According to the Democratic Society in London British voters view David Beckham’s recommendation for Britain to stay in the EU more important than Barack Obama’s. Personally I find this somewhat depressing. However, whoever is in charge of Twitter at the Society disagrees with me writing: “I don’t think so, particularly. People often vote on ”person like me” basis. Rational when issue is so complex.”
My comment was a slightly tongue-in-cheek response to the announcement that Beckham was strongly in favour of Remain, which was viewed as a victory of the government.
Firstly, I’m obviously not actually depressed by the issue. Furthermore I question the impact Beckham – or any individual endorsement – will have on the referendum outcome at this stage. If the IMF isn’t trusted David seems like a bit of a long shot (that applies to Cameron as well, frankly).
Yet what it says about the state of politics in the UK is more concerning; highlighting voter mistrust and the dim view with which the political class hold the general public and their ability to make an informed decision.
The idea that taking a “people like me stance” on an issue of this magnitude is rational is hard to believe. I can see the appeal, of course. But to adopt such a simplistic approach is at best a recognition of the complexity of the question, and at worst lazy.
The Remain campaign has damaged itself hugely by speaking to voters and those in favour of Leave as if they’re fools. I find the idea that people wouldn’t try to educate themselves on the issues and choose instead to side with a celebrity staggering. It’s not just Beckham, Ian Botham coming out for Leave was equally ridiculed – and quite rightly so.
By presenting the public with scare headlines, exaggerated figures and a seemingly random collection of celebrities both sides have significantly lowered the tone of the debate. And now everyone is bored and thoroughly sick of the whole thing.
There are those who continue to argue that putting the question of the UK’s membership of the EU to a public vote was a mistake in itself. The general public, so the argument goes, is never going to understand the issues enough to take an informed position. Let politicians be leaders and vote on our behalf. There is even a petition to cancel the referendum. I can see the arguments – the subject is undoubtedly complicated but it is the duty of the parties, the press and the campaigns to inform the electorate, not just try to persuade.
In addition a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU was an election pledge made by the Conservatives last year. It would have been an affront to democracy to renege on that promise – although not unprecedented.
The referendum itself isn’t the issue. Any chance for voters to vote is a good thing, it’s the condescension implicit in the debate which is the problem. Voters trust David Beckham on the biggest political decision of a generation, yes it’s concerning but maybe it’s because they haven’t been given a better option.