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Britain’s EU Referendum – a plague on both your houses

June 16, 2016
Lord George Gordon addressing the mob in St George's Fields

The Gordon Riots, 1780

Forget about facts. Forget about forecasts. Ignore the lies, damn lies and statistics. The British EU Referendum will be determined by feelings.

On the Remain side, it will be “we’re doing quite nicely, thanks. Please don’t rock the boat”. On the Leave side, it’s “they’re taking our jobs, they’re telling us what to do, they’re taking our country”. Note the pronouns: Remain is about us, Leave is about them.

I’m beyond commenting on the arguments, or should I say the suppositions, assumptions and implications. Go to the pub, read the papers, watch the TV if you want more of the same. I’m beyond trying to persuade people which way to vote, either in this blog or in conversations with friends or strangers between now and June 23rd.

I’m done. I know which way I’m voting, and always have. I shan’t even be in the country on the day. Between now and then it’s pretty obvious what’s in store. Churchillian rhetoric, appeals to self-interest, publicity stunts. Blood, sweat and tears.

For me, what will be fascinating will be the aftermath.

Whichever way the vote goes, we’ll muddle through. We always do. There are far worse things that can happen in the next few years. Things that dwarf our little referendum into insignificance. Wars, economic collapse, pestilence, natural disasters. If all we have to worry about is the state of our GDP, the existence of a Polish butcher in our high street and the fact that the family next to us on the train aren’t speaking our language, we should count ourselves lucky.

On a purely parochial level, I always enjoy the political drama that plays out after a major election.  Tears of joy, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Removal vans at Number Ten. Recriminations, bitching, accusations, torturous analysis. We have all that to come after this referendum. Except that after an election one government replaces another, or hangs on to power. In this case the whole political order will have been ripped apart, just as happened in the early 20th century when our politicians were arguing about – guess what? Free trade.

I suppose we need a good shake-up in Westminster now and again. And for sure, we’re going to get one. Neither major party is in a position to capitalise on the weakness of the other, so whatever the referendum result, we’re due for some turbulence, uncertainty and unstable government. Perhaps even a general election pretty soon, God help us.

When I first thought about this post, I did wonder whether we’re more in thrall to our emotions as a nation than we have ever been. I thought of Diana’s funeral – the mass outpouring of grief that matched those at the funerals of Rudolf Valentino, Eva Peron and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Are we more easily swayed, whipped up and manipulated than ever before?

Then I remembered our dark history of riots and insurrections. Of the Peasant’s Revolt and the execution of Charles I. Of the Gordon Riots (as above). More recently, of Brixton and Notting Hill, St Pauls and Toxteth. And, on the flip side, I thought of the hundreds of thousands who gathered in central London to celebrate the defeat of Hitler, drinking, dancing and fornicating merrily through the bomb-ravaged streets of the capital.

So no, we’ve always been prone to getting carried away, in our usually polite but occasionally violent British fashion. And thus it is now. There will be no riots after a Brexit, though some way down the track there might be. But it won’t be because we’ve been duped by ambitious politicians. It will be because of factors way beyond our control as a nation – as I said earlier, wars, economic collapse, pestilence and natural disasters. And, as always, there will be multiple reasons for the anger. Except that – to paraphrase Richard Nixon when he lost the 1962 California governorship election – we won’t have the EU to kick around anymore.

For all the logical arguments put forward by reasonable people, set out by responsible newspapers and TV stations – and I’m not talking about Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Rupert Murdoch, The Sun and The Daily Mail – voters will listen to their emotions and do what they have to do. Emotions are the most potent weapons the persuaders have, because any other doorstep conversation becomes hopelessly mired in detail-laden assertions and rebuttals that most of us neither understand nor believe.

For the past few weeks both sides have been wheeling out celebrities, business people and role models to declare their allegiance, because they calculate that if you like Sir Ian Botham and Jeremy Clarkson, you will think as they do. Twas ever thus. Dog food, razors, Britain’s future – what’s the difference?

Which leads us to one last factor. We, the British voters, are not stupid. By now, most of us know we’re being manipulated. In the end, I expect, while most of us will vote with our feelings, the balance might be tipped by which of the two sides we think takes us for fools more than the other.

Which ever way it goes, come June 24th, we will most likely face an uncertain time, perhaps a period of relative poverty. But the sun will come up as it always does. It will probably rain. Our footballers most likely will be off for their summer holidays, either because of their own performance or thanks to the fighting spirit of their fans. Wimbledon will be upon us. The politicians will be plotting and back-stabbing. And we ordinary folk will have a whole new set of conversations.

There have been worse times. And hey, we still have the Donald and Hillary Show to look forward to in the autumn.

From → Business, History, Politics, UK

  1. John Butler permalink

    I fear it’s much worse than you imagine. If we leave, Europe could break up with unforeseen dire consequences, a continent on our doorstep. The U.K. could break up, Scotland will want to negotiate terms with the EU as an independent country, Wales possibly too, if there’s an EU left. Worse, we will have a right wing UK government which will shrink the State: environmental protection, human rights, animal welfare legislation will be relegated to the back burner. The gap between rich and poor and between the regions will widen. Social services, public services will be privatised. Economic deals will be made where we are the weaker partner (desperate for trade deals as we shall be). Europe will be deprived of our voice and influence and of our much valued civil servants. (Yes, I know, people are only interested in what they can get out of Europe not what we can contribute. But actually what we contribute helps us as well). Hungary and Poland will be have less opposition in their anti-human rights agenda. TTIP will go ahead with none of the protection the EU is likely to demand. We will be open game for the US: growth hormone beef coming in, Welsh lamb will have no PGI status (‘appelation controlee’ for wine buffs) along with other British products of the same status, GM foods will be allowed. There will be enough chaos in the end for another right wing government to bring in emergency powers etc. Those who can’t make up their mind should vote to remain even on the basis of the devil you know is better than the other devils that could take its place. Wake up, Britain. Listen to Michael Moore: we are worth more than this petty whining. This is a threatened right wing coup that for years I’ve expected: they’ve got the perfect opportunity. Some of them have been waiting for this. People should abort it. It’s very dangerous indeed. Please take time to look at this and share: it’s an enlightening read from a sane source:

    • Thanks for your very eloquent comments, John. I’m not sure I agree with all your predictions, but I’m absolutely convinced we should remain. Thanks also for the link. As you say, very sane, and well worth a read. S

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