We went to the Hay Literary Festival recently. Inevitably, there were many talks that touched on the EU. In a mock referendum held at the close of the Festival, three-quarters of those there voted to stay in and I have, after sitting on the fence for some time, decided to join them in this.
I did not want to make a decision without careful thought and research. It is a complex subject and the decision is certainly not one to be taken lightly. There are many factors that have the potential to seriously impact each of us living here and in Europe for many years to come. But for any of us trying to make up our minds, the level of political debate has, in my view, been shameful – full of slings and arrows and ineffective ways of putting any points of fact to the voter. It has insulted the public intelligence. The name-calling has reminded me of children in a playground – and sadly this seems to be just the same in the electoral discussions on the other side of the Atlantic.
How do we raise the level of debate? It is arrogant and disrespectful to presume that anyone with a different perspective is an “idiot”. There are perfectly legitimate arguments on both sides. There are voices of reason from business, economists and government putting each case and not one of them has a crystal ball to the future. Yet representatives of the campaigns seem to imagine that they can terrify us into submission by citing one terrible consequence after another of not doing what they want. It doesn’t make for an intelligent discussion of the facts and potential consequences.
But politicians of all parties are, I feel, paying the price for persistently ignoring the concerns of some of those voting to leave, calling them racist, little Englanders or bigots rather than waiting to hear what they are actually saying. Politicians don’t seem to want to hear opposing perspectives. They just hurl abuse rather than listen. This is hardly a good example of statesmanship. The media have been equally scaremongering, leaving out some of the subtle aspects of the challenges we face.
It was this piece in the Evening Standard that helped me decide. It was a quote from entrepreneur Rohan Silva “The institutions of the EU are amongst other things, unaccountable, untransparent, undemocratic, wasteful, sometimes corrupt, top down, not fit for purpose for the world we live in today, that’s all true. But as someone who runs a small business and works to support hundreds of other small businesses, small companies are least well placed to withstand the turmoil, the uncertainty and the flight of capital that’s going to happen from leaving for at least three years after leaving the EU … The jobs lost, the sleepless nights, the anxiety, the economic damage will be truly considerable and the price of that is not worth paying at this time because the EU for all its flaws is not as bad as leaving.”
This summed up pretty accurately how I felt. Having run a small business for 23 years, I have enjoyed making my own decisions and feeling free and flexible to build alliances – but not be limited by them. So my natural tendency is to be small and flexible. I find it frustrating that reform within the EU is so cumbersome. Practices and contracts should always be reviewed frequently, especially in such a fast-changing world and with a group of countries that has expanded from a small number of six to twenty-eight very diverse nations. If we look at this from a Darwinian perspective, we know that if a living body does not adapt to changing circumstances it will become extinct.
I love Europe and the Europeans, was born and spent my early childhood in Portugal, have lived in France and travelled to many countries on business. I believe that the collaboration of different nationalities has resulted in advantages in innovation in science, medicine, the economy, the environment and in a deeper understanding of humanity. Immigration has brought huge benefits to our country and I admire the energy and enterprise as well as the cultural input that the majority of those arriving here have created. And yet the speed and rate that our country is growing is a perfectly rational concern, as anyone who travels on the London tube will know. No-one should be insulted for having raised the issue. Our infrastructure is creaking and we don’t have money in the coffers to improve housing, education or roads at the drop of a hat.
The Remain contingent have been extremely tardy in putting their case and certainly the Labour Party seem only just to be waking up to the need to speak out on the matter at all. Speaking personally, we have received information and stickers from Vote Leave but absolutely nothing from Remain either in Hampshire or in London. Therefore the only banners and stickers one sees as one drives around the countryside are Vote Leave.
And what a boring statement the word Remain represents. Static, not forward motivating. Stronger in Europe was a far more inspirational phrase. And in the meantime the Conservatives are tearing themselves apart in a really appalling way and the prospect of Johnson, Gove and IDS leading a government is wholly unattractive. All in all, I wish to God Cameron had never started this whole referendum lark.
But whilst I am not as convinced as some of the long-term benefits of staying in, I do see that in the short-term it is better to remain within the EU. It is a huge distraction for government and business alike to have to renegotiate contracts and terms at a time when the domestic and global economy is anyway under pressure. And if the EU does implode or explode over the next few years we shall be at the table to influence the outcome.
All families and groups have squabbles. In assertive communication each party is able to express their own views and at the same time be open and respectful in listening to the views of others in order to seek a solution, where possible, that honours all those involved. Taking into account diverse opinions can take longer but the outcomes are generally more creative than when a decision is made hastily.
Hopefully our politicians can now transform their approach, make amends for the truly unnecessary rudeness and insults that have been bandied about during this debate, and repair relationships with colleagues both in the UK and the EU. Hopefully all concerned can be grown-up enough to consult in an assertive way on how to continue to build peace and prosperity in the world, including the world beyond the EU. Hopefully our global allies will have the willingness to work together for the future, as collaboration and cooperation are surely the way forward.