Dear Nigel and Boris
Your approach to the referendum should carry a mental health warning. It is as if you are deliberately trying to make us anxious and confused so that we will run to your strong and decisive answers. You are the kings of bulldog politics: of threat and promise, of mockery and slur. You provoke us as if we are going to war with Europe and use the language of the football terrace. As if Europe is our enemy when she is our friend and enduring peace time ally with whom we trade so well and with whom so much is jointly invested. But it is you who have created this imaginary war. Is this your act of trumpery? Trumping something up which then you promise to magically resolve in the face of all the anxiety and confusion which you engendered?
You must love England as much as we do but please allow us our diversity and complexity and don’t play the racist card to boost your political argument. There have always been many ways to weave the cloth of Englishness and many of the threads, as you well know, come from Europe and the other countries of these islands.
By the way don’t dishonour the wise counsel of the president of the United States by calling him half Kenyan as if that is to diminish him. Don’t seek to win your case by promoting fears of violent hordes of migrants coming to rape and pillage. When one of your campaigning parliamentary colleagues, the MP Andrew Bridgen, talks of wanting to stab the prime minster in the front so he can turn the knife and see his face then you must absolutely disown such violent talk.
Don’t let your mate Michael tell us not to believe experts and the detailed analyses they bring about the economic risks of leaving. Our future as a society depends upon respect for good authority and expert knowledge. It is one of our foremost exports to Europe.
Be fair minded in the traditional way of politics. Say sorry when you should say sorry. You know it is a big financial gamble asking us to leave Europe. You know the voters from the heartlands of England who have been left out and disadvantaged are not in this way because of Europe and won’t benefit by your economics of independence. Don’t exploit their xenophobia and don’t pull the heart strings of our older citizens by playing on the restoration of some 1950’s England of fish and chip suppers.
Your bulldog politics is a threat to our collective mental health and our future political health. If any of us have a history of trauma and neglect or an underlying vulnerability to mental health problems, then your propaganda, both in what it promises and how it is promoted, increases this vulnerability. It is an invitation to emotional instability. Imagine how it feels to be the one who is confused, who doesn’t trust the truth claims of those in authority and is told to disregard the experts and is threatened with danger whilst seeing you two so sure of yourselves. It makes those of us with doubts feel stupid and ashamed. We ask why we cannot we make up our minds. We ask why are we not in the know like you both are? Feeling helpless to make sense of things is a terrible state of mind and it tends to get resolved by turning harshly on ourselves and feeling not just helpless about it (the referendum) but useless about ourselves. It hurts to feel useless about yourself and if society has surrounded you with a culture of poverty and an unfair and unequal place in the order of things then it is tempting to find others useless or make others helpless. This is the dangerous psychology of us and them bulldog politics. Your bulldog politics promotes bulldog feelings and bulldog behaviour which is harmful not just for the wider society but most of all for vulnerable individuals and groups.
So change your tune if you have valid points to make. Please speak respectfully and cautiously and above all admit the democratic limits of this referendum choice. The either or vote of the referendum is like trying to thread our beloved society with all its riches, challenges and flaws through the eye of a needle. The referendum is the wrong democratic tool when something as complex as our identity and our relations with our neighbour is at the heart of the vote. Love thy neighbour is not something you vote on in a referendum. It is not a choice. It is a central duty at the heart of the human condition. I know many of us have doubts and I hope you will join us in saying that if in doubt please don’t vote out. Vote remain and restore trust and respect in the political process again.
Steve Potter psychotherapist
I love you. And I need you. You are woven into the very fabric of my language and my ideas. I carry with me your philosophy, your science your imagination. Although we are many, we are one. I swim in your seas and walk your city streets. I share your history and my parents and my grandparents did not turn their backs on you. We look out to the world together. We sing together and play the same sports. I love your food and your creativity. I could have said this at any point in the last three thousand years. We have survived some terrible times and seen the best and the worst of what humanity can do. Now I fear for us falling apart and losing our first principles. I fear we will let each other down and let the world down but most of all I fear we will betray the interests of our children.
yours xx England
Dear Undecided Voter
You’re the fourteen percent who are not sure. I am like you, not so sure. I think the referendum has stirred feelings of religion, race and ethnicity that cannot be reduced to an in or out vote. How we live side by side with our feelings of difference is complex. It always was and always will be. We need our political representative to consult us locally and negotiate nationally but not through a simple referendum choice because I don’t think we can distill all our feelings into one answer. So don’t feel that you have to be decisive. Take strength from being unsure but consider this. If you are in doubt don’t vote out because that will override your doubts and there will be no going back. If in doubt vote remain because you can join the debate and take up the issues in another way that honours the complexity of our feelings and the way they link to our welfare and financial interests.
From another undecided voter.
To me you are a home, another home from my own first home. You let me be an ‘other’, without making me feel like an outsider. With you, I don’t feel like a foreigner, because you have treated me like a part of you. Maybe it’s because we share the same Europe. I see parts of you in me, and you see parts of me in you.
I would like to think that your people would feel the same way if they lived in my homeland. Perhaps not. But if you were to leave Europe, would that mean that I’m no longer part of you? Would I lose you as my other home?
I hear your politicians talk about wanting to control their own ‘this’, and their own ‘that’. But isn’t the solution to the struggles that this Europe (that’s yours and mine) is facing the responsibility of all of us?’ Surely, wouldn’t you be ‘richer’ if we faced up to these struggles together, and if we found ways to enjoy each other’s gifts as one?
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