#YouthVotes: On Brexit and The Privilege of Understanding Politics
I have seldom pondered about the fact that it is a privilege to understand politics. Yet, somehow it ended up being my parting thought from a debate that was intended to discuss the implications of Brexit for the youth.<center><iframe width=”670″ height=”377″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/bI4QeQCGzTc?rel=0” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe></center>
The question is simple, even Shakespearean – to leave, or not to leave? Yet the answer is complex. It creeps into uncharted territories with scenarios whose probability can be debated yet their certainty cannot be determined. Within the span of an hour, the opposing panelists quote two different studies proclaiming that food prices will both rise and decrease if the UK exits the EU. Both a leave and remain vote are professed as ‘embracing’ the ideals of an interconnected and globalized world. Yet, in spite of all the uncertainties, most of our minds are made up. Only two hands go up when asked who in the audience is undecided.
A member of the audience interjects amidst the cacophony:
“Can you cut out the jargon and explain to me how Brexit will impact my daily life, as a middle class single mother living in the district of Peckham? Not everyone is privileged to understand politics.”
Voter apathy is a universal problem of the youth in contemporary politics. But London’s illustrious location of the Shard, courtesy Warwick Policy and the International Political Forum (IPF), managed to attract over 150 young people to debate the implications of Brexit two Wednesdays ago.
The panelists represent camps that include ‘BeLeave.’ ‘InFTW (For The Win),’ and ‘Remain In, Remain Great.’ Sadly, it is not just an affinity for quirky-gone-wrong titles that they share in common, but also gender – a point that the moderator categorically states before formally opening the debate. Katie, who was to be part of the panel, but had to cancel last minute, has sent in a pre-recorded video with a short message encouraging the audience to remain in the EU so that the UK can parlay its influence in addressing complex global issues. The debate has begun.
Not all the narratives are novel, but most are expressed eloquently – and if you are privileged to understand politics – some are perhaps even valid. At a macro-level the decision pertains to what one panelist describes as ‘the type of politics you want to give power to’ – is it about cooperation and optimisim, or a more pessimistic chauvinistic nationalism? After all, if you believe (or as they say BeLeave) you’re better out then you also have to believe that staying in is not so bright.
But not all that is said can be beleaved – for the argument that leaving will enable the UK to open its borders to the rest of the world seems disingenuous. Especially, when the same side is resorting to the fear-mongering tactics of claiming that 75 million Turks may have the right to settle in the UK if one opts in. Besides, as the opponents rightly point out, the UK can allow and restrict citizens from non-EU countries from entering the country with or without the EU. As someone who is struggling to seek employment once my student visa expires, I can identify.
Trust is another central theme through the debate. As an audience member points out, given that it’s reasonable to assume people won’t wake up one morning and find themselves outside the EU, can they really trust out politicians to negotiate better deals for us? After all, no one has ever talked about relaxing visa rules for those outside the EU till they wanted to convince people to vote out. But some exaggeration is almost expected when trying to persuade people into doing the unthinkable. As if to prove my point, a leave panelist then claims that politicians have broken trust because they have superseded so many powers to the supranational body of the EU.
The structures of the EU are debated – one side condemns its lack of accountability, while the other points to to its electoral process not dissimilar to the one followed in the UK. The idea of sovereignty is invoked but its complexities are acknowledged. As one panelist points out, why can’t one have a say in how their own country, as well as the EU, functions?
But macro-political terms like sovereignty and supranational systems little resonance for the person in Peckham, who – with no discredit intended to the neighbourhood’s inhabitants – has somehow become representative of those less privy to political psychobabble. Frequent requests are made by members in the audience to encourage a language that is accessible and essentially embraces the micro-impact on their daily lives.
A member of the audience then matter-of-factly points out that most micro-issues will continue to remain in the ambit of national politics, and form the crux of electoral campaigns. In her opinion, staying in the EU may not have a huge impact on the more local issues at the end of the day. Yet, I cannot ponder over whether the person of Peckham been ignored in the discourse of Brexit, or those contributing to the discourse are simply not equipped with the tools to address their concerns. After all, it is difficult to digest that a debate cannot be made intelligible to the very people who have a stake in determining its outcome.
For more about my thoughts on Brexit, here’s this video from the IPF event: