Before you go to sleep tonight and prepare to cast your vote in the UK’s European Union membership referendum, ask yourself this simple question. Who is responsible for over-stretched public services, a scarcity of public housing and the glut of low-wage, short-term contract jobs? Is it the European Union, who have no control over these things, or the people the UK keep electing to Westminster? Have we reached the point where a prosperous nation – the fifth largest economy in the world by nominal GDP, allegedly – cannot cope with a 0.5% yearly rise in population* due to migration? If so, that is due to chronic under-investment and privatisation-by-stealth, which isn’t always so subtle, of the public services and social care that we rely on.
I want to live in a country where workers’ rights are enshrined in law and multi-millionaires don’t complain about how hard it is to sack their entire workforce due to European red-tape so they can employ people more cheaply in developing economies. By this they mean things like the Working Time Directive, which gives workers the right to a minimum number of holidays each year, rest breaks, rest of at least 11 hours in any 24 hours, restricts excessive night work, a day off after a week’s work and provides for a right to work no more than 48 hours per week. Yeah, namby pamby stuff like that. Who would want their workers rested and feeling secure in their jobs and rights? Or what about TUPE, or the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) to use its Sunday-best-name, which is designed to protect the rights of employees in a transfer situation when the business they work for is sold off. TUPE enables workers to enjoy the same terms and conditions plus continuity of employment as they had with their previous employer. Or, to put it another way, that the contract they were hired under is not ripped up by their new employer for less favourable terms. What a bind that is on all those business men with off-shore bank accounts who want to pay themselves more money.
At the last two UK elections, the electorate voted in enough numbers to back parties that believed too much was spent on public services and not enough tax breaks were given to their friends. Given they replaced the Blair/Brown governments, who did that anyway, the public surely knew that they were in for more of the same. Effectively, enough of the British public (11,300,109 out of 30,691,680 votes cast in 2015 say) supported a party that said they would give less money to the already stretched public services. Supposedly what we need less of is to employ folk to look after our elderly, collect our rubbish, nurse our sick, protect the vulnerable and teach our children. How has that worked out for the UK? Remember, given that EU citizens cannot vote in UK General Elections, none of this is their fault, so the UK electorate has to shoulder the blame.
If your child’s class is too large, if you can’t get a doctor’s appointment, if your local hospital or school is crumbling or unable to cope with patient numbers, it is not the fault of immigrants, whether from the EU or elsewhere in the world. The ones responsible are the people who have held the purse strings since the end of the 1970s. The people who believe that private industry – the people who ran BHS and the Royal Bank of Scotland say, to name but two – know best when it comes to running businesses so let them decide how we run our public services. Maybe that’s why there are so many middle managers in the NHS, which successive governments has broken up into ever smaller parts and with less funding. That is why there are not enough doctors and nurses to treat you, not because of a 0.5% increase in population size.
There are approximately 2.6 million people from other EU Member States, who have come here to work, study, live or retire in the UK. At the same time, over 2.2m UK nationals are doing the same across the rest of the European Union, having automatic access to healthcare wherever they are. The freedom of movement and access to benefits works both ways; you can claim them in any of your 27 fellow Member States. Why would you want to remove a freedom to live in other places? I just can’t understand limiting your rights rather than embracing them.
Something that is often attacked by rabid right-wing politicians and the fellow travellers in the media, is the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). You know the one, it incorporates a traditional civil liberties approach, in part based on UK traditions. The Convention is blamed for everything under the sun, with the right complaining about it when a judgement goes against them or they are found to have acted illegally. The ECHR ensures that everyone has the right to liberty, security of person, to a fair trial, privacy, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, plus freedom of expression and assembly. The Convention prohibits slavery, torture and discrimination based on “sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.” Basically, it protects you from bullies, whether that be your employer or the state. Why would anybody want to get rid of that? Also, you can appeal against your government persecuting you. Not to an unelected chamber of 825 old hands, the vermin in ermine who really are riding the gravy train and a bunch of benefit cheats. No, you appeal to judges who are elected for a non-renewable nine-year term. Oh wait, sorry, I forget that the EU is undemocratic. Or at least those who have made a career out of slating it – BoZo, I’m looking at you here, although not exclusively – have told us for decades.
If you want a UK that has a deregulated labour market, fewer rights for employees, fewer regulations for banks and businesses, fewer environmental protections, a health service that is privatised, then vote Leave. If you believe in what I was always told were the traditional British values – standing up for the underdog, protecting the weak, treating everybody fairly, acting with a sense of justice, obeying the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different beliefs – then vote to stay in the EU.
No matter what though, vote tomorrow, unless you’re one of the 2.6 million of our fellow Europeans resident in the UK who are not allowed to. Democracy, yet another traditional British value.
Oh and you’re European, even if you are a little Englander. We Europeans are not some vague undefined other. We’re your neighbours, friends, colleagues, relatives and loved ones. We are not a vague, undefined group or a threatening mass ‘other’ but rather you British are part and parcel of our European family. We are you and you are us. That is something I really wish the British would learn.
*That’s 315,909 people per year in case you’re interested, based on population figures of the 2011 census.