Jessica Gregson’s blog

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Referendum eve

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I am home to vote, and I am home to vote remain, and I am glad to be here and to participate in this process but I also feel that the result of this referendum is less important than the narratives that have dominated it, and that is what really scares me.

I have enormous amounts of sympathy for those who have genuine, well-thought-out reasons to support Brexit that don’t fit with the dominant narrative. Had there been a strong and coordinated Lexit campaign, it might have swayed me: the EU is by definition a capitalist institution; I am generally in favour of devolution of power down to the lowest possible level; if the discussion around exit had focused on how to better serve the most vulnerable in society, whether British or otherwise, I would have listened. I might have been persuaded.

Instead, the Brexit campaign has coalesced around the cruellest, most selfish, most inward looking aspects of our society. As Billy Bragg said recently, I totally understand that not every Brexiter is racist, but every racist will be voting for Brexit. Those leading the movement have cannily pressed every button, tweaked every dial to ratchet up those aspects of our culture that make me most ashamed. Brexiteers talk about taking our country back, about regaining sovereignty; they hearken back to a gloriously cartoonish and imaginary past. I am normally allergic to anything that smacks of patriotism, but you know what, here are a few things that make me proud to be British: the Kindertransport. The resettlement of 27,000 Asian Ugandans in the 1970s, after they were expelled by Idi Amin. The fact that one of our most beloved Olympians is of Somali origin, and our national dish is chicken tikka masala, and that we have always been a country that looked out, and that welcomed in. The Brexit campaign talks about taking our country back, but actually they’re threatening to take away what I love about this country, what I think makes it great.

Plenty of people have put more time and effort than me into enumerating the reasons why Remain is the sensible choice. Here’s Hugh Hancock on the veracity of both sides of the debate, and here’s Ben Goldacre on reasons to stay, and here’s a crowdsourced map on EU investments in British Infrastructure, and and and. But it’s not about reasons, and it’s not about debate, and it never has been, and that cuts both ways. I’ll admit it: my voting choices are generally based on values and narrative, and that’s what has me actually, literally, sick to the core about this referendum: important as the result is, more horrifying to me is what a result might tell us about the values of the British electorate, and what they see as their dominant narrative. What scares me is less the idea of a Brexit in itself, but what that signifies in terms of the choice of the electorate. The Brexit campaign has been based about racism and xenophobia, and irrespective of whether the majority of people voting for Brexit share those values, a success for Brexit will be a legitimisation of that narrative – a narrative than I’d always thought was marginal and minimal, but which has turned out to be more mainstream and pervasive than I’d feared, running like a faultline through the heart of the UK.

This vote isn’t just about itself; it’s about our idea of our country, what we think it is and what we want it to be in future. Whichever side wins will be seen as a mandate for a particular strain of politics, and anyone who doesn’t see that is naive to the point of utter lunacy. There are ways that the UK could have a progressive policy towards immigrants and the poor and the disabled and the disenfranchised outside of the EU; there are ways that we could have stronger public services and increased redistribution of wealth outside of the EU, but my god, none of these things are on the table. Michael Gove isn’t going to take the imaginary and factually incorrect £350m a week we’ll save from not being members of the EU and use it to sprinkle magical solely-British-staffed hospitals around the country like fairy dust. A vote for Brexit will do nothing but make this country smaller, and meaner, and poorer – not just financially, but socially and culturally and in the ways that really matter.

I’m really, genuinely frightened of what happens after this referendum: what a Leave vote will signal for British politics; what a Remain vote will spark in terms of backlash. The campaign for this referendum has been the most destructive and divisive political process that I have experienced, and I don’t know how to repair the damage that has already been done.

I don’t like telling people how to vote, because I don’t like it when people do it to me. I just hope that when people go to the polls tomorrow they hold in their heads an idea of the country they want this to be, and that they’re open and honest about that means. And I hope that we remain kind to one another in the aftermath.


Written by Jess

June 22, 2016 at 11:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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