Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Is Meninism the New Feminism?

As anyone who knows me moderately well will be aware, feminism isn’t something I have trouble talking about.
I studied it a bit at uni, wrote some pretty decent essays on it, and never cease to be amazed at how gender influences everything from raising a kid to greeting someone in the street.
I think feminism is as valuable and necessary today as it was a hundred years ago and could happily spend hours telling anyone who’ll listen why this is the case.
But I know a lot of people who don’t agree with me; people who are mostly kind, intelligent and not particularly sexist.
I used to be a big fan of quoting the dictionary definition of feminism in debates: no matter how big and complicated we make it, eventually it all comes back to equality. That’s what we want, right? That’s all it is.
Trouble is, equality doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone.
Look at the controversy about religious dress: telling a woman she can’t wear a veil or headscarf because it’s anti-feminist is just as bad as telling her it’s sinful for her to be seen without one.
What it comes down to is this: there’s no such thing as a universal female experience.
My experiences as a woman are almost entirely incomparable to the experiences of women of other countries, faiths and ages, and that’s what the “equality” narrative sometimes forgets. 

Dictating how other women should be liberated isn’t very liberating, and pretending that there’s some shared characteristic uniting women across the world is, at best, unhelpful.
So what is feminism?
As with any movement for social change, there’s no rulebook and its members aren’t a hive-mind. We don’t release a new edition of the Feminist Manifesto every year and adjust our actions accordingly.
Much of the actual theory comes from academics in the humanities and social sciences, but perhaps more influential are the organisations that put feminism into practice: global charities like Amnesty, national charities like the Fawcett Society, and charities for specific causes like End Violence Against Women.
Beyond this, you have smaller local or student groups who promote feminism on their home turf, and finally individuals like me.
And none of us can agree on what feminism “is”.
Professors and theorists are incredibly intelligent, well-informed individuals but that doesn’t make them right. In fact, if uni has taught me anything it’s that academia is mostly about poking holes in other people’s work.
This is the beauty and the curse of feminism: it’s a discussion, not a doctrine.
This is why I don’t usually mind arguing about it. Often people aren’t trying to tell me women don’t deserve equal rights and freedoms; they just don’t agree with the way feminists sometimes go about doing it.
This is where ‘I’m all for equality but I’m not a feminist’ comes from and I can understand why people – especially men – might feel this way.
All the “feminist organisations” I listed above are movements for women’s rights; they’re about bringing practical help, safety and freedom to disadvantaged women and this is brilliant, admirable work.
A quick Google search, for example, turns up a reasonable number of domestic abuse shelters for women in the UK’s major cities. The majority of these are quite strictly single-sex but also accept boys who arrive with their families.
However, a similar Google search for men’s domestic abuse shelters gives me noticeably fewer results, though some women’s shelter organisations like Refuge do have specific resources and advice for men too.
This indicates either that men aren’t generally victims of domestic abuse or that feminism is overwhelmingly concerned with women’s issues, and is very limited in the things it can (or is willing) to do for men.
If you’ve read my previous posts you’ll know I’m wary of statistics, but I think it’s important to give them some consideration here.
According to a report by the Office for National Statistics, as of 2013/14, 28.3% of women and 14.7% of men in England and Wales had experienced some form of domestic abuse since they were 16. That’s 4.6 million female victims and 2.4 million male victims.* 
It could be said that the shelter discrepancy is just about supply and demand: women are disproportionately affected, so there should be a disproportionate amount of help available to them.
But we also know that domestic abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in the country.
The ONS report cites “embarrassment” as the most common reason participants didn’t tell anyone about their most recent abuse.** Though this response isn’t broken down by gender, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume men are more likely to be embarrassed about reporting domestic violence.
While I think we can also safely assume, even taking under-reporting into account, that the amount of female victims is higher, it can’t be denied that the attitude towards male victims needs to change.
There could be as much help available to men as there is to women, but that might not make those who are embarrassed or frightened any more likely to seek it out.
But is this a feminist issue? The domestic abuse of men doesn’t seem directly connected to women’s rights when you look at it this way.
Anti-feminists often point out just this: that the problems faced by men as a result of gender relations are ignored. Lack of support for domestic violence victims, longer jail terms, high suicide rates, and difficulty gaining custody of children seem to be the most commonly cited.
The thing is, these are feminist issues.
The lack of support for male domestic violence victims is the brainchild of the patriarchal notion that men are inherently more powerful, frightening and dangerous than women and should be treated accordingly. The same can be said of longer jail terms. Frankly, that’s as offensive to women as it is to men.
According to the Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report, suicide rates in the UK are consistently higher in men across every age group, with the highest at 21.9 (per 100,000 of the population) for 30-44 year-olds and 23.9 for 45-59 year olds.*** 
Patriarchal masculinities have a long history of emotional repression, in which men are implicitly taught that the only truly “manly” emotion is anger. We still see it today in action films with the hero-wins-battle-after-channelling-fury-at-death-of-girlfriend trope.
To sum up: woman cry because woman weak and delicate. Man no cry because man not like woman – man strong.
It’s not that all men are incapable of talking about their feelings, but patriarchal masculinity doesn’t encourage meaningful engagement with emotion in the same way as femininity. I’m also not saying this is the sole reason for higher male suicides – it’s one of many factors, albeit a significant one.
You see, all of these supposedly “anti-feminist” issues are rooted in the problems with gender that feminism is already dealing with.
The equality definition doesn’t really cut it for me anymore because I don’t think it captures that.
“We want equality between these two groups” implies that we need to preserve the two distinct groups in the first place; it implies that women’s problems are not men’s problems and that solving one means ignoring the other. I don’t think that’s the case.
For me, it’s not always about bringing women back from a place of disadvantage – though unfortunately this is often necessary. Instead it’s about breaking down and rebuilding the very things we understand ‘male’ and ‘female’ to mean, because inequality is too deeply ingrained into them for anything else to make a real difference.
I think some existing feminisms have a lot of work to do here.
“White male privilege” is a phrase that’s thrown around a lot in some militant feminist circles and I’ve seen it used as an excuse to ignore men with valid contributions to make to the discussion.
The feminist hatred of toxic patriarchal masculinities can also come across as a hatred of men, and I can see that being very alienating. So-called ‘meninism’ might be a ludicrous waste of everyone’s time but I can understand how it came about.
To be clear: you can care about individual men very much and still be opposed to the weird hyper-macho, emotion-supressing, femininity-fearing masculinity that Western culture is trying to shake off. Separating the two in your head is perhaps the most important part of being a feminist.
In short, I think it’s more helpful to think of feminism as being about choice.
When men and women have complete freedom of choice in what they can aspire to, how they speak, dress, behave, express themselves and so on – independent of gender-dictated expectations – we’ll know we’ve done a good thing.
I used to be a member of the equality-but-not-feminism brigade too. Then I realised that not being a feminist wasn’t  going to make the problems I had with the movement go away.
My Barbie dolls might have been able to ride around on toy dinosaurs, but other little girls and boys aren’t so lucky. After that, I decided that the only way forward was to throw my hat in the ring and switch I’m not a feminist but... with I’m a feminist and...

*http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_394500.pdf, p. 5

**http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_394500.pdf, p. 22-23

***http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/Samaritans%20suicide%20statistics%20report%202016.pdf p. 15

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Lefty-Righty, Fighty-Fighty

Modern British politics is complex, difficult, divisive and – well, actually not as boring as usual.
Every morning for the last month or so I’ve woken up, reached for my phone, and scanned my Twitter feed for whatever fresh political upheavals occurred overnight. If I’ve managed to go from cynical apathy to genuine interest, I can’t imagine how people with a lifetime of political investment behind them must be feeling.
Unfortunately it’s also made me very conscious of the gaps in my knowledge.
The Referendum was an easy vote – for me at least – but if there was a general election tomorrow, I really don’t know who I’d vote for.
Maybe this isn’t because choosing between the current party leaders is like being offered a selection of mouldering food and asked which you’d like to eat for the next five years.
Maybe it’s because I don’t properly understand the choices... right?
So how does British politics actually work?
Essentially, all of the parties sit somewhere on the Left-to-Right-wing spectrum.
I could write a half a dissertation on what that means but you could just look at this diagram instead. Though bear in mind (especially when looking at the ‘support’ part) that this graphic is five or six years old and based on American politics.
So if I were to put the main UK parties in order of extremity from Left to Right, I’d say: Greens, Labour/SNP (they’re so similar it’s hard to rank them), Lib Dems, Conservatives, UKIP.
Of course, I’m over-simplifying; it’s not just a linear sliding scale because a lot depends on the way Left and Right wing values are interpreted and manifested in policy. Go far enough Left or Right and you’ll end up on the other side: Stalin was about as far Left as you can go and he has a great deal more in common with Hitler than the Green Party.*
So, the age-old question: where do you stand?
Typically wealthier employers who aren’t in a social minority tend to vote Right, while minority groups and poorer workers tend to vote Left.
The parties know this, and they play to it.
The most recent Conservative Manifesto, for example, proposed changes to legislation that would mean ‘industrial action in [...] essential services would require the support of at least 40 per cent of all those entitled to take part in strike ballots’ (not just those who vote), making strikes more difficult to orchestrate.**
Generally advantageous for employers, generally disadvantageous for workers.
But again, I’m over-simplifying.
The Conservatives have just chosen their second female Prime Minister (from two female candidates) before Labour have had female PMs at all. The Greens’ voting pool contains a lot of young middle-class liberals who aren’t from poor backgrounds. There’s also a lot of talk about UKIP replacing Labour as the party of the working classes, which is a pretty big swing on the Left-to-Right spectrum.
There are people who have voted for the same party all their lives and party ‘heartlands’ in different areas of the country. I’ve lived in a staunch Conservative heartland most of my life which means, regardless of how I vote in General Elections, my representative in Parliament will probably be Conservative. Though I’ll admit to voting Conservative in the last election anyway (I know, boo hiss).
Today I honestly don’t know if I stand by that decision or not.
I won’t deny that – individually and on policy level – they’ve said and done some pretty abominable things about LGBT+ and women’s rights in the past. I’m also disappointed they’ve raised tuition fees, saddened by their disdain for the arts and social sciences, and appalled by the way the NHS seems to be going.
Though as with anything in politics and economics, direct cause and effect is impossible to establish. These things might have happened anyway if the government was different or they might not. I don’t know enough about how it all works to be able to say.
And besides, not much good can be said about the legacy of the previous Labour government either. Blair and Brown’s time in office wasn’t exactly shining beacon of social and economic betterment.
Though maybe it’s easy for me to say that. It’s generally the most vulnerable who are hit hardest by austerity, so my middle-class background make me more likely to vote Conservative.
This is another criticism often levelled at Right Wing politicians: how can we expect a small group of people from incredibly wealthy, privileged backgrounds to represent our diverse country?
Thankfully Parliament is getting more diverse: Sadiq Khan, a second-generation immigrant and the son of a bus driver and a seammistress; the late Jo Cox, the first member of her family to attend university; Ruth Davidson, a Conservative MP who got engaged to her girlfriend earlier this year. I won’t deny there’s work to be done but I’m confident it will come with time.
I also don’t think being from a privileged background makes anyone incapable of empathy by default. Parts of the Left have a way of insinuating that wealth makes you an inherently greedy, selfish person and, though I’m sure politicians like that exist, I don’t buy it as a generalisation.
Cameron did often have the privilege criticism directed at him, and indeed some of his policies were idiotic and poorly-thought-out (Brexit and the Bedroom Tax to name just two). Despite this, I am sad that he’s gone.
He was measured, unflappable and seemed like a decent person to work for which I think is an important quality in a leader. Joblessness is at a ten-year low, the deficit has been reduced (whether it has been “halved” as promised is up for debate), and marriage equality laws have finally been passed. Again, direct cause and effect is impossible to establish but, all things considered, I think it could have been worse.
As for Cameron’s replacement, I’m confident Boris Johnson would have been a disaster and 99% sure Michael Gove is actually three aliens in a lab-grown flesh suit. I didn’t know a lot about Leadsom and the leadership contest finished itself up before I got around to finding out. I’ve heard opinions on May ranging from “she’d be perfect for the job right now” to “she’s the devil incarnate” and have yet to make up my own mind.
So far her Cabinet appointments seem calculated – which isn’t necessarily the same as good. Gove is nowhere to be seen, and Boris and Jeremy Hunt are being forced to sink or swim in the mess they’ve made for themselves and the country.
But what about the next general election? In theory it should take place in 2020 but the Fixed Term Parliament Act means that, if May could secure the backing of two-thirds of MPs, she could call one now.
I’ve already said I don’t know who I’d vote for in this scenario. Despite my middle class upbringing, I am also a young female English graduate from a single-parent family. Surely it would be in my interests to drift Left?
In truth I’d like to be able to vote Labour in the next election, but I won’t if Corbyn is still in power.
For me, he’s too divisive to be a credible leader – as evidenced by the divisions in his own party – and I’m not adverse enough to the current government to warrant voting him in anyway. I feel like I’d be endorsing the Jeremy Corbyn Party, not Labour, and that makes me uneasy.
I’m almost certain they couldn’t win a general election if it was announced tomorrow for exactly that reason, and unfortunately I can’t see them doing so until Corbyn is no longer leader.
But is he going to? Owen Smith, Corbyn’s only remaining leadership rival, doesn’t fill me with confidence. It’s pretty clear Corbyn isn’t going to step down and the support he has from Labour members – many of whom signed up specifically to support him – looks too great for Smith to stand a chance.
I’m not sure what kind of authority paying a £3 subscription gives you against elected MPs with a lifetime of political experience behind them, but I suppose that’s democracy.
Reading back what I’ve written I realise this post came out more Right-leaning than I expected. I honestly feel like I’m pretty centralist in my alignment, but the Right are so widely demonized (especially online among young-adult audiences) I felt like I needed to compensate.
And regardless of what anyone thinks of the Conservatives, it’s difficult to deny that they just work. Their political machine has managed to dismantle and rebuild itself before its opponents have even read the instruction manual.
The way things are going at the moment, they could well go unrivalled for a very long time. And I’m not particularly comfortable with that.
The fact is, neither Left- nor Right-wing politics are sufficient in themselves; nor, I believe, will they ever be. We’ll always vote in line with our own interests – whatever that might mean – and neither end of the political spectrum has the means to make everyone happy.
This is why it’s important for the parties not in power have a say in Parliament; that’s why we have Shadow Cabinet Ministers to disagree with everything their rival counterparts say.
Balance is the key to good, effective politics. So Labour: do us a favour by proving me wrong and getting your act together. Your country needs you.
*For more info and some great diagrams illustrating how this is possible, go to: https://www.politicalcompass.org/analysis2
**The Conservative Party Manifesto 2015, p. 18

Monday, 4 July 2016

Mental Illness Discourses and Anxiety

I have a mental illness.
It’s called generalised anxiety disorder and it affects millions – if not billions – of people the world over. The NHS estimates that about 5% of the UK population suffer from it. The earliest memories I have of mine are from primary school.
Anxiety is a full-time job. There’s no holiday, no fixed working hours, and certainly no quitting. You also don’t get paid.
It manifests itself differently in everyone and has a greater or lesser impact on everyday life depending on the individual. Maybe I’m lucky that mine doesn’t generally affect the really crucial things – my work and education – though my high-functionality also lets me pretend there’s nothing wrong 99% of the time which isn’t always healthy in the long-run.
But these are things I should probably save for a counsellor.
I realise I don’t sound very on the fence about this one. I clearly have a deep personal investment in it and surely there’s no argument for the benefits of being psychologically unwell.
What I am on the fence about is the way mental illness is discussed.
I’ll stick mostly to anxiety with brief reference to depression; “mental illness” is such a huge, abstract umbrella term that it’s not much use for actually understanding anything. What I say here might well apply very differently to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, and so on. Whenever I do use the term, it’ll be for the sake of making the sentence read better.
The first thing to note is the fact that anxiety is being discussed in the first place.
Going (but not gone) are the days of men suffering in silence and women being dismissed as hysterics. Online communities are particularly vocal: suddenly people have a platform that doesn’t involve face-to-face interaction; something my anxious brethren and I don’t always find easy.
These communities can be great at providing support and reassurance that you’re not alone, but they’re also partly responsible for the romanticization of mental illness.
This doesn’t mean anyone is claiming mental illness is enjoyable; romanticization means implying there’s a sort of glamour in suffering.
This is especially true of the self-harm and depression “aesthetics” you can find on sites like tumblr. 
I can see how turning anxiety into something more beautiful or palatable – something other than an ugly, toxic reality – could make it easier to cope with as well as easier to talk about.
The difference between removing stigma and glamourizing can be a difficult one but it’s crucial for promoting healthy discussion.
This is a lot of the reason I’ve never spoken about my problem with 90% of my friends and family (besides just being a fairly private, reserved person). I don’t know where the line is either. If anyone ever voiced misconceptions about anxiety around me I like to think I’d correct them, but I don’t want to talk about it all the time any more than other people want to hear about it all the time.
Books, TV, film and other media – especially of the young adult variety – are also perpetuators of romanticization. Mental illnesses can be used by authors as shortcuts in writing quirky or outsider-type characters, and might miss the difference between creating figures for mentally ill people to identify with and idolising the illness.
I’m not saying scores of people are downright faking anxiety to be part of a crowd; often romanticization is about people who are ill but, in a strange passive sort of way, don’t want to feel better.
I realise how bizarre that will sound to anyone who hasn’t experienced it and I honestly don’t know how to explain it.
What it comes down to, I think, is selfishness.
By that, I mean when I’m having a bad day or week, anxiety turns me inwards so completely that everything is me. I’m so utterly absorbed in micro-managing my body and being hyper-alert to exactly what I’m feeling, I can only see the larger damage it’s doing in an abstract sort of way.
This leads me to my second point.
There’s a lot of “your friends and family should support you no matter what!!!” flying around in mental illness communities, and generally I believe this is good and right. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the infinite patience, kindness and understanding of a few key individuals.
The problem is this:
Imagine that you have anxiety and you also have a boy- or girlfriend. Maybe your anxiety makes you worry about the state of your relationship with them. Maybe you need to check up on where they are or what they’re doing regularly through the day – so you know they’re okay. Maybe you need constant reassurance that they still care about and are faithful to you. Maybe you look through their phone or check their browsing history sometimes – just to be sure.
None of these things are really your fault, right? You can’t help the way you feel.
But take mental illness out of the equation and you end up with something that seems… well – an awful lot like an abusive relationship. 
I can see how it might become a cycle of not wanting (or not feeling able) to be with the person anymore but feeling too guilty to leave. And no one should ever feel too guilty to leave. 
This isn’t always how dating someone with anxiety goes, of course, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard this perspective being discussed before.
What it boils down to is this: can we separate the person from the illness?
Can we say, I’m sorry I keep doing X or being Y even though it upsets you; it’s not who I am, it’s just my anxiety?
In my experience, no.
While the fact that these things are a symptom of anxiety makes them a little more understandable, it by no means makes them excusable.
But here’s the rub:
To have anxiety is to be caught between trying not to let it control you and knowing that if it didn’t control you, it wouldn’t be a problem.
I know getting better isn’t a linear journey towards complete recovery. I know there isn’t a miracle cure. I know this is something I’ll probably have, on and off, for the rest of my life.
But I also know my behaviour has the potential to hurt people and, while it might be incredibly difficult for me to change, that’s not an excuse to stop trying.
I’ve come out the other side of two or three particularly bad bouts of anxiety in my lifetime, but if you asked me exactly how I did it I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I certainly didn’t sit myself down and decide to get better, it just happened. I dragged myself through bad days, weeks and months until – slowly and imperceptibly and for a thousand different reasons – the bad bits weren’t as bad.
Ultimately, anxiety is hard. It’s hard for me and often it’s hard for the people around me.
I’m glad this fact is being brought to wider attention, and I’m immeasurably grateful that I live in a time and place where my doctor won’t recommend strapping me to a bed and loading me with drugs.
There’s still work to be done tackling the stigma by talking honestly and openly, without sugar-coating, and I hope I’ve contributed in my own small way.
Today has been an average anxiety day.
Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe it won’t.
Regardless, to quote the excellent singer-songwriters twentyonepilots: the sun will rise and we will try again.

EU Referendum

N.B. I initially published this post on tumblr BEFORE the referendum on 7th June 2016

I hate the referendum. I’m sick of talking about it, sick of hearing about it, and certainly didn’t want to write about it until I realised I could use it to bastardise the Hokey Cokey:
You mark your ballot paper in.
Your ballot paper out.
In, out, in, out,
You shake it all about.
You evoke your right to vote and u-turn around,
That’s what it’s all about.
Woooaaahh the Referendum.
Woooaaahh the Referendum.
Woooaaahh the Referendum.
Stats bent, facts stretched, ra ra ra.
Unfortunately this invasive political phenomena is also a perfect example of the polarization of current affairs – something that’s pretty integral to this series – so let’s get serious.
Last time I started with numbers, but that doesn’t fly so well here. Unlike immigration, there isn’t a core set of 2-3 statistics to come back to when things get tough; the EU affects a whole slew of stuff from trade, to travel, to border control, to currency, and everything in between. If I tried to box them all up into separate packages and strip them back to basics, we’d be here forever.
Instead I’ve started by fishing two things out of the kitchen bin: the government’s sixteen-page Remain leaflet, and a four-page leaflet by Vote Leave, who have been named by the Electoral Commission as the official Brexit campaign. These should, in theory, give me the bare bones of each campaign’s message.
I won’t go into reams of detail about the “facts” laid out by either – the info is out there if you want to subject yourself to it – but I’ll highlight the parts that stood out to me.
I’ll start with Remain.
Their leaflet makes three main points: there are economic benefits of EU membership (Single Market trading and so on), we already have a ‘special status’ in the EU (we’re not subjected to all of the same rules as the other countries) and, contrary to popular belief, we do have control over our borders.
The actual statistics the leaflet presents are, generally-speaking, factually correct*, but it does sometimes avoid giving other statistics that don’t reinforce its argument and you end up with different numbers depending on how things are measured (for more detail see the asterisked link).
So as with most aspects of this debate, all three of Remain’s core arguments are disputable – all yes, but.
It also doesn’t take a genius to see why the campaign has been dubbed Project Fear: the emotive language evoked throughout is striking.
To take one example of many, look at the section on economic benefit:
‘The EU is by far the UK’s biggest trading partner… remaining inside the EU guarantees our full access to its Single Market… leaving creates uncertainty and risk’.
The UK government’s PR department put their heads together and the best they could come up with was ‘uncertainty and risk’?
We might lose full access to the Single Market. Companies might leave the UK and jobs might be lost. The price of household goods might rise and we mightbe several thousand pounds worse off per household. Then again, it might be absolutely fine. It might even be better – who knows? Not this leaflet.
This is where the Remain campaign falls apart – for me at least. The EU can’t weigh in on exactly what will happen to us if we leave unless we actually do it, so a lot of arguments against leaving begin on solid ground and then trail off into speculation.
And now, to Leave.
Their key arguments are: greater control over our borders, laws, and trading (so we can decide things as a country without being overruled or forced to compromise) and the amount of money the EU costs us (which would be better spent elsewhere, on the NHS or education for example). Not unreasonable or illogical when taken at face-value.
However, there’s a great deal of scepticism about the latter in particular. The Leave campaign’s mascot – the £350 million they say the EU costs us per week – has had a lot of the stuffing knocked out of it.
According to Paul Johnson, Director at the Institute of Fiscal Studies the ‘actual figure’ we send per week is about £275 million because we get a rebate (don’t ask me why because I have no idea), and goes on to say that our net contribution – that’s the amount we end up paying once the money that trickles back to us had been deducted – is about £150 million**.
Still nothing to sniff at but certainly not £350 million either.
I doubt Boris Johnson pulled the figure out from under his hair, so £350mil probably is roughly the initial amount we sent to the EU every week. Yes, we don’t have a lot of control over exactly where that money goes, but it’s safe to assume that a great deal of it finds its way back into our economy.
So the figure isn’t technically a lie but it is deliberately misleading. Remain is guilty of the same thing of course, but not having any of its statistics painted on the side of a bus saves it from the same degree of criticism.
The selective representation doesn’t end here. Under the subheading ‘Immigration will continue to be out of control’ is a picture of Middle-Eastern-looking migrants crawling under a barbed-wire fence and the sentence ‘Nearly 2 million people came to the UK from the EU over the last 10 years.’
I mean, never mind that the vast majority of those won’t have entered the country under a fence and that a considerable number are probably making valuable contributions to the country today – though maybe I’m a hypocrite for speculating.
But wait, it gets better. Brought to you by the people who dubbed their opposition Project Fear:
‘Imagine what it will be like in future decades when new, poorer countries join.’
Oh boy.
But I can understand people wanting to leave for this reason. We are frightened by terrorism – legitimately so – and we’re perhaps more frightened by our powerlessness in the face of it. Nothing we can do will make it go away, so let’s shut ourselves away in a panic room and see if it leaves by itself.
I know people who want to vote leave and – while I might not agree with much of their politics generally – the majority of them aren’t stupid. There must be some social and economic benefits of leaving (or at least there must be an indication that Remain’s scaremongering will prove unfounded).
Unfortunately for them, the Leave campaign seems to prefer using thinly-veiled racism and questionable statistics in its promotional material, so my back-to-basics approach didn’t give me much of an idea what these benefits might be.
Maybe you’re thinking at this point that I’m pretty anti-Leave for someone who’s claiming to be on the fence, so I want to emphasise something here:
The EU isn’t just a single board of benevolent, worldly-wise individuals sitting around a table; it has (from what I understand) 4-5 main bodies that all influence the decision-making processes in various ways***. We can say one of two things about this:
A) that the more layers there are to filter through, the more democratic the process. No one is running around unchecked and the vast slew of interests and perspectives brought to the table(s) ensure that the outcome is as fair as it can be
or that:
B) out of all the bodies, only one (the European Parliament) is directly elected by being voted on, and the rest of the process is almost completely removed from everyday voters. How do you go about changing a system like that – one that’s purposely designed to ensure nothing can get through it without being diluted a million times over – from the inside?
Powerful countries are built on selfishness and the changes we, the UK, might want to make for our own good probably won’t be shared by anyone else, which means we’re unlikely to see any change at all.
Cameron’s “deal” is Exhibit A: the uselessness of it is one of the few things many people from both sides agree on.
I’ve never been more tempted to spoil my ballot – or just show up at all – but what would be the point in that?
At the end of the day I know which I’m voting, but I’m sure as hell not going to like it.
*According to https://fullfact.org/europe/, though I didn’t look into where they got their information because if start fact-checking the fact-check, where should you stop?
**Speaking in the BBC documentary Britain and Europe: For Richer or Poorer?about 5-6 mins in. Available on BBC iPlayer as of posting.
***For a breakdown of how it all works, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23488006. There’s a flow chart and everything.
For more info on either side of the debate (from someone besides the two campaigns), head to the fullfact.org website cited above, where there are various fact-check articles on the debate.
Though I’m generally suspicious of anything from a media outlet and don’t like to use it as an actual source, The Guardian has an interesting (and reasonably neutral) comparison of the statistics interpreted by each side here:  http://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2016/jun/03/brexit-how-can-the-same-statistics-be-read-so-differently?CMP=fb_gu