Not long after I was born, my parents’ and grand-parents’ generations voted this country into Europe. I’m deeply grateful to them for doing that, because it meant that I grew up as much European as I did British, even though I didn’t necessarily know it at the time. We don’t, as children, do we? What is, just ‘is’.
But the fact of being part of something that’s bigger than this funny little island, with its over-inflated sense of its own ‘rightness’ is important to me. I don’t think I realised how much until being forced to face the prospect of it being taken away for good.
I understand that there is a lot wrong with the EU. Yes, it’s a bureaucratic monster and needs reform. Yes, it offers opportunity, for those who wish to avail themselves of it, for corruption and miss-spending. And yes, I even understand the concerns about border control and immigration.
Yes, being part of a wider community means that we sometimes have to compromise on what we might want, for the greater good of the whole, or for that of others less well off than ourselves. And yes, it does mean that we have to be prepared to make contributions to others when our concerns closer to home might suggest we’d be better off keeping our wealth to ourselves.
But I truly believe we are better off remaining inside, and putting pressure on our government to work harder to make it work better.
I appreciate why so many people want to pull up the drawbridge. We are not where we feel we should be, as a nation. The years of recession have left us disillusioned, and with a feeling that we’ve been ‘done over’ somehow. We’ve had a succession of weak, subverted governments who have done nothing to engender faith in government at any level, and who have used every opportunity to excuse their own failings by pointing the finger at others – international high finance, the EU, immigrants…
It is a natural response when disappointed, angry, frightened and fearful to pull into one’s own community, whether that is family, town, region or country, and to blame ‘others’. And I fear that is what this country is in danger of doing, to its own great detriment in the future.
Leave aside, for a moment, issues of whether leaving would result in a recession (the signs are that it would) which would probably kill off businesses like mine, or the question of whether it is immigration (from with or without the EU) that is putting pressure on our over-stretched services. Never mind what the true figure is that we pay to Brussels for our membership, and whether it is outweighed by the various economic benefits that we receive in return.
This campaign has left very few involved (on either side) untainted by lies, half-truths and rabble-rousing. A victory for the Leave campaign would mean a tacit acceptance by this nation that that this acceptable in politics, and that thought makes me ashamed of what this country is becoming.
I desperately do not want to live in a country which embraces the kind of politics that Mr Farage, Mr Johnson, Mr Gove and the like have been indulging in over the last few months. And I fear that, should we vote to leave the EU, we would be voting for a future in which they will thrive. A pernicious influence that will drive UK politics further towards divisiveness, xenophobia and intolerance. And, having seen how bad it has already become, that thought fills me with horror.
I’m not going to pretend I think the governments we’ve had recently have been all that. And that’s the other thing that puzzles me about this. By leaving the EU we would be putting more power into the hands of people who are clearly not trustworthy enough to wield it. And yet we seem to be gleefully heading in the direction of: “Here you are, chaps, have it all. You might be corrupt, power hungry t*****s, but at least you’re OUR corrupt, power hungry t*****s.”
I want to be part of a nation that, instead of rolling up its drawbridge, rolls up its sleeves and gets to work to fix problems inside and outside its borders. I want a future in which our multi-national society is still influential in a multi-nation community.
There are many who argue that life was better before we joined Europe. They are entitled to their opinion. Leaving won’t bring that back. And thank goodness for that. I wouldn’t want to return to a world in which women can’t get a mortgage without a male guarantor, where discrimination on grounds of age, sex, race, sexual persuasion, marital status and many, many other factors was not just rife, but de rigeur. It’s not perfect now, but we’ve come a long way, and we have the EU to thank for much of that. I want to retain my freedom to travel freely, and live and work, should I choose to, anywhere in Europe, and for others to have the same freedoms. The ability of EU nationals to come and go enriches our society, our culture, our educational experience and our economy– and by ‘ours’ I mean across Europe as well as in the UK.
Leaving the EU would not curtail the misdirection of funds, or the malign influences of large corporations which seek to do business here whilst avoiding paying their dues. It would not stop the effects of the so-called ‘sharing economy’ (Uber, Airbnb and the like) driving down wages. It would not reverse the overload on the NHS. And it would not magically transform our antiquated parliamentary system into something truly democratic.
If anything, our weakened state would put us further at risk, as we tried desperately to renegotiate trade agreements and keep them interested in our little island. So, whilst some aspects of life may well have been easier before we joined Europe (and let’s accept that life has changed in so many ways, not all of them connected to our EU membership), I’ll predict that in another 40 years, those of us left would be looking back with nostalgia on how good life was “when we were European”. By which time there won’t be that many left to say, “Yes, but remember how it was before that…”
I don’t want to be part of a nation that, in a misguided and misled quest to recapture a mythical golden era of its own greatness, cuts off its own nose to spite its face, and in doing so ruins itself for, probably, the rest of my life and much of the next generation’s. An excess of nostalgia is a dangerous thing.
Mr Cameron yesterday asked the older generation to vote for the children’s future. Sir Bob Geldof went a step further last week and questioned whether people of his generation should even have a vote. I don’t agree with that, obviously. We all have a vote. But there are younger generations of voters who feel that my generation, and my parents’ and grand-parents’ generations, having reaped the benefit of our EU membership, are, now that things are tough (or rather, now that the UK is starting to do rather better than other parts of Europe), about to bail out and leave them to clear up the resulting mess. Somewhat stuck in the middle, I have some sympathy with that view. I can only hope that, come tomorrow, the our electorate will have the sense to vote based on what will make us stronger in the future, rather than clutching at a long-departed past.