Today my country votes on whether or not to stay in the EU. I've voted, but it's a secret ballot so that's all you're getting on that front. The last few weeks have been torturous, as the Leave and Remain camps slugged it out. Sadly the bulk of the campaign seems to have focused on money and immigration. While I get why that's been the case, I also feel that it points to a sad situation, a lack of understanding of current affairs and politics. It's been like watching a group of blind people trying to find a light switch, groping about generally missing the point.
I understand that money is important, and that immigration is a concern, but let's get a bit of perspective here. The cost of the EU, per person, boils down to a tiny fraction of GDP, even if we accept the largest number that's been bandied about, and without immigration where the hell would we be as a nation. Closing our border won't bring jobs back, not unless we're willing to become the new China or India - which incidentally will mean no NHS, no social services, no local government of any kind. If we want to go back to the Victorian period in earnest then, sure let's do that, but personally I like health and safety and the idea that we don't work in dangerous environments for far too many hours (most of us anyway, I'm conscious that there are areas where long, dangerous hours are the norm and where there are dangers in the work environment - though I hope they're not on the par of the still moving looms of industrial folklore). It was left to Gordon Brown to point out the huge amount of money the EU invests in our country, in the form of regeneration funds and other initiatives to allow cities to update and compete. Quite rightly, he warned that a vote for Leave would mean that those funds drying up and the country becoming dependent on Westminster for regeneration money. Not an attractive proposition under a government so committed to austerity that they're trying to sell off the rest of the government offices (the Land Registry, National Parks etc), and who have an ideological commitment to the 'weightless state'. In other words, a state which does nothing but debate and makes laws, and provides security in the form of the armed forces, police, and spook community. I feel they are arguing from another age, one that seems very romantic but is wildly out of touch with where we are today. It's sobering as automation threatens to take more jobs that in the UK, we seem intent on destroying the state. I fear that if the worst happens we will see another lost generation, and that has nothing to do with the EU but with the rise of neoliberalism as the norm and an ideological decision, taken in our national government to cut back state spending to such an extent that the trappings of civilisation as we know them are quite possibly starting to fail.
I feel strongly, that we need to inject a huge shot of knowledge and understanding of political processes into the nation's arms. Every child should know how a law is made (I have no idea if this is covered in Citizenship), every adult should know a bit of political theory, even if it's just on the level of being able to tell the differences between the beliefs about human nature in each of them. We should be able to tell the difference between a One Nation and a Thatcherite on the Right of the spectrum and a Militant and a Moderate on the Left, and we should know what that means. We shouldn't feel that politicians don't care about anyone but themselves, but realise that almost all of them enter the arena because they believe in helping other people. It feels cheap to mention Jo Cox, so soon after her death, but it's important to realise that she wasn't alone. Almost all MPs are trying to improve the lot of their constituents. It's a mixture of governmental procedures and agendas, party machinery, and civil service chicanery that defeats them (I swear Yes Minister should be required watching for everyone in the UK, and possibly other countries if they don't have an equivalent).
So how did we end up here? I don't want to suggest there was a time when the subject was widely taught or debated (outside of men moaning in pubs over pints, I mean), but it does seem that the quality of coverage and debate has become worse during my lifetime. More and more things seem to be 'just how they are', we forget that society is a social construct, and as such it can be changed. It may take a conscious effort on our part, as a species, but I honestly believe that through debate and discussion we can start to make things different, and make politics work for people again, not corporations or the 1% (ooh dog whistle). That will take education, though, and moving the debate beyond the 'immigrants simultaneously taking our jobs and our benefits', or 'we spend too much money on x, y, or z'. Part of the problem was that in the 1980s we were told that politics was less important than economics, that we shouldn't pay attention to one but to the other. At the same time, we were offered choices, something that has proliferated to this day. Don't get me wrong, having choices is fine, but at the same time our brains aren't actually designed to handle too many and now, the very number of choices available to us is acting as a distraction from politics and the things going on in the world, and for many people proving to be detrimental to our mental health (and worse, these choices are often fake, the same products in different packaging, pumping out brand bullshit to make money for the same parent companies - choice and competition reduced to a game of where's the lady).
I realise I bang on this quite a bit, so thanks for sticking with me thus far. Let's take it to the next level - it's not enough to simply rant and rave on the internet. Action is needed. So, I'm going to email me MP and push for Politics to become a mandatory part of the curriculum (though we may not have a national curriculum that much longer), and for newspapers to be held more stringently to account when they publish dangerous or inflammatory headlines. May I ask you to do the same?