So today was supposed to be a big day. The government has been insisting for months that this was the day we legally left the EU. You might have seen the adverts to tell you to “get ready for Brexit” but then it didn’t exactly tell you how to get ready. However, we’re not leaving. We’ve known that for about a week now when an “anonymous” letter was sent off to the EU asking for an extension. So, what do we do now?
Whether we leave the EU, or we don’t, this country will still be divided. If we stay in the EU, one half of the country that voted to leave will be pissed off. If we leave the EU, the other half will be pissed off. If we leave without a deal, plenty more people will be pissed off.
One way or another, the current political situation is not sustainable, and we need to find a way out one way or another. This country hasn’t worked for a long time. It’s been divided for nearly four years at this point by a referendum that pitted us into Leavers and Remainers. The third election in four years on the 12th December is not likely to help at all either with ironing out any divisions.
Now this isn’t all down to Brexit but the referendum brought out the differences between us and made them permanent. It did this more than any election because it was final. The referendum was one vote, intended to settle an issue in the Conservative party (though it did anything but settle that). The result regardless of what happens will define Britain for at least the next century.
So where do we go from here? Well first of all, we can start being kinder and more considerate.
We often pass the homeless on our walks into town. We live in an area unlike the middle-class neighbourhoods most of us University of Leeds students grew up in.
We often pass people on the street without a second glance. We will pass a man struggling to get up the hill on Royal Park Road in a wheelchair without batting an eyelid. We will pass him, ignoring his struggle to push himself up a hill you probably try to avoid on the walk into uni.
We will pass him not bothering to find out that he needs £10 to catch a train to Skipton but has no money himself. We pass him not realising that if he doesn’t get a train, then he has nowhere to stay. The buses to Skipton have stopped past 5pm and a man who might have needed our help if we just stopped is either faced with wheel chairing himself 30 miles or hacking out a night in Leeds when temperatures will get close to freezing.
We argue to not give money to charities or buy food for the homeless people we see everyday because they might “spend it on alcohol or drugs”. All the while us students do exactly the same.
We pass because it’s easier to ignore an issue than acknowledge it. We don’t talk to each other or listen to each other’s’ experiences because deep down we really don’t care.
That’s what we do now in this country. We paper over the cracks and don’t notice that roads have deteriorated, our public services have faced the worst strains in years and there are more homeless people on the streets.
We ignore the real issues at Grenfell because it’s easier to treat it as a one-off event, one that could easily have been solved if the firefighters had done things differently.
The firefighters’ response to the blaze was flawed yes and there are things that could have been done differently. However, they didn’t cause the fire. Cutting corners to gentrify the building and cover it with cladding did. Sure it might have looked nicer from the outside after the cladding was put in place, but made the fire risk so much worse for those within.
Rather than solving things, the government’s inquiry has only made things worse by leaving any investigation into the cause of the fire and why it spread so quickly to the second phase. The victims and survivors of Grenfell sure know who to blame but we still don’t know the whole story.
If we can’t trust in our institutions, we need to start trusting ourselves and each other more. We need to stop walking past each other without smiling. We need to start having random conversations on the Tube, the bus or if you’re eating somewhere on campus. We need to sit back and listen when we do things wrong instead of immediately getting defensive. I’m definitely guilty of all this, that is for sure.
We all are in some way. It’s easy to write off a friend or someone you know who’s done you wrong as a bitch or a shit friend. It’s easy to cut someone off and not speak to them for months out of the blue because that’s easy. You can move on without thinking about the consequences because that’s easier than sitting down and trying to work things out.
It’s easier to call someone out on Twitter rather than speak to them face-to-face because again you don’t need to think about the consequences because they’re a face behind a screen.
I’m aware I’ve rambled on a bit and probably not made a lot of sense. However, if you are to take one thing away from this is that we need to rebuild that sense of community that’s been fractured by the toxicity of current politics.
It’s difficult for sure, particularly when the issues become so divisive that we start viewing reality differently. But we have to at least try if this country is going to survive. If we notice each other more, then we might have a chance of getting out of this mess.
As my wise Mum reassured me the day after Donald Trump got elected, things always get better even if they seem to be getting worse right now. She was a student when Thatcher was Prime Minister so I guess she has a point.