Could anything good come from the EU referendum?


Many have been appalled by the EU debate, and will be glad when it's over. The bitterness, name-calling, and rhetoric that's come from certain parts of both sides has made me feel a bit sick.

But I hope that the process may bring longer term changes that could be good for us overall, whatever the results of the vote tomorrow. So I'm going to try to be optimistic.

1. Alliances have been forged

OK so there has been a lot of bitterness and divisiveness. But there have also been unions that couldn't have happened before. Labour's London Mayor Sadiq Khan praised David Cameron on yesterday's BBC debate as part of the Remain group, which was novel. In the church, we've seen Guardian columnist and well-known leftie Rev Giles Fraser work alongside the staunchly right-wing Archbishop Cranmer blog editor Adrian Hilton to support a Leave vote. Could such associations, in the long term, make us more interested in crossing the usual tribal lines of politics, and listening to those we disagree with?

2. Tribalism has been exposed

It's easy to point fingers and shout 'yah boo' when your ingroup agrees with each other on how awful the outgroup is. In fact, I'd argue that a lot of political opinions seem to be determined by the group we identify with, rather than independent and rational thought.

However when those who usually criticise George Osborne and 'the bankers' start quoting them and citing their opinion as valuable and praising economic growth, or when free marketeers state that Leave is good because it will increase wages, the inconsistencies within our usual patterns of political thought become exposed.

Could the referendum lead to more deep thinking about our politics and why we vote as we do?

3. British politics could get shaken up

For years we've had three main parties that are broadly similar. Certainly pro-EU, and centrist in their politics. The arrival of Jeremy Corbyn has shaken that up a little, but his brand of politics is usually hammered at the ballot box, so I don't have high hopes for that little revolution.

The main political parties don't seem to reflect their base any more. Labour is seen as a party of metropolitan luvvies by much of its traditional working class base, while the Tory hierarchy is seen as too liberal socially and economically by much of its grassroots. And outside of the political parties, disillusionment with the political establishment is even worse.

This disengagement between government and those it represents cannot be a good thing. We need parties that more accurately represent those they serve. The divides of the referendum could provoke division within the parties, and perhaps a redrawing of the party boundaries into something that is more useful and democratic.

4. We learn about grace

I've been really incensed at certain points in the debate. When memes are posted that are blatantly misleading (and I've seen them from both sides), when I've been characterised as racist or intolerant because I want to leave the EU... well, it's got my blood boiling to be honest.

Where does this lead? Nowhere good. It's been a humbling reminder that I'm really not a very good follower of Christ, who taught us to love our enemies.

When we're insulted, patronised or stereotyped, the natural response is to feel anger and to respond to the offender in kind. But in Christ, we've got the option of something different. The Christ who loved those who were torturing him is living within us, and can give us the power to love and respect people when they are just being a bit annoying. But how often do we call on him to help us do that?

We can learn from such experiences too. I've learned how irritating it is for people who think differently to you, to assume that you know less than they do. I can remember that the next time I'm talking to someone about Christianity. I've learned, once again, how easy it is to see the arguments of the side you agree with, but it's much harder to learn from the 'other side', and that doing so is essential if we're going to have a reasonable debate.

So, there is more to draw from the situation than a load of vitriol and more disillusionment. Let's hope and pray for more good to come.