Nick Cohen isn't being entirely genuine in this piece. Its oozing smugness is entirely deliberate, and I can't say I blame him because that's exactly what I would do in his position. In fact, I am almost in his position and I can't say my own smugness has been any more measured. The difference between me and Cohen is that one of us knows what he is talking about. And it isn't Cohen. Starting off the proceedings he says:
What a bloody shower. What an embarrassment to the England they claim to love. Liam Fox, David Davis, Nigel Farage, John Redwood, Dan Hannan, Bill Cash, Douglas Carswell, Dominic Cummings, Matthew Elliott, the rightwing press, the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Institute for Economic Affairs have been demanding a referendum since the 1990s. They have had two decades to prepare their arguments.All true so far. It's certainly not looking good is it?
Now, like children pestering their parents by the supermarket sweet display, their wish has been granted. They are the centre of everyone’s attention at last. The curtain rises. The audience falls silent. But the show won’t begin. The actors are too busy fighting each other to learn their lines.
The result of the feuding, however, is not remotely funny. Farage has won the battle on the right. For all their faults, the Tories around Vote Leave grasped a political truth and a moral argument. The case for leaving Europe could not be racist. If Farage gave us a referendum about immigration, he would turn it into a culture war. Voting to leave would mean voting against racial equality and gay marriage and in favour of confining women to the kitchen and bedroom.Course, Cohen isn't strictly correct in that Farage has hardly been noticeable in all this. Having been at the centre of this debate, I have noticed Farage has been largely absent, but he casts a long shadow over it.
We got a taste of the Trumpish politics that are about to hit us during last year’s general election campaign. Farage announced on a TV debate that he would stop people coming “into Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retro-viral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient”.
In one sentence he managed to “signal” to his “core” that he was against gays, foreigners and scroungers. It wasn’t so much dog-whistle as wolf-whistle politics. Farage was leering at prejudiced voters and telling them how much he fancied them.
His legacy of angry grunting worshippers who insist that Brexit is the only way to control immigration are possibly the most destructive force in the field. It is this that has seen a swing toward the more extreme campaign messages and the victory goes not to Farage, but to Arron Banks and Leave.EU - or as I call it, "continuity Ukip".
It's infatuation with Breitbart and all the classic hard right topes make it a campaign that moderates cannot back. That said, looking at the substance, the Tory message is not that much different either. I have no idea where Cohen gets the idea that "Vote Leave grasped a political truth and a moral argument". Moving on, Cohen says:
Rationally, the triumph of the Farage faction in the battle for control of the Eurosceptic movement is perplexing. For although he whistled in 2015, victory did not come. Only one Ukip candidate won a seat at the last election, and it wasn’t him. Farage now ranks alongside Jeremy Corbyn as the least respected politician in Britain. Many like me who have little respect for the EU, and many more who don’t care about it at all, will vote to stay if they think a vote to leave is a vote for Ukip.That's actually nothing new under the sun.
As I keep pointing out, it's all about the vibe. If it looks and sounds like a grubby populist movement obsessed with immigration then it has nothing at all to offer the swing vote. You could try pointing this out to the devotees but all you'll get is the boilerplate excuses and the rather naff assertion that "we wouldn't be having this referendum were it not for Farage". Whether or not that is true is largely irrelevant. What matters is that Farage has handed us a poisoned chalice. Continuing...
The sleep of reason does not end there. After the migration of hundred of thousands, it is understandable that immigration leads the list of voters’ concerns. But it is highly unlikely that leaving the EU will reduce immigration.Course, you know what I'm going to say here. That Cohen is wholly ignorant of the EEA agreement, the veto and the role of international standards and the global nature of regulations and blah blah blah. But it's unlikely Cohen is unaware these arguments exist. The omission of this line of argument is entirely deliberate. He's a europhile and wants to keep the lid on that particular debate.
For all their posing as plain-speaking English yeomen, the supporters of Out dodge questions like the sleekest media-trained politico. On the rare occasions when you can get a straight answer, some of them say they want Britain to be like Norway and Switzerland, which are outside the EU but can trade freely with one of the world’s richest markets without paying customs. But Norway and Switzerland not only have to implement European regulations, and have no say in drawing them up, they must also accept the freedom of EU citizens to move in and take up residence. To such an extent that Norway has higher per capita immigration than Britain .
He knows he can get away with it because the leave campaigns are not going to use that angle of attack since defending the Norway option means compromising on freedom of movement. Rather than standing up to the kippers, the leave organisations have caved in and pandered to the Faragista prejudice instead of making a bold case with original arguments.
This leaves them with nothing to go on except for tedious and weak speculation about the WTO option which has no basis in fact. So I guess, yes, technically Cohen is right - it is a Farage "victory". An entirely self-defeating and hollow one - except for Farage who will be taking an MEP salary for a good while longer now. Moving on...
The perplexity deepens when you look at the perverse, almost utopian, faith the Eurosceptics place in the European Union itself. Of course, the EU will agree to give us everything we want, they say. Brussels will allow Britain to have all the advantages of being a member of the EU with none of the burdens. Presumably, no Eurosceptic has ever been through a nasty divorce. Obviously, it has never occurred to them that the EU will want to discourage other members from leaving by making Britain pay a price.There is no reason to believe that the EU will be churlish, unless of course the EU is given reason. An insistence on the most savage separation possible, which is what the kippers demand, most likely would see a hostile negotiation, but as I have previously set out, they are not going to be in charge of negotiations and what they want most - an end to freedom of movement, is simply not going to happen.
Today’s Eurosceptics have no scepticism, however. They believe – or rather they want you to believe – that the remaining 27 countries will grant us an easy life if we leave. No one is more naively trusting of the European Union than the people who have spent their lives opposing it.
That's what makes the victory of the Faragista grunters all the more heartbreaking. Even if their message could win, they won't get their demands. But as Cohen says, "Farage understands what Trump knows too. His supporters don’t want logic and rational strategies".
In this, Cohen is correct. Across the board, Leavers have shown no self-awareness and no scepticism of any kind. You don't have to like Cohen to concede he has a point. Strip away his unbearable smugness and self-regard and the lack of attention to detail, he has smelled the vibe of the Leave campaign. He's not really saying anything I'm not, and I want to leave the EU.
And that ought to worry the leave campaigns. When your vocal critics, friends and enemies are all saying the same thing, it's really not us who have the case to answer. It's fair to say that in rejecting Flexcit, Arron banks has messed up big time. It's hardly surprising the europhiles are rejoicing.