April 28, 2017
We used to know just enough to vote in General Elections. This time we know nothing. This might be the least empowered electorate I’ve ever been a member of.
The General Election is weeks away. Voters from a range of backgrounds and political affiliations are staring down the barrel, concerned they don’t know who to vote for.
Let’s be blunt: if you don’t feel there’s a sufficient choice facing you on 8th June, you’re already disempowered through no fault of your own. Your potency as a voter, indeed our democracy is hugely weakened if none of the options on offer appeal to you.
We’re further disempowered with how little we know about the potential outcomes we’re voting for. Imagine any other election in which a politician campaigned for a mandate for the single biggest constitutional upheaval in the country’s history, with no hard evidence as to where it might leave us as a nation. Would you give him or her your vote? Not without some clear visibility of the consequences I imagine.
Yet here we are. A General Election in which every issue is wrapped in the cloak of an unknowable Brexit. Since the 23rd June last year the UK has existed in a state of constitutional uncertainty. Despite Theresa May’s ‘view’ that outside of the Westminster bubble the UK is unified behind Brexit, people on both sides of last year’s referendum split remain angry. Others are simply exhausted.
What we face is unprecedented. We’re flying blind. Any firm promises or reassurances made by politicians vying for power (or just to stay in their jobs) should not be swallowed whole without serious scrutiny. We saw that in the referendum campaign last year. Let’s not be taken for fools again. Let’s believe nothing we’re told without either hard proof or the chance to debate fully.
We know nothing. I know nothing. I want to be allowed to ask questions. I want proper insight as opposed to pledges and I want to be able to challenge the dominant thinking without being labelled unpatriotic or a saboteur. In a democracy it’s not unpatriotic to question or disagree with your government, or even the majority. It’s the opposite.
So far though, we haven’t been able to rely on the mainstream media or Westminster for the debate we need. Theresa May feels no obligation to debate ideas and policies with other party leaders. And so we become yet more disempowered.
An honest, open conversation with all angles represented is badly needed. So we have to do it for ourselves.
This week I was invited to co-host a stunning-looking event called The Convention which is the brainchild of UK Vanity Fair editor Henry Porter.
The Convention takes place on the 12th and 13th May and aims to create an opportunity to ask questions, get answers and lift the debate above the noise of party electioneering.
MPs that actually want to discuss what life after Brexit could mean for real people will be at Central Hall, Westminster in two weeks time.
Cultural commentators, economists, journalists, lawyers, film-makers, professors, broadcasters, authors and comedians from every point on the political spectrum will be there too, discussing the tough questions about life in the UK now and in the future.
As I write this post, speakers are signing up for the two-day event in droves because they recognise the absence of meaningful debate elsewhere. Recent signatures include A C Grayling, Jarvis Cocker, Michael Gove, Alan Rusbridger, Alistair Campbell, Nick Clegg, Bob Geldof, Rachel Johnson, Anne Applebaum, Dominic Grieve, Akala, Ian McEwan, Helena Kennedy, Jonathan Freedland, Will Hutton and Viv Groskop.
More guest speakers – their names under wraps – are currently juggling commitments in an effort to join us at The Convention.
Tickets for the two days are available from £50. Buying a £75 or £100 ticket for the two days allows us to release tickets to unwaged members of the audience, helping to ensure all sectors of society are represented at the event.
Because if we’re going to debate we should aim to include voices from all corners of society.
‘Post-Brexit Britain’ is a new world – untried and untested – and requires new thinking, not just ‘Westminster thinking’ or party political thinking. The team behind The Convention believes our fatigue is with politics; not with ideas, information or influence.
My personal belief is that when politicians normalise practices of lying and make decisions that risk destroying communities, we can’t afford the luxury of being fatigued, uninformed or disempowered.
It’s on all of us to know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it on 8th June and beyond. We need answers on the economy, on the Union, on trade, on immigration, on our political standing in the world and on how much money we’ll have to play with for health, defence, welfare, education and housing, post-Brexit.
Screaming at the TV isn’t going to cut it. Buy a ticket. Come and be heard at The Convention.