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Published on May 27th, 2016 | by frances

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Information overload? KISS, of course…

By Calvin Allen, Prospect Research 

I was struck yesterday by the publication of the results of a poll carried out for the Electoral Reform Society  (link to press release: 25 May) which showed that, despite 69% of people saying they are ‘interested’ or ‘very interested’ in the EU referendum, the percentage who feel they are well informed dropped from 23% at the end of March to 21% at the end of April.

That’s quite striking and disappointing.

Surmising as to why is quite easy – we could point to any or all of the following:

(a) a debate based on sound and fury is always likely to generate more heat than light. This may well of course be the aim in some parts – and we need to recognise that it is a strategy to get voters to vote one way by generating an emotional response via the use of emotive language. ‘Project Fear’ is alive and well, and has a foothold in parts of both camps

(b) a debate based on eye-catching phrases and soundbites with the aim of capturing media attention and thus the agenda is clearly modern politics in a microcosm. That’s off-putting by itself to many people – and we need to recognise the significance of that for the democratic process – but, at the same time, it risks superficiality in a debate which has momentous significance both in this country and – we all too quickly forget – in many others. That level of superficiality, of course, may also be a strategy

(c) a look around at the comments on this website indicates that people are looking for honesty and for facts in a debate in which, quite frankly, there are not a lot of facts about. In contrast, several well-known ‘facts’ are being spuriously and confusingly thrown around, in a situation with which people are not familiar and with language and terms neither of which come easy and which tend to require glossaries of their own. No wonder people feel overwhelmed!

The debate is not all about mud-slinging, and several participants have been putting together speeches which seek to look at Britain’s role and future in a positive way, and not just to deplore the other side. For instance, John McDonnell’s speech at the TUC last week set out a clear vision for a Europe which was focused on protecting [and advancing – as he said in the full speech] workers’ rights, tackling tax avoidance, getting to grips with climate change, protecting our industries and reforming the EU’s institutions: a vision of Europe based on hope and solidarity, and one in which social progress is the key to growth.

At the same time, several organisations and individuals have sought to cut through the rhetoric and inject some truth into the debate: Full Fact’s fact-checking being one; Andrew Tyrie MP’s stunningly forensic questioning of witnesses – from both sides – on the House of Commons Treasury Committee’s inquiry into the costs and benefits of the UK’s EU membership ; and in fact’s articles and pieces seeking to correct inaccuracies and point out twisted logic.

When the fire is raging, it’s time to concentrate on what matters and, for a trade union, that will always be workers’ rights. The TUC’s ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaign (and a video that is well worth 2 minutes of anyone’s time) seeks to concentrate on the basics of what is at stake for workers. The TUC’s position is that workers are better off by the UK remaining in the EU since that provides a platform for workers’ rights on which we can build.

As others on these pages have pointed out (here [http://eumatters.prospect.org.uk/2016/04/19/strange-bedfellows/], for example), it may not be in any elected government’s interests to row back on established rights. That might be so – and we did indeed stop sending children up chimneys over 100 years ago – but that doesn’t stop either the risk that such rights are in jeopardy should we withdraw from the backstop which the EU provides, or the ongoing threat to them. And if anyone needed further proof, here’s Priti Patel MP’s speech to the Institute of Directors, the same day as John McDonnell’s at the TUC, highlighting that: ‘If we could just halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3 billion boost to our economy and 60,000 new jobs’ [I can’t provide a direct link: as with McDonnell’s speech, I have the full text but cannot locate where it is otherwise published, so here. A vision of a future for Britain based on deregulation, an inhibition of social rights and a zero sum world view in which workplace rights need to be sacrificed to deliver economic gains.

Two contrasting visions; but one logical outcome.


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