[What follows is the text of my speech to the People’s March for EU earlier this afternoon.]
In 2008 we faced a crisis. Our financial system – grease to the structures that deliver us food and housing and employment – lay on the brink of collapse. But we rescued it and were saved a devastating depression.
And then we carried on.
And now we face another threat. And maybe we will and maybe we won’t leave the EU. But either way, in a decade’s time, there will be another crisis still.
A society in decline dies a thousand deaths.
And if you’ve travelled down from Liverpool this morning, if you live in Blackpool or in Sunderland, if you’ve come from Wales; if your infrastructure has been left to rot; as the South continues to thrive but your own wages fall; if you’ve waited longer to see your GP and longer for the bus to her surgery… society for you has died many deaths already.
2008 should have opened our eyes. But it didn’t and we fell back to complacency.
Brexit won’t arrest the decline. Brexit buys it a new suit, and a slap up dinner. Brexit introduces it to your cute cousin and gives it something for the weekend. Brexit won’t arrest the decline – Brexit accelerates it. Brexit won’t arrest the decline but Brexit isn’t the decline. Brexit is what the decline has delivered. And the decline is in the courage of our politicians.
We’ve seen what happens when we leave it them to fix the problems. Why pick up a can if you can kick it down the road? Why choose the public interest if you can pursue your own? Why face the problems of tomorrow if you can take refuge in the past?
So what do we do?
In the 60s and the 70s the personal became political. Women looked to collective action for lives of quality. But now we must apply that adage in reverse. We make the political personal again.
We must, you must, take responsibility.
And there’s no universal prescription for what that looks like. You must find one yourself. But if you’re a student, maybe volunteer in a care home. If you’re wealthy and a parent send your kids to a state school so they know the lives of others. If you’re an empty nester work with a refugee charity to help another human being live a decent life. Look out for one another. Look local.
From our politics something better may come. And I hope that it does. But you can’t rely on these politicians to fix our problems. They haven’t and they won’t.
Still, here we are. Well over a year on from the referendum. Tens of thousands of us. And we’re engaged. We’re not complacent. But whatever happens next – whether we leave or we stay or we muddle through – don’t forget how the last 18 months made you feel. Don’t repeat the mistakes of 2008.
Be Jean Monnet, an architect of the EU:
“I am not optimistic. I am not pessimistic. I am determined.”
I am determined.