After nearly a year of not blogging, I have spent the last two days constantly wondering in my head how to write a blog about the referendum. I have tried to think about how to make it different, how to structure it cleverly, how to crow-bar some parent-focussed reference into my political ramblings.
Then about two minutes ago, I realised I was doing exactly what has made me so angry about this whole referendum. I was putting style above substance. I was focussing on how I wanted to say something, rather than what needed to be said.
For the record, I voted Remain. I stand by my decision, and I am saddened to be leaving the EU, but I do not hate all Leave voters.
I do however, hate the referendum. More specifically, the campaigns which led up to it.
Because the thing that disgusts me so much about this whole ‘Brexit’ thing (apart from the word Brexit, which is not a real word and is irritatingly stupid!) is the appalling disregard those in charge of it have shown for us, the voters, and our ability to make real decisions.
There are those who would argue this is not a decision which should ever have been left to us; it is too complicated, too nuanced and too important to leave to a simple public vote by people who have no idea how the EU and the international market works. They may be right. But in the interests of discussion, let’s leave that aside for one moment.
The whole campaign, on both sides, was style over substance. PR people deciding it’s all too complicated to explain (again, maybe true, but if we’re having the vote you have to try!) and so condensing everything to one or two simple points expressed almost entirely through slogans. The pointed fingers, furrowed eyebrows, brightly branded leaflets and endlessly repeated catchphrases left far more of an impression than any of the actual reasons we should stay or leave.
I wasn’t sure what to vote at the start. Like many of my friends, I had this gut feeling I wanted to remain, but I couldn’t totally articulate why. So I paid attention. I listened to the news, I read the propaganda and I watched the debates. At the end of it all, this is what the campaigns had told me:
Remain: If we leave, the economy will be a disaster! There’s also some vague idea about security being better in the EU, but we can’t quite explain why. Plus, the leave campaign are a bit racist and we’re much nicer.
Leave: Take back control! Make Britain Great Again! Boo to all those bureaucrats. Plus, there are too many immigrants (and I’ve heard that all of Turkey are on their way). Make Britain Great again!
Hardly deep, thoughtful and cogent arguments upon which to base a decision which will affect everyone in our country and people around the world for decades to come.
It’s not like there weren’t good arguments on both sides. This talk from an actual expert on the EU (though apparently we’re not allowed to like experts anymore, what with all their knowing what they’re talking about and not using catchphrases – idiots!) was the only useful thing I found to help me make my decision. In the one day since the result was announced I’ve already heard more sensible arguments for leaving than during the whole campaign (again, I don’t agree with them, but they make some sense). Perhaps if these were presented during the campaign so many leave voters wouldn’t feel like they’re branded bigots. Perhaps remain voters like me wouldn’t be so frightened for the future cohesion of our communities. Perhaps we would all have been able to give it a bit more thought.
Whatever the result and whatever your opinion, the truth is this was a disaster. It was a sad indictment of our political system. Cameron claimed he wanted to give us the vote because it was the democratic thing to do, but we can all see it’s what he had to do to try (and fail) to save his leadership. Boris Johnson claims he wants out of the EU, but isn’t it convenient how much it will help his own career? Loads of Leave campaign leaders claimed they wanted out of the EU because it was undemocratic and people were unelected (again, not entirely true), but will we see them now fighting the undemocratic and unjust practices of the UK’s democratic system? I somehow doubt it.
I want to remain hopeful. I desperately do. Maybe things will be fine, and if not I’m sure we’ll eventually muddle through and make the best of it. But if the referendum has shown me one thing, it’s that it’s not Europe we should be worrying about, but our own politics, the constant victory of style over substance, and of political posturing over what people really want and need.