The EU debate isn’t split down party lines – it’s something much more worrying

By: Hugh Morris, Student Voices writer

An important insight into the way the PM views the referendum was shown at the Buzzfeed debate. Yes, the Buzzfeed debate. The main talking point of a largely forgettable spectacle was David Cameron justifying his commitment to the EU by listing a whole host of political parties and economic groups who supported his view, following a sweary rant by a member of the studio audience at his party.

I wonder whether the individual who made the rant was satisfied with the response, a response made countless times by members of Remain, citing the OECD, Treasury, Bank of England and now the Federal Reserve Board. The point is people aren’t really listening.

All of the major political parties support Remain (with the exception of the Conservatives who are, officially, neutral). Numerous former Prime Ministers, an overwhelming number of large businesses, and a significant number of economists, foreign leaders, scientists, academics and young people support a vote to stay in the EU. And yet Brexit is currently polling higher.

This debate, more than any in recent times, is splitting Britain not down political lines, but by anti-establishment feeling. What better than a simple Yes or No vote to give a two-fingered salute to the British political elite.

Nowhere demonstrates this better than in the North East. The surge of UKIP in this Labour heartland isn’t necessarily built on their policies – immigration to the North East is one of the lowest in the country – but a movement slowly building momentum that is highly critical of the Labour party and of the political establishment altogether.

And Remain don’t realise this, or have realised too late. What better to turn people away from a vote to stay than the faces of John Major and Tony Blair festooned on a joint platform, or the evergreen Gordon Brown, turning up in a very Buble-esque fashion as support-drummer-upper in chief.

Added to this, the Leave campaign have been clever in their policy directions. The sacrifice of our British democracy to an unaccountable, unelected body of bureaucrats in Brussels deflects the usual anti-establishment jibes away from Messrs Johnson and Gove and towards a system with numerous points of political entry and with 5x fewer civil servants than the UK. The £350 million a week figure has been inextricably linked to money that could be spent on the prized NHS and on public services, notwithstanding the fact that many members of Leave object to the very idea of high government spending and public health care.

The way that Leave have managed to conjure themselves as the side of the everyman has been miraculous but seems to be paying dividends. Many saw the combination of Farage, Galloway, Duncan Smith and Boris as a political catastrophe, but this has been one of their strongest assets, skewing the debate not in terms of party allegiances, but in terms of establishment versus anti-establishment, and, even worse, the interests of the rich versus the interests of the poor.

It is extremely difficult to make a positive case for Europe when there are so many shouting the other way, which is why I feel sorry for Labour. Perhaps if the good work that Labour MPs are doing in their constituencies to promote the European Union was given some positive media coverage, we wouldn’t be complaining about how fractious, incendiary and hostile the current debate has been.

Having a pop at the political establishment isn’t new in Britain, but it is gaining traction. Our electoral system has made any attempts to take meaningful action in the past very difficult, but times are changing. The dominance of the SNP in Scotland for a start has added fuel to the fire. The increased numbers of referendums too, where a simple Yes or No vote is all it takes has suddenly made people believe they can genuinely change the system, and that their vote counts.

I think there are a lot of people who think Brexit or ‘Bremain’ would change very little. The plentiful scare stories about World War Three if we left or the loss of our sovereignty and identity if we stayed don’t really seem to wash with a public who are used to politicians fearing the worst and it not quite happening. What strikes a chord is people voting in defiance of an established order, a self-interested elite. This belief is probably too ingrained to change.
The EU debate isn’t split down party lines – it’s something much more worrying The EU debate isn’t split down party lines – it’s something much more worrying Reviewed by Student Voices on 13:43 Rating: 5

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