Brexit – hope out of despair

One of the key dangers of Brexit (aside from not insignificant others like the damage to our economy, the impact on the lives of Europeans and the barrier this has driven between people in British society), is that it will trigger an even more pronnounced lurch to the right in this country’s politics.

So, what can we do about this?

As progressives, we have to unite to overcome this – and not just fight against it in a defensive action, constructing badly thought-through counter policies on the hoof, but finally have the courage to construct a positive, compassionate, sustainable and human-centred view of the future that we genuinely believe in and that people will want to unite behind and support in its own right instead of neoliberalism so that it becomes a driving political and cultural force in society.

The left has singularly failed to construct such a vision for the last 20 years – as George Monbiot’s great talk to the Hay Festival this year (listen to it here) showed.  This has been for many reasons, including its seduction by neoliberal arguments and a fear of losing electoral backing for more radical policies.

But the time has come for a genuine, radical vision.  If not now, then when?  This vision has to include the following things (and this obviously a very rough, initial inexhaustive list):

  • A focus on sustainability and the need to live within the limits of the planet
  • A focus on human welfare, rights and well-being
  • An economic and political system that prioritises the two factors above all else – and sees the economic system as a means towards these ends rather than being the end in itself. It would therefore reject the doctrine of neoliberalism and what it entails – from the sanctity of the market and the primacy of economic growth through to the dominance of targets and measurement in every area of public life (e.g. education). This would give us an exciting opportunity to re-shape politics, economics and society to actually give us better lives – from re-thinking the working week through to  moving away from our damaging obsession with consumerism.
  • Listen to, and deal with, some of the underlying reasons why people voted for Brexit – including:
    • Deal with the wealth inequality in this country that is not only morally indefensible but also destroys people’s lives and drives them to feel resentment towards those competing with them for income
    • Address the issue of immigration head-on – choose a fair, compassionate policy and be clear about it
    • A change in the political system with proportional representation to ensure people get their voices heard
  • Greater investment and improvement in public services and the social safety nets that are so important for a good society, with innovation around the ideas of how we can best support each other – such as the citizen’s income.
  • An education system that is fit for the twenty-first century – that is human-centred and innovative, rather than simply aiming to maximise people’s potential as economic actors.  One that promotes personal development, well-being and life skills such as empathy, media awareness and critical thinking.

Of course, we are so immersed in the dogma of neoliberalism that it may well be extremely difficult to get people to shift their ideology and ‘operating systems’ as some of its assumptions are so deep rooted – for example, the idea that economic growth is essential.  Yet this shift is exactly what we must undertake, and the aftershock of the Brexit debate could be the ideal moment for people to realise what is at stake in society, and be open to a vision of a better, more progressive world to counter the potential lurch to the right in UK politics that Brexit could threaten.

In short – people are crying out for a hopeful, progressive vision of the future. So, perhaps we have an opportunity as progressives. But we need to take it – right now.

Email me if you’d like to help us get something moving!

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2 Comments

  1. Eleanor Reeves

    Hi Richard. I so agree with your comments. I am still reeling from the outcome of the referendum and all the fall out and unease, which was inevitable. It is going to take a lot of strength and courage for our politicians and all of us as individuals to go forward in a civilised manner.

    • Thanks Eleanor – yes, agreed. I think we need something to give people hope that something better is possible – at the moment much of the commentary on the left is based on criticism and concern rather than showing some leadership on how to move forward. I’m having some conversations with people on this at the moment – we’ll see what they bring…

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