Is it me? The phrase reminds me of messages from baffled Terry Wogan Radio 2 listeners. ‘Is it me?’ gets used when people think something is bonkers and they want to check they’re not the only person it appears bonkers to, as in ‘Is it me, or should a packet of peanuts not need a warning that it may contain nuts?’
My current ‘Is it me?’ moment is with the counter reaction to the shock of Boris Johnson proroguing Parliament, with some people acting like it’s a perfectly normal, reasonable thing to do.
To me, this was the about silencing Parliament, coming a day after opposition parties came together to look at blocking a no deal Brexit. This wasn’t something that had to happen, Parliament doesn’t have to be prorogued and if so it doesn’t have to be for 5 weeks, stopping all the actions of Parliament such as scrutiny by Select Committees.
The suggestion of prorogation was controversial enough during the Tory Party leadership campaign for Sajid Javid to describe it as ‘trashing democracy’ and Matt Hancock to say it would mean the end of the Conservative party as a serious party of government.
The shock and outrage didn’t just come from the opposition parties. It came from other Tories, radicals like John Major. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow called it a constitutional outrage. Meanwhile the ruling section of the Tory party carried on acting like this was just procedure with all of the Cabinet Members who had previously spoken out against prorogation falling into line.
It all felt a bit like one of those moments in a football match when a player scythes down an opponent leaving him lying in anguish and then puts on his best ‘what me ref’ face to try and convince the referee he’d not touched him.
It’s utterly disingenuous to claim this is business as usual.
I felt this has crossed a line. I felt that I needed to join the Sheffield cross party protest last Saturday because I really was very cross. I found the ‘Is it me?’ thought cycling around my head as I reflected on just how divided Brexit has made us and how much or little we are listening to each other amidst all of this.
The idea of ‘echo chambers’ has emerged in the past couple of years – the idea that we just listen to voices that reinforce the opinions we already hold. It’s felt in these past few days that those that want to leave seem happy to support the current tactics as a means to an end. They back Boris because they are on his side. In an age of amoral populist leaders I don’t think it sets a great precedent.
My way out of my echo chamber was to look at some Brexiteer threads on Twitter from those I follow for reasons separate to Brexit. I can’t say I was too convinced. Saying that prorogation is normal because of party conference season makes the mistake of thinking that party conferences are in any way important. Saying prorogation doesn’t matter because Parliament is useless and has messed this up for 3 years misses the point – we vote for Parliament, not a President and however hopeless they represent us and should be allowed to do so.
One of my reflections from questioning my instincts on this is to recognise afresh that ultimately this is all a matter of opinion and interpretation. As with the whole debate, people will come to different conclusions than me and I need to respect that. We all need to accept this is difficult and complicated.
For example, part of the issue is the clash of two types of democracy. Those who feel proroguing Parliament is undemocratic are reminded by opponents that we took a democratic decision to leave the EU. We did of course. Dusting off my A level politics, a referendum is an example of direct democracy. You can’t of course get everyone to vote on everything, which is why we elect representatives to do the detail. Both types of democracy need to be respected.
I voted to remain, not out of passion for the EU but out of pragmatism – it made more sense to me in terms of how we relate to others in a globalised world. I oppose a no deal Brexit because it feels like taking a punt on our whole nation (and being prepared to wing it in Northern Ireland). I am not a betting man and if it doesn’t work out I’m sure it’s the poor and vulnerable who will suffer.
Ultimately, I have to accept that my view on all this is partial and imperfect. I am trying to learn to express my views more respectfully recognising that it is key to think about how we conduct ourselves during the changes and uncertainty that are to come.
The Bible says that ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). I’m certainly not without sin in the way I’ve thought about those who want to leave the EU. Such are the echo chambers I doubt I will sway anyone on that side of the fence to think again but I think we all need to reflect both on what we think but also how we put it across. At some stage this will be resolved and we will have to live together through whatever follows.