I will spend at least the first portion of 2016 explaining why I think the UK should remain part of the European Union; part of me looks forward to the challenge, part of me dreads it. Already the debate has fallen into a predictable pattern: the Leavers speak from the heart while the Remain folk speak from the head. I have been involved in a few hustings on the subject since the general election – sad to say it, but the Ins always come across as rational and full of factual arguments while the Outs always seem full of table thumping passion. Perhaps in the end this could be a good thing (2015 saw an election in which the head most definitely trumped the heart); still, it makes me wonder why my side can’t raise the same visible enthusiasm for something we feel so strongly about.
If it was just the European thing, I could be led to believe that this phenomenon was strictly related to one issue. However, when I look at most of the things I really care about – Human Rights, a balanced, liberal approach to the economy, non-isolationist foreign policy – I find the same problem occurs. This is why so many people loved Hilary Benn’s Syria speech: it was nice to hear someone speak so passionately on such a subject for once, instead of trying to explain that it was “the only rational option” and then giving us a deluge of figures.
It’s not like these things can’t elicit a strong emotional response in the direction I identify with: I feel very strongly emotional about staying in Europe, for instance. I think part of the problem is an insistence deep within liberals that somehow our viewpoint is inherently the right one, and so simply sticking to the facts will see us through. But I think a larger part of it is complacency on the part of the liberal minded, and on the part of those who value at least having some of the major staples of liberalism hang around.
“Everyone’s a liberal these days,” is the common refrain I get. Whenever I heard this, I always think, “Perhaps in Westminster; perhaps even in a great deal of London. But go outside of those ivory towers and liberalism is in real trouble.” The rise of UKIP should have been enough to shake people out of their complacency on this topic – for whatever Douglas Carswell has deluded himself into believing, UKIP is an explicitly unliberal force – and yet this lazy thinking persists.
2016, more than most years, is an important one for the passion with which we hold these views of ours to be articulated to the public at large. Far-left and far-right views are gaining ever more political ground throughout Europe. And if British liberals don’t find their passion in time, we could be out of the EU. On that note, I wish you all a Happy New Year.