Like it or not, we live in a world which is shaped by politics. We may not see it or come into direct contact with it, but it is always there lingering in the background of our lives. When we receive our pay packets we are experiencing politics, when we shop at a supermarket we are experiencing politics and by simply existing in society we experience politics.
It is a beneficial relationship to both the individual and the society they live in, as both receive compensation for their contribution. A relationship which starts as beneficial will not always be so, as times change and society and the politics that govern it evolve. Relationships can often become toxic to both, with both individual and society changing radically. Toxicity to this relationship can often start with the smallest of changes to the political structures or outlooks.
The implied relationship between individuals detailed above leaves both vulnerable to the politics of fear. For example, politicians can be forced to bow to political pressure to avoid losing their constituencies and people present in society can be forced to change their political views for fear of losing something of value to them.
A toxic symptom is currently finding fruit in British politics: the usage of fear as a political tool. It is a tool that is being used extensively in the current EU referendum campaign.
I do not apply a partisan view to this statement, both campaigns are using this as practical political process. Only their implementation differs.
Britain has long been an unconquered nation in Europe. While other nations have been occupied and subjugated, most notably in World War Two, Britain has stood apart. This idea has taken root in the public consciousness and manifests itself in the belief that Britain should continue to remain separate. It exists in notions of empire and history, but in the modern age it has become a focus for anti-integrationist sentiment. Politically, successive governments have encountered opposition to proposed greater integration with the EU and this trend will in all likelihood continue, due to this fundamental idea being entrenched in British culture.
The prominent assertion is that British sovereignty should not be surrendered. It is this assertion that The Brexiter’s have exploited in their campaigning, claiming that the EU is steadily eroding British sovereignty and that this erosion, coupled with rising immigration from the EU is destroying Britain’s ability to exist as a country maintaining its own cultural heritage and perceived position as a world power.
This loss of sovereignty may have some basis in fact, particularly as governmental policy is increasingly becoming influenced by Europe, then again it may not.
The Remain campaign, frustrated at losing the immigration argument has pushed the emphasis of their campaign towards what the British people would lose if they were to leave the EU.
Legitimate statistics and estimates have become the ammunition of both campaigns, with The Remain’s economic arguments employing the more direct usage of fear. Bringing the cost of exiting the EU to a household level may have won them more votes than attacking immigration but it should be remembered that at the heart of the matter these numbers are estimates only. The actuality of cost to each family and to the country as a whole is not known with any degree of certainty, beyond the immediate future.
By the same token, Brexiter’s have quoted migration and financial statistics slanted towards two clear points: Migration will increase to uncontrollable levels and we are giving more to the EU than we are getting back. It is an approach that likewise gains votes but engenders fearful sentiment.
The campaigns have been supported in their usage of fear by an increasingly partisan press, eager to increase circulations and consequently revenue. Scare stories appear in the media on a daily basis, with different institutions taking contrasting viewpoints on the debate. The key thing that seems to be missing is clear objectivity. Although it may seem that they take a moderate view, the media coverage is increasingly one way or the other, depending on who funds their organisations.
The EU referendum is at its heart a debate and in any debate it is the persuasiveness of the argument that determines the winner. Although the campaign started out as a debate, it has increasingly become a contest of fear mongering. Politics should be about winning the argument using persuasive and ultimately right expression, not about using statistics and statements to make people afraid to exert their political opinion.
As negativity and fear in political campaigning becomes political currency, legitimate debate becomes less and less important. A climate of fear mongering challenges the long-term stability of political societies, leaving it vulnerable to extremist views. It vicariously endangers those freedoms to which we all depend: It must be stopped.
© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.