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Why you can’t trust politicians

Since my country voted by a small margin to leave the E.U on Thursday, things have gone a bit crazy. Our prime ministers resigned and it looks like we now have a choice between Boris Johnson, a very memorable public figure but not exactly a trustworthy leader who is reported as being homophobic, and Theresa May, a sour faced woman who has said some  nasty things about refugees in the past. The Labour parties falling apart; Jeremy Corbyn, who wasn’t exactly vocal during the referendum campaign, has had his leadership challenged and has now lost 23 members of his cabinet and counting. Neither party looks prepared to lead this country in regular times, let alone sort out a Brexit, and no one really knows whats going to happen next.

Our pounds fallen to a 31 year low, some stock shares are falling, the future of our city is in question and the people continue to fight amongst themselves. It also looks, although no one can be sure, that the leading lead campaigners are now having a change of heart. Boris Johnson has assured the public nothing immediate is going to happen, that we will have a continued partnership with the E.U and this decision will not affect our universities, science, arts or the ability to live abroad. But how is that the case? Does that mean we will stay (and pay) for the single market? Whilst that is the scenario I personally am hoping for, the fact that so much of the leave campaign was about immigration and about us making our own trade deals, how will those who voted leave for this reason react when they realise nothing in that area will change? If we stay in the single market, that means we will also accept the continuing free movement of people. I would be very happy with this result, but many won’t be. Can the leave campaign betray their own supporters and take back their own words like that?

Of course they can. Their politicians.

I always feel that you can never totally trust politicians, but not because they are all scumbags who lie to get votes. You can’t trust them because the public again and yet again assumes they have far more power then they actually do. Look at what happened to poor Nick Clegg when he had to retract his promises over tuition fees.

David Cameron had as much to do with putting them up, but because Nick Clegg made the mistake of promising something, something he probably didn’t know he couldn’t deliver, he paid the price. The fact is that under the current system tuition fees couldn’t have stayed the same price. If you have as many universities as we have, and if more and more people start going each year, people the government gives tuition and maintenance loans to, what happens is that if these people fail to get well paid jobs quickly (which, as the degree keeps falling in value and as it is getting harder and harder to get a graduate position, is quite likely) the government is basically giving away more money then it is getting back. In that situation they either need to throw far more money into education, we can debate about whether they could do that or not, or they need to raise the prices so eventually they may break even (which they won’t).

Nick Clegg made a mistake, but it wasn’t not keeping loans the same price. He made the mistake of making people believe he could, made the mistake in becoming too popular. That was his downfall, because now people will always blame him for it regardless if it was actually his fault or not.

That was a pretty long analogy, but it may well end up applying to the leave campaigners as well. I’m not saying Nigel Farrage didn’t lie about his claims that money saved on the E.U would be spent on the NHS (he most definitely did, we’ve all seen the bus) or that these politicians shouldn’t be held accountable for their broken promises, even if they are promises you didn’t personally want in the first place, but the public isn’t blameless either. The public cannot assume that the government has all these over arching powers that can totally rewrite reality. Individual politicians will never be able to deliver all that they promise because none of them have that much individual power. That is what living in a democracy means. That is why it is up to the public to research their claims and make an informed decision for themselves. That is why it is up to the press not only to report but to analyse and to explain what they are actually saying and what the reality may be.

I don’t know, again I don’t think any of us know right now, but in the short term at least it may not be possible to totally break from the E.U. And whilst it is acceptable to blame the politicians for not following through with their pre-referendum promises, it is also not acceptable to believe everything they say as fact and not do your own research. People are saying they feel cheated, that they didn’t understand the referendum, voted leave and now ‘want their votes back’. This makes me angry. If you wanted to leave, and you knew why you wanted to leave, then fair enough. But if you are going to live with your head under a rock for all of your life, take it out really briefly, believe a bunch of confusing things a bunch of confusing politicians said and then get upset when it turns out it wasn’t strictly true, then you don’t get my sympathy. This is why voting shouldn’t be made compulsory; if  someone doesn’t really know what they are voting for, then why should they be obliged to vote?

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Reaction to Brexit

We’ve left the EU.

It still doesn’t feel entirely real, to be honest. It was assumed that the British people don’t really like change, that they’d stick with what they knew, that referendums don’t normally deliver results like this.

But it did. And now we’re out. Now we are a small little island bobbing around on it’s own with no real idea what’s going to happen or who it’s friends are. We’ve rejected our neighbours, we’ve turned our backs on our allies and we’ve upset a lot of people. The pounds low, the stock markets breaking and at the moment it looks like all those warnings were in fact correct and in a day we’ve screwed up our country beyond repair. This is a historical moment, something that may well have a massive effect on British history for the foreseeable future. The historian in me is excited, the traveller in me is upset and the regular human me is confused.

Neither campaign was particularly good. The Leave campaign has been accused, and rightly so, of using racism to create fear and in doing so gain support. As Nigel Farrage was such a big part of the Leave campaign it always had that dodgy UKIP feel that a lot of people can’t abide and their incredibly dubious ‘breaking point’ poster really did not help matters. All of this really dominated the campaign when in reality there were a lot more points to consider.

I know people who thoroughly researched the EU before the referendum and after much soul searching voted to leave, and I know they didn’t do it because of immigration. Immigration may be the reason some people voted, but there is this idea floating around that it must be the only reason and it really, really wasn’t. There were many concerns about the EU being a huge, confusing and undemocratic entity that was trying to take over the entire region and ensure the individual countries had less and less power for their own affairs. This may or may not be true, but it is a valid concern, and one that doesn’t stink of racism and xenophobia. There is also this deep seated British need to separate ourselves that perhaps played a bigger part then the younger more Europe friendly voters realised.

The media’s attempts to paint leave voters as exclusively working class small town un-university educated Daily Mail readers also backfired and may have actually lost the remain campaign the support they needed. The Remain campaign didn’t really seem interested in stating why we should remain in the EU; they seemed more focused on the dangers of leaving, and this simply failed to impress people.

If you focus on why the other party is wrong instead of on why you are right, it makes it look like your own argument isn’t that strong. I’m sure there were a lot of good reasons they were talking about, reasons they should have made the focus of their campaign, but instead all I could hear was fear mongering and a growing resistance towards it. Perhaps they didn’t trust the British people enough to give them real arguments out of fear it would go over our heads, or perhaps they trusted us too much to make such a big decision on something a lot of people simply didn’t know enough about.

It didn’t help that there is quite a massive lack of understanding about what the EU is and what it does in this country. The fact is it’s a massive, bureaucratic and multilayered organisation that is very hard to understand, and I do question if their lack of transparency is real as so much as people didn’t know where to look.

I’ve always known the EU existed, but until this referendum I’ll admit I never knew a great deal about it. I loved the fact I could live and work in another European country and I thought the idea of uniting countries in the same area via trade and belief was a good idea, but I never knew the logistics of it.

I voted remain because I love the open borders Europe has, I love the freedom of people moving and visiting as they please. I love the idea I could have just packed up and moved to Germany, or Holland or Italy or any of these 27 countries if I chose. And I loved cheap travel. Maybe these aren’t the calculated, well researched reasons that they should have been, but you always end up voting with what is most important to you at that given time.

There are a lot of questions, a lot of confusion and a lot of anger going on at the moment. The press is dominated by the immediate negative effects this decision has made, people are fighting amongst themselves, the young are accusing the old of destroying their futures, accusations of stupidity, racism and ignorance are flying around. The Leave voters are assumed to be racist, and the Remain voters apparently can’t deal with the realities of a democracy. These reactions are all to be expected, but none are particularly helpful.

Perhaps some of the older voters did vote because of an outdated idea of making Britain great again. But perhaps they voted because they, unlike us, have lived through a time when Britain was not part of the EU. Perhaps because of this it isn’t such a scary concept because they know we’ve done it before. And perhaps they also voted this way because they’ve lived through our membership of the EU, maybe they have a better insight of how it’s changed the UK then we do.

Some people did vote because of racism; perhaps  because they don’t like the EU telling us we should let in Syrian refugees. Maybe others don’t like the free flow of people, perhaps they want to build a wall around Britain and truly cut us off from the world. But others would have voted for any number of reasons; including the un-democratic and over imposing structure of the EU and fears that a closer union would end in one state, one army and one currency. Public opinion has never been and will never be unanimous, and it does not and never has fitted into neat categories.

Victor Klemperer, a Jewish academic and diarist who kept a record of the Nazi regime frequently found that you could never assume someone’s beliefs. He encountered children who spat at him in the street and Nazi officials who apologised to him, who told him they didn’t agree with the regime. He found different reactions and opinions everywhere he went, and he stressed throughout his book that the ‘vox populi’ is never unanimous. This is something I feel we could all learn from, something that would stop these broad accusations and let us focus instead on the actual arguments and the future.

Who knows what’s going to happen now? Maybe, miraculously, the leavers are right and this is the dawn of better trade deals and a rising economy. Or maybe we’ve just shot ourselves in our collective foot, will realise just how bad a mistake and will end up running back to the EU and beg to be let back in, which (if it did happen) would result in a much worse deal and the end of the pound. Hell maybe someone will invade us and the rest of Europe will turn a blind eye. Should we be optimistic? Should we be terrified? What do you think?