I would like to start by giving credit where it is due; the Common Futures Forum, coordinated by My Life, My Say which is in many ways a brilliant initiative. MLMS aims to facilitate young people’s direct involvement in the decision-making process, their mission being to secure the best Brexit for young people. With the endorsement of Sadiq Khan, Stephen Kinnock and Alistair Campbell, perhaps this goal isn’t as far off as it seems.
Part of the conference involved a sample ‘Brexit café’. This is a fantastic concept — the aim is to encourage as many young people as possible all over the UK to engage in debate about the issues surrounding Brexit. This is something which really has the potential to boost political literacy and youth involvement in politics.
Jermain Jackman, who hosted the event, emphasised that since the referendum, people have been too quick to label one another and stressed the importance of moving beyond this and pushing for more youth engagement in healthy, multi-faceted political debate.
Naturally, I had high expectations. I hoped for a refreshing change from the usual cagey, partisan discussions which I am used to, but was disappointed to find that most people there were lambasting May and lamenting that Brexit should never have happened in the first place.
The mood was not hostile by any means, but I cannot deny that I felt apprehensive about suggesting that maybe May is in fact doing as good a job as is humanly possible given the present circumstances. When the question ‘Do you think the Government will be able to deliver a successful Brexit?’ was posed to the room, the three or four hands which went up (mine included) were tentative. I knew I wouldn’t be shouted down, but it was clear I was in a minority.
I am struggling to get off the fence in terms of Brexit, given that the term ‘Brexiteer’ has somehow become synonymous with being xenophobic, a fanatical patriot and a dedicated member of Farage’s fan base. I should stress that no one branded me or anyone else in this manner at the forum; I just anticipated a much more balanced, fairer debate.
What struck me the most was the distinctly anti-government rhetoric. To me, this seems counterproductive given that our current government will remain for the next three years. Whether we like it or not, it is May, Hammond and Davis who are going to be guiding the country through the nightmare which negotiating Brexit has begun to resemble.
I was also disappointed by Khan’s speech; he seemed more concerned with pushing the Labour agenda than with engaging in the spirit of free, open debate. He seemed to assume everyone in the room was a Remainer and concluded his speech by telling the room that the UK Government had ‘failed to build a society for the many’. Regardless of whether we agree with Khan or not, these words go against the non-partisan spirit of the Common Futures Forum.
Nor did it help matters when Alistair Campbell smarmily addressed the room for two minutes to make his own views known, vilify May and argue that we need a second referendum. He claimed May is only pursuing a hard Brexit to hold her party together — or perhaps Brussels just isn’t going to accept the inevitable cherry-picking of a ‘soft’ Brexit. He finished by adding ‘Sorry if that was too non-partisan’. Yes, it bloody was, I was tempted to shout.
The My Life, My Say organisation, whose mission is to secure the best Brexit for young people, is truly a paradigm of non-partisan co-operation. Its membership is made up of representatives from each of the main political parties, and a balance of Remain and Leave voters.
I spoke to a Leave voter who is on the panel of MLMS, and he stressed that the organisation really prides itself on being non-partisan. However, the launch of the Common Futures Forum sadly did not reflect this and I don’t think it would be a stretch to suggest that Khan and Campbell have tarnished My Life, My Say’s image somewhat.
Brexit is a cross-party issue, so it is crucial that it is tackled in a non-partisan way. Mete Coban, CEO of MLMS, emphasised the importance of eradicating the deep divisions in society which Brexit is responsible for.
I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps Khan and Campbell could take a leaf out of Coban’s book and start realising that we need to unite to tackle Brexit. Ultimately, we need to stop alienating ourselves from May and her government, who are leading the country out of the European Union, whether we like it or not.