What a month it has been. The horrific murder of Jo Cox overshadowed the lead-up to the EU referendum; but also served to heighten emotions in what was already a fractious and bitter contest. The country voted for ‘Brexit’ by a narrow margin, and the Prime Minister announced that he would resign – at some point; while the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition lost most of the Shadow Cabinet and a vote of no-confidence. At the time of writing Mr Corbyn remained Labour leader; but stood little chance of survival.
Boris Johnson threw his hat into the ring to succeed Mr Cameron as Prime Minister, followed by daughter-of-the-parsonage Theresa May. Stephen Crabb, Andrea Leadsom, and Liam Fox also joined the race; and so did Michael Gove – at which point Mr Johnson withdrew. By the time the next edition of New Directions appears we may still not know who the next Prime Minister will be; but we are likely to be in for a summer of out-and-out political chaos – and rotten weather to boot.
Should the referendum have been called at all? Perhaps not. But it was, and the people have spoken – albeit by only a small majority. Had it been the other way round, things would probably have settled down within moments. But there genuinely seems to have been a sense that for many defeated ‘Remainers’ the democratic process had produced a result so offensive to their sensitivities that they actually felt that the benighted provincial poor should be made to vote again. And again, presumably; and again, and again – until they come up with the right answer.
Meanwhile, how did the CofE manage to misread the mood so spectacularly? The Church has been diligent in challenging poverty and calling government to account, and that can only be a good thing. But the prayer issued in the lead-up to the vote, with its invocation ‘that with all the peoples of Europe we may work for peace and the common good’, was either clumsily expressed or overtly political. That is remarkable, when the CofE is one of the only national institutions deeply embedded in all parts of the country – even in those areas where its condemnation of inequality has been strongest, and where a combination of poverty and frustration seem to have swung the result for ‘Leave’. If people there are left with the feeling that even the Church does not understand their needs and concerns, then to whom shall they turn?
The greater part of the country is not like London; and nor is the Church. To be able to spend eight unpaid days a year attending the General Synod is a luxury of which most of the Church of England’s parishioners can barely dream. Issues that do not trouble comparatively prosperous metroliberals are very real and pressing matters elsewhere; and, as much as many in the ‘Remain’ camp might insist, it is inconceivable that everyone who voted ‘Leave’ is a racist, a Fascist, a bigot, a xenophobe, or an idiot. We have heard this sort of rhetoric before – it did not serve our Church well then, and it will not serve our country well now. The vitriol to which people who voted ‘Leave’ have been subjected is something with which those members of the House of Laity who voted the ‘wrong’ way in November 2012 will identify only too easily.
Perhaps the most sensible sentiment expressed on social media before the dust had even begun to settle on the morning of June 24 came from a young deacon – now a priest – in north London. ‘Today will forever be known’, he wrote, ‘as the Solemnity of the Birthday of St John the Baptist’. Touché, Father. Yet again the powers-that-be turned out a prayer for the occasion; but they might have saved themselves the effort and sought wisdom in the Collect for the Day.
Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour, by preaching of repentance: Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
That seems as good a prayer as any in these perturbing days of instability. If only there were a book in which all these things were written down…