by Prue Bray on 22 June, 2016
This is a very different post to what I usually write. It’s longer and possibly a bit rambling. But it comes from the heart.
I haven’t posted anything on this site for a while – mainly because I have been far too busy doing politics to have time to write about what’s going on. But now I have reached the point with the EU Referendum that I just have to write something. Tomorrow we vote. And I can’t keep my thoughts to myself any longer.
Let’s be clear. I am writing this as someone who is firmly in the Remain camp and always has been. The previous referendum was my first vote, and I voted to Remain then too. Why? Because I think co-operation is more productive than confrontation and that working with our geographical and cultural neighbours is more likely to bring benefits to both sides than choosing to isolate ourselves from them. A single country cannot make itself immune from the world’s problems, and nor can it do anything to help anyone else. Climate change, pollution, war, terrorism, extremism, totalitarianism, poverty, migration, organised crime, disease, human rights, animal rights, conservation, trafficking – all of these things are most effectively tackled by working with others. I would hope that the UK was unselfish enough to want to help others, but even if we were only to act selfishly, it is still in our own interests to work with others. The EU is not perfect as a vehicle for working with our closest neighbours but it is a darn sight better than nothing – and if we want it to be better, we can only bring about that change from the inside.
This referendum campaign has been the most dispiriting period in politics that I can remember. Any voices on either side calling for discussion of the opportunities offered if we stay or if we leave, or for the issues to be debated with verified facts and figures, have been completely drowned out by the two wings of the Tory party going at each other hammer and tongs, ably assisted on the Leave side by Nigel Farage.
There is a sort of irony in that. The referendum was offered as a sop to the right wing Eurosceptics, in an attempt to hold the Conservatives together so that they could continue to govern. Instead of holding them together it is now splitting them apart. They are now turning venom on each other which is usually reserved for their opponents in other parties. Truth and integrity have been early casualties on both sides. The Tory remainers are responsible for some ridiculously exaggerated scaremongering. But it is the Tories on the Leave side who have been sraping the bottom of the political barrel. It is not just that they have been encouraging people’s fears on immigration, it’s not just that they have a flexible attitude to facts, it’s not just that they say things with a straight face which contradict everything they have previously stood for, it’s that they have no scruples at all. Their determination to win at any cost means they feel free to trash every institution, to undermine the role of evidence and expertise, and to say anything they want regardless of the wider consequences. The political atmosphere is poisonous. Ignorance has become a virtue and knowledge something to be sneered at.
Whatever the result of tomorrow’s poll, the country will be in a worse place than it was before the referendum campaign started. I believe we will be better off in the EU, and I think Brexit would have worse consequences than Remain. However, whichever side wins, how are we going to undo the race to the lowest common denominator that politics has become?
I am a card-carrying liberal. I look at the world at the moment and wonder how we have allowed democratic politics to descend so far. Nationalism, racism, bigotry, all seem to be on the rise, not just in this country. Winston Churchill said that democracy was the worst form of government – except for all the other forms that have been tried. Like Winston Churchill, I believe democracy is the best system but that it has a lot of imperfections, not least the need to have popular appeal to get elected, which means that there is a great temptation to adjust your policies and actions and thus sacrifice your principles so as to be popular. That is what I think has gone wrong with politics not just in the UK but in other places too.
The answer to that does not lie with voters, it lies with politicians. Of whom, in a small way, I am one. We need to do better. We need to stand up for what we believe in, not calculate what we need to persuade people we believe in so that we can get elected. Politicians should not be following the worst instincts of the public down into the dark of nationalism, division and selfishness, we should be leading their better instincts up into the light of patriotism, acceptance and generosity.
I can only do what I can do. I will make decisions on the basis of evidence, not prejudice. I will seek advice and information before making up my mind. I will treat people fairly whoever they are and wherever they come from. I will try – not always easy – to treat people with respect, even if they do not reciprocate. I will champion education over ignorance. I will champion hope and humanity and compassion and love over despair and selfishness and greed and hatred.
I have to admit, I am worried about posting that last paragraph. In the Britain we have created, it is likely that by saying those things I have opened myself up to ridicule and derision, and cynical disbelief. But if so, so be it. I have had enough of the old corrosive politics. To borrow a slogan, I want my country back. And if am not prepared to stand up and be counted, then shame on me.