This Is Not A
As we are now less than one month away from a vote which will have far-reaching consequences for everyone on this island (the more so, in my view, if the decision goes one way rather than the other), I suppose it's about time that I said something about it. I don't really have any excuse, given that I have a lot of time to ponder on things at the moment, especially when I am trying to get to sleep before what I have come to call (with whimsy and annoyance in roughly equal proportions) 'the sentinel sparrow' starts going off on the guttering above my bedrooom window just before sunrise.
(I have applied for - and been granted - a postal vote, because I couldn't be sure whether I would be in any position to vote in person come the day. Looks like I would have been able to go along, but I didn't want to take the risk will all that is at stake).
Observing the referendum campaign - albeit at one remove, as I only know about it what I have read on-line apart from the various leaflets which have found their way on to my doormat (and hence into my recycling bag) of late - and looking at the antics of the respective sides, it's been a bit like watching one of those World Cup games where you want both teams to lose. The 'Remain' side has been dull and uninspiring, with occasional joyous leaps into the hysterical, whilst the 'Brexiteers' (a horrible term which could only possibly have been coined by an English metropolitan hack) have been typified by a vaunting know-nothing arrogance augmented by sufficient amount of rah-rah to give us some idea what The Last Night Of The Proms would be like if it was given its own twenty-six-week series on BBC1.
What is peculiar about the whole thing is that it is, essentially, a fight between two opposing factions in the Conservative Party. Consider, after all, the real reason why this is all happening in the first place. It isn't much to do with principle, even allowing for the presence of such a concept in the consciousness of the main participants on both sides; after all, to the best of my knowledge, no other member state of the European Union has ever held a vote to leave it, and so one might wonder why it is happening here.
The real reason is simply that David Cameron is a weak man and a weak leader of a party which - despite having been in office for six straight years now - is deeply divided, not least on this one particular issue. A stronger man (and an authentic leader) would at the very least have said to the swamp creatures on his back benches (and their equivalents in the Cabinet) that his government's policy was not to leave the EU, and that if any of them wanted publicly to fight that then they should do so outside government and outside the party.
The consequences of his weakness in not doing so are that not only is the Conservative Party visibly split, but that this seems to be the only part of the whole carnival which is being reported, and so the general voting public - the people who will, ultimately, make the fateful decision - is left under- and mal-informed as to the real issues. When the headline-makers from the respective sides all come from the same party, then there is a real danger that those who are not partial to that party will either vote the 'wrong' way out of a sense of cussedness or will not bother to vote at all, and by doing so place the decision in the hands of the 'ultras' who have been motivated to vote come what may. When the arguments for staying in the EU are being made by Messrs. Cameron and Osborne then there is a strong disincentive to believe those arguments, however valid those arguments may actually be (just because its them saying it, it should not always be assumed that it isn't the case, past experience notwithstanding).
Add to this the fact that the 'Out' campaign seem to have cornered the market in easy-to-read, cut-out-and-keep facile populism and that - although the 'official' campaign (comprising as it does such well-known entertainers as Christopher Grayling and Michael Gove) is as grey as its suits - the English public's love affair with that killer clown Mr. Farrago will enable him to upstage everyone else on any given day, and it doesn't require much of an effort of imagination to regard the possibility of the ever-less-accurately termed 'United Kingdom' dragging itself out of its only remaining positive rôle in the world in order to bask in the comfortingly warm outpourings of its own political and social dyspepsia as eminently possible.
From some of the foregoing, you may have sensed on which side of the argument I stand. Yes, I will be voting for this state to remain a member of the European Union. I will come to my reasons shortly ("Oh, goody!", I hear you cry; just control yourselves for a minute, would you?), but let me address the shortcomings of what I have, perforce, to think of as my own side, even if said side contains people I would gladly see glued by the goolies to a lamp-post.
As if recognising the success of such a strategy during the last referendum campaign to be seen on this island - that regarding Scottish independence in 2014 - some elements in the 'Remain' campaign have been very keen on what, in that earlier contest, was called (by those actually inside it, no less) 'Project Fear'. After all, it is a well-established phenomenon that a fearful population is one which is more malleable to the will of those with power over it. However valid such a tactic might seem to be in outright practical terms, however, it can easily end up backfiring on the 'crying "Wolf!"' pattern, or being too silly to believe in the first place, or having the opposite effect entirely to that which may have been intended.
So saying, for example, that leaving the EU would make 'us' a bigger target for the terroristes du jour side-steps the inconvenient reality that we are such a target already because of our subservience to a foreign power over which we have no control and precious little influence, a situation which would be amplified to '11' should we find ourselves with no counter-balancing influence from our somewhat more astute neighbours.
(It has always struck me as interesting - and amusing, too, if you have a particularly bleak sense of humour - that so many of those in and around the anti-EU movements of recent years bleat on about 'sovereignty' and the necessity of 'bringing it home' to Good Old Blighty™ (by arrangement with the Wo-men Yong-you Ni Corporation of Guangzhou) whilst having nothing to say about the fact that Britannia's defence and other policies are determined to a larger degree than is admitted to by Washington, the Pentagon and Wall Street. But as those institutions are run by people whom the mad Atlanticists clearly class as 'honorary Englishmen', then I don't suppose it matters much).
Likewise Osborne's claim that leaving the EU would cause an economic recession, although I would like to think that Gideon is more worried about breach of copyright than anything else, he having caused at least two of his own already, and each of far longer duration.
As for the claim that leaving the EU would cause a sharp fall in house prices, this would only invoke fear and panic in the speculator/buy-to-let parasite demographic; the hundreds of thousands of people - mostly but not exclusively young - who despair of ever being able to do other than rent from said malignancies would surely cheer such a prospect to the echo. To try to invoke the fear of something happening which - for the general good - should have been allowed (or made) to happen years ago indicates a degree of disassociation from reality which should trouble us.
The case for remaining in the EU is not remotely helped by exaggeration or fear-mongering. Given that no state has ever left the EU, then any statement of what might happen after departure is simply that: what might happen; there is no precedent to use as a guide (Greenland - which did in effect leave some years ago - is a very particular case whose circumstances have no bearing on this at all, as it isn't a state). There is a positive case for continuing membership, there are clear benfits accruing from that membership, and that is what should be emphasised calmly and clearly.
But that is where the diffculty arises, of course. For we live in an hysterical culture, where the reach and effectiveness of any given message is greatly enhanced by its 'shock-horror' quotient. And so it is that any calmly-made point about how immigration has benefited our society can be swamped (as it were) by one single screaming headline (I think this one was in a paper owned by the porn-baron tax-dodger rather than in one owned by the weird-twin tax-dodgers or by the Australo-Americo-Chinese tax-dodger) that fifteen million Turks were ready to descend upon our virginal acres (and given that their country is run by an Islamist régime headed by a man who thinks that he's the natural heir to Atatürk, while not realising that there is a crucial difference between a natural heir and a legitimate one, then who could really blame them?).
In such circumstances, getting any positive message across to other than the tiny proportion of bien pensants is to seek to push a long piece of wet string uphill. Nonetheless, the effort has to be made, because the consequences of a failure effectively to do so are, in this case, potentially catastrophic.
And of course, the Out-and-outers have another distinct advantage, in that they have a far larger proportion of shouty people on their side. Shouty people are always beloved of the media because they basically write the story for the hacks. This means that it matters little that whatever nonsense spluttered by the oaf Farage bears as much relation to a realistic analysis of any situation as a Biffo The Bear comic strip does to the Palestine Question; so long as it constitutes 'good television' (what with him being such a 'character', and all) then it can be justified. So much so that even those on the same side who are quite devoid of any character whatsoever - like a very junior minister whom hardly anyone had ever heard of even in her own constituency - can utter outright lies on camera and get away with eliciting nothing more than a mild rebuke from her boss.
The 'Exit' campaign knows this all too well, of course, and it must surely have been the spur for some of the more ridiculous arguments made by them. Leaving aside their somewhat unhealthy obsession with immigration (although such an emphasis is always likely to play well with that section of the population which still - in the face of increasing evidence suggesting they should do no such thing - tends to believe what is yelled at them by the rags), an awful lot of their campaign panders to an underlying sense of exceptionalism which at times approaches American proportions. 'Britain' (and this seems to be defined - as so often - in large degree as being co-terminous with England, which may explain why 'Remain' has a consistently huge lead in the opinion polls in Scotland) is deemed to be permanently, intrinsically superior to all those foreigners. And so it is trumpeted from the rooftops that 'we' (defined, again largely as above) have such a successful economy (despite one of the largest wealth gaps in the developed world - I don't suppose they have many food banks in Germany), and that we have such a wonderful democracy (including as it does an unelected - and usually unelectable - head of state; more than half the members of the legislature being there because they were either expelled from the right uterus at the right time, or because they bribed the governing party of the day, or because the electorate wanted rid of them; where the elected part of parliament is selected by a system which no newly-free country setting up a democracy today would entertain for a second; and where said chamber is dominated by an over-powerful executive which can impose, amend or abolish laws on the basis of manoeuverings which by-pass all democratic scrutiny).
In short, the 'Outers' are relying heavily on the iconography of official British self-delusion, as thrown at the sullen plebs by princelings, twitlings and Graylings since the beginning of the age of mass literacy. On top of which, some of the other claims made could only be used in all earnestness by those who believe that the populace has either short memories, a complete lack of awareness of what has been going on around them for the last few years, or both. And so we have, for example, the claim that all that pure, virtuous Sterling that we have to throw into the ever-gaping maw of the Eurocrats could - after departure - be used instead for the benefit of 'our' people. Leaving aside the fact that the figures routinely quoted by them leave a lot to be desired - like accuracy, for instance - given our experience over the last forty years (and the last ten in particular), are we really being asked to believe that the millions (or is it trillions? Or quintillions?) which would no longer be sucked out of us by the nasty foreigners would be spent on good works for the desperate and destitute, lighting up their lives for evermore, when we know full well that nearly all of it would end up in the Caymans, the British Virgin Isles (a tiny, under-populated place, as its name implies) or a multi-millionaire's Channel Island of choice? And are we truly being expected to take on trust that the removal of any restraint from Europe with regard to employees' rights (and human rights in general, although that is as much a Council of Europe matter as an EU one, I know) would not lead to the further Americanisation of employment law here, with an emphasis on removing the last vestiges of any power that working people might be able to use to defend their interests?
As with the scare-mongering aspects of the 'Remain' campaign, the 'Exit' mob lack any precedent to give credence to their claims; we are asked to take them on trust and - when your most prominent mouthpieces include Boris Johnson - this is what is termed in the current demotic 'a big ask'. Nevertheless, it is clearly possible in their view to get the desired result by dazzling just enough people with flag-waving, invoking the spirit of 1940 (or, failing that, 1966; even the letters from the antis in the Independent, for all that it is supposed to be a liberal organ, seem to be little more than slightly more erudite variations on the theme of "Two World Wars and one World Cup, doo-dah, doo-dah!") and being amusingly snarky about foreigners to get their spavined old nag across the line first. And who's to say that they aren't correct in such an assumption?
May I now express a sense of bemusement - if not of despair - at those who claim to be on the 'left' (or, at least what passes for it here nowadays) who have taken the same side as the Johnsons and Goves? If necessity makes for strange bedfellows, then outright self-regarding stupidity can be said to create an odd ménage or two as well. Of course, those of the self-identifying 'left' who see no incongruity in shacking up with those who believe that the EU and all attendant upon it is a market-shackling conspiracy to pollute our bodily fluids and make us all into Muslim Socialists will maintain that their position is one of principle; they see the EU as a worker-shackling conspiracy to pollute our bodily fluids and turn us all into the slaves of trans-national corporations. In this, they may be nearer to the mark than the people they are allying themselves with; but they appear to be unable to see that, by taking the position that they do, they are in fact aiding and abetting the very people and processes which they claim to despise. For all that it has become to a far greater degree than it ever should have been a channel for pro-market corporate power, the EU has - such has been the rightward drift of the UK during my adult lifetime - still been a necessary inhibitor of the worst excesses of Thatcherite and post-Thatcherite mania. With that brake removed upon leaving the EU, what do the comrades think is most likely to happen? Do they think that the Westminster-Whitehall-City nexus will suddenly be overcome by an attack of, if not conscience, then at least an enhanced desire for self-preservation, and thereby do more to ameliorate the plight of those for whom the rising tide has not raised their boat because their boat sank years ago? Or is it far more likely that the drawbridge (sorry for the mixed metaphor: it's late) will be pulled ever more tightly shut, with those wielding political, economic and social power comfortable in the thought that they can always rely on the 'security services', most of the judiciary and the media to keep order if the Untermensch get restless enough to stop attacking each other and turn their attention upon them?
Perhaps the comrades think that such a move would bring The Revolution™ closer to hand, but I hope that I can be forgiven a degree of scepticism about such an analysis. In any case, the position of the Snagglepuss Tendency ("Exit - Stage Left!") seems to me to be little more than the self-indulgent lower-sixth-form twattoid posturing which has characterised much of the Brit Left for far too long and which has helped give the Right its dominance during all that time.
Let me make a few things clear as I finish. I am well aware that the European Union as currently constituted has many faults. It is a system set up and run by human beings, which makes faults inevitable. It is insufficiently democratic, and the power of the Parliament should be increased at the expense of the Commission. It is committed far too strongly to market-based ideology to the exclusion of more progressive solutions to our economic, social and environmental problems (although such policies are still more likely to find far more traction there than they would here). It is too bureaucratic, although nowhere near as much as its detractors in Britain make out - few other member states seem to have such an issue with it.
But if it needs reformation, then the mature response is to stay in and work to change it for the better, rather than constantly indulging in infantile strops and threatening to take your ball and go home.
The European Union remains, for all its weaknesses, a necessary bulwark against the worst of the slash-and-burn tendency to be seen lurking beneath the surface of our home-grown political and commercial establishment, and a better way of protecting ourselves against those ideological obsessives who would be given free rein in an 'independent' UK which would inevitably find itself at a permanent disadvantage in any dealings with any one of the world's main economic powers (the claim that the remaining members of the EU - and the Chinese and Indians - would bend over backwards to make deals which wouldn't put us at a disadvantage is another example of the self-deluding exceptionalism I referred to before; why would they bother? Why would they care?).
So, even if accompanied by a small Toynbee-brand™ nosepeg, I will vote to continue to remain a citizen of the European Union. I hope enough people on this mis-governed island will do the same.