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“What’s this got to do with me?” – A fair question about the EU Referendum

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  June 6, 2016 |

This week I was going through some paperwork with a member and we came across their polling card for the upcoming EU referendum.  They posed me a simple but pertinent question – what’s this got to do with me?  It was a direct and interesting query; one which reflects a wider point about Gypsy and Traveller inclusion in politics.

As Leeds GATE have often stressed, Gypsies and Travellers are habitually excluded or ignored by the political system.  We have had some success in recent elections supporting members to register and increase mutual understanding with politicians.  Both here in Leeds and elsewhere, we have seen more members of the community vote and engage with candidates, if only during those election periods.  There is still a large bridge to be crossed though, with too much of a disconnect between political decision making and the ordinary lives of most Gypsies and Travellers.

The question posed about what the EU debate has to do with them suggests that this member, like so many others I would suspect, precisely feels that it doesn’t at all.  This referendum discussion has sadly been a striking example of what happens when politicians, media and others fail to explain or justify the relevance of what they claim to be an important public matter.  Indeed it will not just be Gypsies and Travellers who will likely, as things stand, turnout in small numbers and feel little investment in the outcome, but many other marginalised people.

That is sad as I believe this is an important political question.  There are fundamental issues at stake which very much could impact upon our members; in their ability to travel, to work, in the state of our future economy etc.  It is a failure of both sides of the debate to express arguments in ways which our members might relate to and that, whatever they decide, people conclude that the issue does matter to them.  Whilst it is the responsibility of voters to inform themselves and participate, the political establishment themselves have a responsibility to include, inform and engage. 

As is so often the case in politics though, politicians rarely attempt to appeal to Gypsies and Travellers.  So far the EU debate is no different.  At best our members are ignored and at worse referred to as a problem to be solved to gain votes elsewhere.  Too rarely are our members seen as voters or constituents at all, with some notable exceptions of good local politicians. Therefore, whilst I am saddened that many members have no interest this EU issue, I cannot blame them.   I welcome stronger efforts made to engage the community in this and other debates but won’t hold my breath.  

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