I have been spending a few days thinking about the EU situation and following the complete madness and backstab fest that is British politics. I’ve never known anything quite like this but you have to say it’s been coming. Just think of how well UKIP did at European elections and how many votes they polled in general elections, albeit with almost no gain in Westminster representation because of our voting system. Every episode of Question Time seems to have had a question on immigration and the EU for as long as I remember. I am always a little bit cautious writing about these topics because being honest, it is important that I don’t irritate the public who come to watch me play and essentially support my career! These are difficult topics and people get very sensitive about it so let me start by saying this – don’t take opinions as a personal slight. I think one of the reasons we are where we are and why we have a deep divide in our country that is becoming ever more simplistic in some ways, is that people simply do not talk or debate anything any more. The number of times I’ve seen on facebook ‘if you voted unfriend me now’. The number of times I’ve heard ‘let’s not talk about this because we’ll fall out’. Why? Why does having differing opinions and sharing them and explaining them have to involve ‘falling out’?! I lived with two devout Christians, which I am not, and we discussed it quite often and we never fell out. Half my family vote Conservative, which I don’t, and we’ve never fallen out. Many people I know and love have totally different views to me – if I was arrogant enough to unfriend (in whatever sense of the word) them all, I would miss out on some of the most moral and remarkable people I know. What seems to happen now is everyone places themselves in a camp. For instance in my sphere, many people are politically quite left wing and it’s almost as if everybody has to think the same thing about every single issue and worse still, disregard anyone who thinks anything different about anything. The fingers go in the ears (no folk pun intended) and the attitude is essentially ‘we think this, we must be morally right, everyone else is horrible’. Likewise, the right are exactly the same. I know people who swear blind that immigration is the root of all our troubles or benefits rob us of all our hard earned taxes etc and anyone who questions it as dismissed as a wishy washy lefty. Failure to discuss anything or respect anyone else is why we are practically split in two as a country now.
The EU referendum was really not our finest hour as a country. It started off reasonably well as a reasoned debate about the different issues before descending into an absolutely crass immigration vs non immigration debate. I heard the ‘we want our country back’ partly in reference to immigration and partly in reference to the ‘Brussels makes all our laws, we want to govern ourselves’ line. I don’t really want to campaign post referendum and this article is not meant to be a pro-EU one but I’ll briefly set out what my view was – I was never massively concerned about laws being made in Brussels to be honest. For starters, not nearly so many were made there as was made out anyway but my own feeling was the idea of 28 countries (of which we were quite a powerful one of course) deciding on rules and regulations was actually quite healthy and for me giving more power to Westminster was hardly a good thing. I was impressed with many of the human rights laws created by the EU and if the UK was your concern, it was worth noting how many poor areas in the UK were funded massively by the EU (admittedly we put some of the money in first, but I very much doubt our lot would have funded the same things…). Immigration never has seemed a big issue to me – pretty much every study has come to the conclusion that immigration is a net benefit economically quite apart from the exciting cultural mix. There are problems with assimilation of course, but much of that is down to sheer fear on both sides and I feel could be overcome. Anyway, the point I’m making is no one listens to anyone so you simply end up with a kind of cold civil war which only breeds the contempt. The left is guilty of arrogant moral superiority and the right is guilty of ignorance. Much of this, again, is based on fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of one’s own inadequacies where stating strong views and not listening to the alternative is actually a personal defence mechanism, hence why people get so uptight and defensive the minute someone questions them. For what it’s worth my own feeling as well was that there didn’t seem to be all that much sign of any other countries exiting the union which made our action seem rather puzzling – why leave a union so you’re essentially alone, having alienated the entire bloc and then having to try and negotiate access to the bits you want without the bits you don’t which, as we are seeing, was always going to be all but impossible. But I don’t really want to get into a specific piece on whether the EU is a good thing or not, I want to get at the wider culture. For the record, I suspect we’ll leave and end up with a Norway type arrangement but we will have annoyed everyone more than they have…
That was a very long winded way of me saying, please don’t take anything I write as a personal slight. Please don’t feel that I’m trying to say ‘I belong to the moral high group and look with contempt on any of you’. That’s not how I feel. But I will say what has depressed me thoroughly about the present state of affairs. Plenty of people voted to leave because of well thought out reasons that I just don’t happen to agree with. This is not a ‘everyone who voted to leave is a racist’ article. But let’s be honest about this – a LOT of people voted for Brexit because they have a problem with immigration and immgrants. I’ve seen it on facebook, I’ve heard it in pubs, I’ve heard it in conversations after gigs, I’ve seen it on TV, I’ve heard it on the radio – it is everywhere. I can’t deny I do find this attitude rather sad and rather distasteful. Maybe one of the problems is I have never really understood patriotism to any great extent. I’ve been to many countries now and each and every one has aspects I love and aspects I don’t. The UK is no different and I’ve never really understood why not declaring how much you love your country or how much better your country is than everywhere else is such a crime. I am only really interested in whether people, wherever they are from, are good people or not. I’ve never understood why foreign cultures coming into Britain is any kind of threat if I’m honest. I’ve been attacked on facebook a couple of times by people saying I’m a poncy middle class tosser who doesn’t understand the problems people face. Not exactly constructive but let me respond – Stafford is not exactly immigrant free! And for six years I lived in Newcastle and three of those were spent in a heavily Asian-populated area of the city. The apparent ghettos where whites dare not go were not what I saw and hell if anyone was going to fall victim to some kind of attack it might have been me – white, usually carrying an instrument, long hair, obviously a dreamy student. My memory was of going to the oriental food store on Brighton Grove and getting curry recipes from the owner – surely an example of multiculturalism at its finest? I’m not saying assimilation isn’t a problem, in many places it is, but it is not insurmountable. And of course this is all ignoring the fact that immigrants contribute a great deal socially, economically and the jobs that they do. Intolerance and suspicion of the other is not the country I want to live in and not the country I know.
So undoubtedly the thing that depresses me most is that so many people have lurched to the anti-immigration right. But deeply depressing is the state of our politics and the chaos that this has caused. It’s depressing enough that people voted on the basis of anti-immigration rhetoric but more depressing is the fact that they really weren’t aware what they were voting for. Again, I’m not trying to be patronising here and I’m not trying to say this applies to everyone but the number of people who voted Brexit because they thought that meant the end of immigration or the beginning of the chucking out of the Poles etc is seriously depressing. The disgraceful abuse that immigrants have received since the referendum and the shameful placard in Newcastle suggesting that repatriation begin have made me very sad. It was probably a cherry picked example admittedly, but just listen to the Barnsley man on Channel 4 who voted leave because he thought it would mean the end of immigration from Syria and Iraq! Then again that poster of Mr Farage’s might have played a part in that…Politicians knew damn well that access to the single market, which is the one thing most people agree is essential, would not be possible without free movement of people. It’s bad enough there are that many racists but even worse that so many of them are that daft they don’t understand that brexit doesn’t mean what they want!
And why did all this happen? Why did this referendum happen in the first place? David Cameron saw a way to appease the right wing of his party and UKIP voters and secure more votes. He was pretty convinced the public wouldn’t vote out, well that worked well. And who campaigned for the leave campaign? Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Ardent eurosceptics? Yeah right. An opportunity to undermine David Cameron in the jousting to become Tory leader so they took it – the look of surprise and bewilderment on Boris when Brexit actually won said it all. And now they’ve even backstabbed each other! This referendum happened because of political games. What is rapidly becoming a vast majority of MPs are from public schools where they are taught to be politicians, they are not taught about how it affects the wider world. I’m not being an inverted snob – I’ve no issue with people from public schools but that is what Westminster is. Just watch Prime Minister’s Questions and the Punch and Judy name calling that goes on. Just look at how many have gone straight from university into politics. If it is the property of an elite you will get a detatchment from the general public, simple as that. This referendum and the chaos that followed happened because of political jousting and the battle for power and look what it has caused.
I’m not trying to get at all leave voters, many had intelligent reasons for voting the way they did – the EU is far from perfect and if I genuinely thought that Boris et al had campaigned on the basis of what they actually even thought and had a plan for if it happened I would sit back and say democracy has taken its course. But that clearly wasn’t the case. It was political gaming pure and simple. I haven’t even mentioned the Labour party of course – backstabbing central at the moment. I’m not an avid Corbyn fan for the record – I never really wanted him in the first place and I thought that this would happen. He’s not electable which we all know and I think Labour would be better served by a leader who is which brings me onto a divisive point – Tony Blair. The devil who took us to war. I don’t like him any more than anyone else but the fact remains he was very good at winning general elections (he even won in 2007, post Iraq war). The popular line is ‘New Labour were just the Tories’. They weren’t. They introduced the minimum wage, civil partnerships, human rights act, increased worker’s rights and so on. They spent more on public services, didn’t make huge cuts and actually did a good job of the economy (the Labour government was not powerful enough to cause a global financial crisis it is a myth!!!). I didn’t like much of what they did but to call them ‘Tory-lite’ to me shows an unwillingness to look at the facts and simply going with the easy analysis (the same goes for the blind slagging of the Lib Dems conveniently ignoring the fact they were not in power and therefore not able to implement their manifesto as if they were and also ignoring what they did do in government).
I can already feel people shouting at me for that last paragraph and this is what I’m saying in conclusion. Disagree with me by all means, but tell my why. Explain why. Don’t go ‘you Blair apologist’ or ‘you Tory in disguise’. Don’t shout ‘you wishy washy lefty’ either. Discuss, read and think about all viewpoints on all topics. Don’t proclaim to be an expert who must have all the answers unless you actually are! I should stress – I’m not an expert this is merely my view. But I’m not planning to unfriend or not see any more the people whose hunches are different from mine! Ignorance breeds hate and division. Talk to each other, respect each other, be nice to each other. Don’t just mix with people in your ‘camp’. Don’t stubbornly settle on all your views and don’t be afraid to listen to another one. Let us learn from one of the darkest hours in our country. I don’t mean leaving the EU per se, that is a subjective question but I mean the campaign. It was dark. It was crass. It was ill informed and it showed a side of my country that I don’t like.