Let’s begin with a frank acknowledgement. The referendum on 23rd June ought not to be happening at all. The constant refrain from people that they don’t have “the facts” on which to decide makes clear that people don’t really understand what they are being asked to decide. Yes, the question is posed in simple terms – remain, or leave – but it is far from clear how people are supposed to reach a conclusion about which option is best, and best for whom.
For “the facts” that people crave don’t actually exist. The EU is complex, covers so many different areas of operation, is far more than simply a ‘free market’ in which goods, services and labour are sold without unfair impediment. There’s a social Europe, a cultural Europe, an educational Europe, a research and development Europe, an infrastructure Europe, and so much more. Each side (and there are more than two to this question) chooses which ‘facts’ are relevant to their case. There is no objective set of facts upon which all can agree.
So far, so obvious. Except that it does need to be said. And the person who clarified this for me last night was a lawyer and academic, Dr. Ryan Murphy of Aston University.
Murphy’s field is European law, so one might expect him to offer clarity on this issue. And he did. He said something so startling that I wrote it down at the time. He said that “you should choose how to vote on the basis of what you value”.
This is surely right, and probably in many more circumstances than just this referendum. But as a rule of thumb for the referendum, it works. It also works if we ask the question of the various ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ camps – “what do they value?”
One of the ‘Leave’ camp’s most eager proponents is the DWP minister Priti Patel. She has told a meeting of the right-wing Institute of Directors that if a Brexit Britain got rid of “even half” of EU directives on workers’ rights it would be good for business. Let’s think about what that means. We don’t have to speculate, because they are talking openly about it. Iain Duncan Smith has been clear about wanting to water down the working time directive. That means making people work longer hours. Tired lorry drivers on our roads, knackered doctors and nurses making life-and-death decisions, sleep-deprived technicians trying to keep the nuclear power plant running safely.
The Tory ‘leave’ campaign has very clear values. They value profit over quality of life, profit over safety, profit over maternity leave, profit over disability rights, profit over equality. Some of the UKIP people are in this group, too. I haven’t mentioned the UKIP far-right flank whose only real issue is immigration (from anywhere), and whose values are insularity and whiteness.
The Tory ‘remain’ camp also includes people with clear values. The old guard like Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke are old school Tory idealists who see European unity and co-operation as a valuable thing in and for itself. They may have had parents or even siblings who had first hand knowledge of war in Europe, and that has scarred many in their generation.
The younger Tories of ‘remain’, like Cameron and Osborne, don’t share such ideals. For them, once aspiring to, now comfortable at the top tables of power in the world, they understand that being in the EU smooths the way for big business, and gives them personally more power and influence as representatives of a big EU country. They don’t want to lose their membership of that club. That is what they value.
And what of the left?
The tired remnants of New Labour combine a Cameronian love of self-importance and big business clout with some residual sentiment about ‘modern’ attitudes towards workplace equality. I say that, because I am bitter and twisted. They’d probably call it ‘pragmatism’, like their Tory mates.
The Corbyn position is the critical case for ‘remain’, and probably better deserves the term pragmatic. They value workplace rights, social solidarity, good public services, decent education and healthcare, and they see that the EU can better guarantee that some of those values will be preserved and defended in the face of the unhinged neoliberalism that so grips our own government.
There’s a left ‘leave’ case, too. They see the EU as a capitalist club dominated by business interests. Their values are also about workplace rights, social solidarity, public services and the rest. But they have no trust in European institutions to deliver or protect those things. Their primary value here is their anti-capitalism.
Once you have identified the values of the various groups, you can spot quite easily where they are using arguments they don’t actually believe in to fool people into voting their way. When Owen Patterson, or Nigel Farage talk of the money we spend on the EU going instead to the NHS we should laugh in their faces. For that is not consonant with their values. It’s not what they believe in their hearts; they’ve simply read a poll that tells them the NHS issue could swing votes.
So I’ll be voting on the basis of what I value. Culture, education, cooperation, internationalism. A rousing cry, which is where this piece ought to end. But it can’t.
For I am a political animal. I won’t be voting with Cameron and Osborne when I vote ‘remain’. I’ll be voting against them, because a remain vote has the potential to split the Tory party.