Sunday, 22 May 2016
A well earned defeat
We are now the final days of the referendum campaign. For others it's just heating up but to my mind this started long before the general election and it has been my sole preoccupation ever since. I took one look at Ed Miliband and concluded that there will be a Conservative government therefore there shall be a referendum.
In preparation for this I have fought and lost many battles. Battles with Ukip, battles with Vote Leave, battles with Leave.EU - and all points between. The central premise of the dispute is the Leave must have a plan and bleating about foreigners and regulations is just not going to win. I failed.
Consequently we now have the Mail on Sunday saying "So far in this campaign, the more the Leave campaign’s arguments have been subjected to the stress test of national debate, the weaker they have looked. They have very little time left to make a consistent and persuasive case for a momentous and radical change in the nation’s course."
In this, John Redwood, David Bannerman, Ruth Lea, Daniel Hannan, Dominic Cummings, Matthew Elliot, Arron Banks, Andy Wigmore, Nigel Lawson, Nigel Farage, the whole of Ukip, Douglas Carswell and all of the Eurosceptic aristocracy can take a bow. They are all guilty. They were given every warning and offered all the chances in the world to change direction. They were told immigration, regulation and budget contributions were the wrong approach. They didn't want to know.
The entire Leave campaign is built on shallow assumptions based on ideas as old as the hills. The most modern narratives in this entire campaign date back to 1992. This is why Leave is going to lose.
Effectively we are having a public trial of euroscepticism. We are in the dock being cross examined by the judge (the public) and grilled by some of the finest minds in the land. We will be found guilty of being wrong. And it's no use saying the entire establishment was against us. We are against the establishment and that is what we were seeking to remove by way of having this vote. Of course the establishment was going to be against us. Why wouldn't it be? And is that fair? Yes.
To whine of an "establishment stitch up" ignores reality. That was always the obstacle. That was the mountain to climb and so from the outset we needed to have a strategy to overcome the problem. Instead, our "leaders" chose the default option of moaning about the EU.
It's no use complaining about fear-mongering either. The reason being that ending free movement, pulling out of the single market and slashing at regulations most definitely would cause a major recession and interrupt trade and kill jobs. All of the people named above have at some point suggested this is all possible, with no reason to panic and it can all be sorted out with a free trade deal. They are wrong. Massively so.
The only thing the leave movement is right about is that the EU is nothing even approaching a democracy. The problem is that the public don't care. Half of them don't know what the EU is or even why we are having this referendum. The task for the Leave campaign was to convince the public firstly that it does matter and secondly what we can do with democracy once we have it.
That much was achievable and winning was possible. Take the fourteen per cent who voted for Ukip, half the Conservative voters, some of the Labour vote and the masses who voted for none of the above and there's enough to scrape a win. But only if properly motivated. There is sufficient discontent with the status quo but nobody is going to risk everything without a few guarantees. We've offered nothing. A few scrappy mantras about the NHS and saving a few quid. Pathetic.
The proposition we are putting to the voters is not that dissimilar to Corbynism. Back to the 80's. To reverse the economic integration, to deregulate and to end freedom of movement is politically akin with nationalising the railways, scrapping trident and reopening the mines. Neither can win the argument.
But just because the Leave campaign is wrong doesn't mean staying in the EU is right. Europhiles are guilty of much the same: weak ideas from the last century, equally oblivious to the seismic changes in politics and governance. The problems we face are increasingly global and require global solutions where parochial regionalism is an obstacle to building on what we have achieved in Europe.
As far as political debates go, the referendum has been as shallow as any other. As much as the Brexit blob don't want to know that their ideas are dated, the europhiles don't want to know either. The "Norway has no say in the rules" myth is clear evidence of this. You can slap a europhile round the face with all the conclusive proof you could ever wish for, highlighting the extensive world of global regulation and governance and it's like talking to a brick wall.
As much as the blob doesn't want to be disturbed with facts, europhiles are in deep denial that le grande project is obsolete and redundant. It actually takes an even more twisted denialism in that believing the mantras they spout ignore twenty years of evidence. That's why I am still voting to leave the EU.
In that respect I am all the more angry at the blob because their wilful refusal to acknowledge reality has allowed them to get away with it. The entire debate has been a straw man, knocking down the weak ideas presented by Vote Leave and consequently the central issues have been ignored completely. But this is why we will be back here again. Maybe in a few years, maybe in ten years, maybe in forty years time.
The Remain campaign will gloat when they win, believing that the forces of progressivism and internationalism have won. Nothing could be further from the truth. We will not only see Britain losing influence but also the EU's influence on the wane as yet more nations sign up to the global rules based trading system. We still won't have solved Britain's euro-ennui, nor will we have bridged the toxic divide. Our democratic deficit will only widen.
We have been told that leaving the EU won't fix immigration and it won't fix the economy and it won't fix our relationship with the EU in the ways the Brexit blob have suggested. And we'll have to concede that. But then it will fall to the the remains to answer the question "What will?". In this we will find them equally bereft of answers.
What it will take is a new movement built from the ground upwards to shatter the stasis field around British politics. We will have to put the globalisation agenda on the map and show what dismal, inward looking parochial creatures europhiles really are. Eventually it should become obvious that the EU has no answers and when the answers become clear it will be equally obvious that the EU is a bed blocker to something far better.
What we have to make clear is that we don't need to be in political union to trade and co-operate with our friends and neighbours, and the longer we are in the EU the less likely we are to extend the freedoms we enjoy to our other friends outside the EU.
What we can say is that nothing is going to improve as a result of being in the EU. All the establishment has done is bought a little more time, time in which we can reinvent euroscepticism and rebuild it with ideas fit for the modern era. In that time the EU will have no new ideas and in the ideas vacuum that exists at the next vote, if we play our cards right, there will be no justification at all to stay in the EU.
All the Remain camp has done is defeat a set of bad ideas. It has not demonstrated that the EU is a good idea. The verdict of this referendum will be "go away and come back with a better plan".
I actually think the Leave cause has a great deal more sympathy than the polls will reflect - same as Ukip had people rooting for it in the general election. As much as I spent an entire year blogging on Ukip's various deficiencies, there is nothing I would have liked to see more than to see it up its game and win those forty MPs they hoped for. That they didn't and had no intention of addressing their deficiencies is at the heart of my hostility to Farage who is the architect of this failure. He marched the troops up to the top of the hill without a plan of battle and now he stands alone.
The public will vote for change eventually. I think they do want to ditch the status quo, but they won't make a leap of faith on a whim. We can only have our revolution if we show that we have the goods and we're not a bunch of cranks pushing lies and wishful thinking. It's all about bridging the credibility gap. This time we have failed. If we can learn the lessons then next time it's sayonara to the European Union - but a goal without a plan is just a dream. If we blame others for our failure this time then we deserve to lose next time too.