I’ve screwed up: I’m registered to vote in Liverpool but am going to London on the day of the EU referendum. I know I know, I should have organised a postal vote but I didn’t.
The voting card has a provision for people like me. It says something like this: “if you get called away on work, arrange someone to vote for you, a proxy, and contact us immediately.” This is where my old mate Pete comes in. He lives round the corner from me in Toxteth and could be my proxy.
“Is it legal?” asked Pete suspiciously. Having convinced him of the legality of proxy voting, and exchanging lots of silly text messages, he then told me he was off to Northern Ireland and he wouldn’t be able to vote either. Time was running out. I thought of Ivan the Bulgarian dishwasher, who lives next door, but Ivan doesn’t appreciate me because I object to the loud house music he sometimes blasts us with at night. And now it’s too late. I’m writing this on the train to London.
But if there is anybody in Toxteth who is willing to be my last-minute proxy, this is what I would tell them:
Thanks for helping me out.
I don’t usually vote in elections as I believe “whoever you vote for Government wins.” When I look at the British government I see an unbroken series of bad policies that were started by Thatcher, sustained by Blair and reinforced by Cameron. When the Lib-Dems were in government they toed the Tory line. They all worship the same God – big business – and are destroying the environment.
In the US of A, the same thing happens: Obama’s policies are broadly similar to those of his predecessor. I believe in local government, ancient Greek style, with city-regions running their own shows; this is the only way to curb the growing powers of the multinationals and the banks-that-cannot-fail.
At the same time, I have a healthy respect for government. I have lived under an oppressive regime, in Tibet, and under corrupt governments in Eastern Europe; I’ve seen war in Bosnia and Kosovo and know how close we all live to that chaos. I’m grateful to government for giving me water, infrastructure, security and enough freedom to do my own thing. I just don’t want to vote for it.
This referendum is different. Unlike general elections, this one matters. The propaganda campaigns have been confusing and unhelpful and I’m not sure if my contribution adds anything new, but this is what I believe.
The EU is Corrupt, Wasteful and Needs to be Reformed
It’s hard to deny that the EU is a vast bureaucracy that needs to be reformed – but you could say the same about any government department. When you bring thousands of people together into an organisation you get the same result – an incomprehensible, wasteful bureaucracy – which is why the only way to fix the problem is to localise government. At the moment if we leave the EU we would be shooting ourselves in the foot for the simple reason that we would risk cutting our industry off from 40% of its market. There is a lot of will among EU citizens to reform the EU and I’m sure many would be grateful if Britain coordinated this, as we have done a good job of improving our own public sector. (David Cameron’s proposal to reform the EU before leaving it was a non-starter; why should any of the other members listen to someone who wants to leave?)
Destroy the EU
A UN diplomat recently told me that “the EU is not as strong as it appears.” My view is that if Britain leaves the EU, other countries will want referendums, discipline will be lost and the whole superstructure could collapse. Do we really want to do that? Do we want to destroy the world’s biggest market place? Do we want to re-introduce war as an option between European countries? Most of us have taken the peace of the last 70 years for granted but war is a spectre that is always waiting in the wings, waiting for the right mix of nutters to get control of competing nations. I saw this happening in the former Yugoslavia (where Serbian football supporters were organised into an army and sent into Bosnia to kill Muslims). The same thing could have happened to Romania and Hungary had they not been welcomed into the EU. In Romania, the ethnic Hungarian party has been part of government since the 1990s. Nationalism breeds war and the EU has kept nationalism in check.
The Big Lie
One of the most convincing arguments put forward by the Brexit camp, and their tabloid supporters, was that Britain’s laws are being passed by “unelected” bureaucrats in Brussels. This is totally untrue and I don’t understand why the “remain” camp didn’t make this clear; this could have been one of their strongest arguments. The fact is that the European Commission, the bête-noir of the Brexit camp, is the civil service of the EU and, just like our civil service, they are indeed “unelected bureaucrats”. They propose EU laws (known as Directives) organise feedback from 28 member states and pass them up to the body which actually passes them: The European Council – which is made up of elected ministers from the various member states. It’s complicated, may well be corrupt but it is democratic.
Flooded by Immigrants
Another convincing argument the Brexit tabloids have used to great effect is the story that Britain is being flooded with immigrants – apparently the NHS and public services are being bled dry by this flood of ill, unemployable, probably criminal, benefit-scrounging foreigners. What the tabloids don’t say is that the NHS relies heavily on immigrant skills, as does industry, and they come because we need a labour force. They have also managed to confuse the public into believing that over 330,000 illegal immigrants (mainly from the Middle East and North Africa) get into Britain every year. The truth of the matter is that most of these immigrants come here from other EU member states for work, and many will return home. The irony is that if we leave the EU we will have to keep on accepting these EU migrants if we want access to the EU’s single market as, like Norway and other members of the European Economic Area, we’ll have to accept one of the main terms of the EU deal: free movement of people.
Rule by Tabloid
One of the reasons I don’t believe in the British government is because they seem to be led by the tabloids, many of whom promote xenophobic views. I first noticed this phenomenon under the Thatcher government which had an unhealthily close relationship with Rupert Murdoch and his rags. But Tony Blair and David Cameron have followed the trend and have ignored opportunities (like Leveson) to curb their powers. The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Express are rabidly pro-Brexit and I’m convinced they are the driving force behind this suicidal desire to jump into the economic wilderness.
Follow the Brexit Leaders
My final reason for wanting to stay in the EU, and reform it from the inside, is the leaders of the Brexit campaign. I don’t think much of David Cameron but he did come up with the great quote about UKIP – he called them a bunch of “swivel eyed loonies”. I personally don’t trust Messrs Farage, Johnson and Gove and don’t want them to turn Britain into some neo-con testing ground for their corporate supporters. It reminds me of what happened in Iraq: they promised freedom but delivered a government (and constitution) that had been designed by the oil industry. Iraq is a reminder that the strongest countries can be reduced to chaos relatively easily.
President Obama was asked about the threat of Donald Trump and he said he wasn’t too worried as he trusts the American people to make the right decision. I feel the same way about the British people – as they stand on the precipice they will make the right decision. I think the result will be similar to the 2014 Scottish referendum – when we were faced with an equally unnecessary question – and I’m confident that over 55% will vote to maintain the status quo.
One final point: referendums are toxic. They divide people into angry, opposing camps and cause rifts that take generations to heal. They bring out the worst in people, politicians and the media. I once did a short course in management and one of the most useful lessons was that voting is divisive and consensus is better, although more time consuming.
I keep wondering why the media have ignored the historical precedents: referendums (or plebiscites in the history books) are a favoured tactic of the invading dictator. Hitler used them to great effect when he invaded a hapless neighbour and, in 2014, Putin used one to show that 96.7% of the Crimean population were delighted to have been invaded by Russia.
I rest my case. Now go and vote.
Photo credit: A Nazi “Poster of the Week” celebrating the Saarland referendum of 1935. Thanks to the Anglo-German Historial Trust.
- The Fabulous Funeral of Angus Wolfe Murray - February 28, 2023
- Do you have any funny, unusual or interesting memories of Angus Wolfe Murray? - January 18, 2023
- Ukraine must learn from Bosnia’s disastrous peace treaty - March 10, 2022
This extract from YES MINSTER says it all about British policy towards Europe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lScVfwe-Rp0&feature=youtu.be
Sadly, I agree with everything you’ve written in this post – more interesting to have comments from dissenters. Like you, I loathe the heavy-handed bureaucracy of the EU and believe it needs radical reform after 40 years and more of accretion – too many carriages on the gravy train. The immigration issue is a whale-sized red herring; the economy – well, the reliability of economic forecasts make meteorology look like a precision tool. The bigger picture, of peace and growing freedom across 28 countries that spent much of the last millennium fighting and killing each other in various conformations, is by far the greatest benefit of the EU project. Brexit, and the loathsome Nigel Damage, have woken up the sleeping ogres of nationalism and xenophobia and fed them Readibrek. Readibrexit. They’re full of fire and itching for an excuse to explode into violence. Not just in Britain. Dangerous times.
Nice piece. Although I think you overstate the influence of big business. It is not a composite group and doesn’t always get its way. It should probably get its way a lot less. And the EU needs reform, but people don’t seem to realise that the EU is in a constant state of reform, it is one of the most dynamic institutions around. Precisely because it is so transparent, it is so open to criticism. It could be more transparent, but we’re working on that. Honestly we are. I also don’t believe the EU is undemocratic. The Parliament is elected, its various councils are full of ministers and prime ministers elected by each member state, even the commission is full of appointments by elected members of state. You could argue that the Commission itself could do with fewer political appointees and more bureaucrats. But is is certainly as democratic – if not more so – than the UK, which has an unelected head of state and an entire upper chamber which is unelected, and a system of voting which is local-based and does not take into account the sum of votes for a party.
If you vote Remain you are signing up for The United States of Europe. It is pretty much that already – a parliament, a court of justice that has the power to overturn any legislation we pass in the House of Commons, a civil service that tells us how to spend the money we get back (if we don’t like it we get fined and have to return the loot) and soon, so they say, an army.
I believe that the EU has failed. No organisation can hope to reform itself, let alone change a thing, if 27 countries (soon 30) have to agree. If anyone has had experience on a committee knows how impossible absolute unity is. The only hope of reform is majority voting which goes against EU policy.
If the EU was a healthy, thriving, optimistic working entity why would it have a panic attack when one of the group wants to leave? The obvious answer is that this might encourage others to jump. Why do they want to jump? Why do we want to jump? Does ship and sinking sound familiar?
There is no unity in the EU. It’s all self interest, leaders scared of their electorate, scared of losing their power base. Look at the way it handled the Syrian refugee crisis.
Interesting footnote to the duplicity of politicians. The Turkish foreign minister spoke about Cameron’s betrayal on Newsnight. Apparently Our Leader announced that there was no chance of Turkey joining the EU until the year 3000, if ever. This was in reply to Brexit’s claim that Turkey was close to joining. According to the foreign minister Cameron had been telling the Turks that he would do whatever it takes to help in their bid.
The Remainers say that if we leave and want to make trade deals with EU countries we have to abide by their rules – i.e. continue to pay a fortune every week as we do now and keep our borders open. I don’t believe that for a moment. Does the US, China, India, et al fork out megabucks for the privilege of trading with the block, as well as allowing EU immigrants in willy and, by the way, nilly?
Big business, banks, the City, etc don’t want the Leavers to win because it would require change and cause financial havoc for a brief period. These money guys like cozy. They don’t like shake up. The status quo is biz-as-per, hassle free and profit purrrfect. Stockbrokers must be wetting their proverbials. A Remain vote would mean shares soar. Lovely jubbly! A Leave vote would mean shares dive. Their clients will feel the pain. They wait. When the market recovers and shares start climbing again they are there, like black suited vampires feeding off the resurrection. Win win!
Economic crash follows Brexit victory! Uncertainty will cause a mini quake. But once the dust has settled things will return to normal, or even better than normal.
Immigration flood! It’s already here. In parts of the North and Midlands schools and NHS are at breaking point. Businesses cannot hire the qualified staff they need/want because the EU won’t let them. Small businesses are handicapped by red tape and then more red tape. Both tapes are expensive.
I am bored of arguing the obvious. I don’t understand why everyone I know, certainly everyone in my family, are Remainers. The EU is broken. If we stay in we break with it. A noble enterprise, I admit. Maybe a foolish one.
If it wasn’t for Boris and Nigel you might see the logic in what they say. Trouble is, who wants Boris as PM and Nigel as court jester? Noone with any sense. They said that about The Donald. It’s too crazy; it’s too scary.
As the world spins out of control, we can’t even stand alone and hold the furniture down. We have to go into the maelstrom together with our friends and neighbours because the faceless, unelected bureaucrats of Brussels say so.
The United States of the Doomed!
The tent is torn. The tent leaks. The tent flaps in the wind.
I’ll piss outside.
I like it here.
The Lost One
(Angus the Old)
This referendum holds a mirror up to our nation. The idea that we could separate from the biggest economic union in the world is pandering to the lowest denominator. Only the toffs can afford to ignore the economic outcome of Brexit. The poor suffer the
impact of the low wage economy, not mass immigration. It will be the poor that suffer the economic consequences of Brexit that even the Brexiteers acknowledge will be coming if we leave. The whole of Europe is trying to deal with an unprecedented influx of refugees and we choose this moment to say no to further integration.
I’m tempted to say what a load of balls.
The EU economy is shrinking. It has the lowest rate of growth amongst all other continents. Fact.
Unemployed EU under 30s is rising. Fact.
Size of EU market is 550 million population. Size of market outside the EU IS 6 billion population.
An independent UK is democratically governed. EU power lies with a handful of unelected bureaucrats that cannot be removed and is thus 100% undemocratic.
Current immigration is disaster economically for the UK. Unchecked immigration will not only bust the EU but it will destroy the UK.
EU fiscal Union and a US of EUROPE was NOT what we signed up for in The Treaty of Rome. A Remain vote will guarantee this Union.
VOTE LEAVE if you love this country, our values and the chance to believe in ourselves once again.
NO to Brexit – one vote from Romania.
Without a doubt the best thing I’ve read on the whole thing
As a retired American scientist, living in Romania my opinion does not count. BUT from my POV I will echo and point you and your readers to this weeks AAAS “Science” issue, article on this subject, on pg 1376 and titled:
“Brexit casts pall on fusion. ITER backers nervously await vote that could undermine U.K. research ties with continental Europe”
This says it all: Bad for science, in the general, and the specific as layed out in this article.
The divisive media and political mill do not give a damn about what scientists think in this case, because there are so few of us from any nationality. And so there is little to zero hoopla, because we can not effect any meaningful difference voting. Its just too bad for science worldwide, the UK and the EU 🙁
How can you say your “opinion doesn’t count”? That’s absurd, considering the high quality comments you have added to some of my articles. EVERYBODY’S opinion counts, even the poor and disabled and imprisoned (in UK you can’t vote if in jail which I think is wrong). One of the best bits of the bible is that the poor and meek will inherit the earth. Isn’t that the whole point of elections, and democracy? And the fact are that you bother to articulate your opinion gives your opinion more weight. Your point, BTW, about the scientific view, is most pertinent and not one I had come across thus far. Thanks.
Thank you Rupert for sharing your views – personally I have felt overwhelmed with the barrage of arguments and scare tactics – ironically I see a frightening history being re created on a fire of fear. The only position I am left with is one of a fundamental belief that (unless in the case of violence) human beings do better in relationship than not and ‘cut offs’ – walking out of relationship makes humans more vulnerable – so I am ‘In’ with the hope we can continue to have a voice and continue to negotiate a healthier more accepting and loving future for us all.