The European Union’s Long Game

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The dream of a federal Europe is not dead, or even resting. European political union is a long game – watch closely on a day to day basis and you will notice nothing moving. Only when viewed at a distance of years and decades does the direction of travel become crystal clear

Pete North warns people against complacency:

One political meme travelling around academia at the moment is that the vision of the EUs founding fathers has stalled and will never become a reality so it’s ok to remain in the EU because there is a different destination of concentric circles bound under a loose alliance. It’s actually a convincing argument when you look at the reality on the ground, but it’s a piece of creative writing which ultimately ignores the nature of the beast.

The founding fathers were savvy in their design of le grande project. They always knew it could never be done all at once because the central vision would never secure a mandate. Integration by deception has always been the modus operandi. It salami slices powers little by little, so gradually that few ever notice. And you’d never see it unless you know what the game plan is. They were long term thinkers. They knew it would take a generation or so to advance their agenda and they had a roadmap to do it.

It has always used funding of local projects to manufacture consent. It’s why you’ll find EU logos emblazoned on any nature reserve or community hall or obscure museum out in the shires, to convince the plebs that their benevolent EU guardians cared more for them than the London government. It is why it funds universities too. Every strata of civil society has an injection of EU cash. Education, NGOs, you name it. And it works.

It is important to rebut the claim from EU apologists that Brexiteers are somehow exaggerating or indulging in conspiracy theories – often a sneering Remainer will say that eurosceptics have been warning about the coming European superstate for decades, and the fact that it has not yet quite arrived means that we are somehow wrong.

While the EU’s “founding fathers” were not exactly shy about their intentions for the nascent union, they also realised that supranationalism and the various tenets of statehood could not be spoken of too often in relation to the EU for fear of scaring people off. The process of integration would have to take place in stages, inching forward at opportune moments and often using crises as a pretext for the transfer of more powers (as we now see with the euro). Richard North and Christopher Booker’s masterful history of the EU, “The Great Deception”, draws on primary sources to spell this out in clear detail.

Pete continues:

The founding fathers always knew a day would come where the legitimacy of the EU would be questioned. And now you see how well their pernicious scheme worked, with the entirely of the civic establishment coming out in favour of remain. They have made idle supplicants of our institutions, robbing them of their vitality, curiosity and dynamism.

And those who speak up about this are often labelled cranks or conspiracy theorists. Except it is a conspiracy and one they published in full. They even founded an academic institution to promote it: “The Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies is an inter-disciplinary research centre at the heart of the European University Institute”. The hellmouth of europhile academics and functionaries.

The modus operandi is encoded into all of the treaties and articles of the EU. It is worked into the philosophy of the institutions and it is designed to resist any kind of reform – especially anything which may introduce democracy. There it lies, dormant in the system, but sufficiently restraining in order to prevent deviation from the path.

It may stall, it may go quiet, but the agenda is always there with the noose ever tightening – engineering for irreversibility. That is why the remains make such an issue of how we leave the EU. It was never meant to be easy. It was always a quicksand trap for democracies. The harder you pull away the more it sucks you in.

And so when we hear the ignorant prattle of cosseted and sinecured LSE academics telling us it’s safe to stay because the dream is dead, they are speaking from a position of naivety and ignorance. The Ghost of Monnet lives on. The ghoulish servants of the ideal still roam the corridors of Brussels and an infest social media spreading their poison, sewing doubts and rewriting history.

The more people learn about the history of the European Union, the more eurosceptic they become – almost every time. And part of that history is a shameful and profoundly undemocratic legacy of integrating slowly and by stealth, patiently overcoming obstacles (like referendum “no” votes) and grinding away to achieve the ultimate objective.

We should certainly not allow a bunch of highly self-interested and fundamentally untrustworthy academics to lull us into a false sense of security at this late stage.

 

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Okay, Let’s Talk About Patriotism

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David Cameron thinks that Britain owes its limited greatness to the coiffured prancing of One Direction. This is a man who doesn’t know how to begin thinking like a patriot because he doesn’t appreciate the first thing about what makes Britain truly great

David Cameron spent much of his 20-minute grilling in last night’s damp squib of a television “debate” with Nigel Farage waffling on in the vaguest possible terms about patriotism.

Specifically, the prime minister wheeled out almost the identical meaningless phrases that he always uses when he finds himself scrambling to recover his footing – like when he failed to win an outright parliamentary majority in 2010, and when faced with worrying poll numbers in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

He then advanced the rather surprising argument that the way in which we might best show our patriotism and love of country is to vote for its continued subsummation into that giant self-help group for countries who have lost their mojo known as the European Union.

The Daily Mail summarises Cameron’s basic pitch:

The Prime Minister acknowledged that sometimes the EU “can drive me mad, it is a bureaucracy, it is frustrating” but “walking away, quitting, would reduce our national influence, would reduce our economy, would reduce our say in the world and as a result would damage our country”.

He told the audience: “You hear a lot of talk about patriotism in this referendum. As far as I’m concerned I love this country with a passion, I think we are an amazing country and I say if you love your country then you don’t damage its economy, you don’t restrict opportunities for young people, you don’t actually isolate your country and reduce its influence in the world.”

Warning that Brexit could lead to Scotland separating from the UK he said: “You don’t strengthen your country by leading to its break-up. So I’m deeply patriotic, but I think this is a case for a bigger, greater Britain inside a European Union.”

Urging voters to think of the next generation he said: “I hope that when people go to vote on June 23 they think about their children and grandchildren, they think about the jobs and the opportunities they want for them, the sort of country we want to build together and they vote to say ‘we don’t want the little England of Nigel Farage’, we want to be Great Britain and we are great if we stay in these organisations and fight for the values we believe in.”

He added: “Leaving is quitting and I don’t think Britain, I don’t think we are quitters, I think we are fighters. We fight in these organisations for what we think is right.”

This blog’s response to being labelled a “quitter” for wanting to leave the European Union is here.

Meanwhile, Tony Edwards of The Brexit Door blog picks up on the cognitive dissonance which must necessarily be involved in thinking that fearfully remaining in a stultifying regional political union rather than engaging with the world in the same way as every other advanced country on the planet outside of Europe is somehow the “patriotic” thing to do.

Edwards writes:

The Prime Minister is losing the debate on the EU – and so yesterday (7th June) he missed the funeral of Cecil Parkinson to attend a hurriedly arranged press conference in the run up to his appearance with Nigel Farage on ITV.

It’s not the first time we have heard this rather fatuous appeal to patriotism, this form of words first appeared late last week, but it is the polling that has driven this level of rather empty rhetoric. If you leave the EU, he says, you are a “Quitter” who doesn’t “love the UK”.

This was always the inevitable end for this campaign, this descent into pure nonsense. The trigger for the press conference was no doubt a mixture of things – the polling across the weekend, the Newsnight programme on Monday, and the recent articles in the Telegraph by both Allister Heath and Ambrose Evans Pritchard which have been very optimistic on the EEA/EFTA route out of the EU. This has been allied with the reporting of the BBC that civil servants are already planning for Brexit via this route, something that the Prime Minister has often denied, but we have heard talk of since the beginning of the year.

While there is an honourable and intellectually coherent case made for staying in the European Union and deepening our commitment to join the EU in its ultimate journey toward common statehood, this is not a debate which is ever heard in Britain. Most of our politicians, recognising that publicly suggesting that Britain join France and Germany on their long-established path to common statehood would go down like a bucket of cold sick, are unsurprisingly reticent to talk about the EU in these terms.

And so in Britain those who wish us to Remain in the EU argue from a purely fear-based economic perspective, which makes the sudden attempt to portray this as the “patriotic” choice sound especially contrived false, as Tony points out:

On the pro EU side, there is an honourable argument to be made for travel towards a single European state. On the mainland, this is a debate that actually breaks into the open. Many on the continent wish for an EU that is totally federal, and challenges the USA as the world’s leading business superpower. Some wish it to have a similar military strength, and others wish to see the elevation of large block political entities as a step towards a ‘Star Trek’ ideal of a single world government. All of these are laudable aims, but they have never been expressed in the UK debate by those who wish to remain in the EU. The argument here is always about trade, economics and migration – the short term issues.

And Tony’s brilliant conclusion:

Democracy has hardly had a word uttered about it in this debate. The EU is the beginning of the end of the rather short democratic experiment in Western Europe. For most of us, full suffrage is just less than a century old – the first truly democratic election general election in the UK was in 1929, an election which returned Ramsey MacDonald to power as the first Labour PM of a functioning Labour government. By 1961, our politicians were already looking to remove the power of the people by exporting it to the newly formed EEC, fully aware that its design was for a technocratic Europe rather than a democratic one.

So the experiment in the UK lasted no more than 32 years before politicians tried to unravel it. That is something that bears serious thought. Do we prise democracy above all else, or do we simply want a life in which the big questions are not asked of us as a people, so we are left untroubled by them?

That is the real issue at stake in this referendum, and judging by many of the responses I have seen, especially from younger people, there is a lack of willingness to engage with the deeper issues, something mirrored by the political class which plays only to the gallery.

Precisely so. The deeper question facing us is do we even want to be informed and engaged citizens any more? Are we willing to educate ourselves as to the issues, participate in our democracy and bear our share of responsibility for the resulting triumphs, disasters and (more usually) bland stalemates? Or are we happier being passive consumers of goods and public services, occasionally bleating our outrage when we don’t get what we want but otherwise content for others to do the dull work of running the country (or continent) while we devote ourselves to watching re-runs of Britain’s Animals Got Strictly Come Bake-Off On Ice?

Citizens or consumers? That is the deeper choice facing us in this EU referendum debate. Are we willing to put in the work which comes with being the former in exchange for the reward of greater control over our lives, or are we willing to wave away the responsibility in the hope that doing so keeps mortgage rates and the price of Chinese flat-screen TVs that little bit lower?

So how would a patriot act? I think it is now clear which side represents the strivers and which side the quitters. In any case, one can normally take a good cue from the words and deeds of those currently in power, and David Cameron sets a shining example for us all.

The lesson for would-be patriots, therefore, is this: speak and behave in the polar opposite manner to David “don’t be a quitter” Cameron and you won’t go far wrong.

 

David Cameron – a prime minister whose esteem and ambition for his own country is so pathetically small that when given an open-goal to sell Britain’s evident greatness to the world he fell back on delivering a weak impression of Hugh Grant in the film “Love Actually”:

 

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Vote Leave’s Folly Gives John Major Free Ammunition To Attack Brexiteers

Every major current attack line being used against the Vote Leave campaign – and therefore Brexiteers in general – could have been avoided with a smarter, more intellectually robust strategy

John Major should be a walking, talking advertisement condemning Britain’s continued dysfunctional relationship with the European Union – the man who signed Britain up to the Maastricht Treaty and did so much to drag us deeper into the mire of political union.

But thanks entirely to the official Vote Leave campaign, John Major managed to sail through his appearance on the Andrew Marr Show today virtually unscathed, passing himself off as the wise, measured older statesman he so clearly wishes to be.

The Huffington Post breathlessly reports:

Boris Johnson and his fellow Brexit campaigners are running a “deceitful” campaign which is “depressing and awful”, former Prime Minister Sir John Major said today.

In a no-holds-barred interview this morning, the ex-Tory leader repeatedly attacked both the tactics and arguments used by Vote Leave as it tried to persuade Brits to quit the EU in the June 23 referendum.

The former Prime Minister, whose seven years in Downing Street in the 1990s were marked by Tory splits over the EU, accused Brexit campaigners of pumping out “a whole galaxy of inaccurate and frankly untrue information.”

He also mocked the notion that leaving the EU would benefit the NHS – one of Vote Leave’s primary claims – as he accused those at the top of the anti-EU group of wanting to privatise the health system.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One this morning, Sir John said: “Throughout the whole of my political life people have regarded me of being guilty of understatement.

“I am angry at the way the British people are being misled. This is much more important than a general election. This is going to affect people, their livelihoods, their future, for a very long time to come and if they are given honest, straightforward facts and they decide to leave, then that is the decision the British people take.

“But if they decide to leave on the basis of inaccurate information, inaccurate information known to be inaccurate, then I regard that as deceitful. Now, I maybe wrong, but that is how I see their campaign.

He added: “For once I’m not going to give the benefit of the doubt to other people, I’m going to say exactly what I think and I think this is a deceitful campaign and in terms of what they are saying about immigration, it’s a really depressing and awful campaign. They are misleading people to an extraordinary extent.”

And who can really disagree with these accusations?

Vote Leave continue to brazenly peddle their £350 million lie.

They continue – despite being packed to the rafters with people who (quite rightly) question the ongoing viability of the current NHS model – to implausibly suggest that they will plow nearly all of the savings from no longer making EU contributions back into the same unreformed health service.

(This blog has no more to say about people who base their decision in the EU referendum primarily on the NHS than has already been written here, here, here and here.)

And now, having utterly failed to move the needle on the economic argument with their oh-so-bright lack of a Brexit plan, they are doubling down on the immigration argument. Which is a surefire way to get 40% of people to go charging to the polling booths to vote for Brexit, while alienating the moderate 20% who will take fright and ensure that Britain remains stuck in the European Union.

Ordinarily, this intervention by John Major might be seen as the last hurrah of a rather bitter man, eager to get revenge on people (like Iain Duncan Smith) whom he views as his disloyal tormentors, and dismissed as such. But every charge levelled by John Major at Vote Leave has an awkward ring of truth to it.

Britain doesn’t pay £350 million a week to the EU.

Boris Johnson, the clown in charge, really didn’t even make up his mind which way he was leaning until the very last minute, instantly undermining every one of his criticisms of the EU.

In fact, every major attack line currently being used against Brexit side could have been easily avoided if only the children running the official Leave campaign had charted and executed a better, more grown up campaign strategy – one based on an actual plan for achieving Brexit.

Richard North laments this very point in a recent blog post:

The absence of a plan has been a liability throughout the entire campaign. Had there been one published at an early stage it would have deprived the “remains” of one of their most powerful memes and thereby reshaped the entire campaign. We would by now have spent many months talking about detail and the very specific direction of travel in which Flexcit takes us.

At this late stage of the campaign, those arguing for Brexit should not have to endure the indignity of being lectured to by so hapless a leader as Sir John Major. We could be winning this referendum based on a plan which nullifies every single one of the Remain campaign’s economic scaremongering tactics.

But here we are. And the latest poll showing a slight lead for Leave, though quite unsurprising for this point in the campaign and crucially nowhere near 50%+1, will only encourage Vote Leave to double down on their present strategy.

 

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Britain’s Religious Leaders Squander Their Moral Authority By Supporting The EU And Forsaking Democracy

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Another day, another insidious, arrogant attempt by religious leaders to suggest that God is a paid-up member of the Remain campaign

Read this portentous intervention in the EU referendum debate and tell me it isn’t the most fatuous, ignorant, sanctimonious bilge to be uttered by religious community leaders and supposed people of God in recent memory:

Faith is about integration and building bridges, not about isolation and erecting barriers. As leaders and senior figures of faith communities, we urge our co-religionists and others to think about the implications of a Leave vote for the things about which we are most passionate.

The past 70 years have been the longest period of peace in Europe’s history. Institutions that enable us to work together and understand both our differences and what we share in common contribute to our increased security and sense of collective endeavour.

What’s more, so many of the challenges we face today can only be addressed in a European, and indeed a global, context: combating poverty in the developing world, confronting climate change and providing the stability that is essential to tackling the migration crisis.

We hope that when voting on 23 June, people will reflect on whether undermining the international institutions charged with delivering these goals could conceivably contribute to a fairer, cleaner and safer world.

The letter is naturally signed by all of the usual suspects:

Rt Rev Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury; Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Movement for Reform Judaism; Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general, Muslim Council of Britain; Jasvir Singh, chair, City Sikhs Network

Rt Rev Dr Ian Bradley, Church of Scotland & Reader in Church History and Practical Theology, University of St Andrews

Baroness Butler-Sloss, Chair, Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life

The Rt Rev Professor Lord Harries of Pentregarth, Emeritus Professor of Divinity, Gresham College, Honorary Professor of theology, King’s College London & Former Bishop of Oxford

The Rt Rev Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool

The list goes on. Sadly, from a personal perspective, it includes Bishop Thomas McMahon of the Diocese of Brentwood, who confirmed me into the Catholic church as a young, eighteen year old convert.

But if this ignorant waffle is the best thinking that modern Christianity can bring to bear on the EU referendum debate, then Christianity deserves to be in decline for it has ceased to be any kind of intellectual (let alone moral) force in this country.

If these learned people – many from the higher echelons of the establishment, some of them with theological doctorates to their name  – genuinely can’t discern the difference between leaving one supranational political institution one the one hand and disengaging North Korea-like from the entire world on the other, then they deserve neither our respect nor the media’s airtime. And if they do discern the difference but choose to pretend to their congregations that Brexit means automatic isolationism, then they need to go back and consult their respective holy books to remind themselves what is written about bearing false witness.

Putting political preferences aside for a moment, anybody of faith in this country – Brexiteer or Remainer – should be appalled by this clumsy and ignorant intervention. For if religion is to continue to play a meaningful role in public life (as it should), the representatives of our faith surely have a duty to understand the issues on which they choose to intervene.

One has to earn the right to be listened to and taken seriously in the public square, and the surest way to forfeit that right is to talk loudly from a position of ignorance. And if this letter in the Observer reveals anything, it is a wellspring of ignorance. Ignorance about what the European Union is, why it was created and the direction in which it is plainly, openly heading. Ignorance about the true foundations of peace in Europe – liberal democracy, post-war economic growth and NATO. Ignorance about the future of global trade and regulation. And a profound ignorance (or at least a tendency to conveniently shut out the example) of the rest of the world, which has conspicuously avoided grouping itself into the type of regional supranational political bloc which the bishops bizarrely claim is essential to freedom and prosperity.

Where is the thought here? Where is the serious introspection, the good faith effort to actually listen to the opposing side (the importance of which religious leaders often lecture us) rather than go charging in to battle against a dishonestly constructed straw man? How, in short, is any Brexit-supporting Christian (or follower of any other faith represented in this car crash of an intervention) supposed to respect or feel respected by their spiritual leaders, after no less a figure than a former Archbishop of Canterbury made it quite plain in the pages of the observer that he believes that Brexiteers are literally seeking to undermine peace in Europe for no good reason?

Can the bishops point to a chapter and verse direction in the Bible that nations should seek to merge their political institutions together slowly and by stealth, while claiming that it is somehow necessary in order to underpin free trade? Of course not. Can the bishops highlight a specific injunction from the Lord clarifying that “building bridges” with neighbours means seeking some kind of continent-wide homogeneity? No. Tumbleweeds. The theological case for European political union is nothing more than a wheedling, hand-wringing, simpering assertion that because Jesus commanded us to love one another as He loved us, we should nod our heads and go along with one specific plan for European integration dreamed up by old men scarred from the memory of two world wars.

(In case you protest that a short OpEd in a newspaper is no place to set out complex arguments in full, I refer you to my pieces hereherehere and here, where I extensively discuss the fact that a solid Christian case in favour of the European Union has yet to be made by any religious leader in the course of this sorry EU referendum debate).

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If the story of religious intervention in the EU referendum thus far teaches us anything, it is that those who claim to lead our faith groups and communities are profoundly ignorant both about the country in which they live, and the world with which they seek to engage.

But worse than that, the bishops are often ignorant about their own flocks and congregations, many of whom have solidly moral and intellectual reasons for wanting Britain to leave the European Union, and who deserve better than to be effectively labelled as harbingers of the apocalypse by virtue-signalling prelates who are either too lazy to learn or too disingenuous to admit that the EU is not the alpha and the omega of democracy, trade and international cooperation.

At some point – maybe not on June 23, but probably in years rather than decades – the European Union will face a true crisis of democracy and legitimacy, as the passions of the narrow-minded European political elites diverge ever further from the interests of the people they lead. Whether this leads to civil unrest, antidemocratic coups d’etat or the breakup of the EU itself remains to be seen. But those bishops and other faith leaders who so airly signed their names to this letter proclaiming that anything other than a vote to Remain in the EU essentially means cheering on climate change, war and pestilence will find themselves dangerously exposed (which is perhaps why they have done so in their own names, but their organisations have held back).

For when the EU’s final crisis of democracy comes, the names of these faith leaders who today encouraged us to remain in the European Union will be mud. And deservedly so, for they have betrayed democracy either through their ignorance or their invidious EUphilia.

And if the bishops think that they and their values are being squeezed out of the public square now, they should wait until they are permanently associated in the public mind with actively working to keep Britain chained inside this failing, antidemocratic, euro-federalist experiment.

When the EU’s day of reckoning finally comes, the signatories to this letter may well yearn for that happy time when the public was merely indifferent about religion.

 

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This EU Referendum Is Of Existential Importance. So Why Is The Campaign Rhetoric So Unequal To The Occasion?

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The age of glib soundbites and dumbed-down, instantly shareable viral social media memes is perfectly suited to the Remain campaign’s strategy of sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt as widely as possible. But if we still lived in the age of great political speeches, the Brexiteers would be winning this EU referendum by a landslide

Because I’m an oddball, sometimes I like to spend time reading or listening to great political speeches from the past – particularly those from American politics.

Two of the more obvious such speeches – JFK’s “We Choose To Go To The Moon” and Theodore Roosevelt’s “Dare Mighty Things” – have been forcing themselves repeatedly to the forefront of my mind lately, though until tonight I was unsure why.

Then this evening I stumbled on this 2011 article by Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. Though the article’s discussion of social media shows its age, it makes for an interesting read today:

One way to change minds about the current crisis is through information. We all know this, and we all know about the marvellous changes in technology that allow for the spreading of messages that are not necessarily popular with gatekeepers and establishments. But there’s something new happening in the realm of political communication that must be noted. Speeches are back. They have been rescued and restored as a political force by the Internet.

In the past quarter-century or so, the speech as a vehicle of sustained political argument was killed by television and radio. Rhetoric was reduced to the TV producer’s 10-second soundbite, the correspondent’s eight-second insert. The makers of speeches (even the ones capable of sustained argument) saw what was happening and promptly gave up. Why give your brain and soul to a serious, substantive statement when it will all be reduced to a snip of sound? They turned their speeches into soundbite after soundbite, applause line after applause line, and a great political tradition was traduced.

But the Internet is changing all that. It is restoring rhetoric as a force. When Gov. Mitch Daniels made his big speech – a serious, substantive one – two weeks ago, Drudge had the transcript and video up in a few hours. Gov. Chris Christie’s big speech was quickly on the net in its entirety. All the CPAC speeches were up. TED conference speeches are all over the net, as are people making speeches at town-hall meetings. I get links to full speeches every day in my inbox and you probably do too.

People in politics think it’s all Facebook and Twitter now, but it’s not. Not everything is fractured and in pieces, some things are becoming more whole. People hunger for serious, fleshed-out ideas about what is happening in our country. We all know it’s a pivotal time.

Look what happened a year ago to a Wisconsin businessman named Ron Johnson. He was thinking of running for the Senate against an incumbent, Democratic heavy-hitter Russ Feingold. He started making speeches talking about his conception of freedom. They were serious, sober, and not sound-bitey at all. A conservative radio host named Charlie Sykes got hold of a speech Mr. Johnson gave at a Lincoln Day dinner in Oshkosh. He liked it and read it aloud on his show for 20 minutes. A speech! The audience listened and loved it. A man called in and said, “Yes, yes, yes!” Another said, “I have to agree with everything that guy said.” Mr. Johnson decided to run because of that reaction, and in November he won. This week he said, “The reason I’m a U.S. senator is because Charlie Sykes did that.” But the reason Mr. Sykes did it is that Mr. Johnson made a serious speech.

A funny thing about politicians is that they’re all obsessed with “messaging” and “breaking through” and “getting people to listen.” They’re convinced that some special kind of cleverness is needed, that some magical communications formula exists and can be harnessed if only discovered. They should settle down, survey the technological field and get serious. They should give pertinent, truthful, sophisticated and sober-minded speeches. Everyone will listen. They’ll be all over the interwebs.

What a strange idea: the internet restoring rhetoric as an important part of our political debate. While this positive trend may have flared briefly in America for a time as Noonan indicates, we have certainly seen no comparable renaissance of political speechwriting here in Britain. Sure, Nigel Farage can deliver a withering put-down in the European Parliament and the SNP’s Mhairi Black can make sentimental lefties go all misty-eyed, but as a rule, for at least the past thirty years, political speeches in Britain have been pedestrian and utterly forgettable.

This is rather odd. Britain is currently engaged in an existential debate over whether we leave or remain in the European Union, the seriousness of this one issue dwarfing any mere general election, as the prime minister himself has opined. Surely the speeches made by our politicians should therefore reflect the gravity of the decision before us. But does our rhetoric meet the level and tone required of such a debate? Hardly.

As an ardent Brexiteer, one of the main problems I encounter when debating the issue with people – particularly online – is that abstract concepts such as democracy and self-determination are much harder to put into words or summarise with a glib but memorable phrase, while the fearmongering rhetoric of the Remain campaign naturally lends itself to viral sharing. It is much easier to (falsely and hysterically) declare that pensioners will be £32,000 worse off or that 100,000 marriages in London will fail because of Brexit than to explain the intangible importance of living in a properly free society – and almost inevitably the person attempting to argue the side of self-governance ends up sounding ponderous and vague in contrast with the swivel-eyed certainties uttered by Remainers.

And when eurosceptics try to dial up the rhetorical heat, too often it comes off badly. While UKIP-ish phrases like “we want our country back” are certainly memorable, they also have a distinctly nativist twang which alienates a good many people even as it fires up true believers. It is the same story with these key phrases, repeated over and over again by the official Vote Leave campaign, from their daily emails to the phrases of key surrogates:

We send £350 million a week to the EU – enough to build a new hospital every week

250,000 EU migrants a year come to the UK and five new countries are in the queue to join – including Albania, Serbia, and Turkey – it’s out of control and damages the NHS

It’s safer to take back control and spend our money on our priorities

This is apparently the best that the cream of Britain’s eurosceptic talent can do – an utterly unbelievable pledge about diverting 100% of our current EU contributions, including the rebate, to building new hospitals, and an unconnected pivot from the NHS to it being “safer” to spend money on our priorities. One can just about see what Vote Leave is trying to do, but it is an amateurish, almost childlike attempt at political messaging.

Meanwhile, here is the slicker effort from Britain Stronger in Europe:

Britain is stronger, safer and better off in Europe than we would be out on our own.

Join the campaign to remain in Europe – and let’s secure a stronger Britain that delivers opportunity now and for future generations

Never mind that it is based on a lie. A lie repeated identically and often enough can be incredibly effective, as it is with Vote Leave’s misrepresentation that leaving the political organisation known as the EU means leaving the continent of Europe. There is also more of a positive message here – where Vote Leave talk about Brexit being “safer”, suggesting danger and a defensive attitude, Stronger In talk about “deliver[ing] opportunity now and for future generations”, exuding positivity for today and for tomorrow as well.

Only when the message delivery window is longer than a quick email or a short social media meme does the Brexit side begin to redress the balance. Put aside their dubious and counterproductive tactics for a moment, but Vote Leave spokespeople like Michael Gove and Daniel Hannan (even Nigel Farage) can paint an extremely attractive picture of Britain outside the European Union in a speech, particularly when they aren’t butchering the idea of how to go about achieving their goal.

Even more pertinently, look at the Flexcit plan for leaving the European Union, which is increasingly being seized upon by key influencers who despair of Vote Leave’s amateurism and lack of a clear, risk-minimising Brexit plan. Flexcit itself is a 400 page document, while the summary pamphlet clocks in at a still substantial 40+ pages. At a recent TED-style talk in central London, Dr. Richard North (Flexcit’s primary author) took an hour to lay out the ideas and reasoning behind it. Though the Leave Alliance network of committed bloggers (full disclosure: I am one of them) do a sterling job of breaking down and simplifying the concepts so as to sell them more effectively to key influencers and the public, Flexcit will never be an easily-shared, one page meme on Facebook. Nor should it be. Serious and weighty issues require serious responses.

But increasingly it appears that the Leave camp will be punished at the ballot box for the fact that its core argument about democracy and self-determination cannot be boiled down to a single positive phrase or graphic in the same way as the establishment-backed Remain campaign can churn out endless content, together with slick but abhorrent messages from professional agencies:

Operation Black Vote - OBV - A vote is a vote - EU Referendum - European Union

Of course Vote Leave are guilty of shameless fearmongering too, never more so than with this dreadful fearmongering ad about Turkey joining the EU:

Vote Leave - Turkey Joining EU

But whether it is raising fears of knuckle-dragging, Brexit supporting skinheads or the armies of Turkish immigrants who will apparently all decamp to Britain en masse at the first opportunity, both are seen as highly effective tools by their respective campaigns, and both rely on communicating a primitive, fear-based message not with rich rhetoric but with a short, sharp visual, the better to hold our limited attention spans.

In many ways, it is a tragedy for the Brexit cause that this opportunity to extricate ourselves from an unwanted supranational government of Europe has come about when the internet has taken off and the average person’s idea of profound political engagement is liking and sharing the latest snide Huffington Post article with their friends on Facebook. When the debate over whether or not Britain should join Europe raged in the late 1960s and early 70s, the art of making serious (if not quite great) speeches was still just about alive – Hugh Gaitskell’s famous address to the Labour Party conference warning against joining the EEC stands as one such example of memorable oratory, culminating in the famous “thousand years of history” quote:

We must be clear about this; it does mean, if this is the idea, the end of Britain as an independent European state. I make no apology for repeating it. It means the end of a thousand years of history. You may say: “Let it end.” But, my goodness, it is a decision that needs a little care and thought.

But when the history of Britain’s 2016 EU referendum comes to be written, what will we remember? Of all the particularly dramatic moments in the campaign to date, none of them have been speeches. Sure, sometimes the fact of a speech has been newsworthy, such as when an unexpected establishment figure has been wheeled out to say that Brexit will usher in the apocalypse, but the content – the oratory itself – has rarely raised hairs or stiffened spines.

In fact, proving Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous assertion that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people, the media has determinedly reported almost exclusively on the latter two. Of course that is always the temptation for journalists, but our politicians have hardly given the media much to work with on the ideas front, even if they were minded to cover them.

This is a depressing state of affairs. This most important debate should be bringing out the best in our politicians and our media. We should be witnessing a straight-up fight between advocates of the democratic, independent nation state and those who ardently believe in the euro-federalist dream, adjudicated by a press corps  beholden to neither side and always willing to challenge baseless assertions rather than merely provide a “fair and balanced” platform for two partisan idiots to yell at each other for an equal amount of time.

In this debate, our elected leaders should be role models in setting the tone of the debate. Of course they are not, because our professional political class are very much part of the problem – the main reason why Brexit should only be the first step in a broader process of constitutional reform and democratic renewal in Britain.

But here we are, a country administered by followers rather than leaders, watched over by a childish and corrupted press who would rather giggle about the referendum’s personal dramas than fulfil their democratic function. And too little time before the referendum to hope that anything much will change.

All of which is bad for Brexiteers. After all, this is an age when scaremongering claims and assertions about the supposed cost of Brexit can be “quantified”, slapped on a smug little infographic and shared ten thousand times before breakfast, while the importance of self-determination an democracy – the ability of the people to influence the decisions which affect them and dismiss those with power – is almost impossible to boil down to a single eye-catching number, despite being the most precious benefit of all.

Without honest political leaders to establish a narrative and bigger picture – and without a robust media to report – it is effectively left to well-intentioned citizens to hold the grown-up debate amongst themselves, citizens who (for all their pluck) often struggle to cut through the noise of the vapid official campaign.

What’s most galling about all of this is the fact that there are many people alive today who have living memory of hearing great political rhetoric deployed in service of consequential issues – if not in Britain, at least in America:

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself.

We Choose To Go To The Moon.

The Great Society.

I Have A Dream.

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You.

Robert Kennedy’s speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Tear Down This Wall.

And even Britain has managed to offer worthy efforts, including:

We Shall Fight On The Beaches.

The Few.

The Winds Of Change.

The Lady’s Not For Turning.

The Grotesque Chaos Of A Labour Council.

What words uttered by our contemporary politicians during this EU referendum will be long remembered or quoted fifty years from now?

My prediction: not a damn one. But at least there will be a great treasure trove of vapid tweets and misleading infographics for historians to pick through as they wonder why Britain signed away her freedom.

 

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Top Image: Guardian

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