Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
We are where we are. I think we can all agree on that. Some of us are very happy about it, and some of us are struggling with the getting used to it thing. A few are still pushing against it, but I think even they don’t expect to achieve anything. When we leave Europe, we’ll find out what life’s going to look like. It may be better than we fear, and it may not. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.
Except it isn’t. Yes, we’re going to leave. Yes, it’ll take time. Anyone who thought everything would change overnight needs to get themselves to the thinking gym, because that was never going to happen. When it does happen, we’ll find out what the new landscape looks like. Some of it will hardly change at all, and some of it will be unrecognisable. All of this is obscure today, but it’ll gradually come into focus over the next few years.
We split into three broad categories
What I want to talk about is what happens after that, because, once we’re separate from mainland Europe, we’ll have the opportunity to make a new world for ourselves. We’re going to have a golden opportunity to do something rather special with ourselves, but we’ve got to start thinking about it now.
As a population, we split into three broad categories. The first group looks back to the past. They remember, or dream of, those days of Empire, when Great Britain was respected and feared as we strode across the world stage. They want to restore those things that they believe make us different and special. Traditions and symbols are important to this group, and voices have been raised to bring back non-metric measurements, and money, and even hanging. And Grammar Schools, and blue passports. And some kind of cap on immigration.
The people who look to the future
There’s a second group, which is still ranged in opposition to the first group. They look to the present. They want to stay in Europe, or as close as we can. They want to stay in the European market, and keep free movement of people, and they like sharing laws and common interests. Some of them believe it might still be possible to overturn the referendum result, or win a second referendum. The third group is very small still, but it’ll grow in time, hopefully. These are the people who look to the future.
The first two groups represent most of us. One side or the other of a bitter argument over our membership of the European Union. Like it or not, most of us are still fighting that battle, but it’s over. We need to look up and catch a glimpse of the future. Let me ask you to put your arms down, and your disappointments, for a while, and walk with me through the next few years to the day when we’re on our own. Like the child of a family, leaving home for the first time, realising that arguments with siblings and frustration against parental rule is no longer relevant.
We’ll end up getting stuffed by the government of the time
On that morning we’ll have a lot of interim laws and arrangements to keep business as usual going, but from that very moment we’re going to be able to decide what we actually want. We won’t need to ask anyone else, or conform to anyone else’s model. On that day we’ll have the choice to start building a brand-new world according to how we want it, or we’ll end up getting stuffed by the government of the time, putting in place what they want.
My dream is that we start getting together to discuss the future we want. We should talk about our place in the world, what sort of legal and education systems we really want, and what kind of NHS, and what form our armed forces should take. We could decide to change our political system, and our relationships with our own people. We could become more inclusive and environmental, we could decide to protect our heritage and our countryside, and we could sort out whatever differences there are currently between groups of people living here, so they can all feel as if this is their country as well as ours.
Same old politicians, same old class structure
What’s the alternative? Same old, same old. Same old politicians, same old class structure, same old schools, same old businessmen raking off as much as they can, same old tax rules, same old inequalities. Some people feel that we live in a thoroughly well-governed country where everyone gets along fine and there’s no need to change anything at all, apart from getting away from those foreigners over the sea, and they won’t have any interest in changing anything. But other opinions are available.
I don’t remember the end of the last great war. If only it really was the last… There was a general election, and the new government had a huge majority, because they promised change. The people who had been fighting that terrible war, and suffering hardships and deprivation and personal losses, wanted to make something better, so they could feel that the war had been worth it. They wanted a world for their children to grow up in that would be better than the world was before.
To serve everyone better than they do now
That government created the NHS, the welfare state, improved education in schools and universities, and a lot of new laws that protected the health and welfare of the people. All the people. That was their aim. Many opposed them at the time, and many would still like to roll back the changes they made. I’m not arguing about whether they succeeded or failed here. I’m suggesting that this Brexit thing is a similar opportunity for us to take stock, look hard at our society and its institutions, and dream a little about how they could be made to serve everyone better than they do now.
Inner circle – percentage of votes. Outer ring – number of MPs elected
I have a few ideas, and I’d like to kick this off. First of all, I like inclusivity. If you vote LibDem or Labour or Green, and there are sufficient numbers of you, I believe that you should be represented in Parliament. There are currently 650 MPs. If your party, polls 1% of the votes, that means you should have 6.5 MPs. 10% should get you 65 MPs. There are about 46,000,000 voters. 1% represents 460,000, or half a million. 10% is 4.6 million voters. There’s currently 1 Green MP, and no UKIP MPs. Please explain to me how that’s inclusive or fair or right. We could just leave everything as it is, or in a few years, we could make it work better. Let’s talk about it.
Our place at the top table is no longer assured
We will have an opportunity to decide what armed forces we should have. We’ve sent vast numbers of soldiers all over the world in the past, when we had an Empire, and when the peace of the world was threatened we were able to convert our country into an effective war machine. In the future, we’re going to have our own territorial waters to protect, and our place at the top table is no longer assured, or even welcome, by many of the great powers, which have been edging us out for decades, asking for our support to bolster what they were going to do anyway, or ignoring us.
We can still support NATO and the United Nations, but we shouldn’t go adventuring in far-flung countries any more. We haven’t done much good lately, and we haven’t made any friends either. We could forego those nuclear missiles and submarines, trim down our defence forces into a reasonable size to defend us and work in conjunction with our allies, and at the same time we could concentrate on getting a grip on the defence budget. We could stop giving weapons to unpleasant regimes as well. I’d like that. Wouldn’t you?
We should encourage children to think, and to ask questions
We talk a lot about our education system, but the problem we have is that we don’t know what it’s for and what it’s supposed to be doing. We prosecute parents for going on holiday with their children, but we don’t spend enough time helping families who are unable or unwilling to take advantage of the educational opportunities we give them. Children still leave school after 11 years without being able to read.
We need to rethink the whole education thing. Nowadays finding things out is easy because of the Internet. The difficulty is in making sure you’re being given the right information. We should encourage children to think, and to ask questions. They should be able to have a conversation, and express their thoughts in a way that makes sense to others, and they should be able to listen properly. Therein lies the basis of citizenship. And a child who is able to think will be capable of learning far more than one who isn’t.
If we want good healthcare we should pay more for it
We make a big deal of the NHS, and it is a triumph, but we manage it terribly. It’s subject to endless government tinkering, and it’s underfunded. If we want good healthcare we should pay more for it, otherwise available procedures and medicines are going to be denied even more to various groups, and increasing numbers of people will die unnecessarily. We don’t need to accept that. We can make changes.
We don’t have enough housing, and what we do have is far too expensive. Everyone should have the opportunity to live somewhere adequate, and it should be decent, protected, and affordable. I know many people who pay rent that’s far more than the cost of a mortgage would be, but the rules prevent them from being offered a mortgage, and the high rents prevent them from saving for a deposit. If your parents can afford it, they have to stump up the deposit for you. If they’re not well-off, you’ve got no chance of buying anything. How is that fair?
We need to become fit for purpose again
There’s a skills shortage. We aren’t training enough of our own people to fill skilled job vacancies, so we have to recruit from other countries. We don’t pay enough for the less skilled jobs, so local people refuse or can’t afford to take them up, and we bring in cheap labour from other countries to do those jobs. We won’t solve either of these problems by stopping immigration. We could make a huge difference by spending money on better education and training, and paying people enough to live on.
We’re out of sync with ourselves. We’ve forgotten that there’s a link between what you spend and what you earn; that you need to train people for the jobs that are going to be available in the future; that you need to encourage everyone to take part, and give them all equal opportunities; that you need to stimulate those opportunities as well. We’ve lived in this stuffy old country for too long. We need to clear out lots of the old clobber that gathers dust and is never used, we need a spring-clean and some new furniture, and a lick of paint. We need to become fit for purpose again.
And let’s spend a bit if time asking ourselves what our purpose actually is.
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
Image: Max Pixel under CC BY 2.0
Image: Jonund under CC BY 2.0
Image: thomasswilliams under CC BY 2.0
Image: Chatham House under CC BY 2.0
Image: public domain under CC BY 2.0
Image: Furfur under CC BY 2.0
Image: campaignagainstarmstrade under CC BY 2.0
Image: lynnefeatherstone under CC BY 2.0
Image: KasugaHuang under CC BY 2.0
Image: nasacommons under CC BY 2.0