The recent homophobic and racist murders in Orlando, and the misogynist, fascist murder of UK Labour Party MP Jo Cox, are not incidental to the EU Referendum this Thursday (23 06 2016). These violations have not just added urgency to the Referendum decision, but, I suggest, changed the substance of that decision-making process.
Since November 2012, we can and must speak of a post Savile era: a necessary cultural and political break with a shameful past of uninterrupted child abuse in and around public institutions, and paedophile denial and collusion over many years, that protected Savile and left children exposed to sexual abuse and its lingering psychological aftermath into adulthood, as victims were blamed and silenced. Four years later and UK society is openly predicated on that past as it seeks to become a social and political refutation of those historical presumptions and denials: a different society.
No longer a referendum on the EU.
The way in which the Leave camp has conducted its EU Referendum campaign, escalating distortions (on immigration, housing, employment); reiterating lies (notably the £350M EU price tag and its devotion to the NHS); and misrepresentation (e.g. regarding EU democracy and its legislative process, the relationship between EU directives and UK social, environmental and industrial practices and safeguards, and the movement of peoples), makes this, just days before the vote, another such pivotal moment for the UK.
Faced with the combined rhetorical efforts of media favourites, Michael Gove, Boris Johnston, Ian Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage, and sundry other poisonous political ‘heavies’ on the Right, the virtues or otherwise of the EU, even the facts we might wish to consult or highlight, such as: ‘There’s no hope of saving the planet without making rules together against scorching ourselves to death” (Polly Toynbee, ‘On Friday I’ll get my country back. We will vote remain’, The Guardian, 21 06 2016), have become incidental. Not to mention international, fascistic ‘stars’, such as Vladimir Putin and Marie le Pen, aligning themselves with the Leave team. As John O’Farrell presciently (and hilariously) declared back in April: ‘Never mind the EU arguments, just look who’s talking’ (The Guardian, 25 04 2016). Two days away from the actual Referendum, it’s no longer funny and right, but seriously, frighteningly right.
It is not a matter of different opinions and choices: shopping cannot be the model for our politics. It is rather the difference between values and behaviours that uphold and nourish (however imperfectly) social democracies, against anti-democratic behaviours that embody authoritarianism, elite heteropatriarchal male dominance and violence, as ways of doing life’s business. And that business is the annihilation of difference, via homophobia, misogyny, racism, together with institutionalised and escalating inequality: the enforced impoverishment of the majority and the runaway wealth of a tiny number:
The system is designed to transfer wealth from the people who create it to the people who already have it” (Paul Mason, ‘Executive pay is obscene – restructuring the economy is the only way to curb it’, G2 14 06 2016).
So the task for us in the EU Referendum on Thursday is quite simply to demonstrate our understanding that these are the enemies of democratic and peaceful co-habitation and that as a society we will not endorse that path. We will stop these elite white men’s triumphal ascent in the UK to even more power at the people’s expense.
Orlando and Jo Cox
These most recent murders teach us that our individual votes should not be dependent on how we value and evaluate the EU as an economic / social / cultural / political project or dream. More urgently, it has become about how best to avoid violent social meltdown in England and the wider UK. How best to interrupt the momentum of those politicians, media and other power brokers on the Right, who, in particular since 2010, have been promulgating fear and inciting hatred, to further their own vested interests, their desire for untrammelled personal and political power, dominance and control.
How to stop them ripping us out of the EU; breaking up the UK; and finishing the job the Tory government has set itself, of dismantling our precious post 1945 welfare settlement and the public services that underpin our democracy, including the NHS?
Voting Remain is surely our only hope of blocking their exuberant and well funded attacks on our society and democracy, and buying ourselves time to come good on the values and priorities that informed the life, the love and the work of social justice activist and Labour MP, Jo Cox. It will not be sufficient, but it is a necessary step in turning the tide against this Tory government and the bigotry, racism and social divisions it has been instrumental in fostering as tools of social control.
val walsh / 21 06 2016
[This is an expanded version of a statement presented from the floor at a public meeting organised by ‘Another Europe is possible’, at The Liner Hotel, Liverpool on 20 06 2016.]