Brexit And The Birch Tree

 

 

Spring is delivered. The birch, like running cracks against polluted skies, has burst into quivering silk, its leaves busy with allusions to promise fulfilled. In silence it stole its march, though you swore that this year the first timid dusting of green would not yield its explosion without your abetting eye.

So there it is. So there. Above frothing white lilacs and candied knots of apple blossom, the tree smiles. Green and pink and white, all flourishing in harmony. A gift. Imagined, hoped for, but somehow not anticipated.

Brexit is not delivered. The word that has been on Britain's lips for three years offers no prospect. Neither, frankly, does continued membership of the EU. In an age of 'sovereign' democracy and a myriad agendas vying for our allegiance, politics has no answers, nor any grasp of compromise. The 2016 Referendum, though it has been a peg on which to hang a variety of grievances, is symptomatic of a raw disquiet so entrenched that it has rocked and wrecked people's lives. A feral code has taken over.

When the French Revolutionary, Maximilien Robespierre, stated: The secret of liberty is to enlighten men, as that of tyranny is to keep them in ignorance, he did not have to reckon, wholesale, with fake news, a legion of disguised tyrannies and the hellish cacophony of modern media which makes every opinionator his own god.

On the face of it, the Referendum result was suicidal. Was any British party fit to navigate such an epic reversal? Few politicians have experience of, or likely memory of, government outside the EU umbrella. But I do recall more congenial times before the EU was hustled in on the back of the European Economic Community. During its two year span, the EEC did bring a radical improvement to our standard of living, albeit there were milk lakes and cereal mountains which we trusted were merely teething problems. What followed, for all its aims of equality and forging a future in the spirit of togetherness, left us encumbered with legislation applying from the North Pole to the Mediterranean, while failing to break the stranglehold of banks, petrochem and insurance companies.

On Margaret Thatcher's watch, the Gordon Gecko Greed is good philosophy let loose all the demons of materialism, facilitated by our membership of the EU, and forced upon us a dependency in all aspects of living, down to the next cappuccino.

The poor are as scandalously poor as ever. The rich, still richer. Healthcare, education and community support, the cornerstones of our national life, are buckling at the seams. Organisations, institutions and groups are clamouring for funds, while the voluntary sector struggles to do what it can to hold things together. The monumental effort of it all is killing the most vulnerable. The EU may have aided the regeneration of some of our cities and landscapes, but whole communities and manufacturing industries have disappeared from these shores, real jobs and authentic ways of being that conferred identity and self-respect. The North has been particularly badly hit.

It's true that advances in technology have been partly responsible for changes in job and career horizons, and that the same technology has also the potential to liberate us from drudgery and to assist in our wellbeing. But what when it is misapplied? What when it becomes a tool for manipulation and destruction by the powerful? What when it fails altogether?

Younger Britons have assumed that 'opportunity' was born with the EU. Who could blame them? Though there have been advantages for some, it has been at the expense of education in the practical skills essential for manufacturing, innovation and export, for living economically in the root meaning of the word, even for sheer survival, and has given rise to generations of hopeless jobseekers. The benefits of the EU have come with aspirations to designer lifestyles that can only be serviced by incalculable debt. The dream has taken us further and further away from our roots as human beings and any consideration for our patch of the planet and those around us.
 


I feel privileged to have been born in a former era when goodwill prevailed and a sense that 'we're all in this together' was genuine. But those former times aren't enshrined in a rose-tinted mist. The winters were cold and ice-ferns formed on the windows at night. Sometimes we sat in school wearing coats, trying to write neatly with gloves on. Sanitation was not all that it might have been. Electricity was by no means a given in our homes. We cooked on open fires, gas stoves, used hay boxes and pressure cookers to save money and conserve energy. Paraffin lamps and candles were still in use. There is nothing like huddling around a coal fire to foster family cohesion when central heating is lacking! We travelled on public transport. We faced virulent epidemics, scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles. There were no antibiotics. The NHS was hardly launched. Yet, in the throes of a midnight delirium, your doctor would arrive at the bedside to administer a fever-cooling injection that could save your life.

After WW2, British children grew up peacefully alongside Poles, Italians, Germans, Americans, Africans, Indians, Norwegians, Hungarians. Worldwide bonds had been formed during the years of conflict. Many were pitched from their native countries, never to return. So we were not insular. Rueful opinions, if we had them, were kept to ourselves. We were ashamed at any lack of hospitality or reluctance to admit that some foreigners came with citizens' rights. There, but for the Grace of God, went we. The Windrush immigrants were sadly disillusioned to find such poverty in this land. Living conditions did not conform to the glamorous vision of a sovereign state.

Despite it all, thoughts of privation did not enter our heads. There were real chances to improve our lot for free in further education and the workplace if we chose. We did not lust after fame, nor live life through our idols. We merely wanted to bring a bit of sparkle and stardust to our own.

There was no shortage of cultural exchange in education or in the arts and sport. We didn't travel as widely, or as regularly, as we do now, but we appreciated and respected the native soil, tended by our ancestors, that had quartered and fed us through two world wars. We were conscious that we owed more than we were owed. We had morale. The dynamics of daily life and co-existence were, for ordinary folk, well in place. The Golden Rule was uniformly acknowledged. We understood what was demanded of us in any capacity in which we served. Live and let live was a maxim written in our DNA. Personal boundaries were sacrosanct and not threatened at every turn and whim by the violence of those who thought differently, nor engrossed by others who strove to make your life their own.

In the game of life there were winners and losers and those estates were not necessarily fixed for ever. Unlike now, when standards have soared, but social mobility has plummeted. At what point does bettering oneself and striving for prosperity become an obsession that consumes who we are, denies others their share, and rapes the earth? Not so many decades ago - looking back, I'm appalled at how abrupt the tipping point - we were aware, if only instinctively, that this life is not all and that it was ours to make good to the best of our ability.

Mr Churchill's vision for a Europe, so united in commerce and ethos that war would be unthinkable, was wonderfully conceived, but has proved strenuous to maintain. Meanwhile, the call to arms goes on in other arenas. What is sad is that it takes a common enemy to unite a nation in goodwill and purpose.

According to Robespierre, Democracy is a state in which the sovereign people, guided by laws which are its own work, does for itself all that it can do properly, and through delegates all that it cannot do for itself.

By this token, as earnest of faith in its beliefs, it falls to the populace to set a example to their elected leaders, topsy-turvy though that may sound.

I believe in the British people and that the core strengths and values of this nation have not yet been destroyed. Beneath all the noise and chaos, I sense a gathering undertow of relief that we are being recalled to the best in our heritage, for the deeps of the psyche are what rule head and heart. Change has already taken place. Since June, 2016, like the birch tree, we have moved on. Reality overtakes the will, even while the mind protests. Before we know it, we have moved into another space and another perspective.

Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, how we face the challenges in our personal path will determine our future and that of the collective. When altruism and public-spiritedness are unfeigned and we defy the resistance we meet, something miraculous happens that defies logic. The effects begin to multiply as they did with the Lord's loaves and fishes.

We will always be part and parcel of Europe. It's a matter of geography and history. The humanities.
 

 

 

 

 

Comments 8

 
Ken Hartke on Friday, 10 May 2019 18:13

Well put. Those "myriad agendas vying for our allegiance" keep us divided into opposing groups. As you say, our time - our custodial tenure on this planet - is lacking a sense of universal or common experience. Our parents or grandparents had The Great War, the depression, WW-II, and a common experience of pulling together and achieving a major accomplishment for the common good or at least surviving the bad times. Not many voices on this side of the Atlantic, at least, are concerned about "the common good", and in fact, the concept is considered alien and poisonous by some. Collectively, it seems we have become a species of self-defined victims. We are very quick to point out that some thing or someone else is the root of any impediment to our well deserved happiness or success. We don't question our own efforts or choices in life. Your quote from dear Robespierre: "The secret of liberty is to enlighten men, as that of tyranny is to keep them in ignorance," was never more relevant and true as what we see happening. Tyranny takes many forms and whole industries have developed to further ignorance. Thanks for an enlightening read.

Well put. Those "myriad agendas vying for our allegiance" keep us divided into opposing groups. As you say, our time - our custodial tenure on this planet - is lacking a sense of universal or common experience. Our parents or grandparents had The Great War, the depression, WW-II, and a common experience of pulling together and achieving a major accomplishment for the common good or at least surviving the bad times. Not many voices on this side of the Atlantic, at least, are concerned about "the common good", and in fact, the concept is considered alien and poisonous by some. Collectively, it seems we have become a species of self-defined victims. We are very quick to point out that some thing or someone else is the root of any impediment to our well deserved happiness or success. We don't question our own efforts or choices in life. Your quote from dear Robespierre: "The secret of liberty is to enlighten men, as that of tyranny is to keep them in ignorance," was never more relevant and true as what we see happening. Tyranny takes many forms and whole industries have developed to further ignorance. Thanks for an enlightening read.
Rosy Cole on Monday, 13 May 2019 12:36

A shrinking globe and the rampant evils of consumerism have caused derangement on both sides of the Atlantic, though it may be expressed in different ways. It can't help but be a gross indictment of Western values. Again and again, I am stunned by what people take for granted and what they assume to be normal. The planet does not owe us a living. We owe it! 'Economy' is equated with grasping as much for as little outlay as possible. True economy is about housekeeping and husbandry in every sense, from domestic to national. Those skills and that ethos prevent poverty. In business, it's about ploughing back profits after accounting for a reasonable standard of living, so that industries can flourish and worthwhile jobs, independence and self-respect can be enjoyed by society. This is not a pipe-dream: it's a basic dynamic of creation we ignore at our peril, one our forefathers understood and knew was linked to prosperity. The First World is a phenomenal waster of food with all that implies. When our parents and grandparents encouraged us, even urged us, to eat up what was put on our plates, 'they'd be glad of that in China', we sensed there was much more to it than a picturesque absurdity.

The 'common good' is only achieved by how we treat those immediately around us and those who cross our path. The rest would take care of itself. There are no big solutions, though politicians might aim to be selfless facilitators and motivators. As things stand, no one anywhere is in charge. We are victims of the forces of mammon and sheer exhaustion.

Certain factions have claimed that Britain wants to return to the ages of Empire. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who can remember it, long for the days of unlocked doors and cheerful co-operation. We knew what was meant by 'neighbour' and were not hidebound by stifling legalities that destroy healthy incentives at every turn.

Thank you for taking the time to read and for your interesting comments, Ken. It 's much appreciated. Have a happy week!

A shrinking globe and the rampant evils of consumerism have caused derangement on both sides of the Atlantic, though it may be expressed in different ways. It can't help but be a gross indictment of Western values. Again and again, I am stunned by what people take for granted and what they assume to be normal. The planet does not owe us a living. We owe it! 'Economy' is equated with grasping as much for as little outlay as possible. True economy is about housekeeping and husbandry in every sense, from domestic to national. Those skills and that ethos prevent poverty. In business, it's about ploughing back profits after accounting for a reasonable standard of living, so that industries can flourish and worthwhile jobs, independence and self-respect can be enjoyed by society. This is not a pipe-dream: it's a basic dynamic of creation we ignore at our peril, one our forefathers understood and knew was linked to prosperity. The First World is a phenomenal waster of food with all that implies. When our parents and grandparents encouraged us, even urged us, to eat up what was put on our plates, 'they'd be glad of that in China', we sensed there was much more to it than a picturesque absurdity. The 'common good' is only achieved by how we treat those immediately around us and those who cross our path. The rest would take care of itself. There are no big solutions, though politicians might aim to be selfless facilitators and motivators. As things stand, no one anywhere is in charge. We are victims of the forces of mammon and sheer exhaustion. Certain factions have claimed that Britain wants to return to the ages of Empire. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who can remember it, long for the days of unlocked doors and cheerful co-operation. We knew what was meant by 'neighbour' and were not hidebound by stifling legalities that destroy healthy incentives at every turn. Thank you for taking the time to read and for your interesting comments, Ken. It 's much appreciated. Have a happy week!
Nicholas Mackey on Thursday, 16 May 2019 12:32

A beautifully-written, heartfelt panegyric to England's 'green and pleasant land'.

In a way, Brexit has become an unwitting existential test of what we are as a society, a country and as an entity on the north-western corner of Europe. For several years now, we have had to endure an absence of inspirational leadership within our own nation lacking true sensitivity to where it 'hurts' in the United Kingdom. The politicians and civil service panjandrums who devised this democratic dog's dinner of a referendum have helped to instigate a new reality that is now sadly in our midst, that a vacuum of good governance has mushroomed throughout the land sucking the lifeblood and self-sustaining energy out of the day-to-day running of the country so that important routine aspects of living are neglected such as the management of schools, hospitals, transportation, social support activities - the list is interminable.
In addition, looking ahead to the future - whether within/without the EU - whereby the carefully considered process of planning for the welfare of all our citizens and those 'yet unborn' has been ditched in favour of the 'all hands on deck' mantra for the good ship Brexit that is destined to founder on the rocks so rendered by unbelievably short-sighted, less than honest and self-interested leaders who seem determined to wreak havoc.

I am saddened and also alarmed at what has occurred recently. In keeping with the old truism, the law of unintended consequences, Brexit has shown us that there are entrenched problems and fault lines in our society that need to be mended fast lest these lacunae become unassailable fissures that then threaten to undermine our way of life.

However, it's not all despair and doom. I am buoyed up by a marvellous British trait that as an Irishman I have always admired about this country: fair play. In spite of all the nastiness spawned by Brexit, I am optimistic that there lies at the heart of the national psyche, a sense of decency and fair play which will enable us together to overcome, with humanity as our touchstone, the serious challenges that we face - whether we exit/remain in the EU - irrespective of the political leadership we enjoy or must endure.

A beautifully-written, heartfelt panegyric to England's 'green and pleasant land'. In a way, Brexit has become an unwitting existential test of what we are as a society, a country and as an entity on the north-western corner of Europe. For several years now, we have had to endure an absence of inspirational leadership within our own nation lacking true sensitivity to where it 'hurts' in the United Kingdom. The politicians and civil service panjandrums who devised this democratic dog's dinner of a referendum have helped to instigate a new reality that is now sadly in our midst, that a vacuum of good governance has mushroomed throughout the land sucking the lifeblood and self-sustaining energy out of the day-to-day running of the country so that important routine aspects of living are neglected such as the management of schools, hospitals, transportation, social support activities - the list is interminable. In addition, looking ahead to the future - whether within/without the EU - whereby the carefully considered process of planning for the welfare of all our citizens and those 'yet unborn' has been ditched in favour of the 'all hands on deck' mantra for the good ship Brexit that is destined to founder on the rocks so rendered by unbelievably short-sighted, less than honest and self-interested leaders who seem determined to wreak havoc. I am saddened and also alarmed at what has occurred recently. In keeping with the old truism, the law of unintended consequences, Brexit has shown us that there are entrenched problems and fault lines in our society that need to be mended fast lest these [i]lacunae[/i] become unassailable fissures that then threaten to undermine our way of life. However, it's not all despair and doom. I am buoyed up by a marvellous British trait that as an Irishman I have always admired about this country: fair play. In spite of all the nastiness spawned by Brexit, I am optimistic that there lies at the heart of the national psyche, a sense of decency and fair play which will enable us together to overcome, with humanity as our touchstone, the serious challenges that we face - whether we exit/remain in the EU - irrespective of the political leadership we enjoy or must endure.
Rosy Cole on Thursday, 16 May 2019 16:20

It's hard to identify any inspirational British leader since the middle of the last century, except Mrs Thatcher, who was inspirational for all the wrong reasons. It was rash, and impolitic in every sense of the word, to offer a Referendum on EU membership when neither the Government nor the people had any sound idea what would be entailed. David Cameron's initiative was a craven exercise in passing the buck for the challenging times ahead. Those who have watched the BBC series Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil will understand how shaky the whole EU edifice is.

I can't for the life of me see how voters are more enlightened now than they were in 2016, but perhaps we've had time to reflect on our values and determine our own response to the contexts in which we find ourselves. Creative thinking at a lower level could make a dramatic difference.

The real division in the country is not between Leavers and Remainers, but between the 'haves' and 'have nots' and they can be found in both camps. At present, there is little incentive for a fairer redistribution of wealth and opportunity.

The Blue Marble gets smaller and smaller. World economy urgently needs a reset button.

Thanks for commenting, Nicholas!


It's hard to identify any inspirational British leader since the middle of the last century, except Mrs Thatcher, who was inspirational for all the wrong reasons. It was rash, and impolitic in every sense of the word, to offer a Referendum on EU membership when neither the Government nor the people had any sound idea what would be entailed. David Cameron's initiative was a craven exercise in passing the buck for the challenging times ahead. Those who have watched the BBC series [i]Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil[/i] will understand how shaky the whole EU edifice is. I can't for the life of me see how voters are more enlightened now than they were in 2016, but perhaps we've had time to reflect on our values and determine our own response to the contexts in which we find ourselves. Creative thinking at a lower level could make a dramatic difference. The real division in the country is not between Leavers and Remainers, but between the 'haves' and 'have nots' and they can be found in both camps. At present, there is little incentive for a fairer redistribution of wealth and opportunity. The Blue Marble gets smaller and smaller. World economy urgently needs a reset button. Thanks for commenting, Nicholas!
Stephen Evans on Saturday, 18 May 2019 15:06

An excellent and passionate discussion. I'm not sure I would trust Robespierre as the arbiter of democracy, though the quotes reflect the themes of the enlightenment. But the problems we face globally now are similar to those of his time and place - and I think you have hit on it - not just the distribution of wealth but the cult of wealth. But how this results in the xenophobia rampant in Europe and the US I don't understand. And I fear the connections to nationalism that they seem to inspire.

An excellent and passionate discussion. I'm not sure I would trust Robespierre as the arbiter of democracy, though the quotes reflect the themes of the enlightenment. But the problems we face globally now are similar to those of his time and place - and I think you have hit on it - not just the distribution of wealth but the cult of wealth. But how this results in the xenophobia rampant in Europe and the US I don't understand. And I fear the connections to nationalism that they seem to inspire.
Rosy Cole on Wednesday, 22 May 2019 17:27

The thing about Robespierre is that he is citing an ideal of democracy that can never be achieved but is, perhaps, at its most effective while we're striving towards it with a public-spirited code of conduct. Democracy is a roberus. It eats itself. Any ideology, if pursued aggressively, brings about its opposite. As you say, the rise in nationalism is to be feared, but I suspect it is being exploited by outsiders and does not represent the will of the general populace.

Every country needs a healthy sense of its own identity and citizens who aren't ashamed to acknowledge the land of their birth - or the land which gives them true sanctuary - though that may not be their ancestral heritage . The key to all this is humility. Humility isn't weakness. It celebrates its own strengths and understands its shortcomings and where each fits into the scheme of things.

Governments don't get to invent the basic rules. They are already incorporated in nature's blueprint for sustaining the planet at every level. We have a choice whether to ply with them, or ignore them.

Thanks for your comments, Steve!

The thing about Robespierre is that he is citing an ideal of democracy that can never be achieved but is, perhaps, at its most effective while we're striving towards it with a public-spirited code of conduct. Democracy is a roberus. It eats itself. Any ideology, if pursued aggressively, brings about its opposite. As you say, the rise in nationalism is to be feared, but I suspect it is being exploited by outsiders and does not represent the will of the general populace. Every country needs a healthy sense of its own identity and citizens who aren't ashamed to acknowledge the land of their birth - or the land which gives them true sanctuary - though that may not be their ancestral heritage . The key to all this is [i]humility[/i]. Humility isn't weakness. It celebrates its own strengths and understands its shortcomings and where each fits into the scheme of things. Governments don't get to invent the basic rules. They are already incorporated in nature's blueprint for sustaining the planet at every level. We have a choice whether to ply with them, or ignore them. Thanks for your comments, Steve!
Monika Schott on Wednesday, 22 May 2019 23:18

Thanks Rosy for your enlightening piece and all the discussion that's followed. Politics is very different to what it was a few years ago, reflecting all this need to recognition and materialism. Ego beating chests are rife. Humility as you say, Rosy, is important in these times. The question is, when will a political leader model this for all to see and take note, to create the impact needed for change.

Thanks Rosy for your enlightening piece and all the discussion that's followed. Politics is very different to what it was a few years ago, reflecting all this need to recognition and materialism. Ego beating chests are rife. Humility as you say, Rosy, is important in these times. The question is, when will a political leader model this for all to see and take note, to create the impact needed for change.
Rosy Cole on Sunday, 26 May 2019 14:37

Throughout history, no matter what the style of government, those in power have always feared public opinion and reaction, 'the will of the people'. In a democracy, the people cede authority to their leaders. They are us, no matter how most of us protest that they do not represent what we want and who we are. Things have drifted so far away from reality now that we hardly know what we want as nations. All we know is, we don't want This.

As I see it, change will only come from the ground up, in the daily lives of ordinary people. Humility in its essential sense is what makes us strong and self-respecting about what we can offer as individuals and recognises the rights and contributions of others. Self-serving agendas leave us vulnerable to occupation by subversive forces, rather than repelling them.

It can't hurt to reflect on the road-map attributed to Mother Teresa:

People are often unreasonable, irrational and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.


This is the locus of real power, but it will make very few famous!

Thanks, Moni, for commenting!

Throughout history, no matter what the style of government, those in power have always feared public opinion and reaction, 'the will of the people'. In a democracy, the people cede authority to their leaders. They are [i]us[/i], no matter how most of us protest that they do not represent what we want and who we are. Things have drifted so far away from reality now that we hardly know what we want as nations. All we know is, we don't want [i]This.[/i] As I see it, change will only come from the ground up, in the daily lives of ordinary people. Humility in its essential sense is what makes us strong and self-respecting about what we can offer as individuals and recognises the rights and contributions of others. Self-serving agendas leave us vulnerable to occupation by subversive forces, rather than repelling them. It can't hurt to reflect on the road-map attributed to Mother Teresa: [i]People are often unreasonable, irrational and self-centred. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.[/i] This is the locus of real power, but it will make very few famous! Thanks, Moni, for commenting!
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