Thanks poor people, for wrecking a generation’s future. No?

75percentInteresting that people are now saying ‘Thanks old people, for wrecking a generation’s future’.

Ashcroft’s poll suggests it was just as much C2DE voters (ie the poor) who swung it for leave as older people. The unemployed mostly voted Leave. Two-thirds of people living in council houses voted Leave. People with lower levels of education voted Leave.

What about ‘Thanks thickos, dole scroungers, council house types, manual workers, for wrecking a generation’s future’?

Anyone?

No?

This isn’t a general election. It’s far more important

A recurrent theme in the Remain campaign particularly is to identify politicians involved in the Leave campaign and create sneering memes that invite the reader to consider what the country might look like were these individuals to be in charge.

Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage in particular come in for a good deal of this nonsense. The clear inference is that, following a win for Leave, these three would be in charge of running the country. Never mind the fact that we are not voting to elect Boris, Michael or Nigel.

CautionSlippery

This line not only insults the intelligence of British voters, it debases the real importance of the referendum. We are not being asked to decide whether or not Boris should get the keys to No.10.

We are being asked to decide how much power is, or is not, wielded from that famous address. And we are being asked whether we want that power to be accountable to us, the voters.

We are not being asked this routinely, as in a general election, with an opportunity to change our minds in five years’ time. Whatever we decide will be it, for good.

We won’t get asked again.

It has been 40 years since the last referendum on EU membership. Based on the rate of acceleration toward EU federalism over those four decades (and assuming the EU does not succumb to the greatest likelihood and implode in some horrific economic catastrophe in the next four) it is reasonable to conclude that we would not have enough of a home-grown government left by 2056 to call a referendum on EU membership, let alone govern following a vote to leave.

So make no mistake, this is our last chance to change direction. And what we are being asked to decide is far, far too important to be determined on the basis of whether you think Nigel Farage speaks sense, or whether you find it sad that a young MP was recently murdered by a mentally-ill extremist. Or indeed on whether you think Boris Johnson would make a good Prime Minister.

What we are being asked to vote on is how much power our politicians are able to wield. Whether our politicians are ‘allowed’ to tighten or loosen the country’s immigration policy. Whether they are ‘allowed’ to nationalise or privatise an industry. Whether they are ‘allowed’ to give aid to strategically important national industries when faced with dumping practices from producers overseas.

And we are being asked to determine how accountable our politicians should be to us. In the event that our representatives do something that displeases us, should we be able to vote them out? Should we be able to hold this power over our leaders, to ensure they are sensitive to public backlash against unpopular policies? It is difficult to imagine the unelected Eur0pean Commission responding so flexibly to public outcry over forced academisation in schools, say, or tax credits cuts.

Whether you think these were the right Government decisions or not, one cannot deny that they demonstrate a sensitivity by elected politicians to the likely impact of forcing through truly unpopular measures, within a system that can see the executive voted out by the people they govern. Where the executive comprises individuals appointed, not directly elected, there is no equivalent incentive to pay much attention to the people at all.

So, then, this is not a vote on who governs us, but how we are governed: should our politicians be subject to supranational restraints in the policies they are permitted to promise to the electorate? And how much influence do we, the wider electorate, wish to retain over the politicians who take up roles within our system of government?

Seen in that light, the puerile jibes about a vote for Brexit being ‘for le Pen’ or ‘for Geert Wilders’ or such bilge are also revealed for the half-arguments they truly are. Yes, there are politicians with stronger, less centrist views – on the left as well as the right – who strongly support our departure from the EU. There is a good reason for this, and it is not that Brexit is somehow inherently right-wing. No, it is because to depart the EU is to end the stifling, EU-imposed centrist consensus in favour of politicians who are genuinely empowered to make meaningful policy promises and then enact them. And this goes for the left as well as the right. The only way that this can be seen as frightening, dangerous or regressive is if you consider the will of the people itself to be frightening, dangerous and regressive.

If you are sick of supposedly opposing political parties trotting out the same set of minute variations on broadly identical policies; if you have had enough of a political class that increasingly seeks to insulate itself from pushback by the people it supposedly represents; if you have faith in electorates to engage in and make good decisions, together, for our country. If, in a nutshell, you believe in the democratic project, there is only one choice. We must not allow those who would keep us muzzled and docile to pretend this vote is reducible to X-Factor-like voting on the basis of cartoon personalities. It is far more important than that: it is our last chance to turn the ship away from bread and circuses, towards democracy. We must take it, and vote Leave.

I thought we were better than this

Perhaps more even than the dog-whistle racism from some quarters I’ve been appalled at the eagerness of many in the commentariat and even the European Commission to link poor Jo Cox’s murder with the referendum, based on facts that are sketchy and ambiguous at best and in some cases practically before her body was cold.

The police leaks and rumour-mongering are shaping up to a deliver a very poor chance of a balanced investigation into why this obviously disturbed person could have done such an awful thing. We have no facts yet, not really, and yet the politicisation of an appalling event has preceded full pelt. I have found it disgusting.

There is an ugly atmosphere developing in the country. Its emergence long precedes the referendum and the sometimes unpleasant views the campaigns have brought to the surface. These are symptoms rather than causes. The dignified thing to do would have been for everyone to step back, disentangle the referendum and murder and let the police do their job. But no, the political opportunity was too great.

If this proves decisive in swinging the referendum it will have been won for the worst of all reasons: on the back of moral panic, not reason, driven by an opportunistic exploitation by profoundly cynical opponents of democracy of a gifted woman’s murder and her young family’s bereavement. Every bit as bad as immigration-based fearmongering. I went into this campaign full of optimism about the potential for a democratic renewal after freeing ourselves from the dead hand of technocracy, but I’m starting to worry that it’s too late. I truly thought we were better than this.

“But how can you be for Brexit when [insert names of unpleasant politicians] are too?

As a Leaver, I agree that there are some arseholes on the Leave side. I think the context for this perception needs a bit of study though.

The EU is the political manifestation of a consensus among the elites of a number of countries about what politics should look like. An ever increasing number of questions are, quite intentionally, removed from democratic scrutiny and managed technocratically via treaties and laws instead of via negotiation, engagement with the public, or any kind of open debate. Big questions handled in this way include, for example, the consensus view that the right mode of government must be socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

To put it another way, the EU is a technocratic (ie non-democratic) means of narrowing the range of acceptable political options within member states to minor variants on the same centrist consensus. You only have to look at the oft-repeated fear of ‘populism’ within the European Parliament to see that. There is a profound fear of electorates, of giving electorates too much power and of them doing rash or ‘extreme’ things.

Now, perhaps you agree with that and perhaps you don’t. Personally the centrist take is pretty well-aligned with my interests and personal views. But the problem I have with using technocratic means of narrowing the Overton window is that removing from public the scope to debate or indeed democratically alter fundamental aspects of the type of government wanted or needed turns what should be a benign, self-sustaining consensus on what constitutes ‘moderate’ government into something altogether more suffocating and authoritarian. (I also think it’s a major contributor to the modern perception that ‘they’re all the same’ and it doesn’t matter who you vote for. Because, increasingly, it doesn’t, as all politicians are constrained within the same narrow band of what the EU consensus considers acceptable political policy.)

That quiet, smiling and superficially democratic suppression of any political view deemed to deviate too far from the consensus – either leftwards or rightwards – is reflected in a similarly stifling social pressure that declares that All Serious And Nice People hold views within a narrow range that corresponds to the centrist political consensus. People whose political views fall within that range tend to be supportive of the EU, because they see it as a safeguard of their moral outlook against the vaguely dangerous forces of ‘populism’, ie those riotous, under-educated plebs who persist in holding political views that don’t quite fit. Why would we want to give any encouragement to fascists or communists? Surely we’ve worked out the right way to do politics in the centre and that’s that? Similarly, at the level of culture and beliefs, surely the social consensus condemning racists, anarchists and other outlier views is a good thing?

So in a very real way the European centrist consensus has created the EU as a mechanism for keeping unruly electorates on the political straight and narrow. And the same mindset has set busily about painting anyone whose views fall outside its acceptable range as mad, dangerous, evil, racist, destructive and otherwise generally Not Our Type. In a word, arseholes.

On the whole my own views are pretty centrist. But I don’t think it’s healthy to shut discussion down like this. We shouldn’t stifle political diversity, even when it’s unpalatable: it pushes more extreme views underground and gives them a sense of grievance. You only have to look at the steady rise of right- and left-wing protest movements across Europe to see this in action. And by the same token we shouldn’t silence arseholes: we should debate them, and let their unpleasant views bury them. But fundamentally I welcome viewpoint diversity, because I think it’s a sign of a healthy civic society. And that means allowing scope for there to be a few arseholes – gasp – sometimes even politically aligned with me in some respects.

It’s really important to recognise that the eurosceptic movement – and it is a movement, that goes way beyond left and right, as well as way beyond the UK – is as much about fighting for political and viewpoint diversity in general as it is about the specific grievances that more right- or left-leaning eurosceptic groups have with the EU.

The Renegotiation Morris Dance

As Richard North once again wearily points out, Cameron’s ‘tough negotiations’ on EU membership are all theatre. The deal has long been done, and the resulting ‘British model’, also known as ‘associate membership’ and under EU discussion for years, will be trailed until the eleventh hour and then spun as a major victory and solution to all our woes.

In the meantime, this fine performance of the Upton-on-Severn Stick Dance sums up perfectly the reality of the performance our broadsheets are lapping up and regurgitating for the public as though it were high drama.

Two ‘sides’ face off against one another. They advance and retreat in perfect synchrony, holding symbolic weapons which they clash at prearranged moments with simulated aggression. Everything is highly choreographed, intended as a performance, and the members of both ‘sides’ are in fact part of the same team.

The europhiles (and make no mistake, Cameron is a ‘phile) would reduce political discourse to the level of shopping-centre Morris dancing, and have us believe that Morris dancing is real negotiation. Don’t be taken for a fool. The deal is already done. We have one chance to salvage our national sovereignty – the referendum – and must not allow ourselves to be swayed by the EU’s bread and circuses.

On the ‘liberal EU dream’ and the ungrateful working class

The working classes of Europe are right to resist the demise of the nation state.

Rafael Behr writes in today’s Guardian that right-wing ‘populism’ is threatening the ‘liberal dream’ of the EU.

Behr’s article is striking in the accuracy of his observations and misguidedness of the conclusions he draws from those observations. One paragraph in particular stood out:

The case for keeping Britain in Europe has always been hampered by its reliance on abstract liberalism and historical romanticism: extolling openness and continental engagement as emblems of a modern, self-confident nation; recalling the founding purpose of the EU as the elimination of nationalism by blurring borders; rejecting Euroscepticism as a form of reactionary cultural protectionism, coloured at the fringes by outright xenophobia. Those were never easy arguments to configure as campaign themes with mass appeal. But what pro-Europeans now confront is something altogether more challenging, not just to the practical pursuit of their cause but to its very premise. There is still a liberal case for integration with the rest of Europe, but it gets progressively harder to make when so many countries in the rest of Europe seem to be turning their backs on liberalism.

So, then, there is nothing wrong with the idea of ‘blurring borders’ in the interests of ‘eliminating nationalism’ – even though he concedes that the average thicko is unlikely to be enthused by the prospect. The only problem, he concludes, is that blurring borders has become rather less appealing now that it means trying to integrate with all those nasty racists – sorry, nationalists – running rampant throughout the EU.

Indeed the entire article radiates the fundamental assumption that nationalism is, ipso facto, a Bad Thing. But this assumption, rooted in Europe’s decades-long post-WWII trauma fugue, has gone unchallenged for too long. Certainly history shows us nationalism can have some ugly consequences; but in large part the revived enthusiasm of Europe’s’little people’ for nationalism is not driven by a desire to find scapegoats, justify pogroms or generally hate on ‘bloody foreigners’. Rather, it is fuelled at base by the instinctive realisation that without some form of nationalism, there can be no nation-state; without the nation-state there can be no democracy; and without democracy, the little people get shafted, again and again.

The liberal dream of destroying nationalism has, in effect, worked to undermine the main bulwark ordinary people have had against the relentless march of globalisation: the sense that, by joining their voices as ‘The People’ to whom a government is accountable, they could ensure their interests remained in consideration. But one of the most significant trends of the twentieth century has seen national sovereignty inexorably nibbled away, whether by international regulatory bodies, trade agreements or the move towards EU federalisation. And with each reduction in the power and manoeuvrability of sovereign democratic states, the people to whom those states are accountable have lost power in turn. And as the power of electorates has ebbed away, so too has the power of each sovereign state to protect its ‘little people’ against the more predatory edges of globalisation.

Nowhere is this more visible than in the disjunction between the views of working-class people to the prospect of mass immigration, and the attitude of the middle and upper classes to the same phenomenon. The former group sees wages stagnate and living standards slump as competition for low-skilled jobs gets hotter and hotter. The latter, meanwhile, enjoys the benefits of price competition in the market for nannies and plumbers, not to mention the pleasant effect of housing scarcity on the value of their homes, all set off by a pleasant frisson of righteousness as they condemn the narrow-mindedness of the lumpenproletariat.

This class division is borne out by the data: a report published  today by europhile think-tank Chatham House shows that lower socioeconomic class and education is a strong predictor of euroscepticism. Now, you could read that as a contemptuous write-off of Brexiteers as ageing, ignorant thickos; or you could begin to ask yourself why the poorer, older and less educated don’t feel the ‘liberal dream’ of EU federalism is working in their interests. Could it be less because they are old, thick or poor and more because of an instinctive recognition that the aims of the EU are against the interests of the working-class populations of nations across the EU?

Rafael Behr may sign wistfully at the high-flown ‘liberal’ ideals that inspired the European project, and look askance at the under-educated, vulgar little xenophobes that challenge its legitimacy and belief system. He may grumble about the waning attractiveness of a federal EU clearly inhabited by groups of proles all of whom are every bit as resistant to mass immigration and the end of nation states as those awful Sun readers in the UK. But in lamenting the return of nationalism he has missed the inextricable connections between patriotism, belonging, democracy and a working class that wields some measure of power in the direction of politics.

The dying of the nation state throws the working class to the wolves of globalisation. Resisting this is not xenophobic, but thanks to the blindness of bien-pensants like Behr it has been left to the xenophobes for too long.