THE BLOG

The General Public Has Found Its Voice And It Likes The Sound Of It

10/01/2017 17:01

Politics dominated the headlines for much of last year, and it doesn't look set to change in 2017 with the recent resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK's ambassador to the EU. It seems Rogers forgot that he's supposed to be working in the background advising those in elected positions rather than 'becoming the story' with such a high-profile resignation at such a sensitive time...

Be it triumph, tragedy, or shock, the trigger for headlines may differ but the response from the general public is unanimous: they want their voice to be heard, and more importantly they want to make their mark.

This trend of a more outspoken public has shifted the political environment from a place where people felt side-lined - to a platform for the public to wield its united view.

Of course, this isn't the first time the public has found its voice. People have used protests and public votes to fight for justice and fairness for hundreds of years, and over incredibly important issues like racism, women's rights, human rights, poverty and war. The list is virtually endless.

We're living in a world that is constantly in a plight to strive and fight for equality, and we've been getting closer to achieving that goal every day. Or rather we were.

Recent global events, such as Donald Trump's unexpected US election win, suggest this fight for equality may have taken a back seat in order for us to focus on issues deemed more pertinent. But do we truly understand the consequences of our actions?

You can't expect to get everything you want without also being handed something you don't. Compromises make the world go round, so the important factor isn't whether or not you're willing to compromise, but what compromises are more acceptable than others?

Is it tolerable to allow your country to adopt a more archaic stance on women's rights, racism, and human rights, for the sake of simplicity - like finding a job more easily? If the level of immigration dips or is better regulated? If the health system is afforded more money? Can you truly say that putting your country's most important values on the line for a lot of 'ifs' and 'maybes' is acceptable?

Don't get me wrong. I was one of the 52% who voted in favour of Brexit. But the reasons behind my vote were founded on facts, not misinformation spread by the buffoons who were allowed to run the 'Leave' campaign.

I voted on behalf of small businesses like my own that don't export to Europe but are hindered by burdensome EU regulation. I voted for sovereignty - against the EU's move towards a political union in a "formal, legally binding irreversible way". I voted to protect our currency. I voted for change. Now ask yourself: why did you vote?

I'd hope if you voted to exit the European fold, it was for all of the above, but sadly the most worrying outcomes to the referendum are the strands of xenophobia that have weaved their way through our political systems. And this movement is not limited to the UK. While the Leave campaign used anti-immigration to rally the public, a core part of Trump's presidential campaign was also anti-immigration. We're also seeing Marine Le Pen fight for the French Presidency using anti-immigration as a core value.

Then there's the Austrian presidential election, which pitted far-right Freedom party candidate Norbert Hofer against far left independent and former leader of the Green party Alexander Van der Bellen. The vote was so close that they had to re-run the election; Van der Bellen won by just 30,863 votes. Thankfully he secured a second win.

The media dictates that xenophobia is rife and the votes for far-right candidates are proof that there are deep issues with immigration and integration. But is xenophobia really as endemic as the media would have us believe?

If you talk to people who voted for Trump, for Brexit, or even for Austria's Norbert Hofer, will you hear a resounding voice of xenophobia or is there an underlying, deeper reason that nobody's talking about?
I'd argue that rather than xenophobia a lot of people are in fact voting for independence. They're voting out of desperation for change, so much so that they'll allow someone that is so far from their ideals to take power if only to see that change unfold. If it means their country remains their own, if it means their children will get onto the employment ladder, if it means the healthcare the elderly receive is better funded. As the old adage goes: 'a change is as good as a rest'.

But while the far-right politicians play on these factors to win votes and elections, it's up to businesses and the media to use their power and influence to re-educate the public; to fight prejudice with tolerance, to tackle xenophobia with diversity, to combat ignorance with information, and quash lies with honesty.

If the public wants to be heard, they need to speak sense and understand what they are fighting for, and what they are accepting as a consequence of seeing change. It's up to us - as businesspeople, as politicians, as experts, as brands, as publishers and broadcasters - to give the public the facts and information they need to form a knowledgeable voice of reason that those in power will take on board.

We need to educate the general public on the economic benefits of immigration, demonstrate how diversity breeds creativity, why collaboration is the future, and that independence and racism do not go hand in hand. After all, how can you expect your fellow citizens to understand the importance of welcoming different race, religions and backgrounds if you as a business, publication and country don't lead by example?

The political whirlwind looks set to continue throughout this year with the upcoming French and German elections, the triggering of Article 50 and Trump's presidential inauguration. With the distinct possibility of more far-right politicians coming to power the need to promote diversity and inclusivity just intensified and it's up to businesses worldwide to lead the way.

Frances Dickens is CEO and co-founder of Astus Group

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