United we stand
A week is a long time in politics, as Harold Wilson is reported to have said. Well, if that’s the case, by the time we hit 23rd June we’ll all be positive Methuselahs.
Each side is setting its stall. A new report from British Future, for instance,
How (not) to talk about Europe, argues that female voters hold the key as to whether Britain stays in the EU or not, purely because of demographics. There are one million more women than men in Britain, it says, mainly due to the gender gap in life expectancy.
The report predicts that women are ‘almost twice as likely to answer ‘Don’t Know’ in most EU referendum polls,’ a prediction that’s hardly surprising given the arguments from both sides of the divide. Brexit campaigners say that remaining in the EU will continue to impact employment, welfare funding, the economy and Britain’s safety. Women IN, by contrast, a movement comprising, among others, Kelly Hoppen, Martha Lane Fox and Dame Anne Glover, says the opposite. “EU membership helps create jobs, helps our economy to thrive, and provides really important employment safeguards, like maternity and paternity leave,” champions its chair Jenny Halpern Prince.
In the days when General de Gaulle was doing his best to keep us out there were those in the UK, even back in the mid-1950s, who saw the benefits of entry to the European Union – and these included my parents.
They foresaw the need to speak more than one language, enrolling me in the French Lycée (where the Dames first came together); the potential benefits for trade and for a small island being able to punch above its weight – militarily and economically – when teamed up with its Continental partners. All of this held true when we joined the EEC in 1973, and probably still holds true today.
There is a constant jockeying for power among EU politicians, alliances are forged then broken, and our own politicians have a somewhat checkered history in terms of relationships and achievements. The EU has grown and the family is increasingly fractious.
Then we have those with a vested interest, like President Putin, in breaking it up as he mounts offensive PR campaigns against Angela Merkel. As for Ukraine, well let’s not even go there. We also have unforeseen migration from former Soviet bloc countries adding to the existing refugee turmoil. And in the UK we have David Cameron, who has opted for an early and unnecessary referendum, and attempts to hold the EU to ransom. Anyone would think he wanted to fail. Meanwhile our infrastructure is struggling to cope with its swelling population, not least the NHS.
What is it, therefore, which has led us to this dangerous choice? Is it fear that we are losing sovereignty, that immigration threatens to swamp this little country, that it is costing us too much? I would argue that we are not being given sufficient information to make our minds up either way. There is spin upon spin, political bunfights tied up with PM contests, very little real leadership and more than a nod to ‘stick with what you know’. It is as though those in power have little confidence that, given the facts, we could make up our own minds.
In the months to come I hope the electorate starts to be treated as sentient beings. I crave a little less bluster and more sensible debate. I admit that, as the granddaughter of immigrants, I can’t understand how MPs in the same situation are jumping on the No bandwagon and using it to ask for a blanket ban on immigration. But I also think that, whichever way we vote, we have lit the blue touch paper for the demise of the UK – and Europe – as they currently stand. We already know that one country after another is lining up to demand similar concessions – and referendums – to Britain.
Yes, come 23rd June – whatever happens – it’s going to be case of all change. What a disaster, however, if the outcome means that the UK is split into each of its constituent parts and that, in reality, we’re not voting Yes or No, rather we’re voting for a mini, rather than a great Britain (with a small ‘g’).