• Emerging Voices

'In the great bee crisis, it is impossible not to see the metaphor.

Boris Johnson

As usual the flowers were complaining

About their blooming lot –

In Winter it was always raining,

The Summers were too hot,

The hedge too high;

The shrubbery and rose-beds needed weeding,

The edges cutting back,

The mossy lawn required reseeding,

The black-flies were too black,

The soil too dry.

But nothing bugged these flowers like the spectre

Of swarms of honey-bees

Who helped themselves to English nectar

And never once said please.

‘Those striped marauders!’

‘It’s time we told the bees that we don’t need ’em!’

And so they took a poll

And talked about the blossoming of freedom

Once they’d won back control

Of their own borders.

Next morning when the honey-bees clocked on

The flowers hid their faces,

Until the busy bees had gone

To find more friendly places

Than this sad grot.

Which now is left a bolted, blighted spot

Of rust and smut and weed,

A wilderness of inky blot,

A garden gone to seed

And left to rot.


The earth’s the fruit of all our labours

While Eve still spins and Adam delves,

And those who do not like their neighbours

Must learn to go and fuck themselves.

Andy Croft

(from The Sailors of Ulm, Shoestring Press, forthcoming 2020)

Andy Croft runs the T-junction international poetry festival, the Ripon poetry festival and Smokestack Books (www.smokestack-books.co.uk). His latest collection, The Sailors of Ulm is due from Shoestring Press in March.

  • Emerging Voices

Updated: Jan 20

It’s no longer a ‘crisis’. It’s reality. Remain is dead. Brexit is the world we live in, normalizing fear and destroying  ties that bound this little English island to a larger community of nations. Being an American affords me a very slight measure of distance. But as a Londoner, I’m anguished by England’s shrinkage, its delusion that going it alone will restore some former glory. In fact, I’m probably going to witness the breakup of the  ‘United’ Kingdom as Scotland will almost surely opt for independence after centuries of connection.

"One commentator, pondering Scottish independence notes “That result would take us back to the 17th century, before the 1707 union, and some would even say back to the 16th century, when only England and Wales were united under one sovereign... Brexit... fuelled at the top by English post-imperial delusions of grandeur, is the very thing that will probably end up demolishing even the original, smallest English empire... Brexit is at heart an English nationalist project."

     It’s going to be a long journey to the next period of stability, and it’s impossible to imagine what the next epoch will resemble. One of the things I hate about being old is that I won’t be around to see how the world is re-configured in thirty years. All I can say with certainty is the world will be drastically different even ten years from now. In time, I believe there will be smaller and smaller entities clumped together in some kind of communal groupings,but nation-states as we know them now will be severely altered or eliminated. Climate catastrophe will  dictate much of what transpires, as survivors of nature’s fury form new ways of living together and out of the rubble construct means to do so. Artificial Intelligence will play a greater and greater role in non-machine (that’s us) interactions. And we’ll succeed in installing enough people on nearby planets that humans and our AI buddies will get to mess up all over again on places like Mars.

     What this has to do with the election is in demonstrating that ‘the times, they are a changin’ as Bob Dylan sang. In fact, things are not in the process of ‘a changin’--they are changed, irrevocably. When Dylan squawked these words in the sixties, it was a time of optimism, the world moving towards what felt like better conditions. These days, the shifts feel ominous. What we took to be stable--such things as relatively safe food supplies, statespersonlike discourse on major global concerns, general agreement on what constituted unacceptable assaults on humans both individually and collectively--are breaking apart. Everything I assumed to be relatively true is now  in freefall. And Brexit madness is the latest in the collapse of former stabilities.

I’ve read thousands of words, desperately seeking solace in insights from those I trust. In fact, reading has helped begin putting the election in perspective. See links below for some of the commentators whose judgements I trust. Their  language helps make order out of the election chaos. But ultimately, we’re in a seriously bad place and need to 

figure out where we’re going from here. The ‘we’ is you and me and whoever we can rope in to address the mess we’re in out of the values we cherish of a just and equitable world.

Postscript: I was  in the West Midlands  when the vote took place, away at a writing centre.This buffered me from the intensity of the election results. Back in London, four days on, the full weight of  the vote has landed. I feel down and defeated. The effects of Brexit won’t show up immediately, but I dread their inexorable impact on life even in this huge, embracing city. Beyond Brexit, there’s the fact that the Johnsons and the Trumps and the Erdrogans and the Putins run the world, along with their corporate buddies.  I feel oppressed at how the forces for whom capital trumps compassion, for whom climate catastrophe is just a myth, are in charge. It’s hard to see a way forward. Perhaps what I and others need is to let ourselves grieve for awhile, just be with the pain. Perhaps then we can begin to rally. But I’m not up to it just now.

Postscript number 2:

Five weeks since Johnson won his landslide election. Brexit is due to happen in about ten days.

London feels calm at the moment, emotional energy diverted to minor royalty leaving their imperial enclosure. The human capacity to distract itself  is astonishing, Doubtless this quiet time will not last. The realities of life as a small island marooned in a sea dominated by larger, more powerful entities will sink in. We’re now all frogs in tepid water, awaiting our fate as the water begins to boil; the impact is slow but inevitable. We weary Remainers continue to contend with our ideas, not yet certain of what comes next.

Rose Levinson


Share your thoughts on Brexit: editiors@emergingvoices.co.uk

The Guardian Articles:

1. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/13/jeremy-corbyn-labour-manifesto-antisemitism-brexit?CMP=share_btn_link

2. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/13/corbynism-labour-left-party?CMP=share_btn_link 3. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/15/unions-colluded-in-fiction-corbyns-plan-never-win-power?CMP=share_btn_link

4. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/dec/17/decade-of-perpetual-crisis-2010s-disrupted-everything-but-resolved-nothing

  • Emerging Voices

My world changed in June 2016. Against all expectations, my country voted to leave the EU. Over 46 years, we shared the tasks of building a Europe united in a desire to flourish together. The vote felt devastating, casting me adrift. Gone was my attachment to the family of the EU . It was then I realised how thoroughly the European Union underpinned most of my adult life.

In the day after the vote, those making up the 48.1% who voted remain shared my distress at the decision of the 51.9% to take ourselves out . Leavers held the notion that Britain would prosper better as an independent sovereign state, a place where we made our own laws. No longer would we endure the hurly burly of collective decision making , the quid quo pro required of mutuality.

Over the past three years, the anguish caused by that referendum has exploded, splintering into tribal rage. Resentment of opposing views, racism and other prejudices have been unleashed. On the remain side, fury erupts at those who have ripped apart what feels to us as the security provided by a solid, attentive carer to whom we are reliably attached. In other words, Brexit has created a collective psychic attachment disorder.

John Bowlby, the psychoanalytic theorist, speaks of secure attachment as a necessary condition to enable individuals to develop a positive view of self and a positive view of others. The child who attaches to a parent figure possesses a mental framework capable of sustained interdependence.

At a personal, deeply wounded level, I feel desecrated by my loss of attachment. The sense of my Motherland, the UK, as a strong, stable object to help me withstand life’s vagaries is gone. The country in which I put my trust as an entity to care for me and mine is now telling me that will no longer be the case.

Some psychotherapists liken the feelings of disenfranchisement and powerlessness caused by Brexit as akin to children caught in a divorce. But unless a divorce is particularly harsh, most children still have the protection of at least one parent. Brexit is more like being ripped away from what has been a safe haven - though one undoubtedly flawed - created to sustain our Mother/Fatherland. As the Mother/Fatherland is dislodged from its own secure moorings, it is unable to protect its citizens/children.

Brexit is present in the psychotherapeutic consulting room even when it is not specifically discussed. Millennials are particularly anguished. They had felt securely attached to their identity as Europeans, believing it to be an ongoing relationship . The Brexit result presents a deep fear of being left in limbo, of having their future wiped out.

Families, friends and neighbours have torn themselves apart. It is excruciatingly difficult for people to have conversations about Brexit. Worries steadily pile up as the process of leaving the EU reveals how much harm will be done to our economy. A report commissioned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan posits a no-deal Brexit could cause the UK to lose half a million jobs and nearly £50 million in investment by 2030 as well as impacting supplies of essential goods. A sense of powerlessness and isolation grows ever greater.

There is a sense of futility in fighting Brexit. A widespread feeling prevails that politicians don’t care. And the democratic process we trusted has been subverted.  Another struggle involves absorbing th galling, unpalatable truth: a band of the super-wealthy elite, fueled by a narcissistic wish for power and control with futures unlikely to be damaged by Brexit, are winning. They have manouevered, often in a markedly unprincipled way, o gain the upper hand not only over our country but over all of those with few resources to be considered in any kind of decision-making.

It is profoundly painful to witness how democracy has been crippled in the final throes of achieving Brexit. When the guillotine comes down on our attachment to Europe ,we shall find ourselves alone in the dark, unable to alter the course of events.

I recently spoke with Amy Pollard who spent 15 years working in policy and advocacy. She was “absolutely stunned” by the Brexit verdict. “It was so contrary to everything I had been working towards which focused on linking people together globally on the environment and other crucial issues. It seemed as though everyone I had put my hopes in to keep us safe could no longer do so. The body of work I was committed to was invalidated." 

Realising Britain no longer wished to be part of the efforts which meant so much to her and defined her relationship to a national 'home 'was devastating. Pride in being part of a crucial British project was stripped away. Despair, confusion, a belief she must find a way to do something to alter events took hold of her.

Sitting awake at night breast-feeding her second child, Amy tried to work through to a resolution. Her head was spinning with relentless thinking. She couldn’t bear the idea of being defeated by Brexit's impact on her work There seemed no way forward , no possible reconciliation . Utterly exhausted but unable to sleep or rest, Amy “flipped into psychosis”. 

She recalls the experience vividly “It was very frightening and also very energising. I was gripped by feeling certain I had an answer, and I was no longer anchored to everyday life. It was like a divination, connecting me to a higher power. At the same time, I was terrified.”

Amy was sectioned and spent a week in a ward. At the end of this period, her inner compass had settled. She was able to accept the futility of solving the crisis of Brexit. “Now I see my role as shifting focus to what my own smaller world and our lives are for . I've moved away from policy to existential thinking. The important thing is people coming together and finding common ground so we can tackle enormous issues like climate change. We can strive to create a future which will be bearable."

This re-orientation allows Amy to re-form an attachment to her home country. She believes it was a humbling experience to be so down and an “exquisite opportunity “ to be able to travel temporarily into a dark place. Things became sharper and opened out into a dimension of empathy and humanity.”

Amy may have reached rapprochement for herself, but a great many people have not. Those of us opposing Brexit feel we are being pitched into a dark and fearful unknown, reduced to living on an ineffectual little island. We're sitting ducks for anyone who wants to invade and conquer. Those with power are intent on re-creating the dreams of the past. Our 'carer politicians' are preoccupied with a dream of omnipotence and personal gratification rather than our wellbeing.

We remainers are now flailing children, forced into a situation that tosses us into rootless drift. The question of living with a new reality is not straightforward. Mourning what one didn’t realise one had involves a process of forgetting and then remembering. Something deeply unwanted must be absorbed. Sometimes rage takes over, giving temporary relief. But the adrenaline of attack only compounds the problem.

Venting anger with no attempt to petition for change is of no use. Exploding with rage is futile. There is no one-stop solution. At times like this, a sense of community is crucial. Building neighbourhood alliances and talking with others can help forge ways forward. So too must we find a means to dialogue with those who have become our hated Other for their support of Brexit. We need to create attachments with those determined to grapple with the big issues that matter for our future .

In the spirit of dissent, there is some light. A discernible spirit of can-do is surfacing amongst people of very different ages, cultures, races, and beliefs looking at how they can work towards finding constructive ways to create a new vision for the future. The aim is to be active, not de-activated, overcoming a sense of helplessness.

This thinking motivates Hannah Chamberlain. She has no political loyalties in the wake of the Brexit vote. The Labour Party has not protected against what feels like a devastating severance. She is turning to the idea of a body of people who, whatever their political persuasion, have concerns about the biggest issues affecting our lives and our planet - the environment, war and peace, sharing an identity. Focusing on that, she is trying not to dwell obsessively on vitriolic, divisive responses which set people against one another. “When we are doing something together, optimism is possible and we can spark energy”is how she sees it.

Both Hannah Chamberlain and Amy Pollard have seen how damaging Brexit despair is to the mental health of their generation of millenials. Both have set up mental health initiatives as a way of healing and future-proofing. Hannah is co-founder of Mental Snapp (www.mentalsnapp.com), a video diary app to help individuals actively manage their mental health by recording the things that matter to them.

Amy Pollard, who has a Ph.D from Cambridge University, talks of her initiative as a hub for unlocking the potential of social and collective approaches to mental health. She is Director of the Mental Health Collective (http://www.mentalhealthcollective.org.uk).

When people feel they are falling apart, they often think they are alone.  The Mental Health Collective works to find new ways of coming together and forming new attachments.

These new connections will be different to the attachments we felt as part of the EU family. The work of Hannah and Amy is just part of the huge task we remainers face: finding safe haven after the dissolution of those things that bound us to something beyond our own limited borders.

Angela Neustatter

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