Editorial: In or out? Make an informed choice

(22 June, 2016) Editorials

"What we do ask is that you take the time and trouble to inform yourself"

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Some months back, as we discussed the EU referendum in our office, it was remarked how the debate had been compared to the English Civil War – with families divided, parents set against children. Not likely, we all concluded, somewhat dismissively…

Yet all these weeks down the line, looking back on this fractious and ill-tempered political debate, perhaps the analogy doesn’t appear quite as far-fetched. You probably have to go back to the anger over the second Iraq war to remember such passion about politics, and given that the widespread anger in those days served to bring the general public together, you indeed have to go far further back to find an issue that has proved so utterly divisive.

The ramifications of today’s referendum are so far-reaching that it’s tempting to say that even general elections pale in comparison. How we as a country view ourselves, how we’re viewed by the rest of the world, and all those vital or contentious issues of trade, immigration, rule of law and sovereignty – all this will change massively and possibly irrevocably from today.

This paper has never championed a political party and we’re not about to start taking sides on this one either – we would prefer to let our readers make their own minds up.

What we do ask is that you take the time and trouble to inform yourself. Whilst a renewed interest in political debate among the wider public is warmly to be welcomed, we’re not the first to lament the tone of the EU referendum debate, nor to voice our fears that the well of public discourse has been poisoned. This was the case even before the horrific murder of Jo Cox, which her friend, Bermondsey MP Neil Coyle, writes about in his column for us this week. Looking at our political leaders in this debate, ‘the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’ is a line that springs readily to mind.

Yet in spite of this, how informed are you about the vote you will cast today? In an age when it’s far easier to rely on the ‘echo chamber’ of social media to reflect your views and opinions back at you, how much effort have you made to look at the other side of the argument? Will you vote today having considered all the issues, rather than just one, and have you tested all your arguments against opposing ones? Can you honestly say that at any point in the referendum debate, you’ve challenged yourself about what you believe, even if politicians haven’t challenged you?

If the nation at large votes to remain or indeed to exit, and it’s an informed and considered decision, then there will be less room for regret after the decision is made – whatever consequences it brings for our country in the days ahead. You wouldn’t rely on instinct to buy a house, or send your kids to a certain school – you’d do your research beforehand. This is no different.

So, if you’ve just been too busy but intend to cast your vote today, it’s not too late to look at all the issues and then make your mind up. Two local MPs debate the issues on page 6 of this edition, whilst a useful and concise summary can be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36027205

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