Britain is hurtling ever closer to the day of the Brexit vote. In a very short while, the public will cast their ballots to remain in the EU, or leave. But however they vote, one thing is sure: the EU Referendum is one of the cruellest tricks ever played on the British public.
The Referendum is not about our fate in the EU, or controlling our borders, or protecting our sovereignty as a nation, or enhancing our democracy. It is, as is almost everything in modern politics, about wealth and power.
If the EU Referendum was a genuine debate about the future of our nation, it would look very different.
First, and most importantly, there would be a general election set shortly afterwards. There may even be leadership elections set for the major political parties too. This would mean that voters could not only choose whether to leave or remain in the EU, but how they would leave or remain in the EU.
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Each party (and indeed factions within each) would have set out a clear vision on whether to leave or remain in the EU, and what each of those choices would look like under their leadership. Referendum voters would know that after the vote, they could then elect to government the people they felt most confident could deliver that future.
For example, people who wish to leave the EU because they find it anti-democratic, but wish to perform a ‘Lexit’ (a left wing exit) – could have that choice. They could say goodbye to Brussels, but retain key protections in UK law for working people, disabled people, ethnic minorities and so on. They could rebel against the neoliberal economic orthodoxies of the EU, and advance a democratic socialist agenda at home. They could kiss goodbye to TTIP, and rest assured that there would be no sinister new free trade agreement put in its place. They could work for the outlook of Britain to remain global, while the decision-making remained local. But in the absence of a general election, there is no chance of a Lexit whatsoever. This leaves an entire swathe of left-wing eurosceptics with a truly horrible choice. First, they can vote to remain in an EU that has become so anti-democratic that it deposed the democratically elected leaders of Greece and Italy in order to push through its economic and political agenda. Second, they can vote to leave on the terms of a UK government to the right of that anti-democratic institution. This means, whether they like it or not, they are voting to lose key civil, human and workers’ rights, to accelerate a TTIP-style trade deal, to see British science, technology and engineering take a massive hit, and see any resulting recession become the pretext for austerity on steroids. What a choice!
But it isn’t just the left who are being shafted in this vote. At the other end of the spectrum, the right are being done over too. Those who wish to see Britain cut immigration dramatically are going to be bitterly disappointed in the event of a Brexit vote. The economics embraced by David Cameron and the conservatives doesn’t permit protectionism – or ‘looking after our own’. This is why they do nothing for working class Britons losing jobs because their bosses choose to exploit immigrant labour. This is why they do nothing when companies ship British jobs overseas to exploit workers in far away countries. They are not patriots, or nationalists. They think as part of a trans-national capitalist class. The bottom line for them is the profit and loss accounts of themselves and their peers, not the personal aspirations of 31 million working people in Britain, or the near 2 million unemployed. The right can rest assured that if Britain leaves the EU and the Conservatives stay in power – there will be every bit as much, if not more, exploitation of immigrant and overseas labour, and all the losses of jobs, wages and working conditions that go along with it.
All things considered, we are forced to conclude that the only groups to win from this EU Referendum are the very same groups that have won for the last two decades: those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Those who see the NHS not as the foundation rock of our public health, but as a cash cow, ripe for milking. Those who see housing not as the basis for family and community life, but as a market in which to speculate and accumulate. Those who see education not as a ladder leading people up to a better place in the world, but as a means of turning our young people into debtors with hefty student loans which shackle them for life. Those who see immigration as a way of lowering working conditions and wages to the lowest common denominator. Those who see trade deals as another way of doing the same.
The rest of us – UKIP voters, one nation Conservatives, traditional or social conservatives, socialists or social democrats, radical lefties, greens – all of us are being screwed by this seemingly untouchable, indifferent political and media class. While we might disagree on the solutions, we are all craving remarkably similar things at the heart of it: community, safety, prosperity, good neighbourliness and civility, respect, integrity in our institutions, individual freedom. And none of us are going to get these things through this EU Referendum. Instead, it is likely that whichever way we vote, they will remain firmly out of our reach until we take far bolder steps at the ballot box come general election time.
This whole sham of a Referendum is a giant missed opportunity to reshape our nation in real and fundamental ways. Proving once again, that if we want a genuine transformation of this country, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.
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