A Plague on Both Your Houses

A couple of months ago I wrote an intentionally polemical piece on why I may not vote to remain in the European Union. Partly a reaction to the social media-led culture of insular political confirmation which made last May’s exit poll as baffling as it was devastating, and partly to raise some questions of the EU in advance of a campaign that was clearly going to be a right-wing headbutt of no intellectual significance. It was my starting gun for thinking about where I stood in regards to the referendum.

I have spent the interim trying to find some genuinely positive and creative reasons to get up and shout about the benefit of the EU.

I want to return to the questions I initially raised but also to consider the referendum in the wider context of democracy and the current state of politics in Britain. I write having already cast my ballot by post, but prior to polling day and thus the result.

Raking over old ground

Trade

Trade and economics has dominated the mainstream debate. How much we trade with Europe, how devastating it will be to have to think harder about how to buy Spanish tomatoes and German electronics in the future, how big business and financial services wants us to stay in the EU, as do our financial services. And what a disaster it would be for all of us if they weren’t happy.

Nothing about the unfairness of trade agreements. Nothing about the charade of ‘free trade’ and its impact on poorer countries outside of the EU. I remain genuinely baffled by people who identify as internationalists and overtly defend the EU.

I completely switched off from the economic arguments very quickly. Economic predictions by people and institutions who were still gleefully backing sub-prime mortgages in 2007 were really of no interest to me whatsoever, regardless of who they’re backing.

Nationalisation

I didn’t discuss TTIP in my original post but it was a primary concern for me in regards to the EU. It was a key reason why I considered voting Leave; a secretly-negotiated trade agreement which favoured big business over workers rights and democracy was not something I was keen on.

But hearing from those with more expertise over the past couple of months has meant TTIP became one of the reasons I moved away from voting Leave. Trade Unions and other, more left-leaning, governments across Europe have been lobbying hard to reform and weaken TTIP. This solidarity of the left was something we see too little of but I have been convinced it does happen across Europe, even if Britain’s Trade Unions are too weak or too complacent to take an active part.

The current nature of our government, and the weakness and complacency of the British left, means that something as equally damaging as TTIP would probably be signed into law before we’ve had chance to blink if we left the EU.

Greece

I’ve spent some time considering the thoughts of Yanis Varoufakis, the world’s first charismatic Finance Minister and all-too-briefly bête noir of the European Bank. In an article published in April, he reflected on his attempts to negotiate with the EU over the Greek bailout, having just won an election on an anti-austerity manifesto. At a Europgroup meeting in 2015, his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble told him, “Elections cannot be allowed to change an economic programme of a member state.”

Varoufakis believes both Greece and Britain should remain in the EU. To leave would lead to a fracturing of the entire Union, leaving a vacuum suited to ‘xenophobes, ultra-nationalists, the enemies of democratic sovereignty’. Instead he hopes his Democracy in Europe Movement can help spark a ‘democratic surge’ to push back both against the Brussels bulwark and hyper-nationalist tendencies.

That’s nice. It’s not an option on my poll card though; all I can do is endorse the EU in its current guise or walk away. Varoufakis acknowledges that his view is a utopian one but worth fighting for. If that’s his utopia, I’m disappointed by his imagination.

Them Blasted Foreigns

Speaking of ‘xenophobes, ultra-nationalists, [and] the enemies of democratic sovereignty’, since I last wrote the EU have made a nice little deal with Turkey. Every time I try to form words to discuss this deal, I just end up spitting. Suffice to say Turkey is not a safe third country. It’s not even a safe first country if you’re a journalist or Kurdish. Those refugees who have been deported there have been detained indefinitely and denied medical care. Those that remain in limbo on the Greek islands are no better off.

There’s a reason Médecins Sans Frontières are no longer accepting funds from the EU or its members; it’s because their attitude and policy towards some of the world’s most vulnerable people is grotesque.

Labour’s Referendum Campaign

The campaign hadn’t really started when I wrote my last post. Now it’s in its final throes of vitriol before the strangled death rattle of near-empty polling stations on Thursday. It’s been as dismal and intellectually void as the General Election last year. Before I stick the boot in to the two choices offered to me by the official Remain and Leave campaigns, a wee word about my fellow lefties.

I’ve seen a lot about human rights, workers rights, paid leave, paternity and maternity rights, equal pay all being protected by the EU. It’s what Labour have been basing their official campaign on (not that their ‘traditional voters’ would know, because they’re avoiding campaigning in white working class areas, for fear of meeting someone who doesn’t agree with them presumably). It’s what I’ve been informed about each time I’ve raised the possibility of not voting ‘in’.

This pisses me off. We don’t have these rights because the EU gave them to us. We have these rights because people fought for them. They fought long and hard. Some died for them. People unionised, petitioned, marched, went on strike, smashed things.

But it doesn’t piss me off because of its historical inaccuracies. It pisses me off because this language of protectionism is debilitating and dangerous.

The EU will not protect you from a state that wants to roll back gains we’ve made in social justice. It will not protect you from a state’s decision to restrict civil liberties. It will not protect you from a state that wants to infringe your human rights. Take a look at the Localism Act, the Welfare Reform Act, the Immigration Act the bill currently working their way through our parliament on surveillance, the manifesto promise to redraw the British Human Rights Act of 1998.

The language from the Labour campaign that the EU will protect us from the worst excesses of Tory rule are not only false but also encourage the complacency and disengagement that allows those excesses to go unchallenged.

A Plague on Both Your Houses

There are two choices on the ballot paper: to Leave and face economic meltdown or to Remain and have to sleep ten to a bed with Polish people. These are the two campaigns officially endorsed by our dear leaders. These are your two options.

Your choice is either to vote ‘yes, I thoroughly endorse the status quo’ or ‘no, I’m a racist bigot’.

The nuances of ‘yes, I’d like to stick around and help reform the EU so it is nicer, more just and more democratic’ or ‘no, I’d like to get away from this brutal neo-liberal monster and rebuild a more just society from the grassroots’ are not on the table, however much you want them to be.

Your choice is either to vote ‘yes, I thoroughly endorse the status quo’ or ‘no, I’m a racist bigot’.

That’s how our voting system works. In general elections, read the small print on your ballot paper and it will say, ‘I vote for everything in Labour’s manifesto plus some stuff they haven’t told us about yet’ or ‘I vote for everything in the Conservative manifesto plus some stuff they haven’t told us about yet’. They’re your only two options, however many candidates are listed.

The options in our voting system are always binary and always flawed. There is no nuance, there is no room for serious debate. There is no choice.

Voting is not democracy.

Your choice is either to vote ‘yes, I thoroughly endorse the status quo’ or ‘no, I’m a racist bigot’.

Engage with Politics

I had considered ending this piece with a conclusion which touched on where my own politics are at present and how that informed my actions in the referendum. But as I’ve been writing it, ‘where my politics are at present’ also required a ‘how they got here’ section and a much more difficult and potentially quite scary ‘where they are going’. It would start picking apart why Labour don’t go and talk to their traditional voters and why they seem to be encouraging complacency towards power-hungry monoliths. My internal anger would need to be better channeled to write that and it’s not there yet.

Suffice to say my politics have remained rooted to two fundamentals: democracy and social justice. Both options on the ballot paper are in flagrant opposition to my fundamentals.

So in conclusion, I don’t care how you vote on Thursday; it’s a scam, a nonsense and an intentional placebo.

Go out and fight for something better.

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