EU referendum: The view from Colchester
Much of the discussion we are beginning right now on our membership of the European Union is as clear as mud.
The entire debate poses largely unanswerable questions:
We can guess at answers – but the guess would be based less on science and more on what our hearts tell us.
What is clearer are the groups of people likely to vote to leave and those likely to vote to remain.
“The classic stereotypical core Remain voter is a relatively recent university graduate,” says Prof John Curtice, one of the country”s most respected pollsters, based at the University of Strathclyde.
“Maybe some of them actually quite fancy using the freedom-of-movement provisions of the European Union themselves, working in Europe.”
Testing the theory
I went to speak to students at Essex University, outside Colchester, to test that out.
“My biggest concern would be financial,” said history of art student Daisy, 18, after coming out right away in favour of remaining in the EU.
“I think it”s too risky a move especially in the current climate to leave.”
That wasn”t what I was expecting. I thought she”d emphasise more those perceived cultural benefits of being in a club of 28 different nations. So I turned to her friend Nicky, 20, who is studying philosophy, religion and ethics.
“We should stay in,” she said.
“If America were to see Britain not in the EU, maybe we”d not have as much of a global influence as we do together.”
If you look at the chart of voter intention, you”ll see the research suggests 18- to 34-year-olds are overwhelmingly likely to vote to stay in. Especially if they have a degree or A-levels.
That is understandable. They have a good chance of doing well in the global economy.
Though not all of them fit the mould. The third student I spoke to was Theo, 18, doing American studies.
“I think the EU”s quite undemocratic,” he said.
“On the other hand, I”m concerned about the economic aspects.”
On balance though? “I”m probably leaning towards leaving,” he said.
Colchester is the first recorded city in Britain, founded following an invasion from across the Channel, when the Romans arrived in 43AD.
Among the lanes of city, you find its oldest law firm, Goody Burrett, founded 300 years ago.
There”s nothing elderly, however, about the 30-something solicitors here, typical of the white-collar workers the analysis suggests will vote in large numbers to stay in the EU.
“The Remain campaign looks very much like a middle-class, professional campaign,” says Prof Curtice.
Trainee solicitor Tim Field told me: “I”m an in, in Europe, definitely.”
Could he be swayed by the “outers” argument in the past few days that a UK in the EU was unable to control its own borders?
“The free movement of people was something that concerned me,” he said.
“But that”s the advantage of being on an island. We are able to manage the flow of people much better than if we were on mainland Europe.
“It was probably my main concern, yet it doesn”t really exist.”
Zeenat Pasha has also made up her mind.
“The arguments for staying in sound more sound to me,” she said.
“It was said if we withdraw, we would have to agree on new trade tariffs that wouldn”t be favourable because Germany and France may hold it against us.”
Nick Robinson reports – on the groups most likely to vote leave
EU referendum – all you need to know
Another solicitor, Cate Cussell, said: “I definitely agree.
“[There”s] safety in numbers. We are able to band together with the rest of Europe and take on America and Asian markets. That”s something we do need to stay a part of.”
Roughly a third of people are undecided.
One huge factor in persuading voters may be fear.
“If I was single and 21, it would probably be a “No”. But I”m not,” says Alex Addison, 38, the client services lead at Fever – a digital marketing company in Colchester.
“I”ve got a three-year-old son, so it”s a “Yes”. It”s the fear of the crash it could have on our economy and our security. There are lots of groups saying it will be fine. But it worries me. It”s too much of a risk.”
Making the jump
Risk. We”ve already heard that word a lot in the first few days of the campaign proper. And you”ll be hearing it a lot more.
It will be a central part of the message put out by the Remain campaign. Yes, they”ll champion what they see as the benefits of membership, but they”ll ask you to weigh up whether you”re prepared to risk those, with a leap into the unknown.
There”s a risk in staying as well, the Leave campaign counters. The EU has changed so much in the four decades since we joined that we can”t guarantee what it will look like in the coming years.
How you weigh up those opposing risks will determine the very future of our country.