The Five Stages of EU Grief: What Now for the UK?

29/06/2016 11:52

I first realised that the odds for Remain were about to plummet when i was campaigning for Labour on council estates in Peckham for Sadiq Khan on the run up to the mayoral election in April. This was a Labour stronghold and when asked how the locals would vote in the EU referendum, about half said 'don't know' and half said they'd 'leave'. Not one said they'd stay. At the same time, other Labour members did not seem so keen on us even asking the question (though it was required) on the EU and focused purely on the Mayoral contest, perhaps as for elected officials it is not a smart question to pose coming from a Pro-EU party, when over half the electorate want out. So this is not a crime, but the closer it got to the EU referendum, I saw how badly the EU campaign had been organised, especially in comparison to the mayoral campaign just seven weeks before.

When I tried to talk about the negative responses on the doorstep, & my general worry over the outcome of the referendum with friends, every conversation started and ended with 'we won't leave the EU' as 'no one would be that stupid'. Even on the night of the referendum itself, I went to an event at my old grad school, the London School of Economics, and the professors and speakers talked of 'if', or 'in the unlikely event' that we leave, predicting a slight win for Remain even amidst the shocking results from Newcastle around midnight when we could quite clearly see that we were not getting the results we needed to win the referendum.

The following days after the referendum have been a like of wave of the five stages of grief: anger, denial, bargaining, depression but rather than acceptance, further division. Although I think after seven weeks I'm finally coming to the final stage of acceptance (of the outcome of the vote, not of what will actually occur, as that remains to be seen). This is because the main thing to strike me at that event at LSE last Thursday was that regardless of the outcome of the vote, there are seismic and deep seated issues which have been swept under the carpet in British politics, which have finally been given the space to surface. These wouldn't go away if we'd have won. It may above been even more volatile, as the anger from factions of the leave side have been proven to show a much uglier and more violent face compared to the cosmopolitan, liberal elite down in London who largely vote for remain. We've seen this even with the vote to leave winning, with the rise in racist attacks in public on anyone from schools children to second generation news reporters. So it's time to realise that if we don't accept these concerns, there's no way on earth we'll be able to address them.


So in light of this, what seems most important to me is to confront these divisions and rather than shaming half the population as uneducated fools, we might do well to try and understand what the concerns are of the leave voters were. This is especially poignant for us in the Labour Party, as a party who used to want to represent many of the Brexit voters who later felt disenfranchised and went to UKIP or got disillusioned altogether with British politics and failed to vote. If we carry on being complacent about the status quo and sneering at others with different views, then maybe we deserve this loss. Perhaps we have brought this on ourselves. I mean if we'd just got over ourselves two months ago and realised we might actually leave, perhaps more people would have got out of their metaphorical philosophers armchairs and done something.


It may sound disloyal to the group which I am from to undermine my own peers, but that is not my intention. I don't want to leave the EU anymore than the most pro-remain campaigner out there, I actually work for the European Commission. All I know is that the divisions on either side are being perpetuated by a wall coming up across swathes of the population, where the majority of people only know people who voted the same way as them, so it becomes difficult to have a an open and informed debate about the actual issues and persuade anyone of the truth. I, for one, know that there were only 2 leave voters on my Facebook feed of over about 650, and they only posted on the day of the election, as they knew the backlash they'd receive (and they did). Not a great atmosphere for freedom of expression.


Earlier on I mentioned that I'd accepted the vote, but not the outcome. This is because one thing this vote has brought is uncertainty. Anything could and might happen, so now is not the time to be complacent. We have a complete lack of a strategy from the leader of the winning Leave campaign, the same people who are already reneging on promises made in the campaign. Therefore it is fairly likely that the overwhelmingly pro-EU members of the House of Commons might call for a vote of no confidence, if and when we end up with an unelected PM in October as the Tories plan. Clearly this is the expected course of events of the Parliamentary Labour Party who have been resigning by the hour over the last few days.


The vote of no confidence in Corbyn today is of course not a pleasant experience for Jeremy Corbyn, or the party, as it's not great to air our dirty laundry in public, but unfortunately I hate to say that it really is necessary as this issue goes much deeper than one person, or indeed parliamentary politics if we accept that we've lost touch with core voters who voted for Brexit. The idea that our Labour Party is fit to fight for our right to remain in the EU is not one that even I can buy after the luke warm campaign I saw on the ground. The idea that Corbyn is able to get us out of this situation is also not one I can accept, as unfortunately, as leader of the opposition he had a part to play in getting us here. The Labour leader has done fantastically at engaging the youth vote and is exceptionally popular in his constituency seat and in London having been elected continuously for over 30 years. The problem is that as with most socialists, and I include my self in this to a certain extent, your politics tends to appeal largely to the very same cosmopolitan, liberal elite that are already voting for you, or for remain. You end up in a sort of bubble, unable to engage with those outside, as we saw with the lack of interaction with other parties on the run up to the EU Referendum.


We need a leader who can talk to the other side, engage with older leave voters who may live in northern areas of the country, Wales or any areas which may have lost out to globalisation; and explain to them how it was not the EU who was blame for the issues affecting them, but globalisation. We need someone of the newer generation of Labour politics who might have grown up in a working class background having to accept globalisation, who's now accepted it but also learnt how to restrain it. The message of how best to harness globalisation (preferably through a regional bloc such as the EU which offers an aspect of protection from a race to the bottom and social protection) is key.

It might not be so simple as this really is a time of crisis for our Great country with everything on the line from the Union of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England; to the ability of our two main parties to succeed; our status as the financial centre of the world with our strong pound, (ex) triple A rating; and our much cherished rich multicultural ethos. I fear that if we don't accept what has happened, and continue to disrespect the will of the people or snub those who disagree them, we will become as much to blame for what happens as the ones we try to criticise. Despite trying to swat up for 15 years on politics and economics, I've had to accept that politics is not always about being right, but more so about listening and compromise as we don't know everything. So what now for the UK? Let's hope our government and opposition pull together, face up to this challenge brought about by the Government, and deliver us strong enough teams to get us out of this mess, or failing that, give us one more chance to exercise our democratic right this year in a general election to get a government who can bring some stability to this uncertain situation. Then let's hope that we vote for a party who listens, invests in our country and try to resolve our divisions rather than pouring oil on the fire.