We’re having a referendum this week. One friend of mine described it thus:
Never in the whole history of people choosing cake or death, have so many people voted for death.
Now, there are many intelligent people on the Leave side who maintain the delusion that the UK will be able to maintain preferential access to the European Single Market without retaining free movement for EU citizens, but I remain unconvinced.
The entire campaign has been based around FUD and xenophobia. The main rallying points of the leave campaign have been immigration and how much money we send “to Brussels”. The Leave battle bus has “£350 million a week” scrawled down the side. This is, simply put, a lie. Personally, I think whoever authorised and endorsed this figure should stand trial for electoral fraud, but that’s just my opinion. Boris Johnson, the most prominent leave guy, has even acknowledged that the figure is a lie, but he doesn’t care. It gets conversations started that seem, inevitably, to come back to how many different things that fictional money could be spent on if we left. Add up these figures and you come to at least a billion pounds a week. There’s something not quite right there.
The other point is immigration. In spite of the fact that EU migration results in a net profit for the exchequer, we are invited to hate all of those people with brown skin and/or funny accents. Because they are simultaneously stealing our jobs and scrounging off our benefits system. Never mind the fact that the NHS employs a bajillion immigrants because Tory cuts have meant that there simply are not enough home-grown doctors, nurses or other essential skilled staff.
Most disgusting of all, perhaps, is Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP (whose wife is German), who stood proudly in front of a large poster depicting a long line of refugees waiting to cross the border between Croatia and Slovenia. A poster that was only distinguishable from a Nazi propaganda picture by the fact that Farage’s poster is in colour. Nicely done. Of course, UKIP decided to try to shut down argument by invoking Godwin’s Law. Personally, I think that we can put Godwin aside given the specific nature of the picture and what UKIP is trying to do, but that is, obviously, just my opinion.
With tension between the Remain side and the Leave side rising – intelligent debate disappeared some months ago – it was inevitable, I suppose, that someone would do something really stupid before long. And so it came to Thursday of last week. Yorkshire MP, Jo Cox, was just leaving a library where she’d been meeting with her constituents when Thomas Mair (allegedly) shouted “Britain First” before shooting and stabbing her. She died fairly promptly thereafter. He gave his name, in court, as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” Of course, all the people who have been stirring up xenophobic hatred are quite convinced that this act is nothing to do with them. There is nothing more likely to calm tensions than people and newspapers howling about how awful foreigners are and how they are taking away opportunity from “hard working” British (actually, usually English) people.
By all accounts, Jo Cox was an excellent MP who worked passionately for the underdog. She had a particular interest in the plight of refugees, and was outspoken about our duty of compassion to our fellow humans. She lost her life, apparently, because she thought that we are all people, and that those of us with resources to spare have a duty to care for those in greatest need.
Her murder underlines the toxic mood that has overtaken the UK recently. A mood that was loud and clear in the last general election campaign (where UKIP got nearly four million votes) and was, arguably, the reason David Cameron promised this godforsaken referendum. That mood has only been stoked by the referendum campaign, and risks getting the UK a reputation for arrogant xenophobic hatred. Admittedly, that attitude did make us the richest nation on the planet back in the days of Empire. We probably thought we were over it in 1948 when we drafted the European Convention on Human Rights. We probably thought we had grown up. We had begun to consider ourselves better than that, that Britishness implied openness, decency, diversity and compassion.
It seems I may have been mistaken.