Why I wish we weren’t having a referendum.
*I delivered the following column to The Western Mail at 9.30 last Thursday morning, thinking how I’d said my sixpence-worth, and could now take my headspace somewhere nicer. To writing fiction, and planning for Glastonbury. That same afternoon, as I sat editing some page proofs, came the news of MP Jo Cox’s murder.How horrible to have my sad, frustrated thoughts reflected back at me so tragically. RIP Jo Cox.
Someone once said to me – I forget who it was – that two topics to avoid in polite society were the terrible twins of politics and religion. (He also suggested feminism, as if it was a matter for actual debate, but, being a feminist, I punched him in the face.)
But back to the big two – society’s twin peaks. The sibling behemoths of impassioned altercation. On the big stage, the big divider, throwing communities into conflict. And on the smaller, the grit in the oyster of any peaceful family get-together, guaranteed to create a pearler of a row, and your auntie Mabel not speaking to you for a month.
I’ve tried to avoid politics and religion all my life. The first because I studied economics when I was young, and found it both hard and pretty boring. All those conflicting theories, all that micro and macro. And, of anything I’d studied that could be considered analytical, the most open to interpretation.
I also, in my early twenties, had a major revelation. That I don’t know a fraction of the clever stuff I need to if I’m to defend my political position unto death.
It’s the sort of revelation that doesn’t seem to trouble everyone, more’s the pity, but, seriously, how can most of us know enough? That’s why, historically, we’ve always embraced democratic governance. So we can elect a bunch of people who DO know.
The second’s easier. I have no need to defend or argue anything. I don’t discuss religion because there’s nothing to discuss – some believe in a deity. I don’t. And though I could write a sermon about the baffling business of religion’s continued post-Darwin existence, I don’t, because, while in this case I COULD defend my position, why would I want to? Lots of people of faith are my friends, and, unless it affects me, yours is none of my business.
Politics, however, is everyone’s business, which is why any discussion of it proceeds at one’s peril. Blue or red, left or right, green or monetarist Marxist nihilist (I made that up), politics affects all of us because we all live together, in a society which is governed by the presiding party’s laws. I can walk by your church, or your mosque, or your synagogue, but we’re all obliged to pay the same taxes.
Which is why, from the time when I was old enough to see beyond the end of my nose, I realised that politics was also best largely avoided because it invariably got everyone so shouty and entrenched.
And aren’t you done with it all now? All the mud-slinging and ranting? Aren’t you sick of all the shoutiness now, really? You can’t turn around without finding someone shouting at someone, be it on a debate on the telly, or a rant in the papers, or – worst of all – and the main reason I’m now so referendum-averse, on the highways and by-ways and alleyways of social media – particularly the dark, rancid alleys of the comment threads. Trust me, gentle reader. There be bile-spewing dragons.
So what? You might say. This is good, all this stuff. We’re all engaging, finding out facts and voicing opinions. This is the very opposite of post-modern apathy. So much better than the 10% turnout, or whatever, when whoshisname – bloody him! – got elected.
Yes, in theory, of course ‘robust’ debate is A Good Thing. But you know what? I hate it. I hate that we are having a referendum on this at ALL. Because while I accept that politicians are not made of spun silk and fairy dust (and that we’re credulous fools to believe all we’re told) I would rather them, in conjunction with the sane souls behind the scenes, to use their education, their experience, their general know-a-bit-more-than-us thing and guide us into the future with at least a half-competent hand, based on extensive research and boring old economics.
Rather that than leave this decision, perhaps the most important in a generation, to us – the great washed-but-unqualified. And, worse, to a population that shows itself, at least in part, to be ill-informed, over-emotional, angry, hysterical, mean-spirited, aggressive, and easily misled.
And divided. That’s the worst of it.
Or soon could be. So, since the lunatics have temporarily taken over the asylum, please treat your fellow citizen just as you might your lunatic auntie Mabel – with generosity of spirit, politeness and restraint.
Because goodness only knows how we’re going to manage it, but we’ve GOT to get on the next day.
First published in The Western Mail 18th June 2016