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Does the rest of the world care about the UK’s EU referendum?
  • …and if they care even enough to mention it, what do they think?

    Not sure if I’m now too late to ask this given I don’t think people check this forum frequently, but I’d be interested to hear what the general view is in the wider world. I feel like here in the UK reading the media gives quite a different picture of how the debate runs than does actually speaking to people.

  • Honestly, I’m mostly just perplexed that leaving would be considered a serious consideration at this stage - so much so that I’m refusing to give it serious thought until and unless “leave” actually wins.

    I do feel that I am surrounded by people who either feel that way or who see a “leave” vote as a serious threat. I don’t think I can think of anyone I know who is of the opinion that Britain leaving the EU would be a good idea. Mind you, I probably do live (geographically) and work (institutionally) in a fairly peculiar EU bubble.

  • alex said: Honestly, I’m mostly just perplexed that leaving would be considered a serious consideration at this stage - so much so that I’m refusing to give it serious thought until and unless “leave” actually wins.

    Though out of morbid curiosity, I did somehow end up watching that big BBC debate tonight, and am now as disturbed as I am perplexed. And a bit unsettled by how much more I liked Ruth Davidson (the Scottish Conservative arguing on the “remain” side) than I would have expected to ever like a conservative politician, in any country and any debate.

  • We do, in a detached kind of way… leaving looks like lunacy to me, and the opening for a whole bunch of really nasty racism to rear up, and fuck things up for everyone.The more the bigots get a voice, the louder they’ll get.

  • I find the whole thing incredibly depressing. A bunch of bitter oldies trying to burn the young’uns bridges. I wanna be in the United Kingdom, the European Union, the World Union, and any other union that’s going around. Bigger the better. Peace and Love.

  • I think your view is about the same as my mum’s, Nick (definitely not an insult). And as well as thinking of herself as a European in a way I can’t really say I ever have, she is terrified that the dissolution of the EU will swiftly follow our exit and continental war will break out.

    I’ve found it a very strange experience talking about this to the people around us. If there was no referendum and you asked me what I thought about the EU (the union as it’s structured, not the countries themselves) I’d probably yawn and say that on a logical level I see it as a jumped up trade agreement which does plenty of damage to the world, and on an emotional level I simply find it too big to understand, and it unsettles me to be a part of something so big and so far removed from my day to day life and the places I inhabit. But as soon as they announced the referendum I found my theoretical stance clashing with an impulse to try and guess at what I thought the practical implications would be for either outcome, and deciding that the future doesn’t look particularly easy in either scenario. But then in speaking to other people about the referendum I’m coming to believe that everyone’s actually answering a different question, and for very few people is the question really “do you want to be part of the EU as it is?”.

    My mum isn’t voting for membership of the EU, then - she’s voting that she’ll do anything to avoid her children being dragged into the kind of war which defined her parents’ lives so thoroughly. My good friend is voting that he still believes in the grand narrative of human progress and advancement and has faith we can continue to grow as a world. My colleague is voting that she has had enough of being ignored by politicians and this is her chance to have them actually listen to her. I’m fairly sure she’s no racist or bigot. My neighbours - one of them is voting that he is scared of the future and wants to cling to what he’s got, and another is voting that he is fed up of not having a job and not knowing if he’ll ever get another. These are not really votes for or against the EU, nor are they in any way related to the “facts” and figures on all the campaign literature that drops through our door, but I guess that’s what happens when you try to put a yes/no question in front of a bunch of people who haven’t really felt like they’ve had much say in politics on any question recently.

    I don’t know what question I think I’ll be answering tomorrow

    . At this point I kind of just wish they’d never bothered to ask.

  • Alex, one really interesting thing this has all shown is that there are sensible and daft people in every party! And plenty of each kind on both sides of the EU discussion too.

    Clare, I fear nasty racism might be here just ad powerfully regardless of which way this vote goes. Up here north of Manchester there seem to be constant tensions and all sorts of terrible and crazy things happening. Imagine being told a week ago that you lived in a country where politicians could be gunned down in the street. It’s deeply worrying.

  • Yep, I think you’re right about that. I can’t believe that an MP could be killed on campaign. Your summation of what your friends and family are voting about is really interesting and enlightening. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was an interpretation question.

  • alistair said: These are not really votes for or against the EU, nor are they in any way related to the “facts” and figures on all the campaign literature that drops through our door, but I guess that’s what happens when you try to put a yes/no question in front of a bunch of people who haven’t really felt like they’ve had much say in politics on any question recently.

    I don’t know what question I think I’ll be answering tomorrow

    . At this point I kind of just wish they’d never bothered to ask.

    I’m increasingly starting to feel that way about referendums (and similar forms of large-scale ‘direct’ democracy) in general, and it is one of the reasons I do feel somewhat concerned at the precedent potentially being set by this referendum - especially if it “leave” wins in the end. It’s not so much that I think that people are too stupid to make such important decisions by themselves - I think the examples you give show nicely that it’s not at all necessarily about being too stupid to get the facts right, but about setting priorities differently and attaching own meanings - but that it’s usually not such a great idea to break down complex political questions into simple yes/no choices, and then discuss for months whether “yes” or “no” is the better option, desperately avoiding any kind of alternative or hybrid options because one might end up inadvertently strengthening the side that one considers the worse of two evils. Representative democracy obviously has its faults, but at least it does provide room for discussions and negotiations that are not entirely couched in binary oppositions.

    on a logical level I see it as a jumped up trade agreement which does plenty of damage to the world, and on an emotional level I simply find it too big to understand, and it unsettles me to be a part of something so big and so far removed from my day to day life and the places I inhabit.

    I guess I’m the opposite: politically I have all sorts of grievances with the EU in its current form (though I doubt a single one would be shared with the likes of Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage), but I find it easier to identify with the idea of Europe as a political entity than I ever could with Austria. But then, I guess living so close to a border (or: two borders) also helps to link that identity to my every day experience.

  • Fuck it. I feel ashamed and betrayed this morning.

  • I’m so sorry, Nick. This sucks.

    And that did not take long: Geert Wilders tweeting “Hurrah for the British! Now it is our turn. Time for a Dutch referendum! #ByeByeEU”.

    (edit: not that I’m worried about the NL leaving the EU - there’s no way that’s going to happen - but it certainly doesn’t do anything to improve the political atmosphere)

  • It’s a strange day. I would say that I wasn’t expecting Cameron to resign, but then of course I wasn’t really expecting the vote to turn out as it did. I felt sure after voting myself, and being confronted with that stark choice on the ballot slip, that all the uncertain voters would decide to stick with how things are currently. I’ve long felt that the EU’s days are numbered but I was thinking it would be decades before something like this happened, so this isa worrying early data point for anyone who’s looking out for signs of decline. Reading people’s reactions is deeply unpleasant, too, but hopefully it’s partly just shock and dismay, and won’t last for too long (I’m not necessarily optimistic on that point).

    Anyway, now begins a time for brave people to do real work, or accept unpleasant consequences. I’m trying to get my thinking in order to understand what I want to be doing with my time and energy, but I do feel like now more than ever it would be unacceptable for me to sit back and wash my hands of it all as I would normally do.

    Alex I totally agree with you about referendums - such a bad way to decide anything beyond the very simplest of questions, and in practice only really used to decide the most complex ones.

  • You guys, I am really sorry about your country’s decision.

    But I’ll leave my thoughts out of it and just say, wow, this is the direct opposite of any kind of political social discourse that has happened on TV or elsewhere in this country for what feels like much more than a year. Reasoned, nuanced, empathic consideration all around. We’ve literally been watching one Donald Trump press appearance for a year straight, and no consideration of any issues except when the HIllary Clinton/Bernie Sanders race got hot. I don’t really have anything to say about that, but its at least good to know that citizens of democracies are capable of talking as intelligently as all you folks. Just flipping on cable news every day here totally numbs us to that fact.

    I actually have thoughts on this, I just wanted to get that one rant out.

  • Nick and Alistair will be in a better position to judge this, of course, but my sense is that the months leading up to the referendum, at least, haven’t exactly been the peak of reasoned and nuanced political discussion in Britain.

    I’m still following this pretty closely, but at least for the time I’ve mostly stopped worrying about what it means for the rest of the EU (1) - simply because I’m so perplexed by the current crisis of political leadership within the UK. It seems that Cameron thinks that dealing with the repercussions doesn’t fall within his job description as Prime Minister because it wasn’t the outcome he was hoping for (never mind that the referendum wouldn’t have happened without him in the first place), so let others deal with the mess; the pro-Leave Tories seem to think it’s completely outrageous that anyone might expect them to have given any thought to how to implement the decision that they’ve been advocating for; and the Labour party is too busy with itself to offer any sustained commentary on what’s ahead for the UK and the EU. At least the Scottish National Party seems to have realised that there would in fact be politics left to do in the days and weeks and months after the referendum.


    (1) The major exception, where I did get genuinely concerned for the future of Europe, was when I watched an interview with the Austrian Foreign Minister in which the interviewer mentioned the “exceptions” that were made and negotiated for the UK (such as the rule that citizens of other EU countries would not be eligible for UK social benefits within the first four years of their residence in the UK). Instead of answering whatever question was being asked, the Foreign Minister jumped in and said that we shouldn’t think of these as “exceptions”, but rather as part of a reform that needs to happen on an EU-wide level. So much for the hope that the one good thing to come out of this would be that it would be easier to make decisions for a stronger and more integrated EU once Britain is no longer there to block them.

    (edited for typos)

  • I thought there was only very little useful debate in the mainstream media about what actually mattered to the largest groups of voters on either side - lots of emotive scaremongering on the Leave side which played directly into an “us and them” mentality already held by the middle classes in relation to their less secure neighbours (and reciprocated I’m sure, but I’m part of that middle class so have more direct experience of one thing than the other), and lots of stacking up “facts” which don’t actually address the Leave side’s concerns on the part of the Remain campaign (surely nobody outside the EU-funded sciences arena cares that Stephen Hawking thinks EU science funding would be cut, to take one example that made me laugh). In the opinion pieces it had all the hallmarks of class warfare, the only real difference between this and other examples being that the classes have changed thanks to a huge middle class, an industrial sector in decline and a vastly complex constellation of employment (and unemployment) categories.

    However, it was quite different in conversations between individual people, and what debate I saw (or shared) in that arena certainly surpassed the general nature of debate in British elections, for me - that you could talk at all with acquaintances and that they wanted to discuss it was a heartening sign that the will for political engagement isn’t dead, and it’s just been starved of avenues for useful expression. I’m grateful for that.

    The whole thing has been strange for me for lots of reasons but the main one is that I’ve long felt that our political class - and I don’t think this is limited to the UK - was impossibly out of touch with the thoughts and cares of vast swathes of the population it governs. To see those people succeed in making themselves heard, even on a single issue, without the civil war or violent insurrection which historically proved to be the usual way of replacing such a hopelessly out of touch governing class, seems like a minor miracle. I have become so accustomed to thinking that I would see widespread violence and turmoil on English soil within my lifetime that it’s strange to think that this vote, whatever it was actually about, might offer a slim hope of avoiding that future. Of course, as evidenced by the implosion of both major parties this weekend, our political class is still doing its best to ignore that shout from half its people, so who knows what will happen.

    But yes, I think that’s more important for our country than the supposed immigration debate, and it’s the reason that debate exists - much like the US, this is a country still living as if it’s the richest in the world but without the future resources to support that, and with a ruling class who are seemingly blind to that predicament. We’re tied into this vision of progress and betterment which just doesn’t fit with the lived experiences of increasing numbers of people. Not everyone necessarily sees it in those terms but I see them feeling the pinch in their day-to-day lives where I live and work.

    I voted Leave, partly because of that and partly because of something less logical. If my head voted Leave because I wanted to see the political class realign itself with what my favourite history writer called the “internal proletariat” before things got really ugly, my heart voted Leave because it believes instinctively in the importance of place, of local community and identity, and it can’t understand something as big as the EU, the same way it’s impossible to visualise numbers beyond a thousand or so (try and picture a billion of anything, if you know what I mean). So I voted in the name of belonging to something small enough for me to understand and small enough for me to influence, and of which I can feel a proper part.

    The other reason it’s been strange is that I’ve spent the last week quietly letting pass offhand comments from people all around me - in the car with my neighbour, at my daughter’s swimming lesson, walking to and from meeting rooms… - about how terrible it is that enough racists live in our country to make us leave the EU. I can understand the dismay and I feel really strange posting this knowing Nick in particular will read it because I’m explicitly standing on the other side of the debate to him, probably unexpectedly, but I have to hope now that as a country we can use this moment of people shouting (because I do believe that’s basically what the bulk of the Leave vote was - one prolonged shout of dissatisfaction) to figure out a better way of running our country, and that leaves me optimistic where almost everyone in my social class is appalled. Maybe just because my view of the future was already much dimmer than theirs. But I still think our future sits on a knife edge and there is much hard work to be done with little chance of reward.

  • The Labour/Conservative implosions are so bizarre, alex. In Labour we have a leader who inspired hundreds of thousands of people to join the party just to elect him, and now his party are tearing him to pieces because he - shrewdly, it turns out - refused to get drawn too far into a fight on the other side to his likely voters. In the Conservatives we have a democratically elected leader (well, just about) who refuses to act on the will of his people and is going to hand power to one lunatic or another.

    I should point out, as I’ve been challenged by several people in rather blunt terms, that I’m not really happy or celebrating the referendum result despite it going the way I hoped. In my view the whole reason this referendum exists is that as a culture we’re approaching a real crisis point and entering an extended period of much harder times than have gone before. For me this result is just the least bad outcome given the current predicament.

  • I should also probably do another post at some point on the long view of the future which underpins my thinking on this specific issue, though, because I recognise it’s somewhat at odds with the dominant worldview. Another time.

  • It’s 6am and I have to go to work soon, so apologies that this isn’t written nicely, but this is what I see:

    • a Remain camp without a Plan B and a Leave camp without a Plan A, total political chaos and the biggest constitutional crisis for decades

    • a culture of xenophobia and small-mindedness where Polish centres are being daubed with ‘Go home’ messages, there has been a huge spike in racist attacks, the word ‘paki’ is being widely reported for the first time in 30 years, and my own students are being shouted at from car windows by people who probably thought ‘Leave’ meant foreigners should leave.

    • we’ve lost the spirit of openness to the world that I believe in more than anything else, and a whole generation of young people will never have the opportunities to travel and work freely that I had. Families and communities are divided irreversibly. There are people in my street, parents of my friends’ children, who I will never really have the same friendly uncomplicated relationship with again. They think they’ve stopped immigration.

    • Immigration, never really the issue but poisonously hijacked as such by the right-wing press, will not suddenly stop. In fact, we now have a huge problem in Calais, where we no longer have the opportunity to liaise with our former partners the French, and in Northern Ireland, where fuck alone knows what chaos will ensue, and if anything we are more open than ever to illegal migration.

    • the organisation that was established with the primary goal of preventing another war in Europe is now in fear of dissolution, while all the malignant forces who would like to see that happen (Trump, Farrage, Le Pen, Putin) smile and watch. We are humilliated in front of our friends, and locked out of any future negotiations.

    • Scotland justifiably want to remain in the EU, and will almost certainly vote in another referendum to leave the ever less ‘u’ K. Another body blow to those of us who dreamed of less division and cloder ties with neighbours. Also, what then will happen to the many Scottish workers residing in England?

    • I live and work in Brighton and since Friday I’ve seen colleagues in tears (teachers at my school are from Hungary, Spain, France, Italy), bar staff and restaurant workers frightened and upset. They suddenly have huge anxiety over the security of their lives, relationships , pets and careers.

    • Our economy is in crisis, with the pound at its lowest level against the dollar for 30 years, big companies are taking or discussing taking tens of thousands of jobs abroad (HSBC, Vodaphone, Ryan Air are just some in the last 2 days), small businesses are facing a 10% rise in import prices and many will go bust as a result, a whole swathe of rising prices (food, clothing etc etc) will be passed on to the general public, who themselves will be facing falling house prices and higher mortgage payments.

    • The housing crisis will continue as builders can’t afford to buy materials now

    • Countless industries that depend on flexible labour will struggle with a retsricted workforce. Countless more skilled workers will be head-hunted to Berlin and Paris, where they feel welcome and secure.

    • the enormous administrative costs of untangling 40 years’ worth of legislation relating to law, the economy, business, passports , the list ghoes on for ever, and all this without an effective government.

    As Robert Carlyle says in The Full Monty, “it’s all t’fuckin’ cock this!” etc etc

  • I likened the vote to being stuck in a burning building and being chased upstairs by the flames - the vote was between jumping out the second floor window now, or continuing to run upwards in hope that the fire service would arrive before we were out of reach of the ladders. I don’t think anyone’s coming to help, you think the consequences of jumping are too terrible to contemplate, there’s a very real possibility that we’re both right, and half our colleagues think it’s a vote on where to turn the thermostat and they’re saying down down down because they’ve been a bit warm for years.

    We’re in a mess.

  • Thanks for sharing, Alistair. I guess I am quite skeptical how a vote that had the effect of empowering the most reprehensible parts of the political establishment could possibly lead to a realignment between the ‘political class’ and vast parts of the population - or if it does, that it could be based upon anything other than finding common ground via racism.

  • It’s really interesting to hear both Alistair and Nick’s views in more detail. I’m still fascinated by the class divide on it. I didn’t realise that Labour was in so much trouble, I don’t get to hear much news. I was hoping that Corbyn might shine a bit brighter from the ashes.

  • Yeah, I think Corbyn’s finished. A decent man caught up in a pre-meditated fly-trap. As Diane Abbott said today, it’s not the (Blairite) Parliamentary Labour Party against Corbyn, it’s the PLP against its own membership. Grim days for the progressive left.

  • blargh. election here today. votes still being counted. watching the game with cider. not sure how it’s going to pan out, but progressive left are at least glowing in Melbourne…

  • I only saw superficial coverage about Australia, Clare, but the outcome doesn’t look too bad, does it?

    Meanwhile, Austria is preparing for a third round of presidential elections (or rather, a re-run of the second round), after the constitutional court has ruled that the second round (in which the green candidate had narrowly defeated the far-right candidate) would have to be repeated, due to some formal mistakes that were made in the counting the votes, such as votes being counted too early or by people who were not authorised to do so. It’s a bit frustrating, in that there has been no indication whatsoever that any manipulation of votes had taken place (also no statistical evidence that would for instance show weird differences between the constituencies were such formal mistakes were made, and those were everything went according to the rules), but there it is. A particular irony is that part of the ruling was based on the fact that partial election results were distributed to the media while the election was still going on, and thus could have affected the outcome - which I personally find a bit odd as this has been common and known practice in Austrian elections for decades, but mostly because knowing the outcome of the previous, now invalid, election will affect voters’ behaviour much more. So now we will have to see whether the Freedom Party will be spinning this into a story of how they were cheated out of a victory and in doing so recruit more voters this time around. It’s definitely become clear already in the day after the decision was announced that they will be playing the EU-skepticism up quite a bit this time around, with hints of a possible push for a referendum in the future (though they’re not calling one outright at the moment), so this is even slightly relevant to this thread.

    The whole thing is especially frustrating for me personally, because I screwed up my voter’s registration - filled it in, but failed to send it off in time - before the first round of the election. At the time of the first round, that seemed pretty minor and irrelevant, because it seemed so unlikely that a far-right candidate would have a serious chance of winning, and while I was pretty sure who I would have voted for, I wasn’t extremely invested in who of the two candidates who were considered to be most likely to win would become president. When it became clear how close a call it would be, I was pretty damn mad at myself, and then pretty damn relieved when the result showed a narrow victory of the green candidate. I’m back in the voter’s registry now, but only those who were part of it in the first round (minus those who died in the meantime) will be able to vote in the re-run, so I’m still looking on from abroad and dreading a situation where the far-right candidate would win by a single vote, and it would all be my fault.

  • It’s largely my own fault, but I find Australian elections confusing. Why does it take a week to count the votes? Is it the ranked choice thing? Why does the winning party tend to be portrayed as having lost when they don’t get a decisive victory? Why does the prime minister change every 10-14 months? And who the fuck is “Nick Xenophon”?

    Turnbull seems like an ineffective pompous dickhead (not that I particularly want him to be effective), but Shorten is also bland and charmless.

  • I think it’s partly the ranking system, which they’ve changed (although I don’t remember how it went before and it doesn’t seem that different), but also because it’s such a close race. The results would be in within hours during the Liberal Party’s decade-long run.

  • Yeah. Well. The lower house (Reps) is often counted enough by the end of the Saturday night. This one was harder because it’s so close. By the end of Saturday night, there were still 13 seats that were close enough that they couldn’t say who had won, they have to count all the ballots. Usually that can say, well candidate X is ahead by 5,000 votes and we’ve got 4,000 left to count, so it’s pretty obvious. Not in these seats.

    This year the Electoral Commission got paranoid about ballot box security, so they spent yesterday (Monday) moving all the ballots from the polling booths where they’d been for Saturday counting, to AEC offices. So counting didn’t start again until today.

    Other than that, the preference system is what takes the time. It’s easy in the HoR cos it’s a full transfer. Much harder in the senate where it’s proportional. http://www.aec.gov.au/voting/counting/hor_count.htm which is why the senate always takes weeks to sort out. Except in Canberra where it’s a piece of piss. One to each of the major parties.

    The Senate is way weirder. http://www.aec.gov.au/Voting/counting/index.htm and way more complicated. http://www.aec.gov.au/Voting/counting/senate_count.htm

  • I went to a green party meeting tonight in a bid to put my money where my mouth is and actually contribute to our political future. It was interesting and I’m really glad I went, but I think it’s really just solidified for me that on the one hand I’m out of step with the dominant “green” movement in the UK and on the other I’m not particularly confident that the political machine is the right place to invest one’s energy in working towards a better future. On the other hand, they spent about two minutes of the two hour meeting discussing some local action to stop upland burning for grouse season, and I probably wouldn’t have heard about that until after it had happened if I hadn’t gone along. Hmmm.

  • The Senate is way weirder. http://www.aec.gov.au/Voting/counting/index.htm >and way more complicated. >http://www.aec.gov.au/Voting/counting/senate_count.htm

    Whaaaaat? I hope this isn’t on the citizenship test.

    Alistair, that actually sounds kind of cool to me. I think local politics is kind of the only non-crazy politics.

  • Justin, I can ask the bloke… but I don’t think it is ;-) But it is weird for sure. That’s why it takes three weeks to count…

    I like that Alistair clearly has three hands, and local politics is a really good place to start, small left leaning parties can get really bogged down in minutiae though…

  • They had to have a discussion about what “progressive” means because for Guardian readers it basically just means “part of our tribe” and for old union types who don’t read the Guardian it means something closer to “continuing as it is”.

    They were all very nice though and I’m going back and forth partly because I don’t know if they’d be good for me but also because I might not be good for them. I have a lot of views that don’t follow their party line, and really joined on the basis that they’re called the green party!

    I thought everyone grew a third hand when they had children. If that’s not the case I don’t know how you two-handers cope.

  • At least one. One for every child. I think the Greens in general, are probably the way to go. If I were to join a political party it would be them, now that the Nuclear Disarmament Party no longer exists.

  • Well, we have some good choices in Australia—The Sex Party (TAX THE CHURCH!), cyclists party, motoring enthusiasts party (who actually have a senator in parliament)…

  • Sex Party always get a fairly high number in my preference allocation. They actually have a plan, other than just, well, sex.

  • Maybe this isn’t the place, but how does the preference system work? It seems more complicated than if your “1” choice doesn’t make it then your “2” choice gets the vote. Like in my electorate, it looks like Labor is a distant 2nd in their 1st preference, but is projected to win somehow. Strangely, the liberals seem to be first in 1st preference, but the greens are also strong.

    There was some weird controversy about the current labor minister directing second preferences to the liberals instead of the greens, so there is going to be a run-off or something? I’m so confused. I live in a fairly heavily jewish part of Melbourne with lots of hasids, and there is major beef between the labor minister and the greens over palestine, which may explain the 2nd preference situation.

  • House of reps is direct preference. Senate is proportional, so if you vote for candidate B, then A, then C then F, then E, then D and your first preference doesn’t get elected, a part of your vote will then go to candidate A, and if they don’t reach the quota, then a smaller part will go to candidate C, until either someone is elected or your vote is exhausted. I think the link to the AEC senate page that I posted above explains it better… but yes, a large part of the Jewish population often vote Liberal from memory, which I find confusing…

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