Surely the Brexit campaign must fall apart under the weight of its own internal squabbling, animosity, competing ambitions and hatreds? And so to the attempt at piggybacking onto International Women’s Day to appeal to those pesky unpersuaded women.
I can well imagine the scene. Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings, the young Robespierres running the Vote Leave campaign won’t have had the slightest bit of interest in ‘wimmin’, but like everyone else they’ve probably had it up to here with Priti Patel, the Narendra Modi of Home Counties, going around spreading inter-communal strife, so they had someone tell her, “Go on love, say something to fire up the little ladies.” And Patel, who loves a camera and a microphone, toddled off to make some offensive comparisons between Nigel Farage and Emmeline Pankhurst, before toasting Boudicca with a nice glass of Babycham. Something like that, anyway.
The festival of charmlessness that is Brexit demands a gallery at Madame Toussauds. Boris in a straightjacket being observed by Dr.Marr. Nigel Lawson rising each dusk from his coffin. Michael Gove dressed as Jean Brodie. Farage speeded up, chasing a bevy of mademoiselles and frauleins around in the manner of Benny Hill. It’s all got the seedy air of British light entertainment from the 1970s. Sticking a bit of faux-feminism into the mix fools no one.
And what of my side. The idealists for Europe? How do we fare?
Whenever I see Cameron or Osborne, or, god help us, Sajjid Javid ‘making the case’ for the vote that ought never to have been called I find myself writing a note to myself to check out how to get an Irish passport (I am eligible). I want us to remain in the EU, but these guys make me want to spoil my ballot, so strong is my repulsion. They put us in this mess, and I’m supposed to bail them out?
Labour MPs have been pretty impressive on the whole – across the party spectrum – at putting a strong and reasoned case to stay in the EU. But they have no money for the official campaign led by Alan Johnson. And I’m not sure he’s the right person to lead it, either. He’s personable enough, but I think someone like Yvette Cooper would have been better.
I am very critical of Corbyn and his Momentum supporters on this issue. It would have been easy for Labour to have hijacked the referendum issue to make a case not just for ‘social Europe’, but for ‘social Britain’. Those young idealists who joined the party could have given a lively campaign a sense of youth, optimism, dynamism and vivacity, replicating the cultural impact of the Scottish referendum campaign. Instead they appear to be wholly inwardly focused, wanting to seize the internal levers of party control. It’s a lost opportunity.
And the others? The Liberals are an endangered species, but Tim Farron has done a spirited job on the few occasions he has been given the chance.
And what of the SNP? That formidable votes machine that scythed through the ranks of Scottish Labour MPs only last year? Nicola came to London to make a big campaign speech and do a few interviews, which says all you need to know.
I’ve listened to SNP MPs giving interviews or contributing to discussions of the EU, as I’ve listened to them on many other issues. They are much less impressive than they appear to think. Perhaps they’ve been used to an easy ride from the Scottish media? Or maybe they just don’t care? Whatever, it’s quite difficult to see them as allies when they give the impression that they think a voter from anywhere but Scotland ought to be avoided at all costs, and if that handshake really has to be made you can almost feel them reaching for the antibacterial hand gel. They’re as sneeringly condescending towards us as Cameron and his millionaire chums.
So this is my own International Women’s Day contribution to the debate.
We get all sorts of protections and safeguards from being in the EU.
Rights in the workplace, of the sort that our own government has been trying to remove (women’s applications to Employment Tribunals have fallen by 80% since the Tories hiked up charges).
Educational and cultural opportunities to study or work in other EU countries. I’ve seen students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, thrive and grow in confidence by taking part in the Erasmus programme. The sorts of experience rich kids like Cameron and Osborne and Boris took for granted became open to all through EU programmes. Arts and cultural links are also promoted through the EU, widening horizons and and opening up new opportunities.
Collaboration on important scientific and medical research. Collaborative action to promote food safety. These are things which are done more effectively across a range of countries.
Easy travel for work, for holidays, and with reciprocal arrangements to use local health services, which keep insurance costs down. The EU also works to try to cut the costs of things like mobile phone use across national boundaries.
Co-operation across borders to fight crime and to keep us safe. This is so important, especially with crime being increasingly international in scope.
Greater economic security. Everywhere the tendency of successful nations is towards cooperation, not isolation.
And there’s the last big question. War and peace. The EU brought together the old rival powers of Europe and made them cooperate and become friends. Britain, France, Germany went to war twice in the first few decades of the 20th Century. Now that is inconceivable. But the world remains dangerous. The wars in the middle east, which our governments ‘helped’ to make happen, have been going on for longer than the the First and Second World Wars combined. The refugee crisis thereby created, despite the hysterical reactions of frightened people, and politicians who follow rather than lead, can only be dealt with by the countries of Europe co-operating.
Otherwise, we’re on our own.