W&Y reader Paul Corrick on the political decision of a lifetime:
“I’ll be honest; I’m a political animal. I watch the news, read the papers, follow on-line blogs and listen to political pundits like Robert Peston, Andrew Neil and Tim Marshall. I read articles giving both sides of the EU argument. I watch Question Time and shout at the television as I perceive politicians seemingly scoring points, grinding out the same so called facts and figures, and each side contradicting the other.
I am neither a journalist nor trained writer. I am just a member of the UK electorate and like millions of others have an opinion and a vote. I am broadly of the centre left but have no ties to any party. I have voted Labour in the past but would not do so if there was an election tomorrow.
I cringe when I hear David Cameron say the leader of ISIS would favour Brexit, just as I shudder when Boris talks about Hitler and the EU in the same sentence. I hate scare tactics on both sides of the argument. Am I being unrealistic to want a reasoned well thought out debate that gives us the best chance to make an informed judgement? If leaving the EU is going to have such disastrous consequences for our country why did Cameron give us a choice in the first place? I have many questions, but few clear answers.
My heart and head tells me to vote Leave and I will explain why later, however, my judgement is not clear cut. I worry that many of the electorate, who are not political animals like myself, will rely on people like Boris, Gove, Farage, Obama or Cameron to help make up their minds. Some may even listen to Harry Styles or Joey Essex!
I worry about what is happening in Europe. It is turmoil with the refugee crisis, threats of terrorism, unemployment and a surge of extremist politics. Huge numbers of voters in Austria, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, cast their vote in the Presidential election at the weekend for the far right candidate.
Think about that and you realise what is happening. Europe is not a continent at peace with itself or in unison. It is largely divided, riddled with unrest and economic disparity.
The reasons for the rise of extremism are complex but surely we must look at the financial crisis, the Euro crisis, the refugee crisis and mass unemployment as influencing factors. Youth unemployment in Spain and Greece is over 45%.
Herein lies the conditions for social unrest, protest and a lurch to extremist politics. The centre ground has been collapsing in Europe in recent years, we saw this with the rise of the extreme left Syriza party in Greece. In France the far right Marie Le Pen is on course to do very well in next year’s Presidential elections. Extreme parties are looking dangerous elsewhere including Hungary, Slovakia and Poland.
Whether the UK is better off in or out of an unstable Europe is a moot point and these problems across Europe would affect us either way. But I have to ask those who want to remain – is this the European panacea you talk about? Is this a Europe that is united, strong and free? What will happen to the EU if we have another Euro crisis? The EU is meant to be about harmony but can agree on very little, even the refugee crisis sees individual countries taking unilateral decisions. The remain campaign say it will affect the economy, jobs and trade but they have no proof. Both sides have been guilty of ‘project fear’.
We have to make a judgement call on June 23rd. It is a once in a lifetime decision and yet I feel no one really knows what will happen if we stay or leave. It seems as if most of the predictions are based on guesswork, assumptions, prejudice, wishful thinking, personal bias and political grand standing.
Where is the statesman, the Churchill character, who can rise above prejudices and give the people the truth? Maybe there is none. Maybe we have to accept no one really knows. How can anyone forecast what will happen in 5, 10 or 20 years anyway? Governments revise economic forecasts more often than Henry the VIII changed his wives!
The reasons why I have decided to vote Leave on June 23rd are varied, however I respect those who will vote Remain. My main worries are about our ability to remain an independent country. I can vote for my MP, local representatives, and Government, and know they are answerable to me and the British electorate. I have though no say about politicians in Poland, Hungary or Spain but they can have a say in how I live. I remember how some of our politicians recommended we join the Euro and how wrong they were. I remember the fiasco of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
I know if we as a country want to have control over our lives – be it borders, legislation, how we trade – we have to be able to self-govern. I recognise the arguments that some EU legislation may be positive with regards to employment law but surely we should have no need for the EU to protect us. I believe in local democracy.
We are and will remain a part of NATO, the Commonwealth and other European-International bodies. I believe if we left we would still be able to trade with the EU and have favourable trading terms. The rest of the EU will not stop selling us their cheese, cars, components etc. They need us as much as we need them. We live in a global economy where we trade with countries from all over the world.
Turkey is another concern. It’s a country situated in Asia with only 3% land mass in Europe. I know Turkey would have to meet certain criteria before it could be admitted to the EU but at what cost? It has as its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an authoritarian figure who is suppressing freedom of speech and trying to push through constitutional changes giving him even more power. The controversial plan allowing Turkish citizens visa free travel to the EU looks dangerous, unworkable and flawed. The borders of the EU could one day extend to the borders of Syria, Iran and Iraq. Some may think this a positive step – I do not.
With regards to our security you only have to look at Ukraine to realise the myth of a more stable unified Europe. There have been over 8,000 casualties due to the Russian intervention and the EU remains powerless in dealing with it. Over the last year we have seen horrific acts of terror in Paris and Brussels which the EU intelligence agencies could not prevent. There are reports that the Belgium police and security services were not sharing intelligence. If individual countries within the EU cannot share their own intelligence internally what hope is there for the rest of Europe? We share intelligence and co-operate with lots of countries, such as the United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, Sweden and New Zealand, so we do not have to be part of the EU to do so.
History will prove if my decision and indeed the country’s was the correct one. I would rarely quote the late MP and Labour minister Tony Benn but his view on accountability and local democracy resonates –“In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person-Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates-ask them five questions. What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you? If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system”.
Back in 1973, when I was a teenager, the UK joined the Common Market in what was seen as largely an economic union of states. The European Union came into existence in 1993 following the controversial Maastricht Treaty of 1991.That paved the way for monetary union and had a social chapter in which the UK opted out. The treaty began the process of further integration in foreign policy, security, asylum and immigration. However, Europe then is a very different entity to the one we have today.
If the EU is working effectively for the UK why do we need to opt out of rules that others Union accept? Some in Europe want to push European integration even further. They openly advocate a Federal European super state. I say thanks, but no thanks.
That is why I will not be listening to Obama, Boris or Cameron on June 23rd but voting with my head and heart. I realise the choice is not black and white and there are convincing arguments which can be made by both sides. I hope whatever box you tick it is based on reasoned independent thinking and you trust your own instincts.
I know I do not have all the answers and believe no one does or ever can. Like everyone I have to assess the information provided and make the decision that feels more right than wrong. I mistrust politicians who are so sure of their position. How can they be so convinced about what is not certain? Are they speaking in the interests of the country or their personal agendas or power-base? We do not know.
“If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system” Those words will follow me into the polling booth on June 23rd.”