I have had several requests through facebook from voters on both sides of the EU issue on how to find a healthy, positive way forward. As deeply upset as many of us still are, it is difficult to think in positive, helpful terms when there still so much anger about this referendum taking place at all.
But I have put some thought into this and wish to share some ideas. In conflict resolution and mediation, lot of weight is placed on listening. This is a deep kind of listening, not one in which words are heard and then our point of view put forward, ‘but, but, but….’ Having done a fair bit of EU speaking and hustings, I am familiar with the riposte and parry required in refuting arguments and arguing a case.
Deep listening is understanding what is behind the words a person is saying. Many have suggested that much of the ‘leave’ vote was an anti-establishment vote, not an anti-EU vote. Tim Farron has pointed out that worries over housing, lack of school places and an under-resourced NHS were salient factors in the ‘leave’ vote.
I would further suggest that fear is behind many of the views of those who voted against the referendum. We live in a global world, a shrinking world, one that is quickly changing with technological advances. Those who voted leave, among them the majority older people, I suggest would like a return to a simpler world of pen and paper, not email, where everyone knows everyone in the village and stays there their entire life. But that is not the world young people live in – we train in different cities and countries, we work around the UK and in the rest of the world, we fall in love and have relationships which transcend borders. Younger people understand and embrace a fluid, global world. Many older people are frightened by it.
So in moving forward, I suggest deep listening needs to take place: within families broken by this vote; within communities driven apart; and within the wider United Kingdom which is divided by national votes. We need to listen to why people voted the way they did – what their concerns and fears really are. And express to them in a kind and gentle way what our concerns and fears are. It is in having deep, listening conversations that we might be able to move forward.
Working together for the common good is something those of all political parties wish to achieve. I am hoping that as Liberal Democrats we can be a positive, pro-active force for letting our values of fairness, freedom and community help bring healing to this troubled land.
Environmental concerns, personal freedoms, fighting discrimination and building a more inclusive and equal society does not change whether we are in or out of Europe. From my point of view, being in Europe would make all of these goals easier to achieve. But the goals remain nevertheless, and we need to continue to fight for the values we believe in.
I would encourage all of you to find ways to bring your communities together. Explore inter-generational initiatives where young and old work together, learn together and listen to each other. Provide ways which bring those of different cultural backgrounds together, building relationships and appreciation of our rich, multi-cultural society. And, perhaps most tricky, creatively think of ways we can bridge the class divide, so that those who have understand and listen to the concerns of those who have not. Many ‘working-class’ communities voted ‘leave’ and need to be heard.
Everyone one of us needs to do all we can to build a more cohesive, inclusive and integrated society where all are welcome, valued and listened to.
* Kirsten Johnson is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Oxford East