doing the exact same thing.
The fact is, many people voted leave for very legitimate reasons; they did their research, they had their evidence, they knew what they believed in and that leave was the right choice for them and I see that and I can understand (now that the red rage has ebbed away!)
So why am I so sad still?
I am sad because of some of the reasons for voting out, based on what I’ve seen on social media and heard in pubs and bars and on the TV. I’m sad because of what I feel it says about our values and beliefs as a country and what others in the world may perceive about us based on this.
I am worried on very practical terms; will international colleagues now feel unwelcome? How can we reassure these colleagues of their value and their amazing contribution? Will this stop people wanting to come and work here? How will this impact upon the quality of services we can deliver?
And what made me most sad of all is that I feel that the Brexit has helped to legitimise racism and intolerance even though this clearly was not the intention. To be extremely clear, I am not saying that all people who voted leave are racist or intolerant.
But what I am saying that I feel it gave confidence to those who are intolerant and prejudice and who until now have trolled online, in secret, behind closed doors, who now think that half the country agrees with them and their values. I think that some people’s true colours came out.
The things is, we live in an age where twitter and social media have made it possible for us to be aware of what is happening, out there, in real time.
After the decision for Brexit was announced, there was a general increase in the number of tweets about migration on twitter.
There were more than 13,000 tweets that used terms that could be seen as xenophobic and racist.
Incidences of hate crimes spiked.
People tweeted that Islam should be reclassified as a crime.
Political narrative. Nationalism. Fear. Hatred. Anger.
I want to make another few things extremely clear.
- I’m not making a direct comparison between Britain and Germany in 1932.
- I’m not suggesting people who voted leave are fascist or intolerant.
- I’m not suggesting that we are on a trajectory towards any kind of similar outcome.
What I am doing is comparing context, looking at history and drawing upon common themes. What I am doing is considering, as many others have, what are the circumstances that enable ordinary people to be swept away by a narrative of fear and hatred.
Where is the line? How do you know when you have crossed it until it’s too late?
After the whirlwind of the last few weeks, I now am in a more positive space personally where I feel we have to now make the most of Brexit. To accept it and to give it a chance rather than continue to be negative.
I hope as a nation we are positive. Optimistic. Kind. United.
But not exclusive.
I hope we do not tolerate intolerance.
I’m no Tory, but I think Teresa May and her speech on 13th July gave assurance that she means business; she talked about unity, about addressing inequality and class divides. It was inspiring and powerful and just the rhetoric we need in these challenging political times.
However, it is just rhetoric.
How we go forward is in OUR hands. It’s our narrative to write and to live.
Who are we?
What do we believe in?
How will history look upon us?
How will we look upon ourselves?