I have been ruminating for some time over what to write about this wretched, binary, reductive Referendum. I’ve read and read all sorts of articles and opinion pieces; I’ve looked at the statistics used by both sides and considered their viewpoints as best I can. Of course there is no way of knowing exactly what will happen in the next few years, whether we decide to Leave the EU or Remain part of one of the world’s most influential clubs.
It is mere speculation of course, but I heartily disagree with a popular view that politicians have presented the public only with spin and no facts. Facts are there but far too many people reject out of hand or choose to ignore things that don’t fit their own viewpoint. This enrages me: you present people with facts or expert opinions and then they deride the expertise of the people presenting them. Or it becomes some sort of Establishment conspiracy. Or it’s scaremongering.
One person on Twitter memorably presented me with, “I am fed up of the educated elites making decisions for us ordinary people.” An expression of the culture of mediocrity into which we have descended, as if all opinions, no matter how uninformed, no matter how crass or simply plain wrong were as valid as informed comment from PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT.
As it is, I voted with my postal vote almost as soon as I received it, almost three weeks ago and, it’s no secret, I voted Remain. On balance of probabilities, and not being a top economist or EU Commissioner or CEO of the NHS or a Global bank or Head of State myself, I’d rather trust those people who know much more than me about these things. Here’s a list as a reminder. It’s not definitive:
NB. This is an updated list as at 19/6/2016
Anyway, many other people far more articulate and well-versed in these things than me have written at length on their views and I have reposted them on Facebook and retweeted them on Twitter in order to make the information available to those people who say it is not available. I think there is no point me going over them again here and it’s not what I’d wanted to write anyway.
My thoughts eventually started to crystallise in my head yesterday morning, after a truly horrible week when the escalation in tension and mutual loathing between Leave and Remain became palpable. But then the murder (killing, manslaughter?) of Jo Cox, a young MP, mother of two tiny children, with a career record of standing up for the refugees and people of Syria, made it seem tasteless to give yet another view.
There’s no point in wishing that good will come out of the the gunning down of a defenceless woman who wanted only to help people and make the world better. I can only hope that grief over what has happened and the respectful pause in campaigning will give people time to think about how this nation has become so divided and so stupid, so spiteful, so reckless with the truth, so content to perpetuate downright lies. Jonathan Freedland’s piece in today’s Guardian sums this up beautifully. I never want to see a referendum again, pitting neighbours against each other, splitting families. We have a parliamentary democracy, imperfect as ours is: let us rely on that in future.
Goodness, I’m struggling with this post. There’s so much I could write and I’ve typed and deleted, typed and deleted so many times.
I have been horrified at the antics of Boris Johnson – I actually voted for him to be Mayor of London TWICE: what a disappointment – who has thrown away his erstwhile “progressiveness” and resorted to populist racism in his quest for power. President Barack Obama is advising us to Remain in Europe because his father was Kenyan and he’s therefore got a grudge against the British? Really? Who else would you tar with this same brush, Boris? All the sons and daughters of people invited by the Mother Country from the Indian subcontinent to help run the NHS? Are we somehow a fifth column of malcontents with a grudge against the UK, just waiting for our moment to sabotage it? I can’t believe my ears.
The problem with this sort of rhetoric, which often seems like merely a game of spin to those with their eyes on real political power who can change direction on a sixpence, is that it taps into a nasty, latent undercurrent of xenophobia. With one or two, easily refutable exceptions, all conversations I have had or heard about or witnessed have come down to xenophobia and thence to raw and crude racism. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe that racism ever disappeared, but at least people realised that there was something less than respectable about it. Now it’s overt, crude, loud and shocking, culminating in this disgraceful, mendacious poster above, with its direct references to Nazi propaganda, launched only a few hours before Jo Cox MP was killed.
I have spent my life second guessing people, excusing them for repeating the anti-foreigner filth in the Daily Mail; trying to ignore patronising remarks about massing Romanians or not being able to wear crucifixes or lamenting the lack of Gollywog tokens. In many cases, people who say these things have never had to consider the implications of their words or actions because they’ve never been directly affected by racism themselves. They’ve never had to think or imagine what it’s like to be shouted at by drunks in the street; to stand in the changing room of an exclusive West End boutique and hear the assistant serving you referring pointedly to “Paki shops” BECAUSE YOU ARE THERE; to sit at the backwash in a high end West End hair salon and hear Lady This and Baroness That suddenly change their conversation to “IMMIGRANTS” just BECAUSE YOU ARE THERE.
You might never have been excluded from a neighbours’ party to which everyone else in the street was invited; you might not have had a neighbour turn up on your doorstep with a basket of dirty clothes assuming that you took in laundry. You might never have had to hear an elderly woman at the brush counter Boots remarking, loudly enough for you to hear, “Who would want that if THEY had had their hands on it?” You might never have witnessed the look of disgust on the face of a cleaner meeting you for the first time after previously having spoken to you only on the telephone. You might not, but I have.
I have spent my whole life second-guessing people’s actual feelings toward my brown face, my Indian name. So I find myself wondering about people’s real intentions in this wretched Referendum of dog whistles and innuendo, where xenophobia has become somehow almost respectable again.
Now, you might have an entirely reasonable concerns with our membership of the EU which makes you side with the Leave campaign. If you do, though, remember that you are putting yourself on the same side as people such as Michael Gove and George Galloway and Ian Duncan Smith and Katie Hopkins and the Rupert Murdoch and the Sun and the opportunistic Boris Johnson and, most odious of all, Nigel Farage. There is no escaping that. You might be holding your nose for the sake of democracy but you are making a conscious choice to be on the same side as these people. Which means that you are willing to excuse, or even endorse, the lies that they have told; the vicious racist atmosphere that they have regenerated.
I can’t get past this.
You might not be a racist yourself but you are on the same side as these people. You are on the same side as people who are voting for them because they have made their own racism less egregious, more acceptable, more easily voiced in public. As many have said, not all Leave voters are racists but all racists will vote Leave.
If you vote on the side of the obnoxious, squalid, odious Mr Farage and his seedy UKIP companions I’ll have to question how racist you are. I no longer want to smile and indulge you when you forget yourself and say “Oh we don’t mean you!” or “I’m not racist: I have black friends,” or “We know you. You’re OK.” I shall say something, to make sure you know I don’t approve and I don’t agree. To make you uncomfortable, for a change, instead of meekly accepting your filth. I shall take myself and my custom elsewhere. I am 50 years old. I don’t need to take this any more.