As we keep on being told, our nation is about to face a major change which will impact most people, irrespective of their views, backgrounds and indeed how they voted in 2016, even assuming that they were allowed to vote! Whatever the outcome on 31st October it is clear that we urgently need people with public and political profiles who will work on our behalf at all levels from the national across to our local communities to demonstrate a way forward for all of us. The need for people in such positions to stop promoting simplistic polarised and damaging views and begin to work together to acknowledge that the referendum was poorly prepared and both of its campaigns failed to present clear solutions is vital. There are of course many historical examples of how communities that have been in conflict with one another can eventually find a basis for common ground and a degree of comfort with one another, despite the differences that used to separate them. I was born in the North end of Liverpool at the beginning of the 1960’s and at that time there were many cases of disagreement, anger and aggression and even violence between Orange order Protestants and Roman Catholics across that city. There are of course still expressions of the same conflict particularly in parts of Northern Ireland and even here in Sussex, but in most places the size of the conflict and the extreme aspects are much less than they were in the past, thanks in large part to the work carried out from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.
Just as our nation won the World Cup a Church of England Bishop arrived in Liverpool and spent 9 years working very hard to help reduce tension in our communities in a substantial way. The tensions were not restricted to Catholics and Protestants but also existed between the Anglicans and the Methodists, the Baptists and Free Church groups and even within the Church of England between High Church Anglicans and Evangelicals. Stuart Blanch was then selected as the Archbishop of York and his successor in Liverpool gained most of the public credit for the hard work they both carried out. David Sheppard along with his Catholic colleague, Derek Worlock worked to build on the foundations that Stuart had laid down and they helped to deal with the tensions and create a much more powerful sense of linked up churches with their members working together across the city. As it happens David Sheppard had grown up in Sussex and played cricket for our County in the early 1950’s. As a cricketer he was a strong supporter for the anti-apartheid movement refusing to travel to South Africa and as a Bishop he experienced the tragic community conflict that exploded in 1981 a few yards from his Cathedral in the neighbourhood of Toxteth. He and Derek worked hard to resolve some of the challenges that lay behind the racist issues in a city that had been established as part of the slave economy. Another theme which Sheppard focused on was the need for women and men to be seen as equal members of Church of England structures, something that is still yet to be fully resolved in locations such as in Sussex.
Here in Sussex there has of course also been a range of conflicts such as the historical matters in places like Bognor Regis with disputes between Farmers and Fishermen and tensions between towns like Brighton and Hove. There are still tensions between urban and rural communities over matters such as policing, health, transport and education. So the need for radical and effective leadership is clearly not limited to our departure or remaining in the EU, but that is a pressing issue that must be treated as a priority by national and local leaders now. We clearly need our MPs and other leaders to work hard to get the best outcome for our communities as we approach the cliff edge once again, but they also need to pay serious attention to the way in which the conflict also occurs in families and groups who used to have a great deal in common and in some cases no longer understand one another. Those who still claim leaving the EU will be positive need to start to also admit to the disadvantages of our departure or else they will pay a much higher price in the future if we do exit. Equally those of who believe we should remain need to acknowledge the many weaknesses in the EU which like any organisation needs to be seriously improved if we end up remaining in it.