It’s not often I find myself agreeing with David Cameron, and it’s partly due to one of my strong disagreements with him that I’m writing this now. I don’t know about you, but personally I was sick of the EU referendum debate before it even officially started. For that reason, I shall attempt to keep this concise. However, as I’m (il)legally prevented from participating in the democratic process (in contravention, ironically, of an EU ruling), I wanted to do something to have some kind of voice. You may recall that the idea of giving prisoners the vote makes the PM feel “physically sick”, so I hope in some small way that my writing this may contribute to his digestive distress.
I’ll set out my stall from the beginning: I want unequivocally for Britain to remain in the EU. Yes, that’s right DC – if you’d let me vote, I’d be using that vote to agree with you. It’s confusing, I know. To be honest, it’s upsetting me a bit too – I don’t like simultaneously feeling that someone can be so horrifically wrong about one thing and yet completely right about another. Like when St Paul wrote that beautiful passage describing the nature of love in his first letter to the Corinthians, and followed it up in the next chapter with a rant about women remaining silent in church and being in submission to their husbands. But then, in a way, that’s exactly what giving prisoners the vote is all about: people are complex mixtures of good and bad, right and wrong, and everything in between. A prisoner may have transgressed against some aspect of society’s rules, but that should not define him as someone whose opinions are all therefore invalid. So here I am, giving mine.
Unusually for me, I’m not going to go into fine details or ‘facts’ about how many thousand pounds we’ll be better or worse off, nor how many jobs we’ll gain or lose, nor how much money is wasted or well-spent. All of these things can be bent to suit whatever position you hold, and the truth is that nobody really has any idea about any of them, whatever their claims to the contrary. We’ll only find out all of that when it’s already too late, either way. Claims and counter-claims fired back-and-forth like mortars between entrenched positions have, I suspect, so far served only to engender distrust and cynicism. I realised that the whole debate had finally descended into the absurdity of a YouTube comment thread when Boris Johnson started making comparisons to Hitler (see: Godwin’s Law).
My own argument is a fairly simple matter of principle. Perhaps I’m idealistic, but I believe in the idea of people working together for the common good. I’ve heard it said that patriotism is the erroneous belief that your own country is the best, just because you happened to be born in it. Nationalism and separatism often boil down to the simplistic dualism of ‘us’ and ‘them’, about which I’ve previously written at length. All the lines of separation we draw are arbitrary. I’ve yet to hear a list of ‘distinctive’ British values that any other European – or indeed any citizen of a post-industrial democracy – wouldn’t be likely to claim as his own. Western Europe has so far seen over seven decades of peace after centuries of intermittent war, thanks to the ever-closer co-operation of nations working together to understand and resolve their differences. This is not something to be discarded lightly.
Some people talk about laws being handed down from Brussels as though they were the diktats of some distant Caesar over whom we have no influence. The reality is that there is no ‘them’ in Brussels: we’re represented there as much as any other EU nation, and we give due input into the passing of all the statutes. Of course, in this way, we are only one fish in a large pond. But this is a fair representation of our true place in the world. To pull up the drawbridge in sociopathic self-interest is to be the petulant child who stomps off, declaring “I’m not playing any more!”, just because he couldn’t always get his own way.
What problems there are with the administration of the EU surely just give all the more reason to continue working to make it better, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As a species, we are likely to face much bigger challenges in the next century than whether there are too many Polish people taking the jobs that no Britons seem prepared to do anyway. Shortsighted parochialism is only going to hinder global efforts to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, slow the spread of oppressive ideologies, or mitigate the effects of climate change. Separation is always going to be a retrograde step that will increase divisions and amplify perceived differences.
I don’t have a vote in the EU referendum, but if you’re reading this then maybe you do. Perhaps you weren’t planning to vote, because you’re not too sure either way. If that’s the case, then I’d like to ask a favour: don’t waste your vote, but give it to me. Go out on June 23rd, and vote to stay in the EU, as I would if my rights were being upheld. Whether you’re a fan of the PM or not, this is your opportunity to simultaneously please and annoy him …