THE VOTE IN BRITAIN: UNITY OR MORE CHAOS AND DISUNITY?
BY Harry C. Blaney III
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
— John Donne
As I write this, I am watching the British television and the polls have closed. The results of the EU referendum are too close to call at this time. This is a look at the pre-vote period and day of the referendum. More to come after the votes are in. Some results are beginning to come in, but the official notice will be made at 10 a.m. on Friday.
Wednesday night, I watched the UK Channel 4 debate on the referendum. Voting “Leave” in effect would impact Britain’s full engagement and influence in Europe. In short, such a vote would mean a diminished Britain divided amongst and almost at war with itself. A Leave result would refute John Donne’s great lines quoted above.
The worst of it is that so many lies have been told during the campaign, including on the Channel 4 program, almost all of which have been from Leave advocates. These statements have been made simultaneously by people of one-time high rank who should know better and those that clearly had little more to say than racially-tinged shouts and disparaging remarks about Europe and their opponents. In addition, Jeremy Paxton, the debate’s moderator, added to the one-sided and caustic environment.
In my four decades of observing British politics closely, including living in the country from time to time, I have never seen a more nasty, emotional, and heated debate. The moments of hard truths, frank assessments, and citations to the history of Britain’s role in Europe have been drowned out by yelling, cutting people off, lopsided time for one side, and lies which have never been really questioned by a moderator. The odd thing is that an 80-odd-year-old former actress said the most when she made a poignant point about British sacrifice and commitment over time to Europe and the perils of leaving Europe on its own by withdrawing.
Meanwhile, key leaders blanketed the country on Wednesday by making speeches, appearing for photo-ops, going on TV programs, and, in the case of Boris Johnson, even kissing a fish! But the debates and my brief interactions just talking to people on the street have indicated the widespread anger was the key today to British politics.
The problem is that the campaigning in this referendum has been based on not just delusion, but also on the stirring up of hate, bigotry, and fear of the “Other.” Now, thanks to some shortsighted leaders that have used prejudice and fear to gain support for their cause of far right and neo-fascist ideologies, Member of Parliament Jo Cox has been killed and Britain stands on the precipice of leaving the European Union.
This phenomenon also exists in the United States, as evidenced by the words of hate we saw in both the Charleston and Orlando killings and even beyond to those who deliberately continue to enrage citizens to unspeakable acts.
Watching the debate here and in the U.S., there are so many large-scale, disastrous consequences of this trend towards the right. At this critical moment of time, we need to deeply reassess our basic humanitarian values, as well as the safety and durability of our democratic institutions. The influence and power of the right-wing media in this UK debate, but on both sides of the Pond for this can’t be forgotten among these institutions.
Nothing less is at stake, not just in the UK’s Brexit vote on Thursday, but also in the U.S. election this November. Attention needs to be paid to the xenophobic tendencies and scapegoating of minorities and the EU for the problems which are within ourselves and our national governments. The key danger lies in our inability to perceive the disastrous trajectory we are on.
See our Brexit Page for further coverage.
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