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A long time in politics


A week is a long time in politics’. So said Prime Minister Harold Wilson over fifty years ago. The week has been truly spectacular – and not in the best sense. Amid some well-crafted speeches from various sides there has been some spectacular self-serving sophistry and arrogance. Some gaping chasms of uncertainty opened up. Even the pundits were lost for words. After the Prime Minister lost the vote on her Brexit deal and within 24 bewildering hours repulsed a vote of no-confidence, the general public has some brief respite. But in Westminster and Brussels, behind the scenes and before the cameras, the frenetic horse-trading continues.

So what are we to make of all this? Where now?

The options before the nation are few. A second referendum? I am opposed in principle to referenda. They do not fit well with our form of representative democracy. They are blunt instruments with which to address hugely complex questions. They are binary in nature and so produce highly polarized and unhelpful exchanges. Few people really seem to be listening to anyone else. All are eager to get their own well-honed messages heard. And referenda open the way for cynical and sometimes possibly illegal media manipulation. The controversy over Facebook’s use of algorithms shows that.

Can I see a second referendum as a way forward if I am generally opposed to referenda? Only as a last resort. Why? Millions of ordinary people would feel that the result had been stolen from them if ‘Remain’ triumphed. If the outcome was again fairly evenly split, a long and costly exercise might solve very little and perpetuate uncertainty. Any really decisive majority seems unlikely. And what would the question be?

Some are suggesting a ‘citizen’s assembly’ – an idea which deserves to be explored even if it is unfamiliar to us. My hope is that our democratically elected politicians will ditch their clichés and bend their backs to avoid another referendum by being fearless enough to reach out across traditional divides.

As with Brexit so with everyday life. So a couple out of many possible conclusions:

  1. Sometimes you have to settle for outcomes which are less than perfect in the name of maintaining relationships and forging community.

  2. You have to hope that your trust will inspire trust in others with the real risk that you may appear naïve and be open to exploitation.

  3. You have to use your imagination to find some fresh solutions.

  4. You have to listen truly and not simply wait deafly for your turn to speak.

I have not lost trust in our political process, damaged as it is. I will not simply shrug and say ‘it’s all a mess made by politicians’. I do see some signs of politicians thinking new thoughts. I do trust that our politicians, maybe after more spectacular moments, will avoid the resort to another referendum. Trust, community and imagining something different are, after all, central to Christian faith.


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