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Sunday, 24 July 2016

The aftermath of the UK’s EU Referendum: exploring social media’s imaginary realities #3

That big red bus!

When is a promise not a promise? Several answers are possible. One is that, in a referendum with a simple question put to the people, no-one can make any promises and officially no-one did. Another answer is hermeneutics.

There is a belief, spread through both the real world and the imaginary world of social media, that a promise was made to spend 350 million pounds per week extra on the NHS, this being, the amount we send, some said, to Brussels. Were people not listening?

David Cameron was asked by a member of the public during a TV debate, to guarantee that the so-called reforms to the EU that he negotiated with the European Commission would be implemented if the UK voted to remain. He declined to give such a guarantee. I will leave you to figure out why that was so.

Putting aside the disputed matter of exactly how much is sent to Brussels each week, which probably is something that one can call into question, there was never any promise made to spend 350 million pounds per week extra on the NHS. Apparently, according to the Vote Leave campaign literature, one can build a new hospital every week with this amount. Why anyone would want to believe that we are going to build 52 new hospitals every year, is unclear, which is, if you take the headline statement as a promise, is what someone now has to do to fulfil the promise, which in fact was not a promise, because no-one promised anything, as no-one, other that the government, was in a position to do anything about the referendum result. And they promised (it was the only promise made) that they would implement the result of the referendum, which is what they are now doing. Which is why also, all those people on social media that have been saying that the referendum was only advisory are – lying is too strong a word. But it is not true that it was only advisory. This was made clear at the start. Did people listen?

Back to the big red bus and a few blogs back I mentioned that there were several organisations campaigning, independent of each other, on both sides – Leave and Remain. One of those organisations was the Labour Party, who campaigned on their own for Remain. And this is what they said in the leaflet that was delivered through the letterboxes of every household in Britain: “Working people and their families are protected with paid maternity leave, equal pay, minimum paid holiday.” The implication was that these benefits have been given to us by virtue of our membership of the EU. What they failed to mention is that going all the way back to the early 20th century welfare payments and employment rights have been developing in the UK, largely as a result of Trade Unions, the Labour Party, and earlier, the Liberal Party. Yet no-one wants to criticise the Labour Party for making statements that are not strictly true. They were being economical with the truth, because they are political, and this is what political organisations and people do to advance a rosy picture of their version of the promised land.

There are many examples like this in the referendum literature. And on the big read bus there was the headline slogan: “We send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund the NHS instead. Vote Leave. Let’s take back control.”

Hermeneutics is about interpretation. Evidently some people interpreted this as a promise, but it could never have been a promise, because, as already pointed out, the referendum was not about promises and manifestos, and the election of a new government, but the people being asked a simple question: do you want the UK to remain in the EU or to leave the EU? And on the web site of the Vote Leave campaign, one finds more beyond the headline:  “If we vote to leave the EU, we will be able to save £350 million a week. We can spend this on our priorities like the NHS, schools, and housing.”

It was also said, which people listening to the TV debates would have heard, that we can also spend the money on things that we are already spending the money on, like payments to farmers, etc. The point was that the UK Government would decide.

If you look at what went on during the referendum through the distorting lens of the media, any media including Facebook, and do not start thinking slowly and looking more deeply into what happened you end up like – many of those people in continental Europe, who, not being on the ground and engaged in the process, are just disconnected from reality, and, needing to construct a reality to explain what has happened, will construct a reality with the information they have, even when it is distorted. Likewise some people in the UK, who are still engaging in constructing a reality that demonises some people on the Vote Leave side, namely Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, but not others, namely Gisela Stuart. Strange behaviour, or not?

To think that one thinks!

To be continued …

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