UK political discourse has become more tribal in recent years, but the Government should be aware that society is united on one thing – the need to protect standards after Brexit, says Sue Pritchard, director of the FFCC.
We were delighted to support Agrespect, Matt Naylor and the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) leadership in running an opening event at OFC, called ‘Diversity, Inclusion and Combatting Polarisation.
Prompted by Matt’s passion to attract more people from all backgrounds into farming and the countryside, as well as FFCC’s experiences talking to people in communities around the UK, our brilliant panel of speakers joined with delegates to talk about this important topic.
Navaratnam Partheeban talked about his experiences training and working as a vet and how this led him to set up BVEDS; Lydia Slack shared her moving story about growing up as a lesbian in a farming family in Derbyshire, with warmth, honesty and humour.
Bryony Gittins, a woman farmer, described the brilliant NFU Cymru ‘She Who Dares Farms’ campaign – yes, I have the T shirt.
And Will Evans, the self-confessed ‘white male privileged’ panellist, brought his trademark plain-speaking empathy, telling his family stories about how it is possible to feel excluded and that you don’t belong anymore, in all sorts of subtle ways.
This last decade has seen our public discourse becoming more polarized and more ‘tribal’.
From Brexit to the meat debates, people are feeling compelled to pick a side, and worse, to lob metaphorical rocks at the other side.
There are many explanations for this, but neuroscience offers a helpful viewpoint – that we’ve evolved to trust ‘people like us’ and to be wary of people we believe are different from us.
In our limbic brain, where ‘instinctive’ decisions are made, we make rapid judgements about whether we feel that people (or situations) might be safe, or harmful, and we do that by judging them against what we already know – what’s familiar, what makes us feel secure and where we feel we ‘belong’.
Unfamiliar situations make us anxious, and lead to what psychologists call ‘othering’, labelling those other people ‘not like us’.
And this happens across all levels of society – from households, ‘Jonny takes after his mother, but Jilly is just like her dad’; in villages ‘they’ve just lived here for twenty years’; sport ‘Celtic or Rangers?’ to whole countries ‘European, or…’
Left unchecked, this process leads to some very worrying places, when the majority group stereotypes, ignores or excludes, and if you’re in the minority, you feel confused, marginalised and fearful.
Sadly, some leaders around the world know how to manipulate this natural human characteristic – the populist politics we see which stirs up fear, anger and exclusion.
But it is a powerful act of positive and courageous leadership to look for ways to bridge differences, to connect with others and foster a greater sense of common purpose across our communities, so we can focus on the real issues in front of us – from the climate and ecosystem emergencies, to helping communities adapt and respond to changing economics.
In putting on the event at the start of OFC, Matt and the board exercised exemplary leadership.
Minette Batters, NFU president, and Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth chief executive, speaking as one on behalf of the climate and ecosystem emergencies, showed what positive and progressive leadership looks like, mobilising their respective communities in collective commitment to our shared interests.
There’s another topic on which there is overwhelming agreement among farmers’ groups, businesses and environmental groups: the post-Brexit trading environment.
Before the election, FFCC sent a letter to the Secretaries of State in Defra, trade and business, with over 130 signatories – leaders from agriculture and farming businesses, food businesses, environment and science, academics and civil society groups.
In it, we called on Government to ensure a level playing field in the future trading environment.
The risks to all our citizens, rural communities and food and farming businesses are immense if we rush into the wrong trade deals after Brexit.
This Government wants to establish its credentials to be world-leading in environmental performance.
But this cannot be achieved by reducing our own high standards or offshoring our responsibilities to countries which have less capacity and fewer resources than we do.
They can be confident that on this, at least, the consensus is clear and solid.
Sue can be found tweeting at @suepritch