The media’s fixation with personality politics and the petty ups and downs of individual political careers distracts us from the only thing that matters when it comes to the EU referendum – the future of our democracy
The Times’ Red Box briefing email today leads with more sneering commentary about the supposed shortcomings of the broader anti-EU, pro-democracy Leave campaign:
Maybe it’s a stunt to show how difficult it is to work together for the greater good, thus undermining a key argument for staying in the European Union.
Or maybe the campaigns to leave the EU are a total bloody shambles.
While Remain was pumping out letters to ten million homes yesterday, the Outers were out to get each other. Again.
The briefing continues:
The infighting is also causing another problem: who would want to join this rabble?
Lord Lawson, the former chancellor, has suggested that a senior cabinet minister will eventually lead the Out campaign, though refused at the weekend to say who that might be.
There are suggestions that Chris Grayling and Theresa Villiers are not high profile enough, and the likes of Michael Gove will fall in line and support the PM.
Which leaves Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader who remains popular in some parts of the party and has long argued against staying in the EU.
Yet he too has history with Cummings, who was his director of strategy during his ill-fated leadership before quitting and later declaring: ” Mr Duncan Smith is incompetent, would be a worse prime minister than Tony Blair, and must be replaced.”
Because of course that is the most important question in this whole debate – whose reputation and political prospects will be most enhanced or damaged by the stance they take on the future of British political governance.
What ambitious, self-respecting politician would want to associate their glittering career with the grubby and laughable concepts of national sovereignty and democracy? Which of the petty, superficial personalities who pass for statesmen today will win a coveted promotion, and which will find their career progression halted because they pick the wrong horse in this race? The sheer superficiality of the media’s EU referendum debate coverage absolutely beggars belief.
Is there currently a lot of unseemly (to outward appearances) infighting among the eurosceptic, pro-Brexit crowd? Yes. But a lot of this is necessary fighting. Though our first instinct may be to separate the squabbling factions with cries of “can’t we all just get along?”, in actual fact this fighting serves an important purpose.
Many people and organisations who purportedly oppose the European Union are actually either ambivalent about leaving, or busy spewing out contradictory and uninformed messages which will ultimately harm the Leave campaign and provide the Remain side with plentiful campaign fodder. This harms the Brexit cause, and so must be confronted and dealt with if the Leave campaign is to win the referendum.
Vote Leave in particular is filled to the brim with people who don’t actually want Britain to leave the European Union, but simply want the government to use a “leave” vote as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from Brussels. Meanwhile, UKIP and others are often guilty of promoting an overly simplistic view of Brexit, conjuring a fantasyland where Britain quits the EU on Day 1, bans all immigration on Day 2, and holds a big Bonfire of the Regulations on Day 3.
None of these things are possible, nor even desirable. And pretending that they are achievable reflects badly on the entire Brexit movement. And so while it may appear unseemly to outsiders and the half-interested media, it is essential that eurosceptics have these essential debates now, while relatively few people are watching, so that we go into the campaign with the message that carries the greatest chance of success.
As Ben Kelly points out over at The Sceptic Isle:
[..] it is impossible for everyone to agree and therefore impossible to have one unifiedLeave campaign. The Remain campaign is entirely based on disseminating fear, uncertainty and doubt amongst the populace and propagating myths about Brexit. Thus, as a movement Remain is easy to unify; Europhiles are unified in their duplicity, unjust smugness, their lack of faith in democracy and their inability to stop clinging to an archaic ideology and an ideal that is redundant and bad for Britain.
The debate over leaving the EU is more nuanced and therefore necessarily divided; this makes the europhiles positively gleeful because they see it as an advantage. It isn’t. Those of us who want to leave the EU are now involved in a great competition, a battle of ideas, over how exactly we achieve Brexit both in terms of convincing the public, winning the referendum, and the plan for what we should do with our independence.
Remember, this referendum is the europhiles’ to lose. They have the government on their side, nearly the entire political establishment, the European Union itself and the lion’s share of the funding. They also have the most powerful advantage of all – the incorrect perception, fuelled by the media, that this referendum is a contest between staying in the EU as it is now (the “safe” status quo), and taking some deathly plunge into the unknown. Both of these axioms are utterly wrong, but they are widely believed and toxic to the Brexit cause.
Of course, in reality there is no status quo when it comes to the European Union. The EU is but a process, set in motion half a century ago, whose end destination is a single European state. And frankly, I am getting tired of pointing this out when the EU’s founding fathers and today’s euro-federalists have repeatedly said so in their own words.
At this point, it is for the pro-EU campaigners to explain why a humble organisation that supposedly only wants to promote free trade and co-operation requires a parliament, a judiciary, a flag and an anthem in order to accomplish these basic tasks. It is most certainly not for me to continually explain why the person pointing a gun in our face and demanding that we hand over our cash is in fact a mugger, and not a kind-hearted charity collector.
But it is hard to promote any kind of message about democracy, governance or anything else when all of the oxygen in the debate is sucked up and wasted on breathless speculation about whose careers will be helped or hindered by their eventual stance on the Brexit question.
I couldn’t care less whether Boris Johnson biding his time is a smart move in terms of his Tory leadership ambitions, or whether the likes of Theresa May and Sajid Javid are wise to lie low and obey David Cameron’s command for eurosceptics to keep quiet while his pro-EU ministers are given free reign to sing endless hymns of praise to Brussels. It doesn’t interest me. The only abundantly clear thing is the fact that none of the supposed Conservative eurosceptics truly care about safeguarding our democracy and sovereignty, because if they did they would be promoting Brexit for all they are worth rather than weighing up the options and deciding whether campaigning for Brexit might hurt their careers.
I know it is hard for the legacy media to remain focused on issues rather than personalities for any length of time, but given the gravity of this particular debate – and its profound, far-reaching consequences for how the British people will be governed in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time – it would be nice to see more than the usual token effort.
The current gossipy, high school style fixation with personality politics and the petty ups and downs of individual reputations and political careers is more toxic than all of the Remain campaign’s lies, distortions and evasions put together. For it distracts us from the only thing that matters in this referendum: democracy, and whether we surrender it out of fear, or stand and fight for it.
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.