You'll never guess ...


Often the opening line of the driver when you climb into his cab. I often find myself drawn into conversation, but also self-censoring in case some of my particular takes on current affairs provokes a strong reaction. Imagine, then, if you will, the kind of mental mine-sweeping going on as I took a taxi home from a recent gathering of European Methodist leaders. Do I let on where I have been or that the main topic of discussion was Brexit and building closer relationships across the continent? Is silent reflection the best policy?


The conversation started well as my driver's Irish mother had recently returned to the wonderful west coast of Ireland after a working life in Britain. We shared the inevitable stories of holidays in Connemara before I let slip that we were thinking of moving to Ireland ourselves. 'Because of Brexit?' asked the driver, and I was forced to agree. As I had assumed, he was a committed Brexiteer and began talking about the reasons for his decision: lack of social housing, benefits tourism, pressure on the NHS, the European Convention on Human Rights. But he also acknowledged that the Thatcher-era sell off of council housing was the major factor in the lack, and that the NHS would collapse without foreign doctors and nurses. He remembered the stories of his own family facing hostility and racism as irish immigrants. But he was most angry and perplexed when I told him that the ECHR had nothing to do with the EU and that Brexit would not end Britain's obligations under the Convention.

Two things became clear. He was justifiably angry at the changes he had seen in his community over the last thirty years and how so many had been left behind and let down. He wanted an analysis that made sense of those changes and he accepted the one offered by certain politicians and media outlets. It struck me that this was partly enabled by other politicians, including ones I vote for, avoiding difficult questions and not offering a clear alternative. For all the good stuff that Labour politics brought in the last twenty years, it also taught us to avoid real debate and focus on policies most people already agree about. Consensus is something that must be built as well as built upon.

He was also shocked that some of the things he had been told he was voting for were simply never going to happen, especially over Human Rights. That made me afraid for the future, when Brexit occurs but nothing really changes for at least ten years. It is absolutely clear that Leavers voted for real, substantial and clear change and, as now looks increasingly likely, that simply cannot be delivered. Those politicians who continue to exploit people's fears to feed their own ambitions are playing with fire and will damage the whole political enterprise for at least a generation. I fear we must brace ourselves for more outbursts of anger in the coming months and years.

We soon reached the train station and said our farewells. He thanked me for the conversation and wished me well, wherever I ended up. It reminded me of the need for decent, respectful, honest exchanges of views and that it was up to me to help them happen.

#brexit #taxidrivers #Leftpolitics #democracy

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