World News

What your voicemails tell us about the future of the UK

Posted June 7

The United Kingdom is having something of an identity crisis.

Having narrowly voted for Brexit last year, the UK is in the midst of redefining not only its relationship with Europe, but also itself.

Then throw into the mix a general election, called just a month and a half ago. The Conservative Party, currently in power under Prime Minister Theresa May, hopes to increase its majority in Parliament. The opposition Labour Party wants to oust them. And the centrist Liberal Democrats have positioned themselves as the anti-Brexit party, hoping to give voters a second chance on their European Union decision.

It's a confusing and deeply divisive time for Britons. To help make sense of it all, we asked you to leave us a voicemail telling us your hopes for the UK and its place in the world. Here's what you said. (Some messages have been edited for length and clarity.)

Phillipa has worked abroad in developing countries, and says that other nations have a lot of respect for Britain, but Brexit has thrown its status on the world stage into doubt. Calling herself a "staunch Remainer," she hopes for a 'soft Brexit' where the UK doesn't "draw back from the international community". Ideally, she'd like "to see Britain completely turn away from this Brexit model," but but believes that won't happen. However, she thinks it's "absolutely vital that Britain still tries to show a strong face in the world, a moral responsibility," and she's hopeful that more young people being engaged with politics and world affairs will change things.

An American expat, Matthew moved to London to study international relations. He thinks it will be tough for the UK to strike a good Brexit deal. They'll want to stay in the European single market for economic reasons, he says, but that might mean making concessions like open borders, which many Brexit supporters oppose. Britain is "kind of pulling out where it had a voice at the table," he thinks, and won't have as much sway going forward.

Gary says the UK has "elected government after government that has ripped everything away from the poor and made the rich richer." The UK, he says, should look after all its people: "I'm fairly comfortable, but my neighbor might not be in the same situation. We need to confront that rather than shutting our front doors. It would be good to stand as an example to the rest of the world." He also thinks Britain needs to "stop following Trump blindly" and start building a better relationship with Europe ahead of Brexit. "We are losing a fantastic friendship and trading partner, and ... if we walk away from the negotiating table with no deal, it will do much more harm than good." Overall, he says Britain needs to "stand up for what we stood up for in the past, which is our principles."

For Catherine, much of the UK's future -- and, indeed, the world's future -- depends on research and academics. "It's important to maximize the improvement that comes about through research and cooperation between different countries," says the retired higher education professional. She's concerned that she hasn't heard much about this issue during campaigning, and that it won't be given enough attention in Brexit talks: "The most dangerous thing about leaving the EU is the loss of academic and research opportunities." In this election, she's been debating whether to "vote practically" or follow her ideals.

Michael has lived in Spain for two years, and sent off a postal ballot after he confirmed he was still able to vote despite moving abroad. He thinks the UK's place in the world "should be to combat greed and absence of morality, and to curb the rich and powerful dictating terms under which we're forced to live." He supports policies that "concentrate more on the people, not just poor people, but all people in general." He also despairs of UK foreign policy, wanting an end to UK intervention in the Middle East, no more arms deals with Saudi Arabia, and greater support for the Palestinian people. It's his hope the UK will "show the US and the rest of the world that we do not have to kowtow to big business, and [our] citizens can live in peace and harmony."

Floren is from Mexico, so he can't vote in the election. Still, he has "deep rooting" in the UK. His grandfather was British, he's lived in England for five years and he's working on his citizenship. Floren feels British people should be proud of their country's history and accomplishments, and should "stand tall" as a world power. "We need experience and a steady hand," he says.

Alan thinks "the whole world could do with a big shakeup, it's all gone pear shaped." He says "people are getting tired of big business and monopolies running the show," while the majority of Britain's wealth is in the hands of "a small elitist group of the aristocracy." Despite doing a business studies degree in his youth, he's now disillusioned with capitalism, and thinks that regardless of who wins the election, "the same people will be in control. Big global industries are more powerful than governments." He's also worried about religious conflict, and our exploitation of the Earth's resources.

Martin describes himself as "an idealist, a pacifist," who "wants to see a better world." He believes politics is too focused on money, and financial concerns are secondary to having a positive attitude toward each other: "Economic justice follows social justice, not the other way round." The UK's national mentality is too influenced by the empire it no longer has, he believes. It needs greater intellectual freedom, and should "revisit the possibility of doing things for their own sake rather than for money [and] stepping out of the USA's wake" to make a "moral contribution" to the world's issues.

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