Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Processing our grief and looking to the future

Yesterday when I heard the EU Referendum result, my feelings moved from dread to grief, and I am hopeful that writing this post will be therapeutic for me. I’d be delighted if anyone wants to respond.  Part of my philosophy is that we can learn from mistakes so surely there is something to be learned from what I see as a colossal mistake, and is already seen as a mistake by some who voted for it . My social media streams have also contained expressions of despair and anger.  Whilst feelings of anger are part of the grief process, when they turn to blame that reifies complex explanations as simple binary truths, they can get in the way of progress. For me, it’s reasonable to question the Tory party’s decision to campaign a General Election on a platform that promised a referendum but when I hear the “old people did this to us” explanation, I worry that view will, in the long run, get in the way of making things better in future. Michael Rosen has a wry response to the old people issue.

Read this:

I am a lifelong socialist and voted remain. I am sad, disappointed and concerned that my view did not prevail. I am also sad, disappointed and concerned that the vitriolic bigotry on both sides of the referendum campaign, which was a significant factor in the outcome, continues today. We have Nigel Farage triumphalism , xenophobia and prejudice; but we also see some of my fellow Labour Party members,  pouring shame and self righteous abuse on the entire group of their neighbours who voted to leave. The oxygen of media and  social media  fans the flames of intolerance, inequality , fear and hatred. To combat these we need education,  empathy and dialogue, not bullying, misinformation and self appointed guardians of ‘the truth’. Now is the time for reflection and analysis. With recognition of the reasons for the EU exit , we can form the basis for a convincing strategy to create a fair, inclusive , prosperous and peaceful world – we have more things in common than divide us .

by email from my dear friend and sister-in-law Patricia Whaley

Pat’s email was so welcome to let me know that someone else was concerned about how we can learn and make change, without despising those who voted Brexit. Understanding why they did would be a good start. I was partially disconnected from the EU Referendum campaign because we were on a month long trip in our motorhome and so I missed much the UK media coverage of the campaign. The day before we returned home, we heard the shocking news of Jo Cox’s murder, and learned more about how inspirational she was a human being and as a politician. Some of the most touching tributes were from constituents who gave testament to how she listened to them and did her best to solve their problems. If some of those constituents voted Brexit, I think she would have listened to them and talked to them, rather than condemning them.

My reflections started with trying to think what was good about the referendum, a thought experiment:

  • It’s good that there was a high turnout whether or not we like the outcome. My idea (pipedream) of a functioning democracy is one where voters have access to a range of views supported by accurate information, vote for politicians who have integrity, and then we all abide by the will of the majority, whilst working honestly to change that will if we think it is wrong.  I hope that the Labour Party will focus effort on finding out why some of their traditional vote turned out for Brexit, rather than blaming its leader. I found these views from Hartlepool, where there was a 70% vote for Brexit, were painful to watch but enlightening.

Rather than decrying areas of the country or age groups as ignorant and racist, let’s listen to people and find out why they fear immigration and feel so let down by the establishment. I have heard often this week that not all Brexit voters are racist but all racists would vote Brexit, aimed at those considering voting Brexit – but now a majority has voted Brexit so what can we learn from that? Spoiler: don’t blame the voters.

  • It seems likely that more young people are voting than a few years ago and also that more young people voted Remain. That is great but the whole picture is unclear and more complex than it may at first appear. This article makes use of a comparison of Census and EU Referendum data (interesting but not definitive) and a widely circulated Lord Ashcroft Poll. It’s wise to treat the latter source with caution I think, since its funder has his own agenda. Newspaper articles (quietly) acknowledged the Lord Ashcroft Poll source (how could they resist it?) but the path from this dodgy poll to the ‘truth’ of ‘older people denied younger people their wishes’ ran across those newspaper articles and then across social media with disconnection from the sources. I enjoyed this widely circulated comment from the Financial Times but wondered what was the source of this articulate commenter’s assertion

Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors

The commenter pointed out that we live in a post-factual democracy and that’s a matter of concern.  I don’t know if there is reliable data on if and how people voted by age group but we do know turnout and outcome by area, and that can give us food for thought.

I am thrilled by the thought of young people becoming more politically active and want all of us to be able to access reliable information.

In a phone call this morning, Pat Whaley (who lives in Middlesbrough where there was a high Brexit vote) reminded me that Cameron inaccurately blamed the EU for UK government inaction to save the Redcar steelworks.   People can only make their minds up on the information available to them, and in a confusing situation will go with their gut feelings, voting Brexit against the government or because they have been fed propaganda about immigration or for other reasons.

Mariana Funes shared a 15 minute video aimed at US viewers that managed to convey the contradictions and misinformation of the Brexit case in a humorous #NSFW fashion.

That’s an interesting intersection of traditional media (TV programme) and social media (Youtube channel shared via Twitter/Facebook) but the complexities of social media bear closer inspection.

I think we can be fooled by hearing what we want to hear within our filter bubble/ echo chamber

Facebook’s algorithms tend towards reinforcing certain themes within a social group.

I have done a lot thinking and quite a bit of writing about social media in the last few years and polarisation has been a theme.  I quoted David A Banks in this post

Just like its government equivalent, voting on social networks is also a nice way to give the illusion that anything and anyone can succeed on merit while actually maintaining the status quo through sociotechnical structures. Tech entrepreneurs deploy voting to show allegiance to their fantasy of a color-blind and genderless meritocracy, predicated on what PJ Rey has shown to be an outdated and debunked notion that the Internet allows us to transcend race, class, and gender by entering a space of pure information. Popular posts are good, the logic goes, because only the best makes it to the front page.

But on social media, the manipulation of what we see is not only determined by our up/down voting, liking or favouriting but also by the hidden algorithms (aimed at maximising social networking systems’ revenue) as they shape what we see and from whom, based on their advertisers interests.

Not surprisingly, social and traditional media are commercial activities, and this can present conflicts for their consumers and producers, not just in terms of what they contain/ share but also how that content is presented. I think that means we need to hold them to account.

So what about the Brexit voters? My social media filter bubble doesn’t contain many who argued for leaving the EU. Some them will have turned to the Sun and the Daily Mail and what did they find? Exaggerations and lies – epitomised by the slogan encapsulated on the Brexit Bus neatly retracted on the day after polling to save excessive spending in a new government perhaps.

At this point, it’s a struggle not to dash my head against the kitchen table, so let’s try to think of how things might be different.  The people of Liverpool, sometimes decried, set us a great example of how to deal with media lies over the Hillsborough football stadium disaster. When confronted with the lies propagated by the Sun and other newspapers, many of the people of Liverpool campaigned for justice, only exposed 27 years later,  and they boycotted the Sun. So ordinary people can challenge the establishment and the media and get some sort of justice, eventually by working relentlessly and defying establishment and media lies. Let’s challenge traditional and social media to be the media that we want and resist them being immovable objects that manipulate what we can learn from other people.

My hopes for the future:

  • That within and without political parties, we can achieve a healthy democracy where people are politically active across the spectrum of listening, learning, organising, campaigning, challenging government and politicians, and of course voting.
  • That traditional and social media wield their great power with integrity and respect, and that we are knowledgeable and aware enough to challenge them when they fall short of this, and to appreciate how our own views may be shaped by media, overtly and covertly.
  • That we question the emerging binary culture that seems to be partially fuelled by media and tackle  complex issues with provisional solutions. Let’s resist polarisation, and find our way forward with “education, empathy and dialogue, not bullying, misinformation and self appointed guardians of ‘the truth’” as Pat Whaley says.

I am very pleased to see that some are planning positive futures here and Progrexit.


At the time I wrote this post, I had done a little research on Lord Ashcroft Polls but I am slightly embarrassed to say that I took the yougov poll at face value – yougov sounds so official. Yougov use Active Sampling from their pool of responders and claim that even though the polling is online, it’s not biased. See what you think. They seem to have a good track rate of predicting election results but I still have a little prickle at the back of my neck.

BrexitdialogueeducationEU referendumFacebookpolarisationpoliticsRemaintruth

francesbell • June 25, 2016

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  1. Viv Rolfe June 25, 2016 - 9:54 pm Reply

    Thank you Frances. I feel sick. I think the divisions and level of hatred for ‘people on our high streets that look and sound different to us’ is horrible. The campaign was heavily criticised all the way through and the BBC / media did nothing to address this. This has whipped up levels of hatred and intolerance that have taken us back 100 years. I can’t believe how many videos I’ve seen of people now questioning if they made the right decision, and others not understanding the process now asking for LEAVE to now commit the money promised! I feel embarrassed for those in education more concerned about their loss of research funding. A friend who is a school teacher had to run an emergency assembly because her children were so worried that their European friends might have to go home. Other friends have had children in tears. And ‘what if’ a general election. The HOPE was the young man on the Pride march. When interviewed he said that we MUST stay integrated with Europe and we MUST find a way to make immigration work. XX

    • francesbell June 25, 2016 - 11:15 pm Reply

      Thanks Viv – I feel sick too 🙁 I have never had any expectations of the Sun or the Daily Mail but I think that they are influential. As part of my project to enlarge my echo chamber, I follow #blacklivesmatter people and I’ve been amazed by their use of Daily Mail links. I can only imagine that Daily Mail is investing heavily in SEO – yuck! Regarding BBC – I despair! Have they been cowed by government threats to their future? but I struggle to rely on them for criticality and objectivity now.
      The racism thing is horrible but I think we do need to think about how media fuel fears of immigration but also to listen and understand people’s fears that are based on their lived experience.

  2. Martin June 25, 2016 - 10:53 pm Reply

    Hi Frances – thanks for a thoughtful post. I wrote mine in the heat of the moment and when it was very painful. I stand by it but I think it was guilty of being ageist. We mustn’t fall into this trap and I apologise for getting caught up in that. I thank you for your post and also for not berating me for my mistake here. We need to be understanding of each other.

    • francesbell June 25, 2016 - 11:20 pm Reply

      Thanks Martin – your post was a poignant cry against a frightening reality. I try to avoid the blame thing but I do worry that social media might crystallise reactions into ‘truths’ to the detriment of rational and empathetic discourse.

    • Viv Rolfe June 26, 2016 - 1:57 pm Reply

      I agree Martin – my whole family is LEAVE including my Mum who has seen it all. I still don’t get the ladies in Romford market on the telly remembering the good old days. I’m pretty sure they’d have been children in the war!!

      • francesbell June 26, 2016 - 3:08 pm Reply

        Have your family told you why they voted Leave? (no need to share it). I think we need a lot of conversation, and education (as Pat said) to find out what people are worried about. I have found some vitriolic “blame the old” posts that rely on the dodgy Lord Ashcroft poll – even some cites from academics without probing the source. They should know better.

  3. Mariana Funes June 26, 2016 - 7:17 am Reply

    “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” (God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater)”

    I can do no better than Kurt! I plan to repeat this to anyone who offers me a view or opinion about all of this going forward. It is not that difficult. We choose not to do it, because there is no money in kindness. Sadly, this is the world we live in. I have seen, through our situation in the UK, that fear of the unknown is about egos running wild in the delusion they can control life and nature. No words. We merely escalate the situation by trying to ‘do the opposite’, seems we have forgotten that true dialogue *is* about not knowing and co-creation. No excuse for media offering platforms to the kind of hate I have witnessed, but money. And money talks. I am grateful I have the time and space to practice learning daily about the many ways in which I personally do not know how to be kind. At least I may offer the world a little less arrogance, is my hope…

  4. Sian June 26, 2016 - 11:33 am Reply

    Thank you Frances and others for sane responses and providing some comfort and belief. So easy to get sucked into recriminations and disdain – kindness and empathy are powerful responses.

    • francesbell June 26, 2016 - 1:45 pm Reply

      Yes they are important, and we need listening followed by action too. Unfortunately both major parties are so concerned with their own self-interest that’s pretty difficult.

  5. Charles Boisvert June 26, 2016 - 5:52 pm Reply

    Thank you for a thoughtful post. Yes, processing grief is what we’re all doing, yes, we need to look to post-brexit politics.

    It’s not the kindest of political gestures but among others, I would argue for a message of reponsibility for people who have been involved in the campaign. And one of the more important is MEP Dan Hannah. He wanted a Brexit vote to end his job, but instead of resigning, he seems to take a holiday at the EU’s expense:

  6. Anthony Walker June 26, 2016 - 9:36 pm Reply

    Thanks Frances, a great post. I hope you don’t mind my thoughts on this – its a bit long but I needed somewhere to say it

    The rage and the hope
    The rage: This weekend has been horrible. The referendum result still feels like a defeat for long held nurtured ideals taught at school, embraced at university, and used in my career; the idea that collaboration brings prosperity, a new generation of Europeans dedicated to working together is the right direction, and that our destiny is closer to the continent.

    Turns out this was not a vision shared by those who felt excluded from that future which is fair enough, but that is a failure of politics closer to home. This article is brilliant:

    Those crowing about turning over a new leaf and that a referendum result will blow away the storm clouds need a reality check. The Referendum result will not solve a single problem that has brought us to this point:
    There is still austerity
    There is still public service cuts in place and planned
    There is still too much reliance on banking sectors and service industries
    There is still rising homelessness and inequality

    They have been sold a lie in order to help win an internal argument in a political party. There will be pontifications from those with enough capital to just see this as a crazy lark and experiment.

    There will be people getting rich off the back of this turmoil.

    And with negotiations set to begin between a livid European community, a civil service and diplomatic service that did not expect this result, and a completely new unprepared set of ministers to deal with, this is now going to be a quicky divorce where we get pitched out of the marriage with nowt but teabags.

    It’s not so much the vote to leave that is so worrying, it is the lack of credible plan put forward at all by those who have shouted loudest for the departure. The sense that those who have wanted for so long to get off the bus now have no idea where they are and what to do next is farcical, and criminal.

    What feels like the real kick to the stomach from the referendum result is the change in mindset to how England is going to approach every social and political issue. Namely, blaming outside factors, and if you don’t like it, then tough shit. Then, if we can’t solve it, then just wish it away and walk. We are off down the rabbit hole, and retreating from prominence.

    It feels like we’ve collectively decided to put our fingers in our ears and ignore the big realities of the world – resource management, population growth, climate change, emerging nations, the increasing meaningless of borders. Stupid.

    Reasons for hope
    However, I’m sure it will never become as bad as all that. Maybe this was what we have to do to shake the tree hard enough, get rid of some old branches and remove from the whole process the elements that are not working any more.

    The world needs a bit of disruption. We have slayed a sacred cow, so people wanting to make change and progress should never take “no, you can’t” as an acceptable answer anymore.

    The 16 million who voted Remain have to hold our politicians to greater account at every level.

    I no longer want to be a bystander, tutting at the TV screen. I don’t know what to do, but I’m going to get involved. I think too much of what is good about the UK is being sold off or given away while good people look the other way.

    • francesbell June 26, 2016 - 10:53 pm Reply

      Ant, don’t apologise – you are very welcome at my blog. In fact, I am wondering why you don’t have your own blog:) you are such a good writer.
      Also, you are my youngest (OK not that young 🙂 commenter so far that makes you especially welcome as you guys will have longer to live with the consequences of Brexit.
      I have read your comment twice and I can’t disagree with any of it – it’s persuasive, heartfelt and compelling. You have identified the issues and expressed a willingness to be part of change. That’s hugely encouraging for someone of my generation who has longed for young people to become more politically active.
      I don’t want to do a canvassing trick of recruiting you to join the party to which I (currently !) belong but I do think that belonging to some sort of collective that goes beyond the group/network associations of social media is a good thing. Whether that’s a political party or something else is up to you.
      The only thing I would add to your great comment is the question of those voters who voted Brexit because they are frightened and had their fears manipulated by despicable media. What can we all do to address their concerns and give them access to better information to make up their own minds?
      And why don’t you and your partner come over to Macc sometime for supper? I am not a bad cook:)

    • Maggie June 30, 2016 - 7:43 pm Reply

      I concur wholeheartedly with your analysis that “It’s not so much the vote to leave that is so worrying, it is the lack of credible plan put forward at all by those who have shouted loudest for the departure. The sense that those who have wanted for so long to get off the bus now have no idea where they are and what to do next is farcical, and criminal.” Amidst a great deal of anger, BoJo has left the building, but Michael Gove (who was equally liable to have a credible plan in place) has thrown his hat into the ring. I do hope that someone sensible – with a proper plan – steps forward to counter his claim for the throne.

      • francesbell June 30, 2016 - 7:57 pm Reply

        I hope that too Maggi – as we need a plan for the imminent future. As a socialist, I also hope that the Labour party can sort themselves out so they can come up with a plan to replace the current government at the next General Election:)

  7. me and THEM | howsheilaseesIT
  8. Lisa M Lane July 3, 2016 - 9:39 am Reply

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. While visiting I’ve spoken to many people in the UK about how they voted, both before and after (I still have my RemaIN sticker on my laptop). From an American point of view, this vote was also extremely distressing, not just because the UK is torn from Europe, but because many of the reasons people voted to exit were similar to those we’re seeing in the US. We have large sectors of less-educated people whose concerns (basic concerns, like feeding their families and participating in consumer culture) have been pushed aside because they aren’t educated, don’t speak well, or are otherwise seen by elites as “lesser”. They know they are often lied to by media and government, and are distrustful. Emotion is getting the better of reason and we have to deal with that. We’ve cut education budgets everywhere, and I can’t help but wonder about the possible connections.

    • francesbell July 3, 2016 - 10:23 am Reply

      Good to see you here Lisa.I agree about the need for education and the danger of cuts but having read much this week in my online networks that contain many people working in education, I begin to worry that level of education is being conflated with ability to vote. I have seen a lot of highly educated people use the yougov and Lord Ashcroft polls without questioning their sources. I spotted the problem with the Lord Ashcroft polls but it took me a few days to realise that had nothing to do with and was another market research site.
      I smiled at what you said about emotion because I remember a Moodle thread about that on CCK08. The Moodle forums are long gone but there are a few fragments on this xtranormal video, see this fragment where Stephen Downes seems to align networks with reason (and you might spot yourself). In these post-SNS days it seems even more the case that we need more nuanced explanations.
      Because I have been doing research recently on the use of social media in learning and education, I have been thinking about media and digital literacies, and I think these have to be linked to citizenship education too.

      • Lisa M Lane July 5, 2016 - 9:39 pm Reply

        Hi Frances – thanks for the reminder (CCK08 was so seminal, wasn’t it?). And yes, it would be wrong to assume that higher levels of education mean better voters. I will say I found it interesting the number of people who told me they didn’t feel informed enough, when all the information could be found online with a little effort. There is indeed a connection here to digital literacies!

        • francesbell July 5, 2016 - 9:48 pm Reply

          Thanks Lisa, it’s great to reconnect. I think it’s really good that educators are concerned with digital literacies, and all of us can be activists that challenge the media that inform and misinform us. I like to think of digital literacy as conversation between educators and students, between citizen and citizen, we are all learners and teachers from and of each other.

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