The great Brexit distraction

Over the last few months, our country – and increasingly, the rest of the world – has become distracted by the forthcoming referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU.

This single-minded focus has been infuriating for a number of reasons – the main one being that this whole issue is an entirely fake question and one that should never have come up in the first place.

It only came up because Cameron was scared of UKIP in the last General Election and needed something to placate a chunk of Tory voters who looked like they might be tempted to support UKIP to stay within the Tory ranks.  In other words, the whole referendum was a bone he threw to voters – a tokenistic gesture, a sop.

The second infuriating (although infuriating is nowhere near a strong enough word) aspect of this situation is the level of risk Cameron was prepared to take to achieve this desperate, short-termist piece of political expediency.  In essence, he was prepared to gamble our nation’s future in the European Union on it. This was a fantastically reckless, irresponsible and arrogant act.  In a couple of weeks, it may also prove to be a catastrophic one.

A final reason for irritation with this dangerous charade (from many other reasons I could have picked) is that there are many other important decisions in this country that could benefit from the nationwide consultation that a referendum provides.

After all, as the Electoral Commission notes, “a referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to answer a question on a particular proposal.”  Although it usually relates to constitutional matters (such as membership of the EU), it doesn’t have to – in fact, a referendum can be held on any issue deemed important enough to require politicians to consult voters.

To my mind, the most important issue confronting us in the UK (and indeed most other countries around the world) is how we can make the transition to a more sustainable future as quickly as possible. Although we are seeing some traction in certain elements of this issue (such as climate change), insufficient progress is being made at insufficient speed and a fundamental shift is needed in how we live, work, and run our economy.

In the current political climate where neoliberal thinking continues to dominate, no government will have the courage to make sufficiently radical, holistic or far-reaching decisions until it is given the confidence that it will not suffer at the ballot box for it. A referendum could be the ideal mechanism to test the water of people’s appetite for this change.  And it would certainly raise awareness of the issue.

A referendum should not just be focussed on the issue of climate change issue though.  What we need is a referendum to provide the government with a popular mandate to take more radical action to bring about a society that is not only more sustainable but fairer and balanced towards greater well-being for everyone – and this needs to include a commitment to move from the discredited and anti-human philosophy that is modern neoliberalism.

Such a referendum may not yield the result we want, but it would certainly raise awareness of the possibilities. Just as importantly, it may also force the disparate movements that are trying to build a better future to actually articulate a clear vision of what this future might look like. To date they have proved unable to build a coherent, inspiring alternative economic model or vision of the future to challenge the dominance of neoliberalism.

So how about another referendum Dave?

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