The 17th century poet John Dryden, reflecting on democracy wrote:
‘Nor is the people’s judgement always true, the Most may err as grossly as the Few’.
Many on the ‘remain’ side of the referendum may feel this speaks to them. While both sides agree that the democratic decision must be respected no matter how close the result. The incoming Prime Minister Theresa May has already pledged to respect the decision to leave as she begins the task of steering the country through uncertain times, as for the first time in many years we are now forced to look afresh at basic questions of identity, sovereignty and aspirations, in our relations with Europe and the rest of the world.
It’s a sad aspect of human nature that sometimes the easiest way in getting someone on our side in discussion or debate is to find someone else we can blame for all our problems. In the 50s and 60s it was people from the Commonwealth. In recent debate we have heard unhelpful nasty language about immigrants and refugees which has led to a rise in hate crimes. It all reminds me of what I call Indarjit’s law: that when two or more people can find sufficient in common to call themselves ‘us’, they will immediately look for a ‘them’ to despise; to strengthen their new found unity. We see it in rivalry between football fans but in its extreme form, it can lead to horrors like the holocaust and more recent genocides.
In the India of the 15th century, Guru Nanak witnessed unnecessary divisions in the religions around him and stressed the importance of recognising common beliefs and aspirations. Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, took this emphasis on commonalities further by incorporated some verses of Hindu and Muslim saints into our scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, to emphasise common ethical teachings, while the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadhur gave his life defending the right of all people to freedom of belief of all people.
My hope is that later today when Theresa May assumes office as Prime Minister, she will similarly use her considerable experience to focus on commonalities like the pursuit of social justice and respect for the rights and beliefs of others, as she leads the country to a new future.