The EU referendum was not a question of “head vs heart”. When Remainers pretend that they occupied the intellectual high ground, they only delay their necessary and inevitable reckoning with the will of the British people
Remainers simply cannot help themselves. They cannot stop being arrogant and condescending toward Brexit voters, even when making otherwise admirable attempts to extend the olive branch and accept the nation’s verdict on leaving the EU.
Here’s Rachel Reeves MP, writing in the New Statesman:
Two days before the referendum, I visited the largest private sector employer in my constituency. I had spoken to many of the workers during the general election campaign a year earlier.
Although the chief executive works with a community centre to recruit local young people, like many businesses they also hire many Eastern European workers. It was a tough audience, as many blamed the EU for the squeeze on living standards and most felt immigration was out of control.
The people I met believed leaving the EU would mean less pressure on services and more money for them, because the downward pressure on wages would ease with fewer EU migrants.
[..] I knew in my heart at lunchtime on the day of that visit that we’d lost the referendum. My head had told me – the economist – that we would win because the consequences of leaving were a risk voters wouldn’t take. But, by Friday morning, we knew the Leave campaign’s emotional message was stronger than the rational arguments of the Remain campaign.
My emphasis in bold.
And there it is again – the infuriating “head vs heart” conceit, beloved by Remainers, that they unquestionably held the intellectual high ground when it came to arguing for Britain’s continued membership of the EU, and that the only reason for their defeat was that the base emotions and fears of Brexiteers somehow clouded their rational judgment and (to quote Lincoln, since Reeves tries and fails to do the same) shut out the “better angels of our nature”.
According to this cognitive dissonance-soothing rationalisation of defeat, Remainers were unquestionably right to warn of economic armageddon, and the economy was the sole worthwhile measure on which an existential question about national identity and democracy should be determined.
If this is the fruit of the Left’s attempt to understand Brexiteers (and we know it is, because the bottom of the article states that “This blog is based on a chapter Rachel Reeves MP wrote for the Fabian Society edited collection Facing the Unknown: Building a progressive response to Brexit“) then they have done an unspeakably lousy job.
The immediate post-referendum polling clearly showed that the strongest driver of the Leave vote was widespread concern about sovereignty and democracy:
The biggest issue, according to Lord Ashcroft’s post-referendum poll, was the overwhelming desire to preserve what remained of British sovereignty.
In “How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday … and why,” a survey of 12,369 voters in the United Kingdom conducted the day of the referendum, Lord Ashcroft found the No. 1 issue propelling people to vote “leave” was their belief that the U.K. should remain a self-governing entity not responsible to some supranational body writing rules and regulations about the economy and other matters.
Not hankering for a return to the 1950s.
Not an acute discomfort with dark-skinned people or eastern Europeans.
Not “Daily Mail lies” about curved bananas.
The people of Britain voted to leave the European Union because a majority of us quite rightly refused to accept the false claim that close and fruitful trade and cooperation with our European neighbours is somehow only possible by subsuming ourselves into the relentlessly integrating EU superstate. They were smart enough to realise that an organisation with a parliament, flag, anthem and ambitions for a combined military force has its sights set on something much grander than “friendship and cooperation”, and quite rightly wanted no further part of this doomed experiment in euro-federalism.
What’s more, the Brexit-voting people of this country were enlightened and dedicated citizens enough to see through the hysterical scaremongering propaganda of the Leave campaign, and accept that even if there were some short-term economic costs associated with Brexit, the Remain campaign clearly value our country and democracy too cheaply if they would remain part of a European political union through fear of a potential recession.
Were there oddballs, cranks and racists among the Leave campaign? Yes, of course we had our fair share. But the Remain campaign had Eddie Izzard, so let’s not tar an entire side based on its worst cheerleaders.
Look, I get it – daring to consider that one might have campaigned hard on the wrong side of history must be immensely difficult. The emotional investment of Remainers in their worldview, rhetoric and “identity” as super-progressive, tolerant and all-round awesome people is very strong and hard to see past. But if anyone should have the capacity to move beyond their own intellectual comfort zones it should be our elected MPs, people like Rachel Reeves. Sadly, there is little evidence that many are doing so. Nor will there be, probably, until a couple of decades’ time at which point warnings of economic cataclysm will have been taken over by events.
It is good that Rachel Reeves and some others at various points on the left-wing spectrum, Jeremy Corbyn included, recognise that the EU referendum result must be honoured and are reconciling themselves to the will of the people. But it is one thing to accept the country’s verdict while still sanctimoniously proclaiming that the people were manipulated and hoodwinked, and quite another to reach deep inside for some humility and admit that the people may actually have been right all along.
Nobody expects the Labour Party and other Remainers to make the transition overnight. But well-meaning articles like this from Rachel Reeves suggest that the majority have not even begun the urgently-needed process of reconciliation to the national will. And that is a real concern, for their own tenuous future political careers if nothing else.
Top Image: Express
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