I was enfranchised and able to vote for the first time in 1975. It was a time of turmoil and unrest. Unemployment was high as was inflation (at one point inflations reached 24%). Young people felt that their futures were bleak and many felt society was becoming increasingly unequal. The European Economic Community was held by many to be one of the major causes of the many problems of the time; it was seen as a club designed to benefit business and the wealthy at the expense of the poor. As a young man I allied myself with the progressive forces and campaigned for a “NO” vote in the EEC referendum on the 5th of June 1975.
We had a major battle ahead of us. The big money was against us and all the media, except the Morning Star, had sided with the YES campaign . But we fought on. Our experts warned of increased food prices as a consequence of the Common Agricultural Policy, syndicalist groups warned of the effects for labour and statesmen of every hue warned about the loss of political power which would follow a shift of power from London to Brussels . The nationalists in Scotland, Wales and Ireland joined the fray and warned against loss of sovereignty .
Our experts were correct, but we lost. We lost heavily it was a “landslide” for YES . The young, the better educated and the left had been outvoted by the rest. We saw what had happened and knew what to do. We needed to continue to work to see if it was possible to change the European project from the crony capitalist support network it was becoming, to see if our criticisms were correct and our fears did indeed manifest, and to build a political consensus. In the next 41 years we discovered that the EU could not be changed from within, our fears were in fact correct and we had been able to build a political movement.
4o or so years later, we young voters, now more experienced, older and wiser, got a second chance and we took it. The youth had grown into the man and the man was able to look to the youth’s future.
We are some weeks after the EU referendum and we are still in murky waters. Those who won the referendum are slowly developing a strategy for a future outwith the EU but have been handicapped by the need to select a new leader of the conservative party, to act as Prime Minister, to start the negotiations around Article 50. However, those who lost the referendum, the minority, have not given up yet, despite their petition for a second referendum being soundly rejected by the government . They continue to fight for a reversal and, while some continuing argument is to be expected and reasonable, increasingly they are being counter productive.
The Remainers scaremongering over the economy has not fully settled. There is much gloating and “I told you so” when they seem to take pleasure from seeing the graphs of Sterling’s decline [2,3]and the significant drops in the stock market [4,5]. Despite the rally that occurred on the UK share market and despite the obvious weaknesses that have been shown in the European markets (and the Euro) at the same time they have continued their onslaught. They are indeed right that markets in shares and currency are influenced by factors such as confidence and expressed opinions and by their shouting and doom-mongering they can be expected to make their prophecies come true. It seems worrying, that they appear to be happier being seen to be correct in hindsight than to start to work out how to promote our economy in its new relationships. They seem keener to see people hurt and punished than to help sort out problems that they profess to understand.
However, worse than this effect on the economy, which will only be short term, is the damage that they are doing to our society. They are actively promoting inter-generational discord, encouraging the young to blame the elderly for a blighted future. Unpleasant pieces have suggested that they “blame granny” for “screwing us over again” [6,7]. Hopefully time and experience will stop this rift widening or this wound festering. The young get older and, as a consequence. more experienced and wiser. They will realise the folly of this these calls to bias the vote towards the young and employed for the anti-democratic step that it would represent.
But, the most dangerous game that they have played is to falsely fly the racism flag. During the campaign Leave voters were castigated as racists and following the result this has continued [8–10] with reports that Britain is more racist society in the days following Brexit. This flies in the face of the fact that Britain is clearly a less racist country than it was in the past. The heyday for racist parties like the NF and BNP, and more recently EDL, is well past . This is not to say that the problem of racism has been eradicated, it clearly has not as recent events in America and Europe can testify[12,13] . However, racist thought is now clearly on the margins of British political life. Though racists may wish to garner the support of their fellow country men and women their views are considered beyond the pale and thus they have great difficulty in spreading their bile.
However, there are ways we could make this easier. One way would be to devalue the word “racism” itself. At present it is a heinous slur to be thrown at anyone and rightly people shudder when they find racist ideas being promoted. However, if we start to use the term to describe over 17,000,000 people, to describe people worried by the effects of terrorism, or to describe people who fear for the capacity of their local services, and have these fears without animosity to people because of their race, then we will devalue the term. If people are falsely accused of racist intentions they will have to deal with the distress somehow. Some will argue and explain why their concerns are not based on racial prejudice and they will hopefully be successful in this. Others might wonder why they are being so slandered and thus doubt the accuracy or honesty of their accuser. They might think “if they can be wrong about that perhaps they are wrong about what these racists intend”. In this scenario the barrier to thinking the unthinkable is weakened and they may help the racists disseminate their ideas. Further, racists, hearing that the majority of the UK population is racist, could start to feel emboldened and given the succour and push to climb out from under their stones into the sunlight of what they imagine to be an accepting world. This factor, I fear, may underpin some of the recent increased racist violence and vandalism.
It is time for those who wanted to remain in the EU to start to be productive, to engage in politics rather than cry “foul”, to propose strategies rather than cause damage to prove their point, and to stop playing with fire because it is not just their fingers which will get burnt.