After much anticipation David Cameron has finally released his speech regarding an EU referendum, joining the likes of Blair and Thatcher in the long list of British politicians who have addressed the tricky topic of Britain’s relationship with Europe. The general response? Suitably whelmed. That glorious middle ground between underwhelming and overwhelming- a universal feeling of “Oh. Well. That’s that then”.
Scrolling down the BBC’s website last night, the “Most Read” articles told a telling story: Cameron’s speech was ranked eighth, dwindling behind such hard hitting issues as “Beyonce Lip-syncing confusion!”, which topped the list. This perfectly summarised the public’s reaction to the recent twist in the EU debate- we’d rather scrutinise the lyrical efficiency of a pop singer than inform ourselves of the future of Britain’s international status.
It’s not that the issue of Europe isn’t important. In fact, our role with Europe is a crucial point of discussion; any split or continuation with the European Union will strongly affect Britain’s trade, industry and economy. Yet somehow the EU debate has gone unnoticed for months on end, lingering at the back of national consciousness like an old croissant. The tumult created among politicians has failed to leave Whitehall, leaving the majority of the British public simply unconcerned with recent continental events. Even Nick Clegg failed to grab interest, bumbling onto the scene with all the charisma and charm of a moist flannel in order to voice his opinions. Instead, the EU debate remains about as sought after as a Tesco value burger.
The current government must take measures to ameliorate this indifference, or we risk allowing voters to engage with the referendum with little idea of the full ramifications that a “Yes” or “No” vote could hold. This lack of knowledge regarding the EU could prove fatal for such an important decision- as David Cameron stressed in a rare moment of clarity: “If we left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return”.
“If we left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return.”David Cameron
Despite this, Cameron’s speech did little to rectify the dispirited atmosphere, and merely exacerbated the public’s disinterest with political affairs. Filled with ambiguities and “Ifs”, Cameron’s EU vote completely hinges on the Conservative Party winning the next election which, if Labour can exploit the current government’s pitfalls, may be increasingly unlikely. Moreover, by sweeping the referendum under the already-bulging rug until 2017, Cameron has drastically distanced the issue of the Europe, further damaging interest in its plight. By the time we finally do get round to voting the situation could have completely changed; Europe could be in the hands of giant space lizards or in the clutches of the equally reptilian Rupert Murdoch. In this sense the speech was somewhat disappointing as it spelled little definite change regarding Europe, justifying the public’s lacklustre response as epitomised by the BBC website.
In a country where the average turnout for the recent police elections was as low as 20%, it is crucial that the government takes measures to engage the British public with the EU debate. Politicians must cast aside current intrigues and hostilities, rhetoric and ambiguity, and highlight the fundamental merits and limitations of EU membership. Once this has been achieved we will be able to make the most of the forthcoming referendum, lowering the possibility of a rash judgement that has not been fully considered.
To conclude, Franklin D. Roosevelt offers an apt summary which can be applied to the current apathy surrounding the EU Referendum:
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”.