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Reflections on a time as editor-in-chief

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A vote of no confidence. Missed Brexit deadlines. European elections that we were never meant to take part in. A Tory leadership election. The EHRC announcing they’re investigating Labour. The second general election in two years. (The start of) A Labour leadership election.

All of those events have, believe it or not, happened in the space of time that I have been editor-in-chief for Backbench (which, by the way, has been since about mid-way through 2018.) But, from midnight tonight, I’ll be passing on the mantle, and the wonderful Maheen Behrana will be taking over.

It seems strange, to write those words, even though this has been a plan-in-the-making since last year. I’ve been editing, in some capacity or other, since 2017: two and a half years of reading the best writing, hearing from the most brilliant people, and having my mind exposed to a multitude of new ideas.

As I’ve reflected on all of that experience, all of that time, I’ve been wondering whether I have any last-minute observations, anything more to add before I sign off my last article as editor-in-chief. And now, as I look out of my bedroom window onto the street below, I think I finally do.

First of all, be honest. I don’t write that with the same intention as a teacher who, having caught a plagiarising student, urges her pupil to be ‘honest’ so they can ‘sort it out.’ I mean, be honest in the same way that you’d be brave – write what you must write, what you can’t keep to yourself anymore. Don’t think about what anybody else might think about what you’ve got to say.

Writing is about explaining the world as you understand it. With the exception of hard facts (that hopefully goes without saying) writing is a matter of being honest with how you understand what’s going on. Nobody has a monopoly on that truth, which means that you have no excuse to not write your truth.

Second, accept that other people do think differently to you. The ‘remain v leave’ dichotomy would have been no such thing if every single person had accepted that, actually, it’s okay for people to think differently. In particular, I think to those people who agitated for a second referendum (hard luck, guys) but I also think to those who were brutally critical of those who agitated for a second referendum.

It’s not just Brexit that has seen such harsh dividing lines drawn between people. The Tories are guilty (see: May v the ‘true’ Brexiteers.) Labour are too (see: ‘proper’ Labour v ‘Blairite’ Labour.) I could go on. The Lib Dems. The religious. Sexual minorities. If the hundreds of articles that have passed through the Backbench inbox has taught me anything, it’s that this dichotomisation is (and no term describes it better) a load of bollocks.

All of that leads me to my final point: be kind. Always. The type of society that divides us into ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is the type of society that sanctions unkindness to those who occupy the ‘wrong’ side in the debate. We see that in debates about gender, about race, about sexuality, about class, about free speech. The unkindness is everywhere.

Being kind, though, doesn’t negate the honesty that I started off talking about. People who take up an opposing view, on whatever subject, do so because they feel that it is the right thing to do, that their understanding of what’s going on is accurate. Those who wanted to revoke Article 50 didn’t (I imagine) ‘hate’ democracy, but that accusation is often levelled at them (and, I shamefully confess, I’ve probably said something similar before.) We should try to understand, not to judge.

Indeed, rather than being quick to condemn somebody, our society needs a little bit more kindness. I publish this just a few short hours before we finally say ‘au revoir’ to the European Union (which means that this process has been going on longer than I’ve written, let alone edited, for Backbench) and so will begin a new political era. A political era, I will continue to tell anybody who listens, where we should aim to listen, to understand, and to be kind.

Despite the crude caricatures, my time as editor-in-chief makes me believe that the vast majority of the younger generation do share this belief: a belief in compassion. Article after article has encapsulated this approach with grace and style. We need more writers like this – writers for whom the Backbench platform is perfect for. So, me stepping down is the ideal time for others to step up, and start writing for Backbench: writing for a better world.

One final reflection. My last hour as editor-in-chief will also be the UK’s first hour outside of the EU. The metaphor writes itself.

This is Daniel Clark, signing off as editor-in-chief for the last time.

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