Thursday, June 16, 2016

In or Out?

I voted by post last week so it is too late to change my mind. I'm terribly depressed about the European Union (EU)  referendum. Here is an issue which has a huge amount of agreement between our politicians (75% remain) and world leaders (95% remain). It was grossly irresponsible to call a referendum and allow its result to bind our behaviour. This is far too important an issue to leave to us ordinary people.

Amongst my friends there has also been a large amount of agreement. I have never picked my friends based on their political views (not deliberately anyway) but my Facebook stream is 95% remain. I have listened hard to, and engaged with, the 5%.

However some of the comments boxes have been full of vitriol from people I don't know. Seems to me that the leave campaign have appealed, successfully, to a Little England v Johnnny Foreigner distinction that doesn't exist. I was wondering yesterday if the remain campaign would have done better to say nothing and not campaign at all. Little Englanders hate being told anything and do not change their minds through rational argument.

Journalist Rod Liddle summed it up. Somehow this referendum has caught the imagination of ordinary working communities who see it as a chance to register the complaint that something, not sure what, is changing about their world and they don't like it. Few have thought it through thoroughly. Few have considered what next. Few buy the economic arguments (which 'Remain' have won solidly, again and again). Some are chanting that they are leaving while throwing empty beer bottles at French Police in Marseilles. So proud.

I'm incredibly depressed. It often happens around election time because I support a lot of minority views. But this in/out referendum has really got to me. So this will be my post on the matter and I won't tell you how to vote. I guess there are some things I need to get off my chest.

To begin with, I live in the most mono-cultural place I have ever called home. It also has one of the oldest demographics. Our Member of Parliament is Liam Fox - a 'big noise' in the Brexit campaign. So I haven't exactly heard compelling and balanced arguments on the streets and in the bars.

So what has got to me? I think it is the idea that as part of the EU our 'British' lifestyle has gone to hell in a handcart. I was having breakfast with some men the other day and I challenged a lot of the Brexit statements I heard. Not because they were necessarily wrong or contained no grains of truth but because they were rash generalisations, unsubstantiated claims or glib doom-mongering.

One older guy (perhaps about 70) said that he had spent the second half of his life watching things fall apart because of the EU. I asked him to name one way he had personally suffered, 'Oh, I haven't suffered personally...' he said 'It's just that...'

I suppose my depression is at the failure of most people to take a long view with a wide-angle lens. People movements have been part of our world since people evolved and looked for food. Since the last ice-age people have moved in and out of the British Isles. I am, genetically, from mainland Europe. Not sure if my ancestors walked or came with weapons. But they immigrated. Bet your life on it.

What on earth do you think happens when a largely peaceful middle-eastern community is overrun by ISIS? Or an Afghan village by the Taliban? That's right children (sorry to be so patronising but it really is so simple a child can grasp it); people run. The labourers and unemployed run. The school-teachers and beauticians run. The plumbers run. The architects run. The solicitors run. Women, men, children, young, old, fat, thin, good and bad - all run (or walk fast) for their lives. 'Sneaky migrants', as labelled by the Daily Express, is probably a representative sample of all the above; but the fittest. The ones who survived that long a run and that dangerous a trek or boat-trip.

Is there any way we can see the referendum being about being more generous, more welcoming, indeed setting an example to the rest of Europe?

I am depressed because the debate is about what we get not what we give. I am depressed because both sides have said it will lead to chaos if we vote the other 'wrong' way. I am depressed because inconvenient statistics, thoroughly disproved, are still being banded about. Hearing one quoted the other day I suggested that the individual should not rely on the Daily Telegraph so much. 'How did you know I read the Telegraph?' she asked. Oh, I just guessed. I am depressed that the politics of repeating a lie often enough is in such fine fettle. I am depressed, so depressed, about the quality of the debate I can barely bring myself to listen to it.

I am depressed because the Sun has too much power and fails any democracy test.

I was, until I sent off my postal vote, open-minded to not voting 'remain' personally if I did find someone, anyone, who could voice a 'leave' vision that made any sort of sense.

Paul Mason came close. He gave a principled left-wing case for Brexit in the Guardian online on May 16th. But he reminded us that a Corbyn government, however unlikely that might be, would never get its left-wing agenda through as an EU nation. See Greece. Brexit would probably hand control of the soon-to-break-up UK to Gove/Johnson and a return to Thatcherism max. Workers' rights could probably go hang. But if we vote to remain it would be a vote for an ever-closer union with a Europe that has some nasties looking right on the very edge of power. Cameron's concessions, he argues, were not negligible and left a future 28 member treaty unlikely, commitments to Lisbon revisitable and the relationship with the Eurozone and European Law negotiable. For a moment there I almost liked him but then remembered he was the one who had got us into this mess in the first place.

Richard Osman nailed how I feel. 'In most debates we have to listen to people who shout the loudest or are most certain of their views. That doesn't represent most of us.' (Tweet 27/5/16)

Whatever the end result a referendum stops democracy in its tracks. We will have to move on with what looks as if it will be a 55/45 on a maximum 80% turn-out. And that, my friends, is a divided kingdom. We will need quite a bit of magnanimity from the defeated. I predict a riot. I am depressed.


Mike Peatman said...

Excellent post, Steve, I share your depression

Pat Leighton said...

Couldn't agree more. Let's hope, and pray, that common sense and 'basic' humanity prevail today.