Brexit is not the way to give politicians a bloody nose

The frustration is real. The slowdown of 2008 has had serious effects. Austerity has been painful and the government doesn’t seem concerned. Work is more fragile than we’d like, housing is painfully expensive, worries about the NHS are real and there are fears about immigration.

Cartoon from
Cartoon from Daily Mail

There’s palpable anger at politicians among at least some of those wanting to vote for Brexit. I’ve heard personalised reasons “I’m voting out because David Cameron wants us to vote in” or “because I don’t want George Osborne to be Prime Minister”. I’ve heard general things like “to teach them a lesson” or “to make the EU change”. I’ve heard grander arguments like “stand up to globalisation” or “take our place in the world”.

I can understand each of those reactions. Before the last General Election I went to a party where one person said he was thinking of having a tee-shirt made with the words “I’m not voting for any of them because they are all liars”. I’d gone the other way and tried to make a difference by standing for parliament.

Then, with no referendum in sight, I was hearing huge frustration on the doorsteps, and was concerned that those would be fuelled by more austerity. Turning that into support for Brexit is understandable but a mistake because the things the EU actually does make a big difference in our favour.

In a recent interview the former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said: “I too would love to give a bloody nose to Brussels. I would love to see a result in a referendum which displeases Mr Junker, Mrs Merkel and Mr Cameron, but this should not be our criterion. Our criterion should be a broad, pan-European, democratic movement, for preventing another 1930s.” His point about the 1930s is economic pain fuelled the rise of extremism then.

He’s arguing for change in Europe through organisations like Another Europe is Possible and DiEM25 or Andrew Duff’s new publication Britain and Europe: A new settlement? (launched 14 June 2016). I’m clear that our place should be driving change in the EU, not edging to the door. It would be the opposite of escaping domination from Brussels if we ended up having to obey all the single market rules to sell into the EU but had no influence over them (which is Norway’s situation).

People are absolutely right to be worried over jobs, housing and the NHS. It’s not at all clear how leaving the EU helps these. Jobs benefit from being in the world’s largest single market. The solution to the housing crisis is more house-building, and the solution to problems in the NHS is more money — those are both things for the UK government to address.

The way to make a difference is vote Remain, and then push for real change, in the UK and in the EU.

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