You don't need David Beckham or Gillian McKeith (or me) to tell you how to vote

EDITOR'S BLOG: A referendum is no way to decide an issue as complicated as Britain's relationship with Europe - and it has brought out the worst in us.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 24 Jun 2016

It was when David Beckham used the word ‘vibrant’ that I knew enough was enough. I can just about cope with the absurdity of slebrity poo-prodder Gillian McKeith telling us what we should think about the EU - we aren’t ‘What We Eat’, Gillian otherwise I’d be a plate of spaghetti vongole - but somehow Beckham’s Delphic utterance helped us all to rock bottom. And I like Beckham who seems like a decent bloke.

You can imagine the scene at gracious Beckingham Palace or wherever in Surrey they reside these days. It’s breakfast time and David has gathered Romeo, Brooklyn, Cruz and Little Harper round the table to give them his world view. 'My children. (And Victoria.) After giving the matter considerable thought - and with input from my management company who have been promised a return favour from David Cameron - I have come to the decision that my fans and the broader public should vote to remain in the UE. This is in essence due to it’s vibrant nature which enriches all our lives. That is all.’ We deserve better than this.

I was at a conference of SMEs in the construction industry last week. Thinking it impolite to ask them how they were going to vote in the referendum, I enquired of the audience of 280 whether Brexit would be good for their business. Only two put their hands up. However only about a half put their hands up to say it would be bad.

They didn’t want to reveal. This has been an intensely personal and vitriolic campaign. Really quite unpleasant with far more heat than light. You could argue that calling a referendum means a festering boil that has been growing more angry and pus-filled can now be lanced. Then it can be allowed to heal. I’m not sure that will be the case whichever way things go on Thursday and it’s highly unlikely to produce a decisive margin either way. Like Scottish independence it will not be allowed to lie if a minority of hardened agitators keep at it.

Over the last few months there has been little enlightenment. Very little in the way of productive dialogue. It’s been a grim shouting match. As Janan Ganesh wrote in the FT: ‘A political campaign cannot make people think anything they are not predisposed to think. All it does is firm up thoughts that already slosh around inchoately at the back of their heads.’ Which in the case of Beckham may not have been all that much in the first place, god bless him.

The truth is that a thorough examination of the pros and the cons of remaining in the EU should have taken a commission of extremely wise men and women many many months to consider. Look how long MT columnist Sir Howard Davies took to decide about a new airport runway for London. (And then look how the government reacted to his conclusion.) A runway is a far less weighty matter than our continuing membership of the European Union.

What is shows is that plebiscites are basically a bad thing especially on existential questions like this one. There’s a strong argument that we elect governments to make difficult and testing decisions on our behalf because we lack the wherewithal to make them ourselves. Democratic purists will hate this line. They’ll accuse me of neo-Platonic thought. But would any politician, for example, risk a referendum on a return of the death penalty with the nation in its current unstable mood? Democracy has its limits.

Because the sad truth is that a large proportion of those who vote on Thursday will be doing so because of their visceral dislike of immigration. So, it’s not about the EU really at all but our attitude towards outsiders in our midst. Taking our school places, blocking our NHS beds, and hogging all the housing. (They are also building the housing, building the new schools and teaching in them plus taking out our appendices and helping us recover afterwards.)

The whole episode has brought out the worst in us. Like a roomful of six year olds with a single Frozen doll between us we just couldn't be trusted to keep it nice. And now a young woman and mother of two children is dead.

So, I’m not going to insult your intelligence by telling you what to do tomorrow. You’ve heard enough and are sufficiently educated and sophisticated to make your own vibrant call. Just make sure you do the right thing because the vote is far more important than the one you made last June in the general election. Let’s get on with it. We go to meet our destiny from 7AM tomorrow.


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