The ‘Leave’ campaign faces an uphill struggle to win the hearts, but not the minds, of some undecided British people. And this is where the vote will be won..
I love Europe, I love being European. As I’ve often said, our village is our world, and ever since I was a boy meeting with people from far away shores has always been a thing of excitement and wonderment. New stories to hear, cultures to learn about- a wider world that opens up simply through an encounter with one of its inhabitants. When I was seven or eight years old I could name most of the flags of the world and more Capital cities than not. One of my closest friends was Ghanaian, another the son of a Chilean exile. I had no prejudice beyond that which was inherited.
Around that time the residents of the United Kingdom endorsed its membership of the European Community. For many years it was hardly a subject of debate and was often viewed as toothless and with much ridicule. Whilst the prospect of encountering more people from your yonder shores would have been most appealing to this internationalist child it wasn’t going to happen. In the subsequent 40 years much has changed.
On June 23rd, in contrast to those silly and meaningless elections we once had, the most pivotal vote of our lifetime needs to be cast. Does the United Kingdom withdraw its membership or not ? As things stand I think we will be staying, but those wishing to leave have an open shot at victory- if only they can purge the enemy within.
Contrary to belief of many, possibly encouraged by a seemingly xenophobic right-wing press, the British are mostly accepting of ‘foreigners’. Historically the nation has been built on periodic influxes of migrants. This is not to say that there have never been cases of terrible discrimination, and sometimes outright hatred, but the source of this has often been miss-information (to use a polite term) and unrealistic fears. Again, we need to question where the sources of this arise from, and in most cases it’s certainly not experience. I’ve always said that prejudice comes from one of two sources, experience or indoctrination-and it’s mostly the latter.
Recent generations, certainly in the last thirty years, have grown up with different cultures, creeds and colours around them. There has been a degree of assimilation into which most have bought. For most the issue of the membership of an ‘ever closer’ European Union has not become questionable due to a distrust of all things foreign- it has been about a distrust of undemocratic and hidden processes. As the great Tony Benn once said of leaders: In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person–Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates–ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system
And for many herein lays the rub.
I would say that a majority of people have great reservations about the authority, power and construction of the European Union. A heavy and suffocating layer of an already top heavy and un-sociocratic process of legislation on our existence. This is not say they are anti-Europe, I for one am pro, but they are concerned that a commendable prospect has become an ugly product. Yet despite these heavy doubts they will still vote to stay. Why ? Simply because they are not racists or xenophobes- and they are also fearful of what this nation will be like socially and economically hence.
The problem that the ‘leave’ campaign will have is the headlines that will undermine its argument that their campaign is not that of Little England- and doubtless for most it isn’t. I don’t support their campaign at present, but if they can put forward a credible and reluctant sounding argument against the structure and composition of a failed European model, whilst stressing the values of co-operation and warm friendship, they must just win a large number of people over. If they can stress that it’s not the European people they have a problem with, but merely the unreachable processes of the undemocratic halls of Brussels, they may just succeed.
I would rather the nation stay and be part of a unified and forward thinking Europe. One that looks after its poor, protects its workers, and affords rights to all as equals. I fear that a splintered and slowly dissolving United Kingdom wont deliver that. I lived during the Thatcher years. And with Scotland leaving the Union, increasingly likely in the years following a ‘leave’ vote, I worry those days could return.
We live in interesting, and a little worrying, times. Depending on your view, of-course.