Is there a shy eurosceptic factor at play in the EU referendum?
What happened to all of the supposedly staunchly eurosceptic Conservative cabinet ministers – people like Sajid Javid and Rob Halfon – when it came time to nail their colours to the mast and declare their desire to leave the European Union?
Charles Moore has a theory:
Obviously one factor is that Tory MPs have found it convenient in recent years to adopt Eurosceptic protective colouring in their constituencies. But I think there is something deeper. The fear factor which may well win the referendum for Mr Cameron actually operates even more strongly on the elites than on the mass of the population. People who hold important jobs are much more worried than normal citizens about being considered ‘off the wall’. If they opt for ‘leave’, they will be interrogated fiercely by their peers about their decision. If they declare for ‘remain’, they will be left in peace. The EU is the biggest elite orthodoxy of the western world since we gave up our belief in imperialism. Most people within elites find it too tiring and dangerous to question the orthodoxy under which they have risen to the top.
Now, I have no time at all for those craven Conservative MPs who built their precious reputations and careers on a foundation of what turns out to be utterly fake euroscepticism. But neither can I deny the very real, socially oppressive aura that surrounds euroscepticism in some quarters, whereby it becomes very difficult for people to publicly express their eurosceptic opinions in certain context and company. And if one cannot excuse the shameless U-turning when it is committed by our elected representatives, we should perhaps be more understanding when ordinary members of the public falter.
So what are we dealing with here? It’s the same factor which makes otherwise confident, extroverted people drop their voices to a hushed and conspiratorial whisper when discussing their conservative political leanings in an elite (or creative/artistic) workplace, or makes a school teacher think twice before openly contradicting the biased, anti-Tory ranting of their colleagues.
But it is more than simply avoiding hassle. For many people, not only the elites, it is also a case of seeking to avoid very tangible real-world consequences of being known to hold unfashionable opinions – the threat of public ridicule, professional censure or even job loss, simply for committing thought-crime.
Maybe nobody will care if you fail to join in the joking with your colleagues when they laugh about Nigel Farage or mock those knuckle-dragging Little Englanders who want to pull up the drawbridge on Fortress Britain. But maybe they will notice, and maybe it might lead to an awkward question: “Wait a minute, you can’t seriously support those racists, can you? You’re having a laugh, right?” Far easier to just go along with the crowd. Why risk antagonising the boss, or the people you sit next to every day? Why risk that upcoming promotion? Better just stay silent.
And of course, this is exactly what happened last May. Ed Miliband and the Labour Party convinced themselves that they were heading for victory in the general election. They really, sincerely believed it (read Dan Hodges’ book “One Minute To Ten” to get a sense of just how fervently they believed it). But it was all nonsense, a great exercise in self-deception made possible by the fact that Labour activists had created such a stultifying aura of sanctimonious left-wingery and screeching Tory-hatred that anyone with a remotely conservative political leaning simply dropped out of the conversation and went silent. Silent, that is, until May 7 – at which time they marched to their polling station and delivered David Cameron back to 10 Downing Street.
Is there a chance that history might repeat itself now it comes to the EU referendum? It is certainly a possibility. There are many social settings – mostly where the social, academic or artistic elites live and work – where expressing a eurosceptic opinion or declaring one’s support for Brexit is tantamount to reading aloud from Mein Kampf in the town square. But conversely, there are no equivalent places or scenarios where one might reasonably expect to be actively persecuted for expressing pro-EU sentiments.
That alone speaks volumes. And while it may not excuse the despicable behaviour of some Conservative cabinet ministers who chose career advancement over eurosceptic principle, it would explain the reluctance of many people from certain professions or social groups to openly declare their euroscepticism.
As to how much of a chilling effect the establishment’s instinctive pro-EU instincts have on the polling and the wider referendum debate, we will likely not know until the votes are counted.
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“or makes a school teacher think twice before openly contradicting the biased, anti-Tory ranting of their colleagues”
It’s not just in schools, but very obviously in universities, where they should be teaching people to question dogma – and practicing what they preach.
In fact exactly the opposite is happening. Question the vague, deeply political rhetoric of modern feminism there, and you job is in danger. Quite simply, feminism gains the traction that it does because its adherents are prepared to be more ruthlessly manipulative and cliquey – and if academic rigour and rational enquiry have to go out of the window, then so be it…
UKIP is full of ex-Tories who don’t think current Tories are anti EU enough. Only reason UKIP want to leave the EU is because they’re scared it will affect the ability of the few at the top mistreating British people.
Only have to look at what their lying Tory leader Farage does. Claims he’s for British jobs, but then employs his foreign wife on tax payers expenses to increase his household finances, and brags about how many expenses he claims.
I’m more scared about what Tories and UKIP want to do to Britain than anything from the EU, and some will trust them to make new human rights laws, when the human rights laws we have now were written by British lawyers after WW2, and more modern than USA constitution.
Their main policy isn’t even to leave the EU, it’s to get rid of human rights, and how can anybody be thick enough to think that’s only about terrorists. There are already exceptions for national security now. Tories used the police as their personal army against millions they made unemployed. Lying that ship building would go over to third world countries when it’s now in rich countries like Japan.
Germany now own 4% of British Telecom, and that’s not because of the EU. It’s because Tories stole and sold off nearly everything public owned to anybody, even foreign countries.
Then by early 90s after not spending money they made on selling everything off on anything anybody wanted such as more social housing or the NHS, as well as much tax that affected the poor the most such as many VAT increases, they said the money had all disappeared, giving them an excuse to not put money into what services were left making them the worst in Europe.
Yep, they made such a mess of it that the rest of Europe wants to come here…
As a right of centre Brexiteer who happens to be a teacher in the state sector this excellent post really hit a chord, thanks Sam. I decided not to hide and found that once my views were known there were plenty of others who agreed. This sod ’em attitude is one reason I tweet and blog in my own name.
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That’s good to hear, many thanks Rob for sharing your perspective. Judging by the Spectator piece, it sounds like not all eurosceptic, conservative or Brexit-supporting teachers are so fortunate, and some have suffered real-world consequences for their beliefs. But there are probably several other factors at play, I imagine.
Unscientific as it is notionally, I don’t know a single person, have not encountered a single person in excess of a year, who has told me they’d intend to vote to stay in the EU at the Referendum. No point really trying to enlarge on that because it’s academic. But it is my observation. However, an undecided Taxi driver talking to me last week asked me about it and ultimately I told him that it would always be safe to vote ‘Leave’. If he voted ‘Remain’ – and that the UK votes to stay in that undefined and undefinable (let alone unaccountable) EU, that his electoral voice would never count for anything again – so much as it might already have done so. I also explained to him that he could expect – on the electorate recording a ‘leave’ vote – that it would be necessary to participate in future referendums or punitive General Elections to reverse that result, and to carry on voting ‘Leave’.
Just on the subject of one of your tweets here regarding BBC QT. I recall one episode of it from some years back. Ian Hislop appearing. At that point was one of the regular junctures discussing EU referendums of some specifics and a question on that particular EU referendum controversy was put to the panel. Hislop was given first place pecking order and attempted to answer the question. He got maybe three words in before he was interrupted by a member of the audience who was in the front row. A girl of maybe twenty years old or so.
She immediately asked (paraphrase) ‘Do you think the public know enough about these issues to be able to vote in a Referendum’*. Of course, whilst interruptions are normally off-limits on this programme, in this instance the interruption was permitted without contrary murmur and what should have been a proper debate on the actual subjective matter of the day was decoyed off and the panel was never permitted to return to it. ‘Planted questions’? You bet. This programme has long-term form in its agenda here.
(* I note this is a frequent question asked by Europhiles. I’ve come to the conclusion that Europhiles don’t know enough about the issues at hand to be able to competently place a vote on the matter.)