A Referendum of Pain

First, let’s get something straight. I have never tortured anyone or anything apart from my liver. But I imagine that — as with many things in life — variety is what provides the real spice. The problem with constant, even intense, pain is that the brain quickly finds a way to filter it out.

In case you are unaware, the UK is in the run-up to a referendum on its membership of the EU. Considering the behaviour on both sides of the debate throughout the campaign so far, I can only conclude that it is all an elaborate ruse to inflict a form of torture on the population. Mercifully, no one at the top seems to have meditated on the above; I am becalmed and the result is all so much noise.

To elaborate: in the buildup to this monumentally important vote — one that will potentially impact the country’s direction for the next generation — the good people of the UK have been subjected to a bewildering level of pettiness, mendacity and cowardice from politicians of all stripes.

The daily routine is by now well-set. The leave campaign pitches up somewhere in middle England (Scotland, and especially Wales and Northern Ireland matter nought in this particularly English campaign), where a righteously indignant buffoon with a megaphone drums on about “reclaiming our sovereignty” and puts a preposterously large figure on how much more money could be spent on the NHS in the event of a vote to leave.

In response, a morally indignant buffoon from the remain campaign stands up in front of workers on a shop floor somewhere else in middle England, denounces the figure used by the first buffoon and essentially threatens the workers with their jobs by using increasingly martial language to describe the mutilation leaving would inflict on the economy.

The national press, well-entrenched in their reflexive views on the EU, fan the flames with sensationalist, non-critical reporting of each claim and counterclaim. The kicker? The aforementioned buffoons belong to the same political party and are carrying on a pitched battle for the leadership of said party. Erstwhile (and soon-to-be-again) colleagues can barely hide their animosity towards each other as allusions of lying and thinly-veiled insults are traded. The leader of the other main party can’t really be bothered and no one else can get any coverage because of the unfolding car-crash.

The technical term for this is a clusterfuck. Two campaigns of narrow, bitter incompetence. It’d be hilarious if it weren’t for the gravity of the situation. Actually, scratch that, it’s still fucking hilarious. You have to laugh when the alternative is an entire country on its knees, weeping at the sheer tedium and inconsequentiality of the buildup to this hugely consequential vote.

At some point during the campaign, the horror of the whole situation will prompt someone to actually gnaw their arm off, all the way down to the elbow. Presenting at A&E, a junior doctor will ask them to rate their level of discomfort between one and ten. They will reply “the EU referendum campaign”.

Nodding, the doctor will crack open a phial of some opioid and envelop the patient in sweet, numbing succour. When they wake, who knows which way the nation will have swung. But one thing we can be pretty sure of is that the decision will not have been an informed one. Maybe an informed electorate is an unrealistic goal for a referendum such as this, when the choice we are presented with is so complex. Regardless, surely we owe it to ourselves — and our children — to try just a little harder?

I’d like to talk a little bit about why we are having this referendum in the first place and what is at stake. But, frankly, I lied a bit at the top about being becalmed and I’m too angry right now. But I will be back with more thoughts.