Healing the wounds that divide us

In My View… by Lesley Carty, Secretary, SE Cornwall Labour

Watching the BBC in recent weeks, I’ve been reminded of the old joke about the Northern Irish troubles. Man walks into a bar and someone asks him ‘are you a Catholic or a Protestant?’ and he replies ‘I’m a Buddhist’. ‘Yes but,’ he’s asked, ‘are you a Catholic Buddhist or a Protestant Buddhist?’

If you believe what you hear on the BBC, there are Leavers, and there are Remainers, and we are all either one or the other. Both the main political parties are divided, we keep being told. And it is true that in the Labour Party, there are some who want us to leave the EU, and some who want us to remain. But the way in which we are dealing with those differences is a far cry from the picture presented on the news or in the mainstream papers; and I want to give you the chance to hear a different story from our perspective here in South-East Cornwall.

I’m one of those who voted to remain in the European Union, but now thinks we should respect the result of the referendum. On balance, I believed it was better to remain in a deeply flawed institution and work to reform it from within. But following the result of the referendum I recognise we need to find a different way forward. And despite anything you hear in the media, that’s what most of us in the Labour Party believe. We’ve carried out several debates locally among our members over the last year; and two things have struck me very forcibly. Firstly, the extraordinary levels of respect and attention with which members are willing to listen to one another, and the comradely atmosphere in which debates have taken place. Secondly, that those who still hold to very polarised views, either of leaving or remaining, only make up less than half of our membership; while a growing number hold a much more nuanced view. So much so that at our last meeting a clear majority voted that, rather than campaign for a second referendum, we should support the policy adopted at last autumn’s conference and trust the leadership to find the way forward through this difficult and complex situation.

The EU is not the real enemy, but the EU is not our saviour, either. In or out of the EU we must find a way to combat the free-market ideology that is destroying our world. An ideology that prioritises greed, individualism and competition, and that leads us inevitably into a cycle of spiralling debt, economic failure, environmental destruction and war.

Our working-class communities have experienced decades of deprivation, where the boom in financial services and house-prices did little to benefit huge areas where long-standing industries have been closed down and communities destroyed. We must respect the result of the referendum while refusing to take part in scapegoating our European neighbours; and keeping as much of the good things the EU has brought us, and the benefits of peaceful co-operation, as we can. We must also address the causes of the damage that’s been done to our communities, bring austerity to an end, and give people dignity and hope once more. Only by restoring economic justice can we reach out to one another and heal the wounds that divide us.

First published in The Cornish Times, 19/04/19

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