U.S. president Abraham Lincoln once said that, ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand’. His remarks were in reference to the growing tensions surfacing across the U.S. about the issue of slavery. On the other side of the pond and some 160 years later, we are witnessing a division that has been years in the making and for which no apparent resolution can be agreed on. As Britain heads to the polls in less than 24 hours, Brexit, the thorn in our political side, will once more be the issue taking front and centre stage.
Unsurprisingly, Brexit is still the biggest issue being debated in British politics, nearly four years on from the deciding vote. When the idea of an in/out vote materialised in the 2016 referendum, there was little clarity on what the outcome of an ‘out’ vote would look like. In hindsight, it is clear that the government at the time proceeded with the vote with a misplaced confidence that the country would vote to remain in the European Union. The results that greeted us on the day following the vote started a chain of events that exposed the extent to which the powers that be were unprepared for that particular outcome and provided us with a glimpse of what our political reality would be for years to come. Several governments later, the originators of the referendum have by and large successfully re-established themselves outside of politics (as is often the case), leaving the rest of the country in limbo as we sink deeper and deeper into the mess of trying to understand and map out the most basic logistics for Britain’s future following an EU exit.
As 2019 draws to an end, we are hours away from the third general election in four years, with the third prime minister in as much time. In and of itself, this would be unusual enough without factoring in that this election is taking place in December and a mere two weeks before the Christmas festivities. The last few years have been rife with empty campaign catchphrases; ‘Brexit means Brexit’, ‘Get Brexit Done’ and ‘Stop Brexit’ have been splashed across television screens, flyers, bus stop stands, and billboards across the country, yet we seem to be no further along this process than we were in June 2016. So it comes as no surprise that general mood reflects a certain level of disengagement and fatigue due to the fact that neither a considerable passage of time nor multiple changes in government have provided us any more clarity as to what a non-EU Britain would look like.
As many have rightfully pointed out, an abundance of political and social issues have been sidelined in favour of discussing Brexit or, more concerningly, their mention serves as a segue to discuss how much better/worse we would fare should Brexit happen. It is more than unfortunate that this hypothetical situation continues to dominate the bulk of political discourse at a time when we are faced with the reality that our NHS is buckling under the pressure of chronic staff shortages and long waiting times, that there is a serious lack of affordable housing in the private sector and lack of social housing as a whole, and that we are reaching an environmental tipping point due to climate change.
So, with that said, would it be too much to hope that tomorrow’s general election will finally bring with it the tide of change or will it simply be more of the same, just repackaged?