Sunday, 26 June 2016

Some thoughts about the EU Referendum...

One thing I've noticed quite strongly before and after the referendum is that Leave voters really really don't like being challenged with facts that give the opposite viewpoint. The only responses they can give mostly are repeated soundbites that they descend into personal attacks. Someone I thought was a friend has told me to go elsewhere, I've been called names for offering another point of view in what, to me, is an intellectual, discussion rather than an argument. Very very few Leave voters have a factual, reasoned thesis. Those who have, I'm grateful to them for giving me something to think about. The others, I've been genuinely surprised how poorly informed most Leave voters have appeared to be. On the other hand, every time I've seen a Remain voter challenged, they've come back with facts and been met with abuse. What this referendum has done has expose the prejudice in our society and emboldened people to publicly spout racist views. It's scary how many people harbour these viewpoints behind a tolerant facade. And it's scary how many people fall into the clichés of "make Britain great again" and "take back control" etc when there hasn't been a time of Britain not being "great" or having "control". The poor don't have control. Our rich elite have the control. The problems are within our society, not without, and the biggest triumph of this referendum is to convince 52% of the country that the problems caused by our own government have in fact been caused by distant forces outside the country.
This is where our problems lie, this is where our future looks bleak. We as a society simultaneously don't trust politicians but believe their lies when they divert the blame elsewhere. It's a bizarre cognitive disconnect that makes people not listen or not understand. Whatever you think of the EU, the facts are undeniable with regard to investment in social regeneration, community projects, scientific research and so on. We're giving that up because 52% of us either don't understand that or don't care. A lot of that 52% have suffered directly as a result of austerity cuts, and now they've voted for even more.
What hope for us when we say we don't trust politicians but we still believe what some of them say when it aligns with prejudices that enable us to shift the blame far away rather than hold them to account? The real tragedy is that nobody, even apparently most of the Leave campaigners, wanted the consequences of the Leave vote, but that's what we've got. It's not good enough to now say "let's make the best of it" or "let's pull together to make it work" when there's no money. Reality doesn't work like that. Our lives are so bound up in looking after ourselves and our families - and rightly so - that, even if we wanted to, we're powerless to help when our friend's small business goes under because dealing with the EU now costs her too much; we're powerless to help when our neighbour can't pay the mortgage because he's lost his job; we're powerless to help when the children we see every day are going hungry because their parents on low incomes can't afford proper food. These are the realities of austerity, these are the realities of what leaving the EU may do to us. And I haven't even mentioned what it will do to families and relationships and race relations. We've already seen in a few days lots of examples of racial abuse happening much more openly.
Blame is a fool's game. I don't do blame. But we as a society have failed in our responsibilities to each other. We had a chance to say that we are better off uniting together than being divided, but 52% of us blew it. We chose division.
In 2010, the electorate sent a message that we didn't trust Labour or the Tories enough to run the country, and we put our confidence in the Lib Dems to firm a coalition. At the time, it seemed that they sold out their principles and suffered for it last year when the Tories gained a narrow majority. In retrospect, we can see that they did more to moderate the extremes of the right wing of the Tories than we knew about. Their mistake was in not shouting about it enough, and now they barely exist as a party. Labour have not been any kind of opposition at all since Gordon Brown stepped down. Their long history over the last few years of refusing to speak out against Tory education policy, of not challenging the line that Gordon Brown caused the global financial meltdown, of not even getting themselves together enough to be a coherent opposition, has cost the country dearly. The working poor have lurched towards UKIP and Britain First because they've been convinced by their true enemies that their friends are the enemies. And it's partly Labour's fault that this has happened. They no longer stick up for the working class. Who does? I liked Jeanette Winterson's suggestion yesterday that we need a new party , for argument's sake, The Equality Party, that will put back into the public consciousness the values that we need for the 21st century. We either need to transform Labour or the Lib Dems into that or we need a new political party. And we need it now.