Jun 242016

So, the people have spoken. Or rather they have mumbled, because nobody knows what they really voted for, because the Leave offer was all about passion and sentiment, not detail. In the end we have had the biggest by-election in our history that has garnered the most massive protest vote ever seen. Good-bye EU, and probably UK too.

Is Farage the new messiah? Or just a careless, irresponsible gadfly who has amused himself for years without threat of responsibility. I hate to think that he is really the man most in tune with the mood of modern Britain. We should be careful what we wish for.

We must now live with our new freedom, and maybe some good will come of it. But what, and how? What if the 52% do not actually get what they want out of this? In voting for greater security and higher living standards, they may well have made both less likely. Smashing up the UK and the EU might not look like such a good idea in a minute. And if they do not get what they want, what will they pull down next?

 Posted by at 10:14 am
Jun 222016

The one we are having, and will have for a while – either way.

Referendums are not a good thing on the whole , and they are awful if they are close. A close vote and no one is happy. Plus we may well be in a position where we have a House of Commons that is pro Europe and an electorate that isn’t. Commons versus people. Where does that leave our lovely sovereignty then?

I am also troubled by the whiff of consumerism here. We the voters have been given a switch and told that if we press it we get what we want. No mediation, no grey areas. In out. us them, freedom slavery – whatever. But the world is not like that. Politics gives us our world, and allows us infinitesimal adjustments and adaptations to circumstances. Referendums don’t do this. Governments – human beings, that is – do.

Worse, the current divide is posited on the idea that we, the British, would be better off spared the need to interact with foreigners – they are unreliable, malign – and all in collusion against us, led by this weird unelected Illuminatariat in Brussels. Well, our bureaucrats aren’t elected either. Nor are our judges, and they sometimes strike down the decisions of our government. Just ask Michael ‘Sovereignty’ Howard.

My point is that we are all condemned to a life dominated by politics, unless we opt for dictatorship. And this whole referendum scenario has assumed that we are not.

I am not sure that the exit camp will actually get anything like what they want. I would cheer if the EU reformed itself. But if it does so without us in it, or breaks up into nation states again, how will we be more secure? And do they want to kiss Ireland and Scotland goodbye on their way to a new, freer future?

Exit say the world has moved on, that the EU is outdated and restrictive. Perhaps. It is certainly protective, but so will we be if we get out. Outers just want a smaller circle to defend. History may not be on the EU’s side, but I find it hard to believe that every serving British Prime Minister for fifty years – that means people who actually exercised responsible power – are all wrong and Nigel Farage, a man with no responsibility to anyone or anything, is right.

Personally I believe that we need small political units for democracy and large units for peace. Farage claims that it is NATO that has kept the peace, but with the EU in place it is inconceivable that there could be war in Europe.

We will have to do politics, among ourselves and with our neighbours. We can do it in a club, or out. But it is a very bad idea, historically, to antagonise one’s neighbours. I said it about Scotland, and at least for the sake of consistency I have to say it about Europe. I fear that both local and long-distance politics will be a lot harder after leaving.

 Posted by at 9:39 am
Jun 202016

This has all become a terrible mess. We are having a referendum for no particularly good reason, it has hit democracy on all of its weak spots and degenerated into such a cavalcade of misrepresentation that it is hard to see anything good coming out of it.

Its origins lie in the run-up to the last general election, and it has continued as a knife fight among the present cabinet. Most obviously it is the child of a serious split on the right of British politics, and it is more about the deep fissures between capitalism and nationalism than anything else.

As a result we are essentially having a general election by proxy, and the British public appear to be about to elect the hardest right government we have had in generations, something it would never do at any national poll. The issues have been skewed so badly that the moderate right pitch about prosperity has been entirely swept away by the hard right fear of immigration. Well done boys, break my country why don’t you?

Referendums are a very mixed blessing. They should be about simple issues, like the voting system, where arguments can actually sway people, and office is not at stake. Here we have a disproportionate amount of passion on one side and a limp hope for the better on the other. That’s not clever in politics. It’s also dumb to put up an issue that doesn’t need to be decided now, and is of such complexity that it should be taken by a government. All the other decisions about the European project have been taken by Prime Ministers in cabinet – all of whom since Macmillan have been pro-European, and none of them stood for election on that specific issue. The European project has never been a high priority for any of Britain’s voters, except those at the fringes of left and right who have always seen it as a conspiracy of some kind.

Now in the middle of a global revolt against elites, we are asking an apparently simple question to an electorate that is so riled up that it can’t disentangle entirely unconnected issues, and is being encouraged to conflate them by deliberate spin-doctoring – so that the NHS and Premiership football have moved into questions about international relations.

So, the reasoning, the question, the timing, and the conduct of this campaign are all bad in their ways. And we can see again, exactly as in the Scottish event of two years ago, that the whole idea of optimism is being abused. One person’s optimism is another’s delusional, hyperventilating fantasy. As with Scottish independence, leaving will solve almost nothing. We will recover economically either way. But what will be lost is harder to see, as is persuading people of its value.

Last thing. If Brexit wins, if the optimistic, confident, patriotic pitch is persuasive, if we smash up so many things at once, is it reasonable to assume that all the pieces will fall where we want them to?

 Posted by at 6:23 am
Jun 032016

There is an intelligent debate to be had about Britain and the EU. Unfortunately it’s not the one we are having.

Take back control! What a good slogan – and one that is difficult to get past to consider anything else. But we should ask: control of what, and from whom?

Instead of a debate about issues we are now locked in something very like an election, where each side is making its ‘offer’. But we are not electing a government. The same Prime Minister, leading the same government, will see the sun come up the day after we stay or leave. Point being – realistic or fantastical, can Johnson and Farage, neither of whom holds office, deliver any of their promises about anything? Furthermore, this is a constitutional debate about the functioning of our legal system and democracy at least as much as it is about short-term economic goodies.

Democracy is a blessing and a curse, in that it winds people up and inflames passions sometimes to little good effect.

 Posted by at 7:41 pm