If you listen to TV soundbites you would think that we are certain to be heading out of the EU door on June 23rd. To be precise, the people ‘on the street’ picked for good TV soundbites are storming out of the door, shouting lots of expletives and waving a union flag! The EU referendum takes place this week. It’s all getting a bit real now.
How should we look at Europe?
I feel a little bit cheated and left out of the mainstream debate. I’m a remainer and have been throughout the campaign. There appears to be a myriad of reasons why people will vote to remain, or indeed leave. The current discource certainly on any mainstream media outlet is that if you’re a remainer you’re concerned about the economy, jobs and big business. If you’re a leaver, you are against immigration and being dictated to by the EU and you’re a flag waving nationalist. There are people holding these views and they are quite entitled to do so, but there are also many others with differing reasons to vote leave or remain. My remain vote has nothing to do with economics and certainly not big business. I feel as though I am European and that we should stand together in solidarity with the likes of Spain and Greece as well as work together on issues such as the environment, migration, exploitation of workers, tax avoidance and many more. It doesn’t all boil down to how much we get out of it and growing our economy. What do we contribute to making Europe better is not something that seems to be being asked. It’s not perfect as it is but let’s try and make it better and not just go off to Brussels to be obstructive and rude.
Oscar Wilde said a cynic is a ‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. We have certainly been given plenty of figures about the price of the EU to the UK. Sociologist, Max Weber said that industrialisation and the division of labour has trapped us in an iron cage. Weber said that industialisation and the calculated control that this brings has eroded community and kinship. Weber called this rationalisation. Who cares about the Greek nurse who wants to come and look for work when Nigel Farage is telling us how much it costs the United Kingdom? The economics of neoliberalism rationalises and gives a cold acceptance to justifying actions based on ecomoic figures. This kind of justification has given the likes of Mike Ashley and Philip Green free rein to do whatever they like in the name of profit and exploitation. Just because it makes or saves money, doesn’t make it the right thing to do and a spreadsheet or graph should not justify such behaviour. You may well know the price of the EU but what is the value, not only to us but all of humanity?
Immigration cannot be ignored in the reckoning up of remain or leave. It seems as though it has taken on lots of ugly rhetoric, none more so than UKIP’s latest advertising campaign. Surely if a migrant comes to the UK, works and pays taxes then that money should go to providing that individual and everyone is with homes, schools and hospitals? The shortage of such public services is a failing of the UK’s infrastructure, not addressed by recent governments. Who can blame someone from coming to the UK to find work? A very conservative message from the 1980s was to ‘get on your bike and find work if there isn’t any at home’. In a globalised world where there are not enough jobs to go around, surely another solution is required, rather than scrapping between ourselves for that one last job and the race to the bottom. Radical ideas such as Universal Basic Income need to be explored further. Switzerland recently voted against baisic income, the first vote of its kind. One of the main reasons for voting against the scheme was that people would rush to Switzerland to take advantage of ‘free money’. A reason surely to work with other countries in a globalised world where corporations and the environment are borderless.
Nationalism or xenophobia is often sneered at but do we need and crave an identity? Could it come down to whether that identity is European or British? Welsh, English, Scottish or Irish? Social identity theory certainly says that we crave being part of a group. Henri Tajfel used his emperical work in psychology to show that we enhance the image of people who are similar to ourselves and discriminate against groups who have a difference to us. A real them versus us conundrum. A familiar story this week.
The vote on June 23rd is complex and the result either way will be a complicated story to unpick. Are we all stuck in an iron cage of rationalisation? Are we voting against the political establishment in a way that a general election, first past the post system doen’t allow? Or do we just not like those people who are not like us?