Britain is a divided nation. The Referendum has given us a direction of travel but it has also highlighted our divisions. The Leavers carried the day but diverge on what exactly leave means. The Remainers have lost but disagree on whether it is possible to reverse this and how far they should go in seeking to do that. Each of our major political parties are divided within themselves, with all semblance of party unity gone. The Union itself has become weakened. The things that once bound us together are showing serious signs of being frayed.
We are told “the people have spoken” and that their decision must not be betrayed. 52% is a clear majority but 48% is also a very significant minority. But those who claim to know what the 52% meant by “leave” are at best speculating and at worst hijacking the referendum result for their own political ends.
A referendum is a blunt instrument, offering a binary answer to a complex question. Interpretation of the result is as likely to be misinterpretation. The use of referendum is essentially alien to British democracy. We elect our MPs to govern on our behalf, not to do exactly what we want, and every five years we get an opportunity to comment on how they have done. We ask them to debate the key issues of the day, reflect and make the decisions that are best for the country. We are not there to instruct them what to do vote by vote. Beyond their election there is no way they can know the will of their constituents on each issue – through canvassing and the election result they can at best have a feel for what their constituents want but no certainty. And post-election each MP is charged with representing both those who voted for them and those who did not vote for them.
And democracy works on the basis of a strong opposition. The party not elect is given the title of Her Majesty’s Opposition. They are not the losers but those with an essential part still to play. Their alternative voice and that of other smaller parties is a vital part of the democratic process. Democracy is not dictatorship by the majority. The strength of democracy is in the value given to the voice not currently in the majority and the protection given to the voice of the minority.
In a divided country we do not need politicians who simply shout loader, manipulate for media attention, boast they know the true voice of the people or seek to frighten with dark scenarios of impending doom.
In a divided country we need politicians who know how to genuinely debate, who are open to seeing to value of another’s opinion, who are willing to allow their opinions to evolve, who recognise that their point of view holds only part of the truth and who recognise it is only with others, who may hold different opinions, that the best way forward will be found.
A divided country is a sign of political failure; it is the product of the short-comings of political parties. When consensus has not been built then democracy has been damaged. As long as the ego is King, then the common good has been forgotten. As long as we each cling to the rightness of our own position, then there can be no building of a greater vision.
Contemplating this divided nation at the altar rail I am given pause for thought as I encounter a high court judge kneeling next to a traveller family I know are being investigated for theft. Both have their hands outstretched to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. In that moment I catch a glimpse of a deeper unity, of a shared desire for something more than they each represent, a mutual acknowledgement of having fallen short and a longing for something better.
In the claim to live in a post-Christian era, we have nothing greater than ourselves to offer. All that is left is to arm wrestle opposing views into submission. It is perhaps only before the acknowledgement of something greater than ourselves that we can let go the rightness of our own conviction. It is perhaps only from the perspective of our knees we can find the things that will unite us and heal our divisions.