Great news for Brexit voters today, with the announcement that a small number of “Brexiteer artists” have “come out of the closet” and openly voiced their support for Brexit. They have even gone so far as to form a group, Artists 4 Brexit, in the hopes that other closet Brexiteer artists will realise they are not alone among their profession in thinking that the UK would, on balance, be better off outside the EU – and that, should they wish to out themselves and openly voice their support for Brexit, they will have the support of at least a few other artists.
Really, I should be cheering at the news that this small, persecuted minority has finally found its voice. But I couldn’t help feeling really rather sad at the formation of yet another group specifically devoted to dividing people into camps. Whether it’s “the 48%”, “the 52%”, “Scientists for EU”, “Students for Brexit”, “Artists 4 Brexit”, #FBPE or any number of other groups or hashtags set up specifically to allow people to identify those who voted the same way they did, all it does is further entrench the existing divisions between leave and remain voters.
Maybe I’m alone in remembering the outrage when, just a few days into the referendum campaign, the Remain campaign organised for around 200 business leaders to sign a letter publicly backing Remain. It was pointed out, quite rightly, by some commentators that this felt like undue influence – the whole point of the referendum, after all, was for each individual voter to have the same level of input into the vote; a simple matter of one vote per registered voter. For senior business leaders to publicly announce which way they intended to vote, so early on in the campaign before any proper arguments had been made by either side, was felt by many to run counter to the spirit of democracy that the referendum was supposed to uphold.
The outrage, of course, was soon swept aside as further public figures jumped on the bandwagon and announced which way they intended to vote – from entrepreneurs to economists, to world leaders, to UK politicians, to actors, adventurers, filmmakers, comedians and sportspeople – suddenly we were inundated with headlines and articles letting us know exactly what each of these people thought. And the vast majority of those who spoke up publicly were backing Remain.
As far as the Remain team’s social media campaign was concerned, this was a gift. Dozens of different memes started to circulate, all of which essentially carried the same message. “Everybody who’s anybody is backing Remain; only losers and racists are backing Leave”. A couple of examples are shown below.
And so the different camps started to form. And the message became even more entrenched – if you were an actor, or an environmentalist, or a scientist, or an historian, or a banker, or a business owner, of course you were expected to vote Remain, because a number of prominent people from the same background as you had already declared that they would be voting Remain.
The problem, of course, was that there were plenty of bankers, and actors, and environmentalists, and scientists, and business owners, and historians, and farmers and fishermen and students and housewives and men and women from all different walks of life who had their own ideas about which way they wanted to vote. They didn’t necessarily define themselves by their careers – they didn’t look to their managers or their heroes to determine which way to vote. They simply listened to the arguments made by both sides, and voted either Leave or Remain. And they voted the way they did for myriad different reasons.
The notion of people who voted Leave having different reasons for doing so, is, sadly, lost on the more bitter element of the Remain camp. The problem is, that having gone so far down the route of identity politics with the arguments that everybody who is good is voting Remain, and everybody who is evil is voting Brexit, it becomes impossible to entertain the thought that not all Brexiteers think alike (and neither do all Remainers). Hence the arguments that “if you voted for Brexit you were aligning yourself with racists like Farage and the British National Party” or “Not all Brexiteers are racists but all racists voted for Brexit”.
These arguments – as ridiculous as they are – sadly still get trotted out. Ironically, often by people who, in doing so, betray their ignorance of the concept of “one person one vote” and their complete lack of understanding of the arguments for and against the EU. The below tweet, posted just a couple of days ago, being a case in point.
The whole point of democracy – of each person having one vote – is that when it comes to actually voting, the individual groups that may form for campaigning purposes, fall away. A person who has heard ten arguments in favour of one outcome and ten in favour of the opposite will often make his or her decision based purely on the one or two arguments that most resonated for them personally – the other arguments will simply be ignored. If two people end up voting for the same outcome, there is no guarantee that they did so based on the same arguments or reasoning.
But the idea of voting against your preferred outcome, simply because a person you despise has made it clear he or she intends to vote for that outcome, is just ridiculous. Just as it’s ridiculous to change your vote just because somebody you dislike has made it clear they are voting for the same outcome but for a reason of which you disapprove.
Which brings me back to Artists 4 Brexit. As happy as I am to hear a few brave souls speaking out, I hate the fact that the term “coming out of the closet” is being used in this context.
Nobody should feel that they are “in the closet” due to the way they voted in the EU referendum. The notion that every person who voted for Brexit, is either a racist or doesn’t mind aligning themselves with racists, must be challenged whenever it raises its ugly head.
Because Brexit is happening. There is no longer any “for Brexit” or “for EU”. There is only “for the future”. Isn’t it time we all started to focus on that?