When that Binary Choice was upon us – June 22, 2016
I did not need this referendum on the European Union. Not at this time. Not over the issues of immigration, the economy and red tape and not even over sovereignty and democracy, now that I’ve informed myself sufficiently.
I wouldn’t vote to join the EU now, not least because of the compulsory Schengen and Euro elements but that is not the choice we are making. I do understand the desire in trying to regain absolute self-determination but it’s quite unrealistic. The only way I’d entertain really going it alone – enough to vote for it – is if I truly thought there was no alternative for our well-being or perhaps if the rest of the world’s nations were isolating themselves, too. Albeit there’s been a rise in pro-secessionist regions, I don’t see all the world’s parts simply turning away from collective cooperation. I can’t see them deliberately choosing a self-ghettoising course and then making a success of it. Such a disconnecting seems a bit late in the day to be even possible; like not being able to unknow something.
I think being forced into making such a simplistic in/out choice over a jumble of complexities is an unnecessary and reckless distraction. I resent it. It’s having to pre-empt and then try to control not only what Britain and the European Union will look like in the future but the entire globe. We’re a small world, irrevocably intertwined and we are all dancing on a rapidly shifting carpet. There are conflicts at every turn, vital resource scarcity, environmental challenges and great shifts in individual and collective consciousness. No one knows how anything of the world will turn out, beyond that nothing happens in a vacuum and that there will be multi-dimensional consequences that will become tomorrow’s causes.
I know that Remain has played some aspects rather badly – many of my alignments have been coincidental and conditional and barely have my personal reasons been represented. But that Leave campaign: well, it’s all a bit much, really, isn’t it? To the Right we’ve got authoritarian Gove with his disdain for experts, IDS with his bulging hubris and record of contempt for the disabled and working poor and Boris who doesn’t give a fig for facts or accountability. Then we’ve got the likes of Gisela Stuart and Kate Hoey on the Left, who naively believe that everything will be alright because they are putting their trust in people voting sensibly and the possibility of a Labour government. And bridging the sides of Brexit, the hollow keystone that is Farage, with his shamelessly irresponsible propaganda and populist nostalgia. He started this reckless, ill-informed, pseudo-patriotic nonsense that has turned the country against itself.
Nearly every mess that Brexit wants to “take back control” over has been created by the socio-economic ignorance and injustice of our very own governments, not immigrants and the EU. They are our governments who have undermined good will, public services and vital infrastructure. And, just because a load of people are repeatedly proclaiming “take back control” doesn’t mean any of it will be given to the electorate, or that it even will be used in our interests. Just because they are promising to spend (the same) money on everyone’s pet projects while upholding, nay, increasing current funding levels in key services, doesn’t mean that they will be able to or always want to. Social justice? Simply look at the last few years.
Of course the EU and the Euro zone are both in need of reform. The Euro zone is in a sorry state but that’s because the same relentless, neoliberal, false economy nonsense has been meted out there as here and exacerbated by its currency union. But we’re not in the Euro. And we are not in Schengen. We have vetoes and protections; we have trading clout. We’re not even attached by land, except by way of the two Irelands on another island. No one in the EU is arguing against reform and neither are their minds solely and unanimously fixed on “ever closer union” as the solution. For Leave to say it is not reformable is disingenuous. Have our MPs ever seriously and earnestly tried to lead a proper, EU-wide campaign for reform of its institutions, structures and processes? Or ever even tried to explain them? I’ve witnessed decades of them mostly carping from the side or flapping over relative mundanities. We could easily make a much more effective fuss about what we want and decisions we don’t like. We could even just refuse to comply when our interests are compromised. What would happen? A court fine? A meeting to plan a meeting to talk about sanctioning us? We could leave at the drop of a hat if we thought we were in actual danger. Despite effort, I can’t find a risk in being in the EU that Brexit’s champions would properly solve. And anyway, if a credible risk does ever present, enough to invoke a Treaty mechanism or to warrant immediate escape, then, THEN a referendum might be justified – if not already rendered moot.
Given that we appear not to have enough actors with the experience and capacity, let alone the integrity and wisdom required, what confidence can we have in their ability to untangle the political, diplomatic, legal and technical knots involved in leaving? All that while simultaneously trying to create new deals and relationships? While simultaneously managing the day-to-running of a country? And an impatient electorate’s understandable frustration and much incited but unrealistic expectations? Personally, I can’t afford another lost decade, especially after the last six years which have seen enough time, money and opportunity wasted.
Demanding people make an unnecessary, ill-informed choice, based on neurotic sections of the Press and the hyperbole of political fools and charlatans, likely undermines our already fragile democracy. The BBC should have commissioned an Open University series that explained the EU’s structure and processes and broadcast them on BBC1 at peak viewing time. That would have cut through a great deal of rubbish and provided a commonly known foundation for much better questioning. What we’ve had, instead, are historical rhymes and speculation, non-issues and appeals to baser instincts, little-challenged opinion-by-rote and facts either given erratically and too late to make an impact or flimsy find-them-yourself signposting.
But it’s too late, now: the binary choice is upon us and I have to hope that the turnout is high and that the percentage of whichever side wins is great enough to be considered definitive, otherwise the nasty divisiveness that we have already endured in our communities; the tawdriness that has diminished our social fabric and reputation: they will be mere prologue.
What is amusing, perhaps, is that, regardless of which side prominent people declare for, they can vote the opposite, once at the polling station. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Boris Johnson stepped into the booth on Thursday and voted ‘Remain’ once he’d got his little pencil out in private. I shall vote to remain. I want to wrest control from Brexit. I, too, want my country back.
Thanks for this flashback to your mental state in those halcyon pre-Brexit, pre-Trump days.
As a distant American observer, I have appreciated your political insight (from a perspective we seem to share) in trying to comprehend UK and EU politics during the past two years. As a former university lecturer and sometime poet, I also deeply admire your gift for word-shaping and image-throwing, and look forward to each new poem you post. And as a relatively new social media thumb twanger, I’m awed by your ability to scan the entire circus of preposterous, outlandish “news” each day and filter it to the rest of us on Twitter. I may not grasp every one of your political allusions to Albion, but I almost always feel the positive force of your good sense and your wit.
I encourage you to continue your ministrations to those who need to open their minds (or hearts) a bit wider. I hope your voice continues to ring out over there so I can hear it above the din of tweets over here and continue to feel inspired to make good trouble.
(Sometimes in a fog, but) appreciatively following you,
__________________ Reuben Musgrave firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @reubenhood_dc
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Thank you, so much, Reuben.
What a lovely, generous thing to say! You will have had no idea how I have been needing such a wonderful boost to my confidence! Thank you!