Apathy is the disease which could make Britain the sick man of Europe once again.
Speaking firmly as a grassroots Remain campaigner, I have seen first-hand the vitriol and mistrust exerted not only by our politicians, but by the public. The shunning of truth and rejection of political involvement are the children spawned by years of indifference from the general public.
I should clarify. My MP, Bob Neill, is strongly supportive of my efforts and the efforts of Britain Stronger in Europe in my constituency. Living in Bromley, the electorate is somewhat white, somewhat middle-class, but very Conservative. My constituency of Bromley and Chislehurst can certainly be regarded as a “safe seat”. Mr Neill, if he wanted, could swing further to the right, be for Brexit, and still maintain his seat. Yet unlike some of his neighbouring colleagues, Mr Neill realises that a crucial number of suburban residents rely on the financial sector to provide employment and services – and seeks to spread facts and engage at the grassroots level. Actually getting involved in politics has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me.
When I campaign, I am often confronted by those intending to vote Leave. Often, I can have a healthy debate with them and perhaps even present them with the facts necessary to ensure that we don’t get tangled in myths and half-truths (a problem which infects both sides of the debate). Trying to remain positive, and using the skills I have mustered from years of working in customer service, I even smile in the face those who are rudest to me. I have been accused of everything from adamant brexiteers: that I am “young and unwise”, “brainwashed” and “know nothing” among other things.
This was an interaction I had with one elderly Bromley resident who passed by my street stall. Without even approaching her, she said to me:
Woman: “what would you know? I’ve lived it. You’re not old enough to actually know about Europe and what they’ve done to us”
Me: “Well I’ve given this much thought and studied it carefully – and I have a degree in politics”
Woman: “So do David Cameron and Tony Blair, and look what they’ve done to our country!”
Me: “Blair has a degree in law”
Woman: “whatever, it’s all the same”
Perhaps a bit facetious of me to correct that relatively minor point, but generalisations are what launch the poisonous spread of untruths and faux-facts. The suggestion that knowledge can only be attained by “living it” is not only hilariously problematic, but also a dangerous dogmatic argument which has spread throughout the national psyche. It is this line of thought which led Michael Gove to suggest that people are “sick of experts” – a line I begrudgingly agree with him on, except Gove wears public delusion as a badge of honour.
The rejection of facts and expertise, replaced by spurious ideological assertions, is the very springboard from which the Leave campaign have launched. Granted, some on the Remain side face the same problem, but it is nowhere near on the same scale. Arbitrary figures like “£350million per week” resonate with people, but there isn’t an inch of truth in the number. Small, soundbite-esque un-truths, masquerading as facts, have penetrated the minds of most Brexiteers. For instance, did you know that Turkey does not stand a chance of joining the EU any time soon? It currently fulfils a woeful 1 out of 35 requirements to join the EU – each of which pertain to upholding a liberal, transparent democracy and stable economic structures. But apparently, you can’t fit that on a poster or on the side of a battle-bus.
Simply put, if public behaviour is anything to go by, a vote to Leave would legitimise the poisonous public indifference which plagues our politics. Those who have worked to perpetuate emotionally-tangled faux-facts will lie comfortably in the bed they have made. The public, on the other hand, will be astounded to learn that while the pound in their pocket is worth less, the immigrant living next door hasn’t disappeared overnight.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that all Brexiteers are racist or bigoted. What I do believe, is that many higher up are willing to perpetuate lies which are stooped in emotional generalisations, whilst many members of the public are too bored by the whole democratic process to study the facts themselves.
Let me explain. Many are quick to blame two groups for the spreading of myths and half-truths: politicians and the media. I largely reject this argument for a couple of reasons: firstly, because in the information age, facts are available to all in books and online. In our transparent and open democracy, which is one of the most liberal on Earth, nothing is restricted from you. The reason people are taken in by the media and political rhetoric is because they themselves are too apathetic to research the most important referendum of a generation. Secondly, it is the same cynicism towards politicians and the media which should push the public into researching the facts, before making their own sweeping generalisations. However, boredom is the prevailing emotion – so instead of fighting for a cause, many stay away. In a country where most people do not have time for politics, most have glanced at whatever is available to hand and used it as a foundation from which they can make their own erroneous conclusions.
Basically, public indifference and the collective eye-rolling towards our politics mean we each think we can have simple answers to overwhelmingly complicated issues. The Leave campaign feeds from this.
No doubt I will be accused of bias and receive the same old comments that I am “brainwashed” and “unwise” in the next few days, but frankly, I don’t care. I have studied the facts, and got involved in the democratic process at a grassroots level. I have accused both sides, to different extents, of spreading dodgy statistics and oversimplifying a complicated issue. That said, I reached the conclusion that Britain is Stronger in Europe – if not for any other reason, than learning that leaving would be a victory for the bored, the indifferent, the uninvolved, and the resentful. If leaving presents a call to arms, then remaining presents a call to reason, consideration and truth.
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