In the quiescent aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum two years ago, one major criticism was made. It does, however, seem forgotten today. Both David Cameron and Alex Salmond continually slammed each other for campaigns of scaremongering in the months leading up to the 2014 vote. Press outlets unleashed damning reports of both the Yes and No sides’ tactics, and many voters argued for a more fact-based approach in future. Surely this year’s EU referendum debate would be something more civilised.
Frustratingly enough, the past few weeks of dialogue between the remain and leave camps have failed to foster the clear and precise discussion for which the electorate increasingly yearns. Weeks of needless racial slurs from Vote Leave, deliberately provocative press spin, and crafty controversy from Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, as well as other prominent Eurosceptics have destroyed what might have been a sophisticated debate. As personality and press coverage become more important in the voting process, the electorate will vividly remember the pathetic playground tactics that have come from some of the most prominent MPs. The fact that our politicians have failed to present stimulating facts and figures in a straight-forward manner shows that the tenor of the UK’s political dialogue is set lower than ever.
The tone of the EU conversation is gravely worrying for the future of the UK’s political society. The ersatz debate has switched off vast numbers of voters, and has turned politics into a violent shoot-out with politicians hotly trading insults. Blatant scaremongering and carelessness has left a large proportion of the electorate uneducated and unable to make an informed vote. Last week, the head of the UK Statistics Authority rendered just one of the figures used by Vote Leave in relation to EU spending as inaccurate. One MPs’ report made similar conclusions, and today the campaign has backed down on claims in relation to EU energy spending. How can we trust such deceptive campaign tactics? For these reasons, it is devastating that several thousands of voters will inevitably give up this time, and fail to turn out on 23 June. Politicians are falling short of inspiring British citizens to take part politically, especially in such a crucial vote. Our political decision-makers will only be held less accountable unless debate becomes refined, a prospect which could seemingly thin our democracy.
The EU referendum campaign has been further plagued by tedious racial slurs – even from activists whom are becoming inspired by the controversial standpoint of Vote Leave. The activities of a handful of their supporters were condemned on social media yesterday after a questionable roadside billboard playing on an offensive German stereotype. Today, a campaign poster for Operation Black Vote was widely deemed racist. The plan to leave Europe was once a key to more political freedom and heightened national control. It seems, however, that the campaign for a vote to leave Europe is now based on other issues.
The recent weeks’ wagging of fingers and prodding of each other with insults like misbehaving schoolchildren may not only sacrifice a defeat against those campaigning for a Brexit, however. This approach of many is destroying the foundations of a quality political culture. The ten-week campaign is starkly showing that the biggest issue lies within the problematic and muddled UK Establishment. The fact that a notable rise in Euroscepticism in an array of political parties has recently materialised – namely Ukip and the Tories – and that many proponents of the leave campaign have advocated for the aforementioned controversial campaign tactics is something of concern. The disorderly and shameful methods used by both campaigns in the run-up to the June vote is highlighting why populism is becoming so successful, but is also seeing the politics of evil flourish. It is clear that this is what is leading to a decay in the quality of the UK’s political conversation.
Many of our elected representatives have seemingly failed the electorate, taking more time over the petty dirty work of politics instead of presenting straight-forward facts to the people. The EU campaign was the opportunity for more civilised and sophisticated politics, and an opportunity to build on the considerable rough-and-tumble of the Scottish referendum a couple of years ago.
But still our political culture is markedly degrading, proven by the quality of discussion over recent weeks. The most disheartening aspect is that the power to rejuvenate political debates lay in the hands of our politicians, and it is something they are choosing to ignore. Such a factually weak campaign with smear tactics at the core is degrading our democracy. With skewed statistics, deflection from the real issues, and childish taunting, in no way can many of the campaigning politicians claim to have run a constructive, informative campaign. Instead, our politicians have resorted to tiresome disputes with one another, chucking in many a hurtful jibe. Both the remain and leave campaigns have shown that they are unable to sustain a compelling atmosphere in relation to the 23 June referendum.
Such melodrama has only fuelled the chaos which currently riddles the UK’s political theatre, and has damaged the nation’s quality of politics in a plethora of ways. Next month’s referendum provided the perfect opportunity for a triumph over the politics of fear, and a growing, highly prejudiced sector of the hard right. Maybe this has proven that divisive, hurtful and more devious politics will become the norm. The juvenile dialogue of the European referendum campaign has becoming something of a spectator sport, rather than one in which all British citizens can fairly participate. Once again, our leaders’ poor performances have only halted chances of swift progression towards a brand new, better society – in this case, a reformed Europe that works for all.