How much democracy would you give away in the hope of greater short term stability?
Our glorious leader has taken to the pages of the Sunday Telegraph today to offer his standard stump speech, talking down Britain’s prospects as an independent country.
Focusing exclusively on the (mostly) short term costs of Brexit whilst determinedly overlooking the costs of remaining in a relentlessly integrating political union, David Cameron warns:
A year ago, the Conservative election manifesto contained a clear commitment: security at every stage of your life. Britain is doing well. Our economy is growing; unemployment is falling to record lows.
We need to be absolutely sure, if we are to put all that at risk, that the future would be better for our country outside the EU than it is today.
There is no doubt in my mind that the only certainty of exit is uncertainty; that leaving Europe is fraught with risk. Risk to our economy, because the dislocation could put pressure on the pound, on interest rates and on growth. Risk to our cooperation on crime and security matters. And risk to our reputation as a strong country at the heart of the world’s most important institutions.
And in other utterly astounding and headline-worthy news, a group of finance ministers from the world’s leading economies released a statement yesterday, sombrely declaring that Britain leaving the European Union would represent an economic shock.
Or as the Telegraph tells it:
The global economy will suffer “a shock” if Britain votes to leave the European Union, the world’s 20 leading nations have warned.
In a joint statement, finance ministers from the G20 group of major economies unanimously agreed that the risk of “Brexit” posed dangers for international stability.
George Osborne, who is attending the meeting of central bankers and ministers in China, said the danger of a Leave vote on June 23 would represent one of the gravest threats of 2016.
In what will be seen as a coded attack on Boris Johnson, who is campaigning to leave, he added that the leaving the EU would not be “some amusing adventure” but a serious threat to Britain and the world.
Well, that’s it then. Quest for democracy and self-governance cancelled. Call off the referendum and put away all those naive thoughts of Brexit, because the world financial markets don’t like the idea very much, and what’s best for an American hedge fund manager automatically trumps your right to self determination.
Why, oh why do those awful eurosceptics and Brexiteers persist with their alarming and selfish calls for an end to undemocratic, unaccountable, supra-national government? Can’t they see that they are creating economic uncertainty? Won’t somebody please think of the children?
This, by the way, is the same George Osborne who insisted that “we rule nothing out” when it came to possibly campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, until the conclusion of the so-called renegotiation. This opens up the hilarious thesis that while the Chancellor of the Exchequer believes that Brexit would be unspeakably traumatic for Britain and for the world economy, he was nonetheless prepared to recommend that we quit the EU and flirt with so-called disaster, had Britain not secured that precious reminder that we are already under no obligation to adopt the euro (one of our renegotiation “victories”).
If George Osborne is so desperate to warn us that Brexit would not be an amusing adventure, why was he willing to publicly countenance Britain leaving the EU in the event that he and David Cameron failed to win their puny basket of concessions from Brussels? If Britain leaving the EU would inevitably be such a disruptive and traumatic event, why did they insist that nothing was off the table if they didn’t get what they wanted?
But put all of that to one side. The more fundamental question we have to ask ourselves is whether we are happy for every key decision about our civic life to be determined purely by economic forecasts. And not necessarily detailed or well researched forecasts at that, but rather by unverifiable assertions about fickle market sentiment – which inevitably prioritises the short term over the long term, and which can put a price on risk but not on democracy.
The EU apologists in the Remain camp will throw their hands up in mock horror at this statement, but it is true: some things – like democracy – are more important than money.
In fact, you can tell a lot by observing the times when EU apologists and left-wingers earnestly listen to the voice of big business and the far more frequent occasions when they demonise the “greedy” corporate world. To point out the naked confirmation bias at play here is hardly necessary.
As this blog commented some time ago, when HSBC was making dark murmurings about potentially upping sticks and leaving Britain in the event of Brexit:
Isn’t it funny how the voice of big business – usually the object of scorn and hatred from the left – suddenly becomes wise and sagacious when the short term interests of the large corporations happen to coincide with those of the Labour Party?
Labour have been hammering “the corporations” relentlessly since losing power in 2010, accusing them of immoral (if not illegal) behaviour for such transgressions such as not paying enough tax, not paying employees enough money, paying employees too much money and a host of other sins. In Labour’s eyes, the words of a bank executive were valued beneath junk bond status – until now, when suddenly they have become far-sighted and wise AAA-rated pronouncements, just because they have come out in support of Britain remaining in the EU.
The ability of the British people to determine their own future does not appear as a line item on any company’s balance sheet or P&L account, so of course large corporations – as represented by the minority of FTSE 100 chief executives who recently signed a letter arguing against Brexit – do not care whether the people in their home country live in a functional democracy.
Most businesses are just as happy to make money from operating in oppressive autocracies as it is in free democratic countries; nobody is investing in China out of admiration for that dictatorship’s record on human rights. And indeed it is not the job of corporations to make such value judgements, or to safeguard the constitutional frameworks that hold this or any other country together.
That job falls to our politicians, people who should be able to distinguish corporate self interest from the national interest. And who should be able to distinguish between serious macroeconomic upheavals based on a fundamentally worsening economic outlook and short-term macroeconomic shocks based on spooked markets and jittery investors.
Of course Brexit might cause shock waves and be disruptive in the short term. One of the largest and most influential countries in the world would be leaving the most prominent supra-national political union in the world, and it would be concerning if such an event took place without causing a ripple of attention. But potential economic uncertainty is not the point, and neither is it a sufficient reason to fearfully remain in the EU in perpetuity while overlooking the profound and irredeemably anti-democratic nature of the club.
In fact, one can go further and argue that it is the tremulous fear of uncertainty – and our apparent preference for technocratic risk-minimisation at every turn and in every aspect of our lives – which has sucked the ideological contrast out of our contemporary politics and done so much to encourage voter apathy.
Pete North picks up on this point in an excellent blog post, in which he argues that a little uncertainty might actually be a very welcome development:
This is why the EU sucks. We can have any government of any stripe so long as it performs within a set of predefined parameters and does as it is told. How very dull. In dispensing with democracy we have dispensed with politics and in place of politics we have civic administration where everything is merely about the allocation of resources. Where’s the big idea?
We have heard from every politician the same vague promises about returning power to the people and restoring localism, but we’ve heard it from ardent europhiles who do not see the inherent contradiction in their empty words.
By excluding the people from decision making we have killed off social innovation and enterprise, we have beaten the life out of our education system and where our health system works it is more through luck and the application of cash than actual managerial skill. It is little wonder that business looks overseas for skilled individuals in that our schools are micromanaged to the point of insanity, beating the vitality out of teachers so that children are neither engaged nor educated.
Put simply, there is no longer any uncertainty in politics. The corporates have got their own way. They keep saying if we leave the EU, it will cause uncertainty but that’s actually exactly what we need. We do need some uncertainty that causes to re-engage in politics and to learn more about civic participation and steer decision making. We need some political risk taking so that we can innovate. It might mean a lot improves and it might mean some things break down. But wouldn’t that be more tolerable than the interminable beigeness of modern, post-democracy Britain?
And ultimately, it comes down to that one question: what price does the Remain camp put on democracy?
If the EU is frustrating and imperfect (as all but the most starry-eyed europhiles concede) but leaving would simply be too great a risk, where then is the tipping point? At what point do the negative consequences of gradually but relentlessly losing control over the decisions which affect our lives outweigh a brief wobble in the FTSE 100 or a few sleepless nights for central bankers? And if we have not already reached this tipping point, those who argue for us to stay in the EU have a moral responsibility to tell us where they do draw the line.
Europhiles, particularly those on the political Left, love to portray themselves as progressive and enlightened warriors, fighting for freedom and security for the little guy. Well, here is a blazing example of them doing exactly the opposite in real life.
Given the choice in this referendum to stand up for the right of the poorest and most disadvantaged citizen to exert some limited measure of control over their government by campaigning for Brexit and repatriating sovereignty from Brussels, instead the EU apologists would condemn us to yet more political union with Europe. And all because to do otherwise would go against the wishes of finance ministers, central bankers and certain chief executives. Way to fight for the average citizen!
Risk and uncertainty are not dirty words. And while our prime minister seems to believe that we are a nation of frightened children who are terrified of making important decisions and who instinctively run away from the slightest risk, I choose to hope that there are still enough of us who realise that the EU’s anti-democratic status quo is not the best option for Britain’s future, that David Cameron’s sham renegotiation has done nothing to change that basic calculus, and that a brighter and more democratic future could await us if we dare to ignore the many vested interests and take bold action.
David Cameron went to the country at the general election last year offering a Big Government, nanny state “plan for every stage of your life”. He now asks us to trust that the future he has carefully planned out for us – one of sheltered irrelevance, tucked away in an anachronistic 1950s regional political union – is the best that modern Britain can hope for.
This referendum provides the opportunity for British citizens to show that we hold our country in much higher regard than does our own prime minister – and to help consign David Cameron, together with our EU membership, to the dustbin of political history.
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