In just a couple of days, the UK will vote to leave the EU. That’s how things appear as I sit here typing now, ironically enough in a chain coffee shop staffed by baristas with accents of all kinds, European and otherwise.
Polls are unreliable, but there’s a definite tone to the conversation I’m seeing people have both anecdotally and across the media. People are angry. They’re angry with their lives and angry with the country, and while usually a year into a Government the ruling party would be the body taking the brunt of the blame, the timing of this referendum means it’s the EU that’s being blamed for every ill, every issue the people have with the UK today. UKIP can’t believe its luck.
What confounds the issue is, both the Conservatives and the Labour Party are doing a laughably bad job at making the case for the EU.
While it would be easy to blame incompetence on Cameron’s part (the timing of this vote could barely be worse) and a lack of leadership from a suddenly shy and retiring Corbyn, in truth there are far more fundamental reasons why the big two parties are finding the case for the EU an impossible one to make.
Though Cameron is by no means the most unpopular Prime Minister we’ve ever had, the public is well aware that a vote to leave would also bring his leadership to a premature end.
He is by no means a balanced voice in the debate and, to add to that, had his bartering with EU officials not gone to his liking, he could easily have been on the other side of the argument, rendering his stance somewhat unbelievable in the eyes of many.
Wider than that, however, is the fact that the Conservative Party is as Euro-sceptic as it has ever been, and while a large chunk of the Tories are campaigning to remain, voters know that the core of the party is (and always has been) against integration with our European cousins. It’s very hard to take any Tory fighting to stay in the EU seriously when the base of the party is visibly arguing the exact opposite.
The bigger problem for me, however, is the Labour Party, and one that came to light when Guardian columnist Owen Jones attempted to argue the case for staying in on Question Time a few weeks ago. There was nothing factually wrong with Owen’s arguments, but the fact he was making them against Frank Field – a dyed in the wool ‘Old Labour’ socialist – only served to highlight why the Labour Party is having such trouble convincing its own support that they should vote to Remain.
For starters, if you boil socialism down to its core principles, the idea of handing powers over to Europe – away from the people, if you will – doesn’t really fit. The social democrats amongst the Labour party will point to regulations on workers’ rights, human rights and the environment, but for the true left amongst its base, the EU feels like a giant corporation governing what we do without being accountable to the people.
Its aims may be for equality, but the bureaucracy that dominates its delivery makes the EU thoroughly ‘unsocialist’.
That’s why Corbyn, who has spent his life shouting from the back benches for various socialist causes, has been so quiet. This isn’t some grand political move on his part – he knows his voice carries little weight in this debate, because the whole of Parliament is aware of who he is and what he stands for.
As a result, Labour has been left turning in circles looking for a way to clarify its position. While those towards the centre of the party, the social democrats amongst its base, are entirely comfortable with the EU, the masses – the workers, the supposed ‘lower’ classes – don’t take Labour seriously any more.
The disconnection between traditional Labour voters and the party that was so painfully illustrated in Scotland last year is now in full play in England and Wales, too. Even people who still vote Labour now have paper thin loyalty – something UKIP successfully tapped into in the north in the 2015 Election, and one that’s a major factor in this debate today.
The widely held belief that the modern Labour Party doesn’t stand for anything these days means that, when it actually does try to say something, people don’t listen.
As such, the great irony of this referendum is, while it was called by Cameron to put the brakes on the assault UKIP was making on the Tory party, if Vote Leave wins the day on Thursday, it’ll largely be because of damage it’s done to the Labour Party.
Now, who can say they honestly saw that coming a couple of years ago? How perverse politics can be.
From my position as a Liberal Democrat, all I can do is hold my head in my hands at this point. The one major party in the UK that people know is pro-European to its very core has been silenced and largely kept out of the EU debate because its position in Parliament is so weak.
The media simply hasn’t been interested in what Tim Farren, Nick Clegg or even Lord Ashdown have to say on Europe because the Lib Dems aren’t in the big league anymore. Eight MPs regulates the party to the odd spot on Question Time every now and again and, sadly, virtually no voice in the referendum debate.
It only serves to prove what a huge impact the general elections of 2010 and 2015 continue to have on politics today. Whether or not you think the Liberal Democrats were traitors, or simply took “one for the team” by going into coalition with the Tories, the end result has been the (hopefully temporary) nullification of the one party who could have unashamedly waved the EU flag.
In a debate where fear is the biggest weapon both sides have in their arsenal, the fact the Lib Dems aren’t there to make the positive case for the EU is one of many factors that could see us throw the United Kingdom into the abyss on Thursday. Scary thought, isn’t it?