I was the parliamentary candidate for the Green Party here in Kettering last year, only losing out to our incumbent Tory MP Philip Hollobone by around 20,000 votes. Whilst Mr Hollobone and I find ourselves fighting different corners once again, we all know that Party lines don’t really come into this referendum: whilst the Greens generally want to remain, Jenny Jones, our sole representative in the House of Lords, is voting to Leave. Indeed, the Tories are split and there are a handful of Labour MPs, and many more members supporting Labour Leave too. However, although I wouldn’t like to speak for every member, I think it’s pretty safe to say that we know which way UKIP will vote and the reasons for their zealous campaign noise – it is their raison d’être after all; it’s how the Greens would be if there were to be referendum on a fairer society or saving the planet.
Perhaps you are reading this having already made up your mind, but many haven’t been able to see through the mudslinging, the hyperbole, and the downright lies from either side. It is especially difficult in a campaign where everyone has suddenly become an amateur economist and even a few monetary mystics we could have done with pre-2008 have made an appearance. So, I’ll leave the economics to the economists and attempt to give my own reasoning as to why I will vote to remain. I’ve got nothing to gain politically or personally from this whether you vote in our out – I’m not Facebook friends with Jean-Claude Junker, and certainly not with Nigel Farage. I was born and brought up two streets from where I am currently sitting, and live only half a mile down the road. In fact, the only other place I’ve lived outside of the Northamptonshire is Paris. I made use of my right to freedom of movement, rocked up in France and found a job in a bar. I was an unskilled immigrant, who couldn’t speak the language, but I was greeted with warmth and acceptance – and not once did anyone say to me that I was taking a Frenchman’s job (although they may have done; my French didn’t really improve). Anyway, perhaps I’m not the kind of immigrant people like Le Pen and Farage talk about.
There’s been much talk about this ‘undemocratic organisation’, with its ‘unelected lawmakers’ who put the priorities of big businesses over those of working people, an organisation that we pay into and from which we don’t see enough back in return. And I agree: I don’t like the UK Parliament either. But it doesn’t mean I want to turn my back on it. I want to engage with the system to change it, and elect progressive representatives who will seek change and stand up for the people they represent. I wouldn’t advocate that Northamptonshire or Kettering break away from the rest of the UK because I don’t like the Tories being in charge. I am not going to start campaigning for a Nexit or indeed a Kexit.
I tend not to agree with David Cameron on much, but I really do believe we are stronger together. So, I’m going to focus on the positives of what being together has brought us, Party politics and imperfections aside, and I’m going to try to address a common question that I hear on a fairly regular basis right now – what has the EU ever done for us? Well, not much, apart from…
- access to free health care when traveling on the contintent
- pay equality
- banning of animal testing in cosmetics
- funding to the UKs most deprived areas and those hit by industrial decline
- cleaner air
- lead free petrol
- the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime
- strongest wildlife protection in the world
- restrictions on landfill dumping
- a recycling culture
- cheaper mobile charges
- cheaper air travel
- improved consumer protection and food labelling
- a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives
- better product safety
- protection of our coutryside
- break up of monopolies
- Europe-wide patent and copyright protection
- no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market
- freedom to travel, live and work across Europe
- funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad
- labour protection and enhanced social welfare
- smoke-free workplaces
- equal pay legislation
- holiday entitlement
- improved animal welfare in food production
- EU-funded research and industrial collaboration
- funding for the arts and universities…
Oh, and peace. Don’t forget peace.
More recently, there has been an announcement to place restrictions on a cancer inducing herbicide, and in the light of the Panama Papers scandal, there’s been a call from the EU for all large multinational companies to have more transparency when it comes to tax and EU member states have agreed to share information in order to stop tax loopholes. And there are many other things that we don’t even think about, that aren’t in the leaflets. The EU also funds many vital scientific research projects, and the freedom of movement allows scientists to collaborate with ease all over Europe. A recent survey shows that 80% of research scientists would vote to remain. And, of course, if we are to tackle climate change effectively then we need to work together as part of the European Union.
Now, the Leavers would say that we could do all these things ourselves. But if the UK Parliament doesn’t have time to debate the NHS Reinstatement Bill, as it didn’t the other month, when would it have time to debate something as petty as air quality, our wildlife or the destruction of our civilisation from climate change?
So, as you can see the EU has done a fair bit for saving the planet, peace, and the advancement of human scientific endeavour. Now, this is perhaps is enough for me; I don’t have to go any further. But for others, it isn’t. And as I said, I haven’t even touched on the economy, because so much has already been said and perhaps, like me, you are getting tired of all the figures being thrown around.
However, the biggest problem lies in the fact that, whilst the argument to remain is multi-layered and doesn’t fit on a beer mat, the Leave campaign message about the EU is loud and clear: it costs too much, it’s undemocratic, we lack sovereignty and we need to control our borders.
So, let me take these one at a time. The EU costs the average person between £8 and £10 a month, less if you don’t earn as much. That’s not a bad investment, I don’t think, for what we get back. And if you really are worried about that tenner – then look at the aforementioned economic reasons that I won’t go into here. Furthermore, do you really think that if the Tories found £350 million down the back of the sofa, they’d build nice shiny new hospitals for us all to use? Or would they fund more tax-breaks for their millionaire mates?
I wouldn’t say the EU is undemocratic but it does need to be more democratic. Nonetheless, we’d all do well to remember that there are 751 democratically elected, proportionally represented MEPs, whilst in the UK we have an unelected House of Lords and a First Past the Post System that only serves to maintain the status quo. At the last European election in 2014, there was a 35% turn out. Now, the thing is is that UKIP supporters will always go out and vote even if no one else does. So, we end up with a load of UKIP MEPs who don’t even want to be there. We have two representing us here in the East Midlands; one of them being the (amongst many other things) climate-change denier Roger Helmer. The EU is far from perfect, but one of the reasons is that we don’t use our right to have a say when we do get the chance.
As for sovereignty: the government seems to have enough sovereignty when it comes to cutting disability benefits, or trying to impose contracts on the Junior Doctors, or spending billions bombing far away lands.
Which probably leads me to immigration; an area about which I will only say the things I seem to repeatedly say on the matter – with some people I may as well be talking to a thirty-foot wall – but here it is again: immigrants pay far, far more into the public purse than they take out through benefits, or through the services they use. And if you are really that concerned about immigration, remember that half of all migrants to the UK come from outside the EU. But, if you have difficulty about seeing a person’s contribution to society beyond statistics, then you are perhaps only going to vote one way anyway.
And finally…yes, this is a ‘once in a generation chance,’ as we keep being told – so we are not simply voting on how we currently see the world, but we are voting for those future generations unable to yet vote for themselves. We have to consider this: what kind of country do we want them to be brought into? A country that turned its back on the world in a vain attempt to revisit a non-existent time in our history, or a country that looks out to the world to try and solve the biggest challenges of our time with our neighbours? Perhaps we can hope that we vote for one that is not only be concerned with what we can take from the world, but what we can create in it together.