It feels like a long week, and it’s only Wednesday. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for several months, you’ll have seen the debates endlessly percolating around the upcoming EU referendum. The question that the British public have to answer is whether to remain in the EU, which we first joined in 1975 for common trade and political partnership; or leave, in favour of an as-yet undetailed relationship with the union supposedly similar to the Norwegian model.
At this point there’s little that either side can add to the debate, but that doesn’t stop news outlets churning out new stories, like this Gawker piece on the EU referendum as told by Equus GIFs, because why not; or this Daily Mail article claiming that the Queen has been asking her dinner guests for 3 good reasons to stay in the EU (that link takes you to the Daily Mail. You have been warned). To be fair, you can’t blame the media for wanting to exhaust every angle. It’s easy to forget this in all the noise, but the referendum itself is newsworthy stuff: it’s a vital barometer for the state of British politics, so don’t let photos of Boris Johnson kissing a fish distract you.
With only hours to go until the polls open, both sides of the campaign will be wondering what tomorrow’s exit polls will indicate, and, noting the poor performance of these recently, how far out those figures will be from reality when votes are counted on Friday. One of the biggest questions for each side will be whether they have been persuasive enough to sway the sizeable percentage of ‘undecided’ voters. This number currently stands at 11% (BBC/YouGov) to 14% (The Week) of all those polled, although The Telegraph, amongst others, have started excluding ‘undecideds’ from the polls in favour of a remain/leave split. This rather misses the point that in these final days of campaigning, a huge number of people still haven’t yet decided whether they’ll vote to remain or leave.
Many of these undecided voters are young. As I wrote in this recent post, 18-30 year olds are probably the demographic most open to thinking constructively about both sides of the argument, and also those most likely to see a future in EU membership. I’m going to vote Remain, and I haven’t come to the decision blindly – hell, I’ve done enough research on it to write a paper, but unfortunately not one related in any way to my PhD *laughs, following by crying*. When asked for my opinion I’ve tried to give it without preaching or cajoling. Talking to young people, I’ve encouraged them to read around the topic, getting to the facts beyond the spin of the news, and make up their mind based on what works for them rather than family or friends. The trouble is that people are busy and stressed, and we haven’t all got the luxury or the motivation to inform our own decisions. That is why the campaigns for each side are so important, and why it’s so disappointing that they’ve been muddied and mud-slinging.
The Remain campaign seemed to lack momentum for most of their campaign, not helped by Jeremy Corbyn’s tentativeness when invited into the spotlight to clarify Labour’s position. The Remain message has been saved somewhat by a rather more energetic effort from campaigners on the ground, who have done a great job. These are, after all, volunteers with busy lives themselves. But if we think of the reluctant figurehead of the campaign, what stuck in the throats of young voters in particular is that David Cameron, whose popularity is particularly low in the 18-35 age group, was the main person telling us we needed to vote remain. For many, going against his patronising speeches is sorely tempting, and judging by this referendum he hasn’t inspired much confidence in his leadership.
Despite Cameron’s hindrance, the Remain campaign has in its final days strengthened its message and managed to add more dynamic names to its roster. People may mock the value of David Beckham or Gary Lineker voicing their intentions to vote in, but I think these are important people on the Remain ticket – Stephen Hawking, John Major and Gordon Brown haven’t exactly wowed the crowds. Whether we like it or not, in a world skewed to celebrity as much as politics, such an endorsement may encourage young would-be Brexiters to reconsider.
In a scenario that was already pretty grim, politics reached a new nadir with the murder of Labour MP and former Oxfam and Save the Children activist Jo Cox on Thursday. For the sake of brevity I’ll refer you to Alex Massie, who wrote a moving piece about the multiplier effects of politics for the Spectator. The rally organised in Trafalgar Square this afternoon in Jo Cox’s memory is doubly poignant because today would have been her 42nd birthday. Forget hateful Katie Hopkins claiming that the Remain campaign have co-opted Cox’s murder into their own campaign (no link there – Hopkins needs no more airtime) and listen instead to her husband’s mature interview about her concerns in the months before her murder about the growing tendency of British politics towards highlighting divisions rather than common ground.
It’s this rhetoric of division the Leave campaign are guilty of. The Thames-based flotilla spraying water at each from boats was so bizarre as to be almost funny (and this Buzzfeed overview does capture some of that incredulity, but it was maneouvred by a campaign that has played on people’s anxieties about migration and ethnicity. By conflating political and economic European membership with race, the Remain campaign has made Brexit an appealing prospect for marginalised voters who don’t feel listened to by government. I don’t see how anyone could really be swayed by a campaign fronted, without irony, by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage, but these dire spokesmen (their Alpha Male front doesn’t leave much room for women) haven’t been exposed for their political motivations half as much as they should have been. As I argued in this London Mayor piece, do not be fooled: Boris Johnson is a highly intelligent and ambitious careerist, who was happy to press pause on his mayoral responsibilities in London for nearly a year whilst he worked on his own ambitions in parliament. I’ll save talk on Michael Gove for another piece, but hinting that he might leave government if Britain voted Remain is almost too tantalising a prospect to endure. Alas, the tweet released last night declaring he would actually leave was a hoax. We can but dream.
Meanwhile Nigel Farage, quite aside from his faltering track record (this week alone including an old school report expressing concern about his Fascist tendencies, and an anti-immigration billboard echoing notorious Nazi propaganda) is stunningly unconcerned about his own hypocrisy in fronting the Thames flotilla. Newspapers haven’t given this as much coverage as they might have, but the flotilla originated with fishermen who from the coast of Essex and Kent navigated their boats upstream the Thames to make a political point. They, more than most, had a bone to pick with the EU because of what they see as the EU’s punitive fishing quotas, the CFP. But guess what? Nigel Farage’s job in European Parliament was to campaign about these rules, and he didn’t. The Green Party points out he showed up for one meeting in 42. So in a bizarre case of Stockholm syndrome, these fishermen, the most diligent members of the Leave flotilla, were the very same traders Farage promised and failed to represent in rethinking EU fishing quotas (which, by the way, make more sense from a sustainability viewpoint than UKIP would have us believe). Farage got away with bamboozling his own supporters yet again, all whilst uncannily aping Alan Partridge. It bears repeating: some of this stuff is beyond parody.
All that remains is to go to the polls tomorrow, where we can at least expect a healthy turnout, whether for Leave or for Remain. So much has been said on the topic in so many different ways I almost don’t want to add anything more, so will just make this appeal: if you’re in, say you’re in. You could even make this Mariah Carey spoof by Martyn Hett your Facebook cover photo.