I’m quite the Twitter addict and spend far too much time on social media so, in essence, I’m a connoisseur of memes – I’ve seen ‘em all: cats in hats; inspirational quotes; life-affirming ditties. Can we reduce politics to memes? Jez we can! We select facts which suit our needs, wiggle and jiggle and squeeze them into bite-sized chunks, stick them over a picture of, you know, whatever, and set them free to wreak havoc on whoever their intended victim is (because, let’s face it, they’re rarely positive).
The EU Referendum has brought up its own set of memes: I’ve been lectured on the wastefulness of the EU by Colombo, Sponge Bob Squarepants and Micky Flanagan; I’ve been told that voting out is racist by Nigel Farage, Oswald Mosely and Darth Vader; I’ve had every world leader’s face in my face telling me to face facts (but only the ones appearing on the meme – not the other bad facts!). Each fact – cutting, succinct and blithely wrapped up with its own pretty picture – screaming “Behold, for I am the truth – thou shalt have no other truth before me!”
Others are equally blithe: Leave keeps repeating its own falsehoods, like the £350m a week we (DO NOT!) send to the EU every week; Remain plays the race card every day, not understanding that a deck with that many cards of the same face must be rigged; and, today, I was horrified to see Craig Woodhouse, Chief Political Reporter for The Sun, write “Presumably Cameron and the Remain camp agree with this, given it’s from “experts” they love so much?”, like knowledge, understanding, research and being an ‘expert’ is a bad thing and these people, with their education and learning and thought, are bad.
It made me wonder: are we wandering to the world of The West Wing? Aficionados of Bartlett’s presidency like me (see, I do deal with old media, too) will remember Jed’s second election and the ten word answers. Bartlett had a problem: he was too smart to lead, too smart to make decisions and too smart to be trusted. His knowledge, intelligence and ability made him unelectable – and he needed to connect with everyday people by becoming an everyday person. In the end, intelligence and faith in electorate won out, I’m glad to say – but it isn’t in this election. We’re stuck looking for the ten word answers, feasting on memes and wandering blindly into the future, the vision of which was laid out by fictional words forcibly attributed to fictional characters. In, out, left, right, it’s just on, on, on.
All we get are 10 word answers and this question – hell, any question – needs more than that. Like Bartlett, I want the next 10 words, and the next and the next.
A lawyer, an economist and a businessperson walk into a pub…
But then I went to Politics in the Pub – (I’m biased – I’m one of the organisers) – and had a proper talk about the future. There weren’t any politicians, just experts in their fields. I listened to an economist, a lawyer and a business person talk with eloquence, experience, nuance, subtlety and, above all, at length. They said what happens now, what might happen in the future and the possible consequences of both votes. They didn’t threaten me with unfettered immigration or a £30billion budget, they didn’t treat me as a traitor or a racist, and, above all, they didn’t insult my intelligence. They could have – they were all cleverer (and certainly more knowledgeable) than me – and I didn’t understand absolutely every ramification and repercussion of what they said. How could I? I’m not an expert in these areas. But they didn’t pull intellectual punches – and in this far-reaching vote, the effects of which will be felt by the UK, EU and the world for years, if not generations, to come, why should they?
I love Politics in the Pub because it gives me the next 10 words, and the next, and the next and the next. Politics in the Pub gives me the next 10,000 words and it gives me a chance to ask difficult questions and receive difficult answers.
Everyone is entitled to vote – as it should be – but wouldn’t that cross in the box carry more weight if you’d sought out long, complicated articles, shared nuanced, balanced conversations, and heard passionate arguments from knowledgeable people? Mine does.
If you want to know why this debate was so great, take a look at Bradfordzone’s live blog – and make sure you come to our future events… and I’ll kindly ask you not to refer me to this article if you see me retweet, share or even create a meme; after all, hypocrisy is the new, erm, something.