The Great Undecided

eu referendum

Like the vast majority of people I speak to, even at this late stage, I remain undecided with regard to the EU Referendum.

My younger, braver, more committed self would have stuck to his anarchist principles and declared: “Voting changes nothing! Why beg for sovereignty when you can build autonomy!” (there’s something rather melancholy about the fact that it takes age to really appreciate the beauty of youth, I do believe that only the under 30s should be entitled to vote 😉 )

But there are elements of this referendum which go way beyond choosing between Westminster and Brussels. Like it or not things will change after Thursday – and I fear that it won’t be for the better, regardless of the outcome, if we do not change the way we think about politics in the UK.

There is nothing simple about the choice at hand. We live on an ever shrinking planet where everything we do – every choice we make – touches on millions of lives; both human and other. It is  with regard to the ‘other’ (animal welfare, ecology, sustainability, etc.) which I have personally turned to to try and inform my own decision. Yes, we have the EU to thank for things like cleaning our beaches and preserving diminishing fish stocks, but there are also areas where Britain is way in front of the EU and where the EU is in fact a barrier to change (as Geoarge Monbiot’s Feral conclusively shows).

That younger self I referred to was a keen ecological and animal rights activist – who wore out a perfectly good body in defence of the earth (ow, my aching bones). Back in 1995 an equally youthful and much, much braver defender of animal rights, Jill Phipps, died trying to stop the live export of veal calves from Coventry airport. Veal crates had already been banned in Britain five years earlier, but it would take the EU until 2007 (17 years!) to catch up. Likewise sow stalls were banned in Britain in 1999 and the EU did not catch up until 2013. Britain was also the first to ban animal testing for cosmetics (1998), but when the EU finally banned this completely unnecessary practice (2009) its regulations were much stronger and further reaching than Britain’s.

I am not trying to use these illustrations to sway people’s opinions either way, I am merely trying to illustrate the complexity of the choice that we are being asked to make. We each have our own passions and convictions and must, therefore, consider that which is closest to our hearts when we make our decision. And yet those who have the strongest leanings in both camps are acting as if we, the great undecided, are fools for not recognising their self-evident ‘truths’. How can we struggle to make such a simple choice as ‘in or out’?

But therein lies the great tragedy of modern democracy. Boiling things down to simple, bipolar choices – Leave or Remain, Right or Left, For or Against, Them or Us – actually reduces our capability to influence the political landscape. We have the technology (shit, now I’ve got the theme tune to the Six Million Dollar Man running through my head) to make decisions based on actual policy rather than party or ideology.

Allegiance to a single party or political belief is sooooo last millennium. The dinosaur rhetoric of your average old-school politico would be laughable if, as the murders of Jo Cox, Lee Rigby or 500,000 Iraqi children (through sanctions) has shown, their dogma were not so hideously dangerous.

It is time to move on. To use the great opportunities presented to us by the communications age to build a new kind of politics. One which puts debate before conflict.One that builds unity instead of division. One which places compassion above greed. Something like the idea the very wonderful Artist Taxi Driver (@chunkymark) is outlining here:

But until then – and regardless of whether Westminster or Brussels calls the shots – the real engine of change will remain those who dare to take a stand for their convictions. Those who see what must be done and who act upon their beliefs without victimising others. Those who, with their own bodies, feed the hungry; rescue the oppressed; protect the vulnerable; give voice to the voiceless; heal the hurting; comfort the despairing; guide the lost; educate the ignorant; provide for those who have not…

These people are – and have always been… – the ones who really change the political and social landscape, no matter where they put their cross.

Speaking of which… where the hell should I put mine?

In loving memory of Jill Phipps.

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