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What’s going on? (as Marvin Gaye once sang)

The awful, tragic, events of yesterday in Birstall, West Yorkshire – when Labour MP for Batley and Spen Jo Cox was killed by a constituent in the street – quite rightly caused all other matters of state and nation to be pushed aside from public attention.

Times and incidents like this, such the shooting in Orlando USA at a gay nightclub and the dropping from the skies of passenger aircraft in the Ukraine and more recently the Mediterranean, place ordinary life – including all its petty issues of the moment – into a much wider perspective.

baleNevertheless, as we dive headlong into the last week of the EU Referendum campaign (currently suspended though I know not for how long), at the risk of being inappropriately crass it seems to me that there is almost a parallel or two between the approaches of the two opposing sides and closely-matched teams playing in football’s Euro 2016 championship – and I’m not just suggesting that because of what seems to have been a thrilling and entertaining clash between England and Wales yesterday of which I only caught snatches on the radio because I spent most of it driving northwards towards London between social engagements.

Having begun digging my hole – and before I continue further inexorably towards the Earth’s core possibly against my better interests – I must expand further upon my theory.

I’m ignoring for this purpose the alleged ‘facts’ and indeed claims and counterclaims. I think I can do this because the Referendum campaign – starkly different to a General Election variety, in which the main protagonists provide alternative rafts of policies to deal with well-rehearsed and anticipated situations and issues that the nation will face over the next five years for the consideration and choice of the electorate – has long ago seemingly exhausted not only the creative of the participants to come up with a ‘killer’ argument but also the prospective voters’ powers of concentration and interest.

Why is this? Simply because so much of what they’re arguing about is conjecture.

rumsfieldI call in evidence, for no other reason than I just remembered it as I was typing this, the famous dictum of Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense between 2001 to 2006, in a different context:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Nobody can predict the future with any recognisable degree of certainty.

Thus, on the one hand, we have the Remain camp painting a vision of the UK – should we voters be so unwise as to vote for Brexit – languishing forever in global obscurity whilst bereft of dignity, importance, influence and indeed affluence enough to allow its citizens to live with the basic (essential) comforts of life.

On the other, we have the Brexiteers lobbing paint onto a blank canvas, suggesting that a vote to Leave will have no downsides at all, indeed on the contrary many economic and other upsides, whilst simultaneously ridding the UK of billions of pounds’ worth of unnecessary funding of, and cow-towing to, a flawed and doomed EU project that is probably less than ten years away from total disintegration anyway.

How can any of us be expected make a choice when those are the only two options presented to the electorate?

The truth is that at this stage – with our collective attention dribbling away towards sporting events, summer holidays to come and/or other personal mundanities of life – the last thing we’re going to be swayed by a rational weighing of the respective arguments.

More likely it will be a stunt such as this week’s clash of Farage/Geldof fleets on the River Thames, or perhaps something that has little or nothing to do with the Referendum issues at all.

Which is why – to return at last to my opening theory – it seems to me that the respective EU Referendum campaigners have similarities with national football teams competing in Euro 2016.

sturridgeBear with me here, but let’s pretend that in this instance, should the game end in stalemate (never mind whether it be a 0-0 or score-draw version), there will be no extra time and no penalty shoot-out, just the flip of a coin to determine the winner.

A method of deciding the outcome that – naturally – both sides are desperate to avoid.

[And another caveat here, I’ve seen reports on scientific studies of how often a flipped will come down either heads or tails which prove the obvious theoretical assumption – that it will tend towards 50:50 – completely wrong, but no matter.]

What you’re going to get, in the last ten minutes of a Euro 2016 match so delicately balanced, is frenetic action, all-out aggression and dynamism, and certainly both teams digging deep on the assumption and expectation that ultimately the victor will be he (or she) ‘who wants it more’.

Hopefully you can now see where I’m coming from. From now until next Thursday – for we poor, put-upon, UK voters – it’s bound to become a case of:

Batten down the hatches, folks! It’s going to get very stormy and unpredictable from this point onwards …

I say this in the context of recent events such as:


EU council president Donald Tusk suggesting that a Brexit will cause the end of Western civilisation;


Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg telling UK voters that, if they vote for Brexit, they won’t like being in a Norwegian-like relationship with the EU – see here, in – THE INDEPENDENT 



A Dutch newspaper writing an extraordinary open letter to our national equivalent The Sun pleading with UK voters not to leave the EU – see here, again as reported on the website of The Independent – THE INDEPENDENT

Faced with this sort of thing, and with no doubt more similar to come, it becomes seriously difficult not to form the view that we’ve either reached that familiar summer UK media phenomenon (‘The Silly Season’) and/or are no longer in the real word, but instead taking part in some sort of surreal existential online video game.

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About Miles Piper

After university, Miles Piper began his career on a local newspaper in Wolverhampton and has since worked for a number of national newspapers and magazines. He has also worked as a guest presenter on Classic FM. He was a founder-member of the National Rust board. More Posts