EU Referendum: Counting the Morons

So, it’s one of the most important days in modern British history; what happens today in the UK could significantly change British, European, even world history. For what it’s worth, I voted Remain. I have not seen a single worthwhile argument from any section of the Leave camp.

According to the polls and the markets, Remain is the favourite; but I suspect the markets are being over-optimistic, and the polls are almost certainly wrong. This referendum offers an option that no general election does: the burn-everything option. This will draw out people who don’t normally vote: arsonists, nihilists, misanthropes, and general wankers who never before had the chance to destroy something with a vote. Pollsters have no idea how many of these people there are, or how likely they are to admit to their voting intentions. After all, Tory voters are notoriously shy to admit their intentions… surely Leave voters will be at least as much? We’ll find out later today. And we won’t even need an exit poll: the markets will get there first.

The referendum has given many people the chance to be complete fuckwits, and so of course, they have delivered in spades. Here are just a few of my favourite referendum morons.

The Leave Camp

Obviously, first prize goes to this shower of lying wankers, led by Farage, Johnson and Gove, with support from every far-right party in Europe. While it’s become fashionable to say “both camps are being dishonest”, the Leavers are several orders of magnitude worse. They started out with a complete lie: that leaving would save £350m per week. And when they were bored of that, they just started banging the xenophobia drum. Meanwhile, their only answer to predictions of disaster was “Surely you don’t expect me to believe that… PROJECT FEAR na na na!”

David Cameron

By Tory standards, Cameron is a pretty centrist, liberal and internationalist character. Much as I hate there being a Tory government, we should take note that the Tory right is enraged by Cameron – he’s clearly doing something right. But promising a referendum was the ultimate in political twattishness, and done for the dumbest of tactical reasons: an attempt to pull the electoral rug from under UKIP. Instead, Cameron validated Farage; worse than that, he created the first opportunity in modern British history for nationalists, xenophobes and racists of all stripes to rally under a single banner.

Lexiteers

This silly term for left-brexit was coined by columnist Owen Jones. Less than a year ago, Jones was flying the flag for Brexit for predictably stupid reasons, and said: “Without a prominent Left Out campaign, Ukip could displace Labour right across northern England. That would be the real vindication of Ukippery.” He then undertook a magnificent U-turn, declaring his former beliefs to be disastrous, and is still writing Guardian columns on how important it is to stay in the EU. Jones’ views on any subject appear to be entirely derived from the last 10 tweets he looked at, so he’s an important indicator of how the new-left is thinking. Generally, the Lexit case is: “The EU supports neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is bad. M’kay?”, coupled with an insane belief that Britain is likely to become socialist if we turn our backs on Europe. Lexiteers get confused because fascists are on the Leave side, while big business is on the Remain side, and both fascists and big business are evil, m’kay? And their thinking doesn’t appear to go deeper than that.

Ambivalent Corbynites

While overt Lexiteers are hard to find, there are many on the left who are pro-Brexit (because neoliberalism, m’kay?) but have decided to stay quiet about it or pretend to be in the Remain camp while subtly undermining the campaign. This is clearly true of the pro-Corbyn Momentum group within Labour, which wankerishly announced in March that it wouldn’t be campaigning on either side. Corbyn himself has campaigned for Remain in, at best, a half-hearted way. And this, to me, is unforgivable: Labour’s message has been so weakened and confused that Labour voters are unsure what the official Labour position is. Doubtless, the pro-EU Labour majority is quietly seething, and rightly so: Corbyn’s ambivalence has no doubt boosted the Leave campaign, though by how much is anyone’s guess. It is widely predicted that the Tories will collapse into civil war after the referendum: I predict Labour will too.

Spiked!

Spiked! is a strange and interesting online publication. It’s a cult-like grouping run by ex-far-lefties, and headed by Brendan O’Neill. While it appears to be broadly liberal, and makes a strong and intelligent defence of free speech, Spiked! and O’Neill often flirt with libertarian-right and even far-right language. It has taken a strongly anti-EU campaigning stance, and has the chutzpah to peddle nationalist isolationism as internationalism, using Marxist-type language to sell right-wing ideology. The campaign is well crafted, and plays an anti-Establishment card that could equally have been lifted from Lexiteers or the fascist right.

Waaah I’m Not Your Friend Any More!

I’ve blogged previously about morons who delete people on social media for holding viewpoints they disagree with. This isn’t just annoying, but is dangerously dividing society into echo chambers, and building tension between angry groups that refuse to talk to each other: this way lies hate and violence. In my observation, the left is worse at this, but that might be because I have a lot more left-wing friends than right-wing ones. Those morons who deleted friends in 2015 for voting Tory are now threatening to delete their friends who vote Leave. This does nothing to help the Remain campaign, but helps people feel better about themselves by pretending everyone in the world agrees with them.

Trump

Yes, the nationalist authoritarian US presidential candidate flies into town today, totally coincidentally, expressing support for the Leave campaign. The collapse of the EU would of course be useful if one is planning to carve the world up between cooperating dictatorships in the US and Russia: or Oceania and Eurasia as the new federations might be known.

And on that cheerful note, I’ll leave you to contemplate the coming downfall of western society.

Brexit: Tugging at Europe’s Loose Threads

In the recent Austrian Presidential Election, a far-right candidate – Norbert Hofer – came within a hair’s breadth of winning the Presidency. This moment represented just the latest evidence of a rise in populist and nationalistic attitudes that have arisen in the past decade across Europe, and arguably, worldwide. Some celebrated that the winning candidate was a left-wing independent, but that was small consolation indeed: the fact that the combined anti-fascist vote barely topped 50% is the frightening new reality in much of Europe.

My anti-fascist activism dates back almost four decades; I thought I had a stronger handle on the nature of fascism than most people. But, like most people alive today, I hadn’t really witnessed the phenomenon in the flesh. I had been taught that fascism was an exclusively right-wing political phenomenon; but it isn’t strictly right-wing, nor especially political. Fascism is a cultural force that unites many disparate conservative strands of society. It is, above all, a backlash against liberal values, most of all those of Liberty, Equality and Reason. It is generally kept at bay by the fact that usually, such groupings have little in common with each other.

Politics has become increasingly polarised as activists abandon the centre for the left and right poles. But in most cases, this does not mean a rise in diversity of opinion: in fact, once you strip away differences in presentation, left and right are often found in agreement with each other, and especially on the issues that most matter. Most of all, nationalism is soaring.

The EU is a remarkable internationalist institution, and its greatest achievement has been to diminish the importance of the borders between 28 European countries that have long histories of enmity and bloodshed. Borders are a natural response to external threats – whether real or imagined, but they also provide obstacles to the movement of people, goods, services and money. The erosion of Europe’s borders has been one of the greatest liberal triumphs in human history, granting unprecedented liberty to 500 million people, and creating an unprecedented Peace on the world’s most fractious continent.

Amidst such dramatic change, there have been inevitable losers as well as winners: low-skilled workers, in particular, have seen their incomes somewhat eroded since Poles and others from eastern Europe gained access to the British labour market a decade ago (two people told me at the time that their incomes had noticeably and rapidly fallen: one a bricklayer, the other a prostitute).

But EU winners easily outnumber the losers. For example, thanks to the EU, unemployed people have been able to flee southern Europe since the financial crash, and reduce pressure on those countries, which would otherwise see even higher unemployment and social problems. And this has been to the benefit of the economically stronger countries: this is easily visible here on London’s skyline, where a flood of incoming building workers is helping remedy the housing shortage. When many or most of them eventually return to eastern and southern Europe, the new housing stock will remain, a lasting legacy.

Yet the prevailing sentiments on both left and right are increasingly nationalistic. The right’s hostility is primarily directed at the people moving across borders. The Tory-led Brexit campaign, now led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, has become overtly anti-immigration in recent days. Meanwhile, the pro-Brexit left makes friendlier noises towards immigrants, but attacks free trade instead. But the free labour market can’t function without free movement of people, and mass migration would stall without trade across borders. Furthermore, thanks to digital technology, small businesses are able to trade across borders as easily as big ones (in fact, the EU’s single market has simplified that). So the left’s hostility to “neoliberalism” and the right’s brutish anti-immigration messages both end up attacking the same thing: open borders. And they find the same ultimate solution: stronger borders, with all the policing, cost and state intrusion that those require.

There are few moments, in practise, that could neatly unite nationalists across the spectrum, but the EU Referendum is one, and so it marks a uniquely dangerous moment for Britain and Europe. The vote on 23rd June will unite anti-immigration rightists with protectionist leftists. And for good measure, it will unite both of those camps with every vandalistic misanthrope in the country: we all enjoy the chance to smash stuff, just for fun, and here’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to smash the biggest thing ever. Some people, whatever their political leanings, will be voting Brexit, for the same reason that some people kick ants’ nests.

We’ve been told endlessly that Brexit will damage the economy, and doubtless it will, to some extent. But the political ramifications are far more significant, longer-lasting and unpredictable. A rise in anti-British sentiment would inevitably follow: can anyone imagine that a likely outflow of Spanish, Italian and French workers would not be met by expulsions of British workers and residents from those countries? Do we expect foreign electorates to be more accommodating than we are prepared to be? (Just as I was preparing to publish this post, the Spanish PM was reported to have threatened the right of two million British ex-pats to live in Spain).

This is nationalism: a race to the bottom. Will Europe cut off its nose to spite its face? If 1914 and 1939 are anything to go by, then yes, without a doubt. In the frenzy of nationalism, Europe will happily cut off its own face and then set fire to it (apologies for the trampled metaphor).

America’s great nationalist hope, Donald Trump, has clearly indicated his relish for Brexit. He (and this is not coincidental) plans to fly in to the UK the day after the referendum, and (if we vote Leave) will doubtless be delighted to gloat about Europe’s pending break-up, adding fear and uncertainty to Europe’s wounds. Brexit would inevitably be followed by copycat stupidity from other EU nations; the EU as we know it may well unravel, millions of people could be forced back into their home countries, economies may stall or nosedive, and the longer term political and economic consequences are impossible to guess.

It’s hard to sell anyone the status quo, especially at a time of anti-everything cynicism, but that’s what a Remain vote represents. 70 years of peace has been a pretty big prize, but few people alive today understand the significance of that. To understand what Europe did to itself (and the rest of the world) in the 1940s, I recommend reading All Hell Broke Loose by Max Hastings. If people understood the real, almost unbelievable horrors of WWII, would we really take even a small step back in that direction?

This is what the Brexit crowd call “Project Fear”. But we have the right to be frightened, and we should be frightened. They can’t say what would happen to our economy, our continent or our way of life post-Brexit. For that reason alone, we should Remain in the EU.