There’s a scene in the film Notting Hill, when Julia Roberts’ character, Anna Scott tries to impress on William Thacker (Hugh Grant), that her ‘mistake’ of sleeping with him will never go away. That far from being yesterday’s news, pictures of her leaving his house will be dredged up and flung in her face, forever.
It’s something that we see in politics, too. Spend a few minutes on Twitter and several things will become clear: Regardless of what he does in the future, many think that David Cameron cannot be forgiven for using a referendum to sort out an internal squabble in the Conservative party. Likewise, Tony Blair, the UK longest serving Prime Minister can never be forgiven for taking us into unnecessary war with Iraq on the basis of unsound information. The Liberal Democrats will never be forgiven for sacrificing their policy of not raising University tuition fees, when they went into coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010. I would be here all day listing the things that people say Margaret Thatcher can’t be forgiven for and Theresa May is racking up a fair list of her own – the Windrush generation and her ‘hostile environment’ policy in particular. This week, Shamima Begum was the latest person to join the ranks of the unforgiven.
While I don’t question that these people have cases to answer, I am questioning why has this culture of condemnation and unforgiveness flourished? Why is our first reaction to render them unforgiveable? Why do we spin every mistake back into the public domain? What effect does it have on someone to have their own personal Wikipedia of mistakes following them around? What will that do to a person’s mental health? How will they keep going? How many times will they need to apologise before they will be believed as sincere? Will doing prison time help? How is it possible to move on when the court of media and public opinion, declares you guilty in perpetuity? I suspect we will see a reduction in people with a fully-functional conscience seeking public office, and more of those for whom morals and ethics are alien concepts – the slippery eels of public life. You know the type – the ones who can play the system well enough to avoid the drawing pins of evidence.
To forgive and move beyond it seems above many people in Britain at the moment. The irony is, that to heal the rifts caused by Brexit, each one of us is going to have to do an awful lot of just that. We’re going to have to be more civil to one another. We’re going to have to listen more and talk less. If human psychology tells us anything, it’s that we’re not switches. Restoration is a process, it’s not an instant thing. To get a dialogue going, we’re first going to have to stop hitting one another over the head. If we don’t, the United Kingdom will transform into the world’s biggest Punch and Judy show, as we slowly break apart. Many of us grew up with the fracturing of Yugoslavia and the long-lasting war that engulfed the area. If we don’t take stock of what we’re doing to one another, whose to say that with the re-galvanising of Scottish and Welsh Independence calls, we won’t go the same way?