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Listen, as St Benedict suggested

01 July 2016

Angela Tilby looks to St Benedict for answers after the result of the EU referendum

“AS OFTEN as any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community, and himself set forth the matter. And, having heard the advice of the brethren, let him take counsel with himself, and then do what he shall judge to be most expedient.” Those words from the Rule of St Benedict are about the need to listen before taking decisions.

Last Friday’s vote reveals a failure of all our political elites to listen to their whole communities. I believe the vote was a profound, even catastrophic, mistake. But, quite apart from the nasty campaign of the various Leave factions, the responsibility for the vote must also be attributed to our leaders, starting with the EU leadership itself.

There is truth in the accusation that Brussels has become remote, complacent, detached; obsessed with the process of integration, at the expense of the wishes of many of those who live in its member states.

EU leaders did not listen to David Cameron earlier this year, and offered him only paltry concessions, which convinced nobody. Mr Cameron himself is not without blame. He did not need to call this referendum. It was offered as a bone to the growling Europhobes within the Tory party. With typical insouciance, he gambled that it would be all right on the night, without recognising the social and political cost of failure.

Then there are MPs — most of them, at least. The relative few who supported the Leave campaign can hardly be blamed for following their political instincts, but the rest have much more to answer for. They clearly failed, week after week in their constituency surgeries, to hear the confusion, anger, and despair of so many in provincial Britain, which goes back to the banking crisis and the sense of helplessness which that engendered.

If they had listened, they would have realised that many of their constituency flock were becoming prey to the seductive promises of Brexit. They failed to hear not only the obvious Little Englanders, but the Asian former migrants who now want to exclude Eastern Europeans, and the huge number of working-class Labour voters who were never going to have faith in Corbynite internationalism.

Without leaders who listen, wrong decisions will be made. That is not to say that more should have been conceded to those who voted to leave. But good listening, learning, sympathy, and support go a long way. This is what the Rule of St Benedict is all about. This is about building community. This is what Europe should stand for, and what Europe and Britain have both failed to do.


The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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