I have my vote and I will use it to vote “Remain”

June 15, 2016

I will vote purposefully, but uninspired by the debate (such as it is) which feels unconnected to my needs and miserably narrow. I suspect my grumpy middle-age has made me sceptical of nearly every opinion, but our adversarial political tradition is hopelessly unsuited to an electorate looking for insight and an issue that needed civilised conversation rather than a show of tired rhetoric and implausible bluster.

I wish it was different, but it isn’t, so I have to make up my mind in my own way. I am not going to pretend I have some special insight, because I don’t, but I think I know the fundamental question that needs to be answered:

“What’s in it for me?”

Each campaign must answer this age old question. The answer may have negative or positive consequences, but to be convincing, to be compelling, it must nearly always be immediate and certain.

Promises of future wealth or future disaster, credible or not, always lose their power the further away they are and the more uncertain they are.

For example, think of the negative health warnings on cigarette packets, if smokers literally died immediately a cigarette was smoked, the warning would be important and effective. However it is because the warning is known to be only one possible outcome and only for sometime in the future, that millions of people still smoke.

Immediate and certain is powerful; future and uncertain is weak.

The “Leave” campaign has two immediate and certain answers:

  1. We will not give any more money to the EU
  1. We will not have people from the EU come here who we do not want to come.

Whether this is accurate, highly spun or just lies, these are examples of powerful answers.

The “Remain” campaign cannot point to anything so clear cut. At best the answers they have are future and uncertain:

  1. There will be economic uncertainty if we leave.
  1. If we remain we will try to fix the things we don’t like.

Neither of these answers looks very powerful.

In addition, coming in the wake of the relentless austerity agenda, I suspect there is a “so what” mentality for many voters. Most people live with economic uncertainty. Today there is little or no job security. We live in a time when most people under the age of thirty can only dream of owning a house; although many of them do have the certainty of decades of student debt.

Given the context of many lives today, the vague optimism of the Remain Campaign promising future economic certainty may even be a negative – surely that is just jobs for faceless bureaucrats and bonuses for the already very well-off.

Watch out therefore for new Remain messages which will suggest immediate and certain consequences; an emergency budget for example that will put up taxes.  It is predictable, but hardly inspiring. In my judgement, the Remain Campaign has been hopelessly managed, poorly executed and has promoted messages which seem self-regarding or vague and certainly not immediate or certain.

But I will still vote to Remain for two reasons that are compelling for me and immediate and certain; one is very personal and one not:

  1. My now grown up children want to be in the EU. They are at the start of their adult lives; they are ambitious, idealistic, thoughtful and kind. Who am I to deny them their chance to make their mark in the world in the way they would prefer.
  1. I believe most politicians are good people, but they cannot easily plan for generational issues (like the environment, mass immigration, and global infrastructure) because unless their policies win votes within a maximum of five years they will focus on things that will win votes instead. Our planet needs to be managed on a long-term sustainable basis.  At the moment the EU is one of the only ways we can do this. If we leave we lose this opportunity overnight.

However there is another reason why I will vote Remain; it is not necessarily immediate and certain, but feels like it should be so.

I worry that the world is on a knife edge. The gap between rich and poor has never been greater, but scientists, technologists and engineers potentially offer us so much for healthcare, education and the environment. The differences between cultures and religious traditions can make us feel vulnerable, but it can equally make us feel glad to be alive. To harness our opportunity the world needs signals for hope, for collaboration for fewer barriers and more sharing.

If we vote to leave the EU our great country signals to the world that it is separate from and not a part of. That signal will be gripped by every reluctant participant in every negotiation for years to come, and as a result we all fail.

Leaving isn’t visionary or optimistic; it is nihilistic, pessimistic and without inspiration. When everyone wants their own way, no-one wins. There is no virtue in being the first to give up.

We have all seen teams (at work or in sport) that with common purpose are greater than the sum of their parts. We have also seen teams fail when individuals promote their interests above a common purpose. We also know that individuals can only dominate briefly, because when there is no team they have no platform for their self-regard.

Making the EU perfect is impossible, but when we see imperfect I want our great county to signal on 23 June that we will not walk away, but roll-up our sleeves to make it better. We may all wish for better politicians, but we do not get better politicians by leaving the EU. We are an influential country; we have more power than we realise (and use) but the answer is to use our power and influence to build our future in the EU, not to run away from it.



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