Many Peoples’ Votes In The EU Referendum May Be Personal, Rather Than Political

by richardhutton

It seems increasingly likely that economic arguments won’t really sway many people who remain ambivalent towards the European Union, given the flurry of statistics being bandied around by disreputable politicians and untrustworthy journalists on both sides of the referendum.

If anything, it’s liable to leave at least some voters confused. Several of the people I’ve discussed the referendum with have been left indifferent, if not resentful, because the issue is complex; and the information surrounding it is difficult to digest.

Most of the disabled adult students with mental/learning disabilities that I assist are not interested in the referendum; but some are – and the two people who had a clear opinion on it both supported Brexit.

One wasn’t able to explain why – though that doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t have a rationale, as students with learning disabilities often can’t articulate what they mean very clearly. The other person cited the cost of EU membership – namely, the apocryphal £350 million per week figure. Of course, disabled people within Britain have seen their benefits decimated – in fact a number of the students I work with have been subject to the bedroom tax, or denied daily support following the conversion of Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment; and it seems likely that some disabled people hear about the money which is spent on EU membership, put two and two together, and get five.

One of the support workers who helps in the class was very knowledgeable about the EU, and supports remaining in; another was ambivalent, but genuinely interested in the arguments for and against this.

I also discussed it with another classroom of adult learners, who are not mentally disabled; and their views tended to vary quite markedly. One has no interest in the referendum at all, and never votes anyway.

A man in his fifties was annoyed at how confusing the arguments for and against remaining in the EU are – but although they hadn’t made their mind up, they cited the prospect of foreign businesses leaving Britain in the event of Brexit, and making many people unemployed; which seems likely to influence how they vote. Another student – a young woman – was angry about the racism aimed at migrants, which has become prolific on social media; and views voting to remain in the EU as a rejection of that.

There’s justified cause for ambivalence towards the EU. The austerity imposed on Greece is probably the most stark reason – it has caused a dreadful amount of misery, for several years. It saw, for instance, people who are terminally ill being deprived of medical care, and in some cases literally left to die on the streets. But how will Britain leaving the EU change that; let alone improve anything? Many of those who cite the imposition of austerity on Greece as a reason to depart the EU are being hypocritical, as they openly support, not merely a continuation, but an increase of austerity in Britain.

The subject of immigration has gradually become the focal point of the Leave campaigners’ rhetoric, however. There are reasons why this proves such a persuasive claim. Job shortages, poverty, inequality, extraordinarily high-costs of housing, stagnating social mobility – these exist in abundance; and reflect the failures of government policy, over the course of decades. Yet, where is hostility towards migrants highest? Almost invariably in areas where levels of migration are lowest. It’s not a coincidence that these two factors tend to coincide in the regions of Britain which generally have the weakest economies, with the problems which ensue.

It’s fair enough that people make their own minds up about the merits of remaining in the European Union, and ignore prophecies of doom, or the siren calls of nostalgia; but it’s good to at least consider the matter both ways, before deciding which one is the best way forward.