A binary issue

Whenever you try to reduce a complex dilemma to a binary issue you are wrong. There is a never a question that can be posed that captures all the variation, nuance and range of difference for which a simple yes/no answer could be correct. The ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ question asked of the British people this week was therefore always incomplete. Whatever the result of the vote, it was never going to provide a resolution.

Politics in its most visible and visceral form tries to resolve issues in this way. For George W Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ we were either for the US or against ‘us’. For David Cameron’s vote on the EU you were ‘In’ or ‘Out’. In asking the question, a harsh divide is created. Politicians and the media love the strident and adversarial nature of such conflict. It gets you attention and sells papers. Arguments and insults are tossed back and forth. The illusion is that if you win the debate you win the vote, thus creating the moral authority to pursue your course of action. And further the extension of your personal power.

However, as we have seen in the UK this week, the course of action is never as straight forward as the question on which you vote. Did supporting a ‘War on Terror’ mean you supported State authorised torture and assassination by drone strike? Does voting ‘Leave’ mean you want to repatriate migrants and turn your back on Europe? Although the answer to both was clearly ‘yes’ for some people, it is absolutely not the answer for others. 

The Brexit vote in the UK has brought to the fore tough questions about our identity. Who in the UK do we really think we are? What is the nature of our relationship with the outside world? What is the information we are using to formulate our choices? These questions of identity, relationships and information are Myron Roger’s dynamics of organising. He reminds us that it is by addressing issues at this level that meaning is made, trust is rebuilt and we take appropriate action. Only then will good policy, structures and protocols be formed.

So right now we need Politicians do the other thing that good politics does so well. To hold a space where we can address these deep and serious issues without fracturing our society or reverting to choices where we already feel comfortable. If we cannot hold our difference long enough for something new to emerge then history simply repeats itself.

Part of the ‘Leave’ vote was a mass outpouring of discontent with the aftermath of the 2008 bank crash and recession. As the UK economy rebuilt around London and the South East, Cameron’s government were content to see wealth shift there. The early promises of localism were largely overlooked. Eric Pickles rapidly changed the local government funding formula to shift money south, away from the areas that most needed it and into his political heartland. And the Labour Party became lost in its own internal debate, caught in a throwback to a bygone era that was never going to re-emerge. It had no resonance with people who, in some cases crippled by debt, could no longer pay their way as their part of the country struggled to break free of recession. This was Cameron and Osborne’s ‘strong economic recovery’ and it has bitten them both.

So history repeating itself would mean that once again, instead of looking long and hard at ourselves and what is going on in the environment, we continue to dismiss expert information as lies from an elite seeking to preserve their power. Instead of building global relationships based on mutual benefit we simply ask what’s in it for us. Instead of being an honest, fair and welcoming nation we turn inwards and believe the hubris of our supposed superiority and arguments. If we do this the areas that voted ‘leave’ will be no better off, in fact probably worse so, and will again, within a few political cycles, rise up and bite the political establishment hard on its soft arse.

And this is the nature of a democratic system. It may be clumsy, it may at times appear naive or stupid, but it is innately self-referencing and will always re-balance in the end.