I’m not a particularly political person. I’m not a particularly angry person either. But I am angry about how this EU referendum campaign has unfolded and the lasting damage it may have caused.
Now I’m not going to use this post to try to influence any floating voters in these last 24 hours before the most important poll any of us are likely to participate in during our lifetimes. I decided which camp I was in months ago and I have watched on over the past several weeks firstly in bemusement, then bewilderment and resignation, before ending up simply angry at the way both sides have conducted their campaigns.
I am angry at the way a complex decision have been boiled down to the lowest common denominator of immigration, ‘making Britain great again’ and saving the NHS (as if leaving or staying in the EU directly influences government spending priorities).
I am angry at the way spin has given way to bare-faced lies – from both sides.
I am angry at the way the popular media have given up any pretence of providing an objective assessment in favour of heavily editorialised content that does little more than provide a megaphone for the politics of their owners and editors.
I am angry that even educated, curious people cannot see through the self-serving political and media rhetoric clearly enough to make an informed decision.
Most of all, though, I am angry at what I see happening to the country I was born in, the country my children were born in and the country I used to be proud to be a citizen of.
What has happened to the spirit of 2012?
This is the country that just four years ago put on a united, welcoming front as the host of the 2012 Summer Olympics.
This is the country that celebrated in unison as Mo Farah, a Somali-born immigrant, won double Olympic gold and draped himself in the Union Flag as up and down the country people imitated his signature ‘Mobot’ pose.
This is the country whose national football team is made up of players of multiple ethnic backgrounds and whose domestic league competition welcomes players from the EU and beyond with open arms and deep pockets.
This is now a country that is divided by ill-feeling, much of it directed at immigrants who are perceived as being a drain on the economy and the nation’s resources.
This is now a country where an MP, Jo Cox, who devoted considerable effort to helping those less fortunate than her, is killed by an individual denouncing her as a traitor.
This is now a country where some people believe it is possible to turn back the clock simply by exiting the European Union and making Britain great again. (Read up on the social history of post-WWII Britain, folks. It really wasn’t great. The country was on its knees.)
It’s like the England football team deciding the route to World Cup success is to turn their backs on the European Championships and reinstate the Home Nations tournament instead. Picking up your ball and walking away with it is something you do when you’re six years old, not when you’re one of the world’s biggest economic powers.
So let’s blame immigrants for government cuts to the NHS. Or the state of the economy. Or, basically anything that isn’t ‘our’ fault and therefore must be Johnny Foreigner’s. Yes, things might not be great just now. But for all the valid reasons (and there are many) that exist to vote Leave, leaving the EU because it’s all the immigrants’ fault is like deciding you need to move house just because it’s raining today. The logic is flawed.
A broken nation?
But do you know what I fear the most?
I fear that the United Kingdom is anything but united. ‘Remain’ or ‘leave’, will the divisions magically disappear after tomorrow? I’m not sure they will.
If we vote to stay in the EU, what backlash will we see? Not from the majority of Leave voters but from the far-right elements who remain stoutly anti-immigration and whose views have been all but legitimised by this referendum campaign?
If we vote to leave the EU, how will those immigrants who came to the UK seeking a better life feel, knowing that the majority of the population implicitly blames them for, well, whatever they blame them for?
I am the son of Asian parents who came to the UK in the 1960s. I hold a British passport. I contribute to the UK economy. I pay taxes just like any other British citizen.
But here’s the thing. I have never felt less welcome in the country of my birth than I do right now. And after the past few months of simmering bigotry and political barracking, I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable about being British again.
Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way implying that everyone who votes Leave is racist. Far from it. I’m not even saying they are wrong. (Although, as you’ve no doubt worked out by now, I’m voting ‘in’.) And I’m also far from enamoured at some of the tactics employed by the Remain campaign. I hate the way this campaign has come down to the politics of fear.
What I am saying is that I think the UK is broken. And, like Humpty Dumpty, it can’t just be put back together again. It’s our country – all of ours, Leave or Remain – and I fear for the legacy we will leave behind for our children.