What We Learned From Brexit

Attempting to find something positive from the whole traumatic Brexit experience.  I think we learned several (possibly surprising) things.

  1. Everyone is interested in politics.  Most of us thought that politics was a minority sport, only of interest to a few highly dedicated individuals.  But if we find a subject which people care about, and if they believe their vote can make a difference, then they get deeply involved.
  2. The system was not working, even for the people the system was working for.  Most of us thought that modern life in the UK was pretty good, or at least okay, for most people.  There were people at the margins who were struggling - such as the homeless, addicted, sick and disabled - but those in the mainstream were housed and fed, with jobs and TVs and smartphones.  We did not appreciate how most people were feeling, we did see how hurt and angry they were.  Liberals like me could see - and were happy to celebrate - a great deal of social progress, much of which had been achieved over the past half century, but we did not understand the impact of imposing this progress on everyone else.  We saw justice being achieved and wrongs being righted, but many people saw the country they knew and belonged to being taken away from them, alien customs and culture replacing the way things used to be.  Even when they were happy with the change, far too often it was forced upon them, not freely chosen.
  3. Identity trumps prosperity.  Most of us thought that politics is all about delivering security, comfort and economic success - or, at the very least, about promising these things.  And quite a lot of the campaign on both sides involved promising that their side was the only way to guarantee future prosperity.  But there was also a very strong counter-current: a consistent part of the 'leave' message was that the UK outside the EU would be richer and more successful, in the long run at least, but even if leaving would leave us poorer, this was an acceptable price for regaining our sovereignty.  A significant part of the message was that continuing membership in the EU would result in losing our national identity, that we would be subsumed within the greater European project, and escaping this fate was worth any price.  Retaining - or regaining - our identity was far more important than almost anyone understood.

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