We still have ‘more in common’ as nation tries to heal Brexit and election wounds – Bishop of Ripon

THE results are in. It’s the day after the day after, and not surprisingly the issues that were there on polling day remain the same.

How can the country be united after Boris Johnson secured a decisive election victory?

The only difference now is that results create opportunity for analysis, and for analysis of the analysis. Life goes on.

What is clear, however, is that this has been an election that has been unparalleled in terms of the undermining of truth and decency in public life.

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The Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley is the Bishop of Ripon.

Indeed The Yorkshire Post found itself at the centre of a media storm this last week over a photographic image that in so many ways defined some of the challenges that public services face in our present climate: a young boy in hospital, not in a bed but lying on the floor.

‘Was it true?’ ‘Had the whole episode been set-up?’

Social media was awash with all sorts of comments.

Boris Johnson's 'Get Brexit Done' message united Leave voters - but divided others.

The paper’s editor, James Mitchinson, found himself giving voice to the facts, and in so doing making a prophetic call for a serious review of conduct during the election period.

More than that, the story made international headlines. It struck a nerve.

A couple of days before the General Election, I visited Richard Taylor Church of England Primary school in Harrogate. Founded in 1785, it is Harrogate’s oldest school.

Boris Johnson holds his dog, Dilyn, before casting his vote on election day.

I shared some reflections on the season of Advent with the whole school as part of an assembly that also included a dramatic rendition by the Year 2 pupils of a song about there being ‘no room at the inn’ for Mary 
and Joseph; ‘bad luck’ the children sang, making a thumbs-down 

At the end of the assembly, I
 rededicated the school buildings following refurbishment work in the entrance area to the school.

I pointed out to the children that the building in which our assembly was being held was built in 1973, the same year I was born.

Needless to say, the majority looked at me with ‘that must be really ancient’ open-mouthed expressions on their faces.

While I was born in May of that year, January 1, 1973, was the date when the United Kingdom along with the Republic of Ireland and Denmark all joined the European Economic Community, which later became the European Union.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history. If history is the stuff of the past, I wonder what future 
generations will make of our present travails?

When the assembly ended, I was presented with some Christmas gifts: a beautifully hand-made card, a tea-towel with all faces of the children and staff drawn on its front, and a book of ‘Christmas hopes’.

Each class had thought about what their hope was for Christmas, and had written and illustrated it on a page.

As I read through the hopes, I was struck by their themes: homelessness, the environment, natural disasters in Australia and New Zealand, and loneliness and social isolation.

I don’t think I remember hearing much about those issues in the election campaign?

As I reflected on the assembly in the school, what struck me was my memory of seeing the boy in a wheelchair supported by another pupil, and at the back of the hall a friendly looking robot with colourful lights; its eyes acting as speakers enabling a pupil who couldn’t manage being in a room full of people to listen into the assembly from a nearby classroom.

No one left out, all welcomed and affirmed.

No sense of division or ‘them and us’.

A far cry from the toxicity that has characterised our communities not just in recent weeks but arguably for far longer than that.

We can blame Brexit for divisions if we want to, but the reality is divisions were probably already there.

Brexit has become an excuse for the widening of fractures that already existed, and Brexit won’t go away because of an election result.

It didn’t escape me that yesterday (which happened to be Friday 13th) saw the country waking up to its post-election reality.

The 13th was also the feast day of St Lucy; often marked in Scandinavian countries with an abundance of candle-light and a searching for hope in the midst of darkness.

I dare say we all need a bit of hope at the moment, but that doesn’t take away the pain of what our country is going through regardless of your politics, nor should it.

Candle-light, or indeed any light for that matter, is less about the light itself and more about what the light enables us to see.

If we dare to hold up a light to our communities what will be revealed may surprise and shock us, but it will also surely give us reason to pause and think, perhaps even delight in the potential that we have forgotten about because we have become so wrapped up in our own agendas?

That isn’t naïve optimism. I have a postcard on my desk in the office which was given to me by Kim Leadbeater at a recent event which celebrated volunteers and community initiatives in North Yorkshire.

It bears the poignantly powerful words of Kim’s sister Jo Cox: ‘More in common’.

I will use it to illumine the places and conversations I have in the days ahead, trying to look beyond the polarities that divide, and encouraging others to reach out across divides to enable reconciliation and understanding however uncomfortable that makes us feel. We need it, urgently.

The Rt Revd Dr Helen-Ann Hartley is the Bishop of Ripon.