What surprised me most when I moved to the UK in 2007 was the open and welcoming attitude towards difference people here had. Given my sexuality, it formed a pleasant contrast to Russia. Since then, a lot has changed. Messages about the failure of open society and the dangers of multiculturalism are an almost daily occurrence in the media and UKIP have somehow become a "mainstream" party. More importantly, Jo Cox is dead and it is precisely the currently toxic political culture that killed her.
The voice that's getting through to the UK public is the voice of hate and admonition. Instead of following Jo's advice of looking to what unites us as a community and celebrating our individual differences, we seem to be dead-set on building a Trump-style wall to keep the differences out. In the process we have allowed unacceptable right-wing radicalism to become normal. In my opinion, the Conservatives are partly to blame.
No other major Western European party in government has been prepared to even listen to the likes of UKIP. The very idea of Hollande calling a referendum on Europe or any other issue at the behest of Marine le Pen is laughable. Yet, Dave & Co. did exactly that. To add, their own divisive rhetoric on immigration has done a lot to promote of UKIP's cause. In a way, I question whether there is much (if any) difference between UKIP and the Tories.
It's true that the Conservatives are having a bit of an identity crisis, with voices on the Right dead-set on Brexit. The not-infrequent defections by Tories to UKIP are clearly a palpable danger to the party, which Dave obviously wanted to resolve. But, gambling on the future of the whole country should really not be the solution to an intra-party squabble.
Any responsible Western leader, faced with problems of rising inequality, the threat from ISIS and increasing radicalisation, has to ensure that their government builds bridges between individuals and communities not blows them up and the best way to achieve it is to ensure that everyone has a voice. The Conservatives have failed. The EU referendum has been reduced to a petty argument between the different factions of the Tory party. The Leave campaign has been so vicious that the Archbishop of Canterbury felt the need to condemn it and one Tory MP switched sides.
But the rhetoric hasn't changed as a result. Day in and day out, we hear what privileged white males (and yes Farage with his investment banking background is one of them) have to say about migration and the big economy, whilst the voices of people who will be most affected by the decision on the 23rd June are not being heard. The politicians are yet to address the concerns of inner-city youth, the Syrian refugees, EU and non-EU migrants and even Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland, most of whom are not eligible to vote. What a contrast with the Sottish Referendum, in which every legal resident in the country was able to decide on its future.
Personally, I feel deeply saddened by this. A lot of my friends and I, myself have come to this country (many through the Australia style visa system) in search of respect and dignity we are denied at home only to be confronted with claims that we are here to milk the system and destroy the soul of British society.
In most cases both are frankly not true. More than 50% of migrants, who are not returning UK citizens, arrive here from outside the EU - meaning they have to pay expensive visa fees, the NHS surcharge for each year of their visa, be denied access to benefits, faced with considerably higher tuition fees (think 35k per year to study medicine at Imperial) and for many a compulsory and humiliating trip to the Police Overseas Visitor Registration Centre. So, leaving won't bring the numbers down, especially since the Leave campaign are proposing to make it easier for non-Europeans to come here.
Statistics also show that EU migrants who come here are on average younger and healthier than the UK population and are less likely to use public services like the NHS. Whilst, to reproach the refugees for fleeing a region plagued by ISI - a problem partially caused by the UK - seems at odds with the compassionate spirit of the people in this country.