It makes me feel more than a little sick when I think that – at the time we were watching important men in expensive suits argue – thirty-nine people were boarding a lorry, hoping to start a new life in the United Kingdom; that – at the time we were fretting about the Irish backstop – there were thirty-nine people preparing to spend their life savings on countless hours in a refrigerated lorry, in the hope that what they faced when they arrived would be better than what they had coped with before they left; that – whilst we read headlines about whether Boris Johnson is going to call an election or not – there are mothers, fathers, children out there who do not yet know the fate of the people they love, who had – in some cases – put their lives at risk to send money back home.
Because, let’s face it, whilst we’re arguing about the finer points of an economic deal, and whether that’s going to have an impact on our singularly privileged and comfortable lives, there are people out there who are still having to risk everything they have just to be able to scrape together a basic standard of life. Whilst thousands and thousands of people marched on Saturday because they feel their right to democracy has been impinged, real people said goodbye – as it turns out, for the last time – and set off on a journey across the world just to taste the democracy we feel is so threatened. Whilst we will – over the coming days – forget about thirty-nine bodies in a lorry because we’ve got things to think about, like Brexit and waving a blown up Boris Johnson on a stick outside the Houses of Parliament, and shouting as loudly as we can just in case it’s picked up by a BBC News interview, there will be families who can never be the same again.
This isn’t about democracy. We are spoilt by the choice and the freedom that we have. We are spoilt by the very fact that we are allowed to protest; to fill the capital with our views and opinions, to the point that we don’t recognise how lucky we are to live somewhere where that is allowed at all. There are so many places in the world where we would not be given a choice about politics, or how money is spent or whether we get access to free healthcare. There are so many places in the world where Brexit would be a painless luxury.
This isn’t about Brexit, really. This is about being aware. I am sure that somebody out there will read this and think that I am politically naive; thick, even. But I don’t think this is even about politics. It doesn’t matter what your policy on immigration is; or what your beliefs about foreign aid are, the real issue is that there are people in the world who see getting in the back of a lorry with no money, without their family, and heading towards an unknown destination as a better choice than staying where they are. I’m sure that some people will argue that there are those who come here for the free healthcare and the benefits, but really, truly, what sort of life would you swap for a council flat in an area where stabbing and crime is rife and the ability to go to the doctors if you need antibiotics?
The answer to this, I guess, is something that we can all learn: think about what real hardship is; count your blessings. Express your view, certainly. Demonstrate, if you have to. Those are privileges you are lucky to have.
It feels, recently, that we’ve forgotten that there’s a world out there beyond the end of our politically minded noses. It’s OK – wonderful, in fact – to have views and beliefs about the way your country should be run, but always, always remember that you do not have to climb onto a refrigerated lorry to come to a country full of people so spoilt that the worst thing they can imagine is no longer being a star on a flag.