There is no doubt that the 2016 referendum exposed deep divisions...
Britain is a deeply divided nation. The most obvious symptom of this is the division between those who want us to leave the EU and those who want us to remain but it is not the only one. Another is the gulf between the wealthy and successful and those at the other end of social spectrum who are barely managing to put food on the table.
The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster cruelly exposed this. The General Election exposed another division, between young and old. There are also religious divisions highlighted by the Finsbury Park incident where a man drove his van murderously at a group of Muslims because he said he hated them. Tim Farron’s resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrat Party also reflected the widespread division between those who take a conservative view on issues of homosexuality and abortion and those who take a more liberal view.
Division is not necessarily a bad thing and is quite normal in democratic politics but several things make these divisions a cause for concern. The first is the current political context. The decision of the 2016 referendum to leave the EU has created major challenges for the nation. If a generous divorce settlement is not reached our economy will be damaged and jobs lost. There are already warning signs as the value of the pound has fallen sharply while inflation is rising. Those barely managing to cope financially are already feeling the pinch because prices are rising faster than incomes and things could get worse before new trade deals can be negotiated post Brexit.
May and Corbyn both accepted the referendum result but did it in such a way that ignored the 48% who voted for Remain. That was compounded by Theresa May’s commitment to a hard Brexit and her failure to explain the possible deleterious implications of this. That was especially galling for those who voted Remain because they recognised those implications.
A second cause for concern is the apparent lack of leadership in Government. Theresa May presented herself as a strong and stable leader but her conduct in the election and the result has exposed her to be a lame duck leader. Her lack of empathy in responding to recent tragedies reinforced this perception. Jeremy Corbyn had a better election than most people expected but many of his MPs still don’t see him as a credible leader and voter comments to canvassers during the election campaign reinforced this. The leaders of UKIP and the Liberal Democrats have both resigned. So where is the leadership that can unite the nation and heal the divisions to come from?
The startling divide between young and old in the election must also be understood. 62% of voters under 25 backed the Labour Party whilst 61% of pensioners backed the Conservatives. Whether the young voters idealistically supported Labour’s socialist manifesto or just the promise to abolish student fees remains to be researched but their grandparents certainly didn’t vote Tory because they supported scrapping the triple lock on pensions.
The many causes of division make it difficult for any individual to unite the nation. During the 1939-45 war King George rallied the nation and called it to prayer. His daughter has been a unifying influence too but she is 91 and limited in what she can now take on. If she were to call the nation to prayer how many would respond or has secularisation made even that out of the question? Christians at least should be praying hard for the healing of our divisions.