People were suffering. From austerity, hardship, erosion of their mental health, state-sponsored discrimination, and the uncertainty of a changing world.
The government wasn’t listening. The government wasn’t leading.
Then visitors turned up in shiny buses. They spoke of important things like control, democracy, money, jobs. They talked about a distant shadowy entity that was doing the people wrong. They talked about the modern-day raiders it was sending to take things away from us.
They raised the flag of a big change and taking a stand.
The people, filled with the restless energy that wants things better, weighed down by lives where control seemed missing, said, ‘Sure, why not?’
And here we are. In a place where, it turns out, not many of us really wanted to be.
If we had better politicians, maybe we wouldn’t be here. Most of them are deaf to story. That’s what lost Labour the last election: the failure to have its own story people could believe in, and to tell it loudly. Although it’s much improved (though uncomfortable in its skin), it still doesn’t seem to have grasped this. And in any case was muted by a media focused on the Tory civil war soap opera.
We needed someone to see the stories that were growing and take an authoritative stand in their path to shine a light on the truth. But maybe that wouldn’t have worked anyway. People talk about the rise of ‘post-factual humans’, and the experts and politicians who did speak out seemed to make little impression.
Once the energy for change was ignited, it didn’t want to be dampened by any outside influences, having been denied for so long.
We have, at least an end-point for the Cameron era – though the prospect of what might replace him is terrifying. I guess it is appropriate to give him credit for time spent. But let’s not forget he has been an awful prime minister, and history will remember him so. At least he wore a nice suit, literally and metaphorically, which others on his team might not have done.
But he consistently refused to fulfil the core purpose of the job we took him on for: serve the people. And wasn’t as if nobody pointed it out. Routinely, every few weeks, thousands of people took to the streets to protest about what his government was doing. He was the Protest PM, the archetypal bad ruler who wounds the land.
Maybe there’s a slim chance that we can remember something fundamental:
If people are suffering, politics has work to do.
It certainly has work to do now. People are bruised on all sides. EU leaders feel like we’ve beaten up the thing they spend their lives making, and their instinct is to lash out in return. People here who voted Leave are seeing the shining vision dissipate, replaced by difficult work, unintended consequences and broken trust.
The energy for change has not been satisfied, I think. Only blown off steam. As it builds up again it’s likely to become bitter or hopeless or hurtful.
Maybe, just maybe, we can press pause and recognise that the country needs healing. It need sorting out properly. The question is whether we can interrupt the freight train of ‘how things are’.
It could so easily descend into right-wing subjugation and hatred of anyone who’s different. Many of us fear it.
So maybe it’s time for a shout, a howl, a roar.
A stop and think with a cup of tea.
Why can’t we have a proper constitution? Why can’t we have proportional representation, and break the myth of red team vs blue team to embrace multi-party politics built more on consensus than antagonism? (Goodness knows people in the red and blue teams are pulling apart anyway.)
Why can’t we have citizen’s income? Why can’t we have community banking? Why can’t we have a well-funded public health service? Why can’t we support the people who most need it with generous humanity? Why can’t we have a massive drive for clean energy? Why can’t we boost microbusinesses, creative industries and social enterprise?
We could do all these things and more. We could. Except that’s not how things are, you see.
Well, newsflash. Things aren’t how they were. Suddenly, shockingly.
Pain won. Is it going to keep winning? Or shall we, you know, leave it?