Three non-obvious reasons to Vote Leave on the 23rd
How I stopped being an avoidnik and got off the fence
Comment I'm just about old enough to remember the 1975 Europe referendum. Old enough to remember leaflets thudding onto the doormat (for every 'NO', there were three for ‘YES’). Most vividly of all I remember my father and our Austrian GP, who lived a few doors down in Teesside, discussing the EEC as he walked his dog past our house.
Both were refugees. Neither could comprehend why Britain was giving up so much, in return for such a ropey hand of cards.
Neither of them bought the argument that the EEC was "just" an economic convenience; it wouldn't be for long, they reckoned, and neither saw bureaucracies as intrinsically benevolent. Both noted the way the EEC had been modelled on the French Civil Service, and the use of backroom negotiations to settle disputes. This was in contrast to the idealistic, sometimes utopian arguments for the EEC.
But sometimes it takes a real European to get a handle on the Europeans. To these two refugees, the UK was already pretty civilised, thanks, and something about Britain historically had allowed it to avoid the dark places Europe had gone. No blood had been shed here affecting change for a very long time. Why give up independence for a club which never really wanted us, and whose rules already appeared rigged to constrain us?
Back then, the Left had strong and articulate figures to make such a case. Figures such as Barbara Castle, Tony Benn and Peter Shore were prominent, politicians who have no equivalent in stature on the contemporary Left*. As a chippy Lefty at heart, I find that a striking absence. But, as time passed, I wasn't so much a Eurosceptic, as much as Euro-leave-me-alone. Rant away about the "EUSSR", but leave me out of it.
Today, I still maintain that if the EU had taken a different path - one more practical, less centrifugal and bossy, less utopian - no one would give a flying bollock about it today. We’d rather someone else got on with doing the governance – just don’t make the corruption too obvious, and let us kick you out when needed. My logic for this indifference might strike you as a bit cynical. Maybe appallingly cynical.
Everyone knew the EU was a mess, I reasoned, but either it would be forced to reform, or some other member state would leave first. Why risk 'first mover disadvantage', when the whole venture was evidently (post-Crash) teetering on the brink of collapse? Let Italy, Greece or Spain take the pain of bombing out first – then we could take the lead reconstructing it along much more suitable lines, perhaps as a minimalistic Hansa League. Doing nothing for the time being, sometimes, struck me as very sensible. It still is; I know "Shy Leavers" who are voting Leave simply to get a better deal, as it's the only way you can draw concessions for Brussels.
Here, I'll offer three factors that decided my vote on Thursday. None of which have featured in the wretched campaign. I won't dwell on the cliches the two sides have engaged in, or comment on the wretchedness of their campaigns. Two of the reasons are (or should be) traditional Left-ish arguments, that the contemporary Left ceased to make. The third might strike you as trainspotterish. Have a read and fire away.
Remember social solidarity? The Blob doesn't
"Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home," Arsene Wenger once said sarcastically in response to Alex Ferguson. It was after one of those mass brawls of the early 2000s in which Manchester United had come off worse, but Ferguson claimed the moral high ground by claiming his team still played the most attractive football.
The same is true in politics. If you lubricate a politically active member of the Left today with some beer, and ask them why they believe what they believe, you're likely to get a heartfelt speech about how the other lot (Republicans, Tories, libertarians, etc) is evil, while their lot is shoulder-to-shoulder with the people. Or something like that. Their motivation isn't greed or self-interest, like the other lot, but defending the common man. Their politics the good bits of the Gospel, but without the incense. These really actually noble ideas, but doesn't everyone think they're the most moral person in the room? Well, we can only judge moral virtue by the practice, not the proclamation, and the referendum has exposed a horrible gulf between the two. That bit about being superior because of your social solidarity needs a good hard look.
The referendum campaign has highlighted a divisiveness and an absence of social solidarity amongst people who profess to cherish it the most: the middle classes. This disquiet isn't new – it's been simmering away for twenty years. It's a rage not so much against PC, but against a cynical Middle Class "blob".
We're told that every country needs an elite for stable government, therefore "populist" raging about elites is divisive and misplaced. But of all the elites in modern times, our current political class is an elite with one important difference: it's a nobility that for the first time in history, has no sense at all of noblesse oblige.
Job-creation rackets like sustainability and digital are clubs rigged in favour of the middle class, that only allow in the self-righteous
The word nobility derives from the obligations of being the elite: being virtuous and noble in character, but that's not something that immediately springs to mind as the Establishment sets about flaying the people who disagree with it. Some of it is manifest in political correctness, but it's about far more than just PC, as the left-wing American writer Joel Kotkin identified. For Kotkin, the middle class As money gets tight, the middle class has been shrewdly using the state (and the EU plays a big part in this) to carve out some pretty tasty niches for itself. Niches like "digital", "sustainability" and "innovation" are all lucrative rackets that ensure that the people who involved are protected from a vicious labour market. Their kids are likely to benefit too. "Digital" and "sustainability" are like the shovel-sellers in the Gold Rush: the odd millionaire struck it lucky, but the shovel-sellers did OK. If you're lower down the scale, and competing with imported labour, there's no such sinecure. It's a club rigged in favour of the middle class, that only allows in the "virtuous".
Kotkin calls this class a "Clerisy", because it spends so much time being self-righteous and bossy. (Remember only the virtuous can enter the club). But being virtuous means shutting everyone else up. Manifest in PC, this can cause real harm - as was evident in the abuse scandals in Rotherham, Oxford and Rochdale, and several other towns, which saw fathers arrested as they attempted to rescue their daughters. Years elapsed after warnings before the perpetrators were arrested, and the victims run into the tens of thousands. It should be everyone's concern that the fascist far right can now present themselves as "defenders of the community". How did the Hell did we ever let them have a sniff of the moral high ground? Largely because the Blob, or the Clerisy which runs the North of England, and its bureaucratic institutions, had completely abandoned social solidarity. If as a social worker, doctor, policeman or BBC editor you look the other way - for fear of being called "divisive", then you've lost any claim to the moral high ground - and some knucklehead will fill that vacuum.
So the referendum on the EU has been described as a "referendum on migration", its biggest issue. But really, migration is a synecdoche, and underlying it all is a disquiet, or disgust, at the behaviour of the Blob, the Clerisy: our political and media elite. And the shaming used for years to silence such disquiet lost its power to silence.
Personally, I'm a walking metropolitan liberal cliche when it comes to freedom of movement – I think it's a good thing and it's benefited me. But why wouldn't I like migration? I'm middle class, I can employ cheap labour I couldn't before, and my job isn't in danger. But my vote is one of 35 million, and many of them aren't going to get a pay rise for years, if ever. As I see it, the UK's indigenous working class were simply replaced with a cheaper, imported version. But the Blob then dumped them by the side of the road, and then berated and stigmatised as "racist" when they complained. A few are, but Britain is the least racist country in the world (No one berated my Dad for not singing the National Anthem - whereas in the USA, immigrants have to wrap themselves in the flag and sing louder than anyone else). Calling people racist or xenophobic when they are not is a slander.
Permanent wage suppression is just a fact of importing cheap labour, and it's only in the past month that people have felt able to raise this (and the lid has now been shut firmly back down on that again) without being shouted at. Remain are correct when they say Leavers are being duplicitous: migration would continue. Membership of the EEA pretty much requires it. The cause wasn't helped by Farage's sinister, innuendo-laden poster, as Leave was already winning and pulling away. But I'd like to imagine that a slightly-more-noble elite (or Blob, or Clerisy) could have avoided all this altogether had it handled mass migration differently, and honestly, in the past: by vowing to leave no one native UK citizen behind, no matter where they live. From here, it seems that Being Jolly Publicly Virtuous is such as part of the Clerisy's identity it can't ever let go.
We've heard a lot about "divisiveness" for the past few days – about how we need to pull together in unity. Awful "genies have been released from bottles", and need to be stuffed back in. For me, this is not only hypocritical, it merely kicks the can a few yards down the road. And it creates more fertile ground for fascists.
Brexit will make Africa richer, and saves Europe from itself. Again
There are altruistic reasons for fleeing a crashing project, though, rather than reasons of self interest. One is the genuine chance to lead the world and make it a bit less crap. A Brexit would be followed by other exits. The entire project would need to be rethought, with the provisions that have imposed austerity being lifted from Greece, Italy and Spain merely to keep them in.
With an economy the size of the UK swelling its ranks the EEA could soon count more than 100m citizens in its ranks. Enough to being an entirely new trade relationship with Africa, which needs the trade more than we need the protectionism. It's a myth that the EU is a single market; it's really a customs union, which is a trade barrier against the rest of the world. This keeps the price of staples artificially high, with Brussels pocketing the difference.
Worse of all, it ensures that African countries remain subsistence economies. Did you know it took Kenya almost 15 years just to be able to export flowers into Fortress Europe? The EU trade cartel ensures African economies remain permanently poor. Have a read of this piece, by Susanne Cameron-Blackie, on how precisely this is implemented: just as under the colonial system of Imperial Preference, commodity suppliers must only supply commodities and not move up the value chain.