This morning, those of us who got any sleep woke to a deeply divided country and a vote in favour of exiting the European Union. The quest to answer one question has inevitably thrown up numerous others about the future of the UK and our democracy – questions to which we must find answers together.
As I have written previously, the immediate challenge is to interpret what a vote to leave should mean for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Referenda necessarily reduce complex decisions to binary choices, which reveal more about what we’re against than what we’re for. With at least four possible options in front of us, and no clear steer on which the public prefer, the tone and focus of the debate must shift from campaigning to consensus building. The coming months must see a genuinely inclusive discussion about what we want our relationship with the EU to be.
This discussion is the start of a, perhaps even more pressing, longer term challenge to repair the fractures that have been revealed within our society and build a shared vision for the future of the country. As my colleague Harry has written, the referendum has brought to the fore political divisions that defy the left-right political spectrum on which our political system is based. Linked with this, it has shown the extent of anti-politics and anti-establishment sentiments within the country – sentiments that have bubbled under (and occasionally on) the surface for a number of years, but which politicians have failed to address in any meaningful sense.
A new politics has been often promised, but never delivered. It’s hard to imagine a set of circumstances that would demand it more than those that face us now.
Image credit: so what now?, Andrew Fleming, Creative Commons License