I’ve been sitting here in my kitchen, trying to figure it all out, reflect on the momentous events of the last week and make some sort of sense of them all. I’ve been round the garden and contemplated the weeds (they are taking over, yes they are). I’ve thought about changing the beds, planning some lessons, but to no avail. Here I am, stuck in front of the computer, watching the news unfold before my fascinated gaze.
I’m supposed to be writing about the panel debate (click the link for a recording of the debate) I chaired at the Wellington Festival of Education. I’m supposed to be commenting that of course we all agreed that inclusion, as a concept in our schools, is a tricky one to define, that of course the debate was carried out in a respectful way, and that the panellists were interesting and well informed, bringing a wealth of experience to the fold-up chairs. Of course they did, I asked them to contribute because I knew that was exactly what they would do.
I’ve got a book to read about bullying, and a blog post to write both in review and as a reflection on both my own behaviour, and the behaviour I see around me. There’s any number of experiences I have had in school this week which are giving me a banquet of food for thought. I’ve forgotten non-uniform days and packed lunches, musical instruments and reminders for blazers. I caught up briefly with a friend after we had dropped our respective children off and before we got on with our days, and agreed that the world, since last Friday morning, has gone bananas.
Now, it might surprise you to know, dear reader, that I do not, in the everyday run of things, engage in much political discussion with my friends and neighbours. I do to an extent in times of electioneering, I must admit, but not usually. My friends and neighbours have rolled their eyes at me and smiled in that way that tells me they are not remotely interested and I am in danger of becoming a bore on all sorts of subjects, so I tend to leave it alone, but this week I have been talking politics, with anyone who will listen. And this is what I found out.
Those people who voted ‘Remain’ in the EU Referendum are upset, angry and confused. There it is. I freely admit to being one of these. About three weeks ago I sat in a café outside the Reijksmuseum in Amsterdam, watching my children play (yes, outside a major museum in a capital city), having travelled all the way from my house by train in a matter of a few hours and enjoyed viewing some of the most fabulous art and bringing my entire family to the point of vocal frustration (WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH, MUMMY!), and thought how happy and proud I was to be a part of it. I have huddled together with those with whom I know I will agree, and we have bewailed our fate. I feel as if I have lost something precious. But, despite the overwhelming screeching on social media, the mood outside of the screen is different. There is a quiet satisfaction, and a sort of air of, ‘how could you be surprised, Nancy?’
For a while I was pretty sure that when people voted in the referendum, they were really voting on who they thought they were. Did they see themselves as European, or British? I was all prepared to write a blog on identity.
And then there was democracy. Many people who voted Leave, did so on a matter of democratic principle. They had found out about the workings of the EU and they were not impressed. Too much like a gravy train, too little like being of the people and for the people. I was all ready and waiting to come up with a story about listening to each other, and who is actually in charge and not being sure it is the elected representatives. And after I’d finished writing that one, I was going to think about what this all means for our rather unhandily unwritten constitution.
And then there was trade. Now, I’m no economist, but even I can see that there are various, and powerful, business interests both in favour and against being part of the EU, for matters of self-interest. As far as I can see, it depends who you trade with as to which view you will take. TTIP is in there somewhere, too.
And immigration. The subject that has caused the greatest ire, the greatest insult, and to me, the greatest despair that such prejudice should be put on show for all to see: legitimised. Such violence on the streets of Yorkshire. And when it comes down to it, what does the nature of that particular debate say about the UK as an inclusive society? I was not, and I am not impressed. Not in the slightest.
And that’s before we get to the omnishambles we see unfolding before our very eyes amongst our so-called political elite.
But when all is said and done, the thing that I keep coming back to is this: insulation. No, not the sort that goes through electrical wires and has been the subject of much discussion in the classroom lately, and not the sort of insularity that has been a subject of debate upon the news, but that which insulates, or disconnects people from the political process, or politics generally.
Up until last week, thanks to my privilege and my economic status, I have only really been directly affected by politics once before, and even then, I escaped pretty much by the skin of my teeth and an accident of birth. I was depressed by the result of the last general election, but I can afford to console myself that it is only for five years, at the most, and hunker down and ride it out.
But there are many people, some of whom I have talked to this week, who do not share my complacency. Their lives, unlike mine, are directly influenced by the decisions made by faraway politicians, and last Thursday, they had their say.
And the thing that I think is this (and I am sure that there will be many to tell me that I am wrong, and I am more than happy to listen if that is the case): that we have all been victims of a sleight of hand. Not only have we partaken in a nationwide leadership campaign of a UK political party (and one that has rather ignominiously bitten the dust only this lunchtime), disguised as a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, we forgot that it was our domestic politicians who would have made these laws anyway, to keep us from falling off ladders, or poisoning ourselves with carbon monoxide, keeping our homes insulated or any number of regulations that do not affect my ability to work directly, and will not change now that the political landscape has undergone some sort of geographical convulsion.
You see, I have had considerable experience, over the years, not in drafting legislation, but in sorting out What Really Happened, when everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else, attempting to shift responsibility from their own narrow shoulders. For years, I have been helping young people to see what went wrong and to make amends. And I think that all the unpopular decisions, about food labelling, buildings, health and safety at work, cuts in spending to the NHS and education, closures of libraries and any number of other acts of ideological austerity enacted by people at home, have been blamed on the faraway scapegoat that is the European Parliament.
‘It wasn’t me, guv.’
Yes. It was.