This piece was updated on 03/09/19.
"What’s going to happen now?" friends, colleagues and family members ask on a daily (if not hourly) basis. Over the weekend, the frustration of one friend overtook our evening. "But what can we do about prorogation?" she asked. "And can Boris Johnson really do what he's doing? Will I really have to work until I'm 75? What’s going on with the Irish border? Is anyone doing anything about the Amazon being on fire?"
Honestly, I don’t know. People’s faces always change, folding into frustration and disbelief when you say this. We can all guess at how this turns out but the truth is that nobody – not the numerous problematic men in charge, not the MPs who are quitting, or threatening to quit, in droves, not journalists and not voters – really knows what happens next and absolutely everybody is struggling to keep up.
After years of political turmoil, all of us, regardless of how we voted in the EU referendum, have been left reeling, confused and frustrated by politics and politicians. On top of that, we’re all completely overwhelmed by what feels like a constant tsunami (or, to keep it topical, hurricane) of bad news. Earlier this year an Ofcom report found that 78% of us are concerned about our internet usage and worried about the material we’re consuming while we scroll. But at the same time, that report also found that we’re caught in a feedback loop, trapped by the FOMO that the fast pace of today’s news cycle has created. A third of Britons now say they're avoiding the news because of "Brexit frustration".
I'll be the first to say it. I think there's too much news.
I’ll be the first to say it. I think there’s too much news. In the last few months it feels like we’ve had a year’s worth of news. Doesn’t the outrage over Jeffrey Epstein's death seem a lifetime ago? Blink and you may have missed the fact that since the beginning of last week there have been no fewer than seven mass shootings in the United States.
These days, a month feels like a very long time. Since last Friday alone, a lot has happened. After a weekend of protests against the prorogation of parliament, are we now facing a general election? Did they really expect us to be distracted from the ever louder cries of "Stop the coup!" outside Number 10 by an (admittedly adorable) rescue dog called Dilyn?
And that’s before we even get into what may happen when Brexit, with deal or without, eventually goes through. Claims from papers leaked in August warned of a shortage of fresh fruit and medicine, queues of two-and-a-half days at the Channel crossing and a hard Irish border if no deal is agreed. Oh, and another point – did you see the open letter signed by 1,000 doctors and 40 professors which called on us all to take part in "nonviolent civil disobedience" because of the looming threat of an "environmental catastrophe" because they think our government’s policies are "woefully inadequate".
Hands up if you feel like the shrugging girl emoji.
It's only possible to sustain anger and outrage for so long before you become exhausted. Hands up if you feel like the shrugging girl emoji. Frustration is the word we keep hearing. It feels a bit like our country is a teenager, stuck in the last year of school. We know good things are probably around the corner but we’re in the middle of exam period, nobody has done any revision and we feel guilty if we go out and have fun. One way or another, we just want it to be over.
Frustration is the prevention of progress, success or fulfilment and, right now, that’s exactly what we’re all living through. People are upset and annoyed because they feel unable to change anything while our politicians seem equally unable to get anything done. If you want Brexit to happen, you’re frustrated because it’s not and if you voted against it, you’re frustrated because everything else is on hold until it does.
Tempting as it is to switch off and disengage, though, it’s more important than ever that we don’t. There is always something you can do because, even though it doesn’t always feel like it, you do have the power to influence the future. Think about the rise of movements like Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion or the recent successes of campaign groups like Generation Rent and ask yourself which causes you want to champion. And if it’s not possible to take time out to physically protest, remember that you can do something as simple as email your MP. For all the bad press politicians get, it’s their job to listen to the people they represent and make sure they take it on board when they’re voting in the House of Commons. Even when things feel bleak, it's good to remember that as citizens we have more power than we realise. Let's use it.