In a Varsity special, Thomas Sherlock comments on the collision of two divisive events in the calendar of Surrey and Royal Holloway students – Varsity and the Brexit deadline.
Royal Holloway College and the University of Surrey are officially rivals for about a week per year, the Bears vs the Stags. It’s ironic then that this year the week happens to coincide with arguably one of the most divided points in the Houses of Commons’ long history. MPs have resorted to a series of indicative votes to find any common ground on what to do next for Brexit. Whatever your views on it, it’s clear that Brexit has unleashed a cauldron of division and anger across British politics.
I’m not going to pretend division is anything new. Of course our democracy is well used to division of a degree, it’s even the very word the Speaker calls to initiate voting in the Commons. We have a political system that thrives on it; a government always faces an opposition in the Commons, the electoral system is predisposed to produce two main parties and by nature elections are always going to divide those who won and those who did not. Brexit however has triggered a new level of divisions.
Division was always going to be the result of a yes/no referendum, but I doubt anyone expected it to go as a far it has. The division is now even entrenched into rival marches: The Put It To The People rally on 23 March, followed by a Leave Means Leave rally on 29 March. Now the majority of the legislative body is at odds with the executive over the Withdrawal Agreement, members from the same parties at odds with each other on what to support instead. Proposals for a Common Market 2, the Malthouse Compromise, confirmatory referendum and no deal entirely have all been thrown into the discussion. Meanwhile the delayed deadline of 12 April still looms.
I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on the toxic atmosphere politicians face these days. It’s all well documented: the online abuse, branding of MPs as traitors, the death threats that prevent some of them even going home. This is present in both the main parties; the blocs that our political system is designed to thrive on have been fundamentally broken by Brexit and its aftermath, to the point of actually splitting. I won’t elaborate on whether I think Brexit is a good or bad idea, but its impact has been an earthquake to British politics and the fractures are everywhere. There is a mere few weeks to find some future path that crosses the divides: the rhetoric has to calm down, and people have to compromise. Somehow along the process, compromise seem to have been forgotten.
So as the rivalry of Holloway and Surrey comes to a close for another year, it’s always worth a reminder: we all have more in common than that which divides us. I can but hope that the House of Commons remembers this in the coming weeks.
Thomas Sherlock is an Editor for the Despatch Box, a politics magazine part of the Royal Holloway University of London Politics and International Relations Society.