In many ways the EU Referendum campaign has had much of the same atmosphere as a a General Election; endless wind-bagging by the opposing sides with little sign of any facts or certainty other than they are desperate to win.
The stark difference – there’ll be no chance to change our minds in five years time if the Leave campaign wins the day.
Much of the coverage I’ve read and seen though has treated this momentous and incredibly serious question about the future of Britain – for all of us and future generations too – like some kind of circus sideshow. It’s as if no one will pay attention unless we make it fun!
Which is likely how Boris Johnson got drafted in as spokesman for the Leave campaign – probably on a promise that he’ll be allowed to play Prime Minister one day. After all no one loves Michael Gove that way do they? No one says, “Oh, I LOVE that Michael Gove! I know he’s a bit of a cock and made some catastrophic errors when he was in charge of Education, but HE’s SO FUNNY.” No. No one has ever said that.
But Boris, the loveable, funny, old duffer with his messy blond hair and bicycling ways. Good Old Boris. Oh let’s be just like him, all bold and uninhibited. He makes leaving the EU sound such fun, doesn’t he! And anyway we wouldn’t to upset him or he might turn nasty and say we’re just like Hitler.
If we were able to shut up the pack of braying posh boys shouting nonsense at each other, seal them in a soundproof box for a few hours at least, we might give ourselves a bit of quiet and some space to see what this referendum is really all about.
It hasn’t been called because we need to know if being part of the European Union is thought a good or bad thing. Not really. The two main issues we’re told are the crux of the argument – the economy and immigration – aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re connected. When times are hard people move around in search of the best paid work.
In the case of people from eastern Europe who have come to the UK, in their thousands – yes, they’ve found better paid work. And it enables them to contribute billions of pounds in taxes to the British economy which more than covers the public services they use. Some analysis of figures even demonstrates the Treasury makes a £2.5 billion profit out of European migrants. At the same time we’re told employment in the UK is at an all time high – with plenty of work to go round.
This makes all the campaigning around immigration and how overcrowded Britain is/will become and how public services are at breaking point as a result, more than smack of Xenophobia. Rather it positively screams it.
Perhaps people wouldn’t be so easily whipped into an anti-migrant frenzy if public services were adequately funded – through taxes collected from big businesses whose unpaid tax would more than likely cover the shortfall. The shortfall caused by (global) economic problems. Which in turn prompted an increase in migration as people moved around in search of work. NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND.
Which brings me back to my point. The referendum is less to do with us (although the results may affect us dramatically) and more to do with party politics.
It’s got more to do with the divisions between pro and anti EU members of the Conservative Party; whether the anti’s would have jumped ship and joined Nigel Farage’s UKIP if they didn’t get the referendum they wanted and whether Boris Johnson or George Osborne get to be leader once David Cameron’s stepped down or been sacked. (What a CHOICE!)
Being in the European Union is not perfect. No one thinks that, but being a member of the EU has given us more than it’s taken away.
Like the right not to be forced to work so many hours a week it makes you ill (although you can still do that if you want to – you also have the right to ‘opt out’) and other rights for working people so we can all have a life beyond work and remember what our families and friends look like. The right to paid time off, and to use it taking a cheap and easy European holiday… where it won’t cost us a fortune call home on our mobile phones.
And laws to protect the environment, including subsidies for farmers who farm in wildlife-friendly ways. Funding for projects in poor, rural areas to help create jobs and promote business and… let’s go back to workers again – the equal pay act meaning women and men doing jobs of equal value must be paid the same. All these great things are because Britain is part of the European Union.
One of the things I like about the EU is these things we’ve signed up to have been put together by people of more than one political colour or mindset. Sort of like a safeguard against, say, a Tory Government trying to dismantle all the things which make Britain great and fair.
Some people want us to go back to a fabled, glorious imperial age where us little islanders ruled the waves and saw anything else as being slaves. But doesn’t that sort of remind you of selfish little kids that don’t want to share? You know, the ones who called you names (and kicked you in the shins) if you didn’t play the game they wanted to play and play it their way.
But we’re adults and our parents aren’t coming to tell us to play nicely. We have to work that out for ourselves. My parents taught me that playing nicely means sharing and making decisions together so things are as fair as possible to everyone – not just for the kid who shouts a lot – or the one that makes everyone laugh to distract from the extra sweets he’s pocketed.
It doesn’t mean grabbing what we think are our best toys and refusing to play with the European Union because ‘it smells’. A vote to leave might mean no one wants to play with us anymore anyway.
I’m voting to Remain in the EU this Thursday 23 June. Because although the referendum isn’t a game – we’re more likely to win if we stay IN.