This campaign is a future warning from a British Trumpland
Sunday Mail, June 19th 2016
The Euro campaign has been without any joy or love, and has reached depths unseen for decades in British politics – reducing complex subjects to the gutter.
This last week has been a humbling one. The tragic death of Labour MP Jo Cox, the UKIP poster ‘Breaking Point’ on the threat of mass immigration coming to the UK, and the disgraceful antics of Leave.EU (the UKIP dominated Leave campaign) linking the Orlando massacre to Muslim immigration.
It has been a long low road to this sad point. Left-wingers and liberals have for decades evaded talking about immigration. Labour, in particular, have avoided any real conversation with its voters for the last fifty years on the subject. As a result, UKIPers and right-wingers have burst through this spiral of silence, claiming ‘politically correct’ censorship, and ended up using a language of stigmatisation, populism and cheap solutions.
There has been no real pro-European argument. It has been reduced to two uninspiring and basically Eurosceptic campaigns. The first is softly Eurosceptic, led by Cameron, Osborne and Labour, and pragmatically for remain; the second, fronted by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, has become nasty, base and without any seeming principles. Both have traded bogus figures as if facts don’t really matter.
Even before the death of Jo Cox, journalist Alex Massie dared to ask ‘Has England gone mad?’ in a wave of crazed, emotional Euro hatred. Afterwards, to dare to make any connection between the politics of hatred and irrationality and the ultra-right politics of killing someone, produced from even supposedly thoughtful Eurosceptics, a mix of denial and rage.
Former Tory MP Matthew Parris asked if the Leave campaign with its constant thread of banging on about the evils of EU immigration, was really believable: ‘Is it really the Polish plumber rather than the Bengali bride whom your average Leave voter wants to keep out?’ To state the obvious, this is clearly not the case.
Underneath the froth, this is a vote driven by trust and lack of it. Remain supporters trust authority such as the Bank of England, Institute for Fiscal Studies, and IMF. Leave supporters do no trust any authority, preferring gut instincts.
Moreover, this vote is about the last crumbling hold of traditional authority – the Treasury, Bank of England and global institutions. There is a hyper-Thatcherite scorched earth policy – which is suspicious or hostile to nearly all authority and experts.
Until the murder of Cox, Britain was on the verge of voting to leave the EU. Now there is the prospect that the country will pull back from the edge, and narrowly vote to remain. The question is whether, by the margin of victory, and in these harrowing circumstances, it will decide anything.
Even a close vote to leave would see a Scottish sizeable remain vote. Then Nicola Sturgeon would be faced with a difficult dilemma. Does a Scottish remain on a 55-60% turnout trump an explicit pro-union mandate on an 85% turnout? Her most passionate supporters will say yes; she will remain canny and play a longer game.
I have always been pro-European and pro-EU. Despite this I have been inclined towards voting Leave – due to the absence of a genuine pro-European campaign, and to fire a shot across the British and European establishments. But now I know I cannot have anything to do with one of the most shaming campaigns in living memory.
There has been little uplifting sentiment. One rare expression this week was a Dutch newspaper, responding to ‘The Sun’ coming out for Leave. They wrote to their British neighbours: ‘We not only love, we need you’ and continued, ‘An EU without the UK would be like tea without milk. Bitter. So please, stay. Stay with us.’
This campaign has left millions of us unsure and unrepresented. But the above sentiment and tone from our friends on the continent, along with the death of Jo Cox, and the disgusting sentiments of part of the Leave campaign, are enough to persuade me, at the last minute, to vote Remain.
Our politics and our democracy have not emerged well out of this referendum. We have to be able to conduct ourselves better than the last few weeks, and to use better arguments, listen to opposing views, and allow for unsureness, more than we have done. This debate has been a warning of a future which doesn’t work for anyone, bar those peddling simplistic, dishonest, hateful answers. Lets stop and change or the deceptions of Trumpland are coming shortly to devour us.