Should we vote to exit or stay in the EU?

A visit to the Yorkshire town of Morley taught me some lessons

On Saturday 6th March 2016, I decided to check out the Brexit rally outside the Town Hall in the nearby town of Morley. I also spoke to campaigners for the UK to Remain in the EU and some people in Morley on their way to Morrisons for a bit of shopping.

“Have you made your mind up yet?”

I asked everyone who passed me. Roughly 60% of people said “yes” and they “want out”.  Roughly 30% hadn’t made up their mind and 10% were firmly in favour of remaining.

I was surprised. 

I thought that people would be 50/50 for and against the EU and that most people wouldn’t have made their minds up yet. People who said that they wanted “out” didn’t think about it before they answered, they had made their minds up .

Are Saturday shoppers in Morley on their way to Morrisons typical? I’ve no idea.

The next surprise has helped me make my mind up.

The Long List of Benefits

The Remain campaigners gave a long list of benefits for staying in the EU. The main argument was that workers rights are protected – maternity leave, holidays and benefits. But haven’t workers rights have been won by working-class people fighting for them through their own organisations? Is there anything on the list of “EU benefits” that couldn’t be enacted by a UK government if we elected them to do it? Why do we need the EU to do these things for us?

It occurred to me that the Remain campaign is mired in a deep pessimism. They genuinely see the EU as a benign authority who bestows benefits on its subjects. People seem to have forgotten that real rights have been fought for and won by us, not handed to us by Brussels. We can elect a government to do whatever we want, if enough people can be persuaded to vote for it. The Labour Party is united in the campaign for the EU. Have they lost their belief in themselves as an organisation and their ability to convince people? Is this why the argument has been left to different wings of the Tory Party?

Perhaps the defeat of Ed Balls by Andrea Jenkyns has hit the self-confidence of  Labour Party members in Morley. But, I think the same pessimism would be evident across towns in the UK.

The one benefit

There was only one benefit which seemed to be a genuine benefit of EU membership. International mobile phone roaming charges have been cut significantly by EU edict. Well that is a benefit. A small one, but fair enough.

Little Englanders and the Fear of Racism

The Remain campaigners said that a vote for Brexit is a vote for “little England”. They seemed genuinely worried that a vote for Brexit will give succour to a darker politics. “Don’t you trust people?” I asked. “We don’t want to be little England, we want to be part of Europe” This told me two things:

  1. The Remain campaign is genuinely fearful that backward racist politics could be bolstered by a successful Leave campaign.

The Remain EU campaigners don’t believe that they can win the big arguments about immigration and feel safer outsourcing responsibility to the EU. If the EU decides the immigration policy, you can avoid the discussion. After all, you can’t lose an argument that you don’t have in the first place. They seem to have no faith in themselves and their own ability to win arguments in favour of the free movement of people throughout Europe. They fear the response from ordinary people.

2. The Remain campaign don’t trust the public.

The Remain EU campaigners fear that things could go badly wrong if we leave the EU. It is guiding them towards the safety of the status quo. If the public can make stupid decisions, it’s safer to keep the EU in charge. The Leave campaign talked about the “un-democratic nature of the EU”, but this is too abstract. People give up on democracy when they fear two things 1) the public might support stupid and dangerous leaders and 2) (and this is the fundamental one) they don’t believe that they have the arguments which are strong enough to convince and win the day. They don’t have a clear argument to win people over to their point of view. This is what they need to work on, not outsourcing it to the EU.

The real meaning of the Safe Option

Ultimately, the EU Remain campaigners have given up – given up on the people and given up on themselves. They have outsourced their authority to a higher body that no-one can touch.

This is what they mean by the safe option. Outsourced.

One final observation

In our discussions, the term “EU” and “Europe” was used interchangeably, as if it means the same thing.

But, no-one is proposing that Britain leaves the continent of Europe. We’re voting on whether we want to be part of the political institution that is the EU. People I spoke to had relatives living in Spain and they took holidays in Greece, Spain and France. No-one I met “hated Europe”. In fact, a few people who “wanted out” were at pains to say that they liked the Polish people they worked with, “they had nothing against them, we just want out”. The people of Morley seem to understand the difference between “Europe” and “The EU”, it’s a pity that the TV reporters and journalists can’t do the same.

So, what’s it to be? In or Out?

When issues are being discussed during the next few months, I think there are some simple questions to ask ourselves.

  1. Do you think that we should shape our own future? – Yes? Vote Exit.
  2. Do you want to revitalise our sense of opportunity and create an adventurous and pioneering spirit? – Yes? Vote Exit
  3. Do you believe that we can create a new forward thinking progressive politics? – No? Vote to Stay in the EU.
  4. Do you fear the future and think that we can’t control it? – Yes? Vote to Stay in the EU

It will come down to our sense of ourselves and our belief in the future – fear or opportunity. If you don’t have an idea about how you want to shape the future, you may as let the EU shape it for you.

The vote result will project how much we fear the future. Project fear? We’ll find out.

For me, my few hours in Morley convinced me that we should campaign for out.

Postscript

I have just watched Newsnight (7th March 2016) and “Uncertainty” seems to be the main argument of Remain EU. No one actually defends the EU. Even pro EU people don’t believe in it. Maybe it’s time for us to stop being so frightened and start believing in ourselves. We might even learn to shape our own future … Blimey, that might even make us feel like we are living again. At least let’s stop being scared of the dark.

© Andy Shaw, 6th March 2016

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