Brexit. The slightly breakfast cereal sounding portmanteau coined for one of the biggest decisions facing the UK since the turn of the century (or the indyref if you’re up in Scotland). A poll where every vote counted in deciding the fate of our future: whether we’d remain in the European Union, or leave it.
And what a result it was.
51.9% of the country decided it was better to leave; 48.1% had chosen to stay. Less than 4% separating the two.
When the BBC announced that there was no way Remain could make up the numbers, I shed silent tears. I’m no Politician, but I am politically engaged; watching the results of counting offices come in, and the stacking up of areas that were majority leave throughout the night had created this odd sense of disbelief, and the final verdict was betrayal crashing around my ears.
Betrayal – isn’t that a bit strong? the question asked by numerous people across social media.
No. No it isn’t.
This was the first time I’ve seen people my age, younger, older, massively invested in politics. Or if not massively, invested to the point where it was a large part of daily conversation in the run up (and ongoing aftermath). For many young people, this was the biggest decision we’ve ever made in helping set the course of our futures.
I’m not going to talk about the way the results went (obviously I’m remain), and I think right now that point is moot as we’ve got to deal with the hand that we’ve been dealt. It’s been a week, the horse has been beaten. So instead I wanted to raise the issue that’s been bugging me recently: the ‘everyone is suddenly a politician’ memes; the ‘I don’t see you trying to become a politician’ comments; the ‘can everyone just shut up already, I’m bored, change the record’ tuts of derision.
No I’m not a politician, but as I said, this is a massive issue, and people generally react to massive issues by talking about them. For many it has thrown their future into complete and total disarray. The country has been thrown into a period of political turmoil and our economy is teetering along the border of uncertainty. It’s a scary time. The timescale of ‘long-term’ is shrinking.
It’s political ignorance that has landed us in this mess.
That’s the bottom line here. We’re now an electorate divided; it follows a period where we just didn’t care.
Politics has almost always been an elitist game. Historically it has belonged to the affluent, in modern times we have (had) Eton boys leading, increasing the divide between themselves and the nation. This only plays into their hands, not ours: it’s very hard to be interested in things that don’t relate to you remotely, it’s understandable, but it means low voting turnout, a low level of understanding, a low level of political education. A really low desire to learn about it.
‘Regrexit’, those using the referendum as a ‘fuck you’ to Cameron, and some of the reasons I’ve seen to leave, plus the percentage of the eligible voters that didn’t even vote, show that our society is woefully lacking in political education. Politics is important. It may not be as riveting as creative media, or make daily dinner table conversation – and I’m not saying that it should be that way – but politics decide how we live our lives. It decides so much that not having an interest in it is effectively like saying ‘I don’t want a say in the things that affect me’. The majority of the electorate, the everyday person, not showing an interest allows those who want to exploit, the ability.
It’s this lack of political education that allowed people to think that their vote wouldn’t matter (it’s a referendum, all votes matter), or that their vote was a protest against Cameron (it wasn’t). We weren’t calling for one party over another, we weren’t counting by constituencies. Every person registered to vote counted. And yet under 75% of us turned up in total.
In the last two years I’ve seen such a surge in political engagement in my generation. It shows that things are possibly changing, but we need more. We need actual education at a younger age so that when we turn 18 and that ability is handed to us, we can make informed decisions and understand the importance of our votes. We need places available for us to find unbiased, truthful articles and more people creating spaces for political conversation, instead of telling each other to shut up and they don’t want to hear it. We need more of what we’ve created from this referendum. We need more of this passion, this energy. We need to nurture it instead of squashing it with choruses of ‘enough already!!’.
We also need politicians to be in touch with the electorate, but that’s another post entirely.