Wednesday, 8 June 2016

EU referendum: choosing one terrifying elite before another

Sorry, all. But I feel like adding my tiny triangle to the orchestra of memes, blogs, videos and posts about the EU referendum. If you've already decided, then I don't imagine any arguments I make or questions I put might make any difference, but if you're undecided perhaps there's some room for discussion.

One big theme that seems to have reared up during the campaigns is how much emotion is a factor in the vote, that it doesn't matter how contradictory the various facts and figures quoted are as people are going with their guts - their scared, angry, confused or serenely determined irrational decision-making equipment. One of the lessons the twentieth century underlined (through advances in psychology and therefore marketing and political strategy) is that people generally do not make rational decisions - about anything. Not about whether they want a Mars bar or not, nor about who they should sit next to on the bus, nothing. So, I take any points that begin with 'here are the facts' with a considerable chunk of salt. I think it's become a question of which story or stories about the EU and brexiters I find easiest to believe, that I irrationally want to believe.

The choice between IN and OUT could be reduced to a choice between two ideas of elites - the bureaucratic, banana-straightening, gravy-boat commandeering Eurocracy with their contempt for national identities and the democratic will of places like Greece; and the public-school-educated, public-services-decimating, expenses-guzzling yet benefits-capping, First Past the Post Mother of Democracies with its rather uncomfortable relationship with the right-wing press. Neither of these options really tickle my vote, and this is why I initially had no real idea where I'd plant my tick come the 23rd. But not voting was not an option, so I had to make up my mind.

Many people seem to agree that the economic and immigration aspects of the debate can be debated down to the marrow without a very clear picture emerging: xenophobia and a rather self-righteous contempt for perceived xenophobia seem to dominate the action. The ideas about sovereignty and border control seem fairly cloudy too, especially as I feel neither of the aforementioned elites have my best interests at heart. Not to mention the best interests of people far more vulnerable than me. It might be that the EU is a failed model and we should extricate ourselves from our half-hearted involvement: I don't think anyone can be certain, and I don't see a truly plausible alternative model for prosperity post-Brexit.

So, as the vote either to stay or leave the EU involves a fair amount of risk, I think I'm voting on the basis of which threat seems the most immediate: Westminster or Brussels.

My paranoid, doom-laden personality traits have no problem digesting the idea of a New World Order, a neo-liberal project to allow the markets to set up and then run the global economy like a manufactured El NiƱo, decimating the poorer parts of the world to feed the profits of a shadowy 1% that sit gobbling at the top. I can see how the EU serves those vested interests, and it makes my guts surge when I think about it.

But I find it much easier to focus on the efforts of the tax-dodging media barons to fill the news stands with as much barely-filtered right-wing, xenophobic muck as possible and their plain desire to shape the news agenda to meet their own needs. That seems much more local, even if their tax havens aren't, and a much more immediate threat to me and mine, which at the same time is perfectly in tune with the same neo-liberal ideas about market forces being allowed to rage unchecked. When I think of how, it seems to me, that our country's lurch right-wards towards mistrust of others, contempt for the poor and the surrender of publicly-owned bodies to private profit has been nurtured and sponsored by papers like the Mail and the Sun, I feel sicker yet. There's a real element that I feel worse about the effects on the UK because I don't have to deal with the really sharp end of this global factors, droughts through climate change: oppressive working conditions or arms sales to the likes of Assad or Saudi; my largely comfortable life has only be affected by pricks of conscience and a sense of society sliding in the wrong direction. But I'm voting with my gut, aren't I? And isn't the whole point of Brexit that it is supposed to benefit us on this island? No one is suggesting any global benefits.

When I think of the public figures that are urging me to help separate the UK from the EU, I don't picture warriors for social justice, trying to find a way to balance the books to make sure A&Es stay open and schools can be properly funded; I see a crowd of plundering vandals, trying to liquidate everything they can get their fleshy paws around into sweet, sweet cash that they then share with their cronies and store away off-shore, untouched by the needs for investment in services and infrastructure at home. I'm not head over heels in love with those claiming we should stay either - whether they use an appeal to the same selfish ideals as the other shower, or generate warm, fuzzy feelings about peace and speciality cheese and other things that would likely still exist in a world without purple UK passports.

You could argue, and I might agree, that I'm only focussing on the local, the national, and that in the bigger picture the EU are worse yet, driving up employment across the continent through cruel austerity policies and worse, trying to shut up shop to desperate refugees while still manoeuvring to exploit developing economies - but I really believe that those canvassing for Brexit are just as keen on austerity, exclusion and exploitation and would rush all the more quickly in that direction.

If I was a juror, I'd be expected to reach my decision without any reasonable doubt. I can't say without reasonable doubt that the UK should leave the EU; I can't say without reasonable doubt that I trust Westminster more than Brussels. I don't think it is worth the risk. So I'll be voting REMAIN this month and I hope to the vengeful sky-god that enough of us will that the UK remains within the EU.

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