Monthly Archives: December 2018

In the Brexit debacle, can journalism heal the country?

So, for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume we have reached ‘Peak Brexit’ and we’re heading steadily towards a second referendum / people’s vote or similar. We’re definitively not there yet, but let’s assume the troops are in position, they have their battle orders, and just need to keep disciplined, follow the plan and take the hill.

Then what?

Because the one thing the government (or what little is left) has got right is that at least some of the people who voted in 2016 for leave will feel betrayed. And it’s worth repeating that it does not help us if people who voted Remain just running around saying leave-votes are ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’ or ‘racist’ or ‘left behind’.

There was an interview a few days ago on BBC News 24 where the male anchor journalist was interviewing a woman by video link, she being for remain from a business perspective. He was hostile with her in the Radio 4 Today programme style of shouting come-of-it as if it is journalism, and she kept answering his belligerent questions in a cool and factual manner. So her microphone was muted while she was still speaking and he talked over her. Maybe it was just a bad day, because he later moved on a picked a fight with the weather presenter.

This type of ‘journalism’ will do further damage. It’s all too lazy to go with camera to a small market town and find the most annoyed old man on the street for a rant and rave. An easy piece to file, but it tells us nothing new and helps no-one.

There has been some very good journalism on Brexit, probably all in the ‘investigative’ box – from illegal over-spending to foreign financing to fake social media posts to insider dealing – these revelations have peeled open the layers of deceptions.

Some of the leave people, both as politicians and ordinary people, are implacable. The dogma cuts deep within families as well as communities and political parties. For some this is their adult life’s work, so the idea that they will be won over by a new poll result or a new legal clause is not realistic.

But the spectrum of reasons that people had for voting leave in 2016 includes austerity, inequality, London centralism, unemployment, migration and more.

So, perhaps a starting point is for journalism (because parties are failing here) to explore the potential for common ground within these reasons between leave and remain.

And maybe one starting point is for the remain ‘camp’ to be humble and open minded. One point of contact in making common ground might be in starting discussions on the weaknesses of the EU as it is today. The remain ‘camp’ has been reluctant to have this conversation because it could undermine the campaign. And yes, sure, the die-hard Brexiteer extremists will lap up every morsel and shout it back to the world. But let’s just assume that intelligent journalism has kicked in and we’ve moved on from Nigel Farage getting his thirty-plus slots on Question Time because he is a good shouter.

So, what might intelligent journalism cover? Some suggestions:

· On the economic departments within the European Commission behaving as though people don’t matter as much as money does. These offices seem to be just a colonial outpost of KPMG or McKinsey. Look at the debacle over breaking up the Royal Bank of Scotland with the now-abandoned spin-out of Williams and Glyn’s, leaving 30-mile-wide circles across cities with no branches, all because of an economic dogma.

· On neoliberalism becoming the ‘common sense’ of some parts of the EU, which is where the debates on State Aid restrictions need to be liberated from squabbling lawyers and brought into popular conversations with balanced options for improvements.

· On how the EU can support democracy as an international effort between peoples supporting each other, whether Hungary or Poland or wherever, without always deferring to member state governments.

· On how to open the Council of Ministers to more democratic scrutiny, instead of it being a cosy club for governments to do what they wish.

I hope this helps towards the next conversations between those who will talk, both leave and remain.

Could this be ‘Peak Brexit’?

Anything written about Brexit at the moment risks having a shelf life of no more than 20 minutes before the next twist or turn baffles us even more.

But … could the vote of (some) confidence in the Prime Minister by her party’s MPs mark a turning point? Peak Brexit, so to speak.

Because the Brexit extremists have tried and failed in this battle.

And if the first rule of politics is that, you have to be able to count; then the second rule perhaps is – you have to be able to persuade. The raw maths haven’t changed, and the House of Commons is still deadlocked, but maybe the wind is now out of the sails of the Brexit extremists.

So, now we seize the day and it is onwards to a Remain outcome from a People’s Vote.

Not least with the lies told previously about the NHS; and the hiding of the dodgy money slushing around fringe Leave campaigns that funded the social media lies and racism such as about Turkish membership.

Brexit Chaos is a deliberate strategy

There are many comments circulating at the moment to the effect that – this is utter chaos and politicians need to get a grip.

True enough, but what this ignores is, I suspect, the use by some of the pro-Brexit forces of chaos as their main strategy.

For them, the worse it gets, the better it gets.

Which means that relying on a ‘letting them tear themselves apart’ strategy risks running out of time to also stop Brexit itself.

We should keep in touch … but it is complicated

We are familiar with alumni networks from our time in education, but what if they were from places where we had worked – it might be worth trying.

Of course, for those of us with a few years on the clock there can be some jobs which we have been quite relieved to get away from. And maybe with some kindness – because we may never know exactly – there could be just one or two of our former workplaces where they were glad we had found pastures new. Mind you, that wouldn’t apply to you or me of course.

But for places where we, and they, might retain some affection or regard, maybe there is a good way to stay in touch.

Some think not. One successful head teacher who retired was recently asked, would they offer advice to their successor? Oh no, they replied, as soon as you leave the water must close over your head.

Equally, some leavers will unavoidably stay nearby, such as when working in a neighbouring council, or are still ‘on the circuit’, while other leavers do move further away.

And then a few leavers are deliberately asked to stay in touch through a system, maybe as an advisor, mentor, coach, advisory board member or similar. But thinking here about the local government sector, there seem to be some particular work-culture constraints. Plus there really is precious little or no money these days for such HR type initiatives. So the risk is that, in this void, some eager newer teams will take a ‘year zero’ approach to the results from previous years and the advice offered now. Even if only a few teams behave like this the damage is still being done.

In academic circles to acknowledge the legacy of previous colleagues there is the phrase – “if we can see further it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants.”

I will try not to embarrass anyone here … a while ago I was invited to a research meeting at Manchester University with about a dozen very bright PhD researchers and a retired professor who had written all the books on a particular political topic. I’m used to going to meetings of testy academics scoring points, but this was the complete opposite – with such admiration, warmth and respect. I came away at the end of a brilliant team conversation very glad, but also wondering to myself why it seemed to happen so infrequently. (The answer I fear is that I am the common factor!)

Of course, no-one wants to find that they have become the old bore who hangs around too long, playing over and over their greatest hits war stories. But maybe we should look for some tools to help our current teams build positively and affordably on the good legacies around us, and do so while we still can gather the benefits being offered. Some humility on all sides is probably the key.