The Narrowing Path To Victory For Brexit Supporters

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A big external shock or a rising tide of anti-establishment rage are now the only remaining paths to victory for the poorly-led Brexit campaign

Getting a majority of Britons to vote to leave the European Union – particularly in so compressed a time frame, with the entire establishment chorus raised in unison against us – was always going to be very much a long shot. That much is obvious; asking people to vote against the established status quo is always very difficult, and despite having spent years flaunting their euroscepticism in public, it quickly became clear that many of the “big hitters” had given almost no thought as to what Britain’s future outside the EU should look like.

How different things could be if only the official Leave campaign had…oh, I don’t know, some kind of Brexit plan – not just familiar recitations of everything that is wrong with the EU, but an actual positive alternative vision for Britain, rooted in fact and probability rather than idle conjecture. But the shining ones in charge of Vote Leave and Leave.EU saw no need for a stinkin’ plan, preferring to paint with childishly broad brushstrokes their half-baked vision of buccaneering Britain negotiating and signing tens of trade deals a year, while the EU falls over itself to give us all the benefits of single market access at no cost (because the Germans like selling us their cars, don’t you know?)

Or as Pete North puts it:

From the outset you need to stress test your message. It has to be the words of winners. Eurosceptics bleat on about going global but it’s empty when you contrast it with the rest of their message which is outright hostile to global engagement. Again, it fails the credibility test.

I’ve said it time and again, but simply whingeing about the EU doesn’t work. Very few people like the EU, but they need a seriously good reason to take a risk – and that means you have to have a safe and desirable alternative. Oh, and a plan to get there. Vote Leave’s approach is to pretend there are magic wands to instant prosperity. Rather than seeking experts they sought people who will tell them what they like to hear. The Westminster bubble all over. They are going to lose and they will deserve it.

And so, with an uphill battle on their hands, the official Leave campaign has done almost nothing to improve their chances of victory, preferring to fire up the base and exalt in their lack of a Brexit plan rather than make a concerted effort to win over the undecided. And we are now rapidly approaching the point where all straightforward paths to victory are closed to the eurosceptics. Privately, David Cameron’s team expect to win with as much as 58% of the vote, and it increasingly appears that the only thing which might decisively change the Leave campaign’s fortunes is a big external shock – a flareup of the migrant crisis, a badly timed EU power play or a domestic political scandal, for example.

But why, besides the obvious ineptitude of the official Leave campaign, is it proving so hard to win over the undecided? It certainly doesn’t help that the arguments for remaining in the EU tend to be simplistic and fear-based*, while those in favour of Brexit (at least the thinking person’s version of Brexit) are more nuanced and complex. Among those who are not already die-hard eurosceptics, the push factor away from the EU can only take root when one has a basic grasp of the EU’s history and workings, while the pull factor toward an outward-looking, globally engaged Britain requires an understanding of the changing global trade and regulatory environment which the mainstream media utterly fails to provide (because they themselves do not understand it either).

(* Here I discount the genuine euro-federalist argument, which is perfectly legitimate but almost never heard in Britain because it is so distasteful to the majority.)

When Remainers crow that most major organisations from the IMF to large corporations want Britain to remain in the EU it superficially sounds like a slam-dunk case for staying, until one realises that most of the organisations held up by the Remain campaign are duty bound to minimise the risk (however small) of economic disruption, but have absolutely no mandate whatsoever when it comes to protecting and preserving democracy.

The CEO of a large corporation is accountable to the board and shareholders for the financial performance of their firm – often, it should be pointed out, with an unhealthy emphasis on the short term. CEOs have no legal responsibility to make public pronouncements about what is best for Britain’s democracy – the ability of British citizens to exercise meaningful control over the decisions and policies affecting their lives. And they certainly do not forfeit their bonuses when political engagement and voter turnout falls as people increasingly realise that it doesn’t much matter which party holds the majority in Westminster.

Were it not so depressing, it would be amusing watching Remain campaigners, particularly those on the Left, eagerly lap up every word uttered by the voices of big business – people whom they otherwise utterly distrust and openly despise, but whose statements that Britain should remain in the EU are accepted gratefully and unquestioningly because they confirm all of the existing biases of the EU apologists. Enjoy it while it lasts, because you are never again likely to hear Ryanair and the Labour Party press office singing so lustily from the same hymn sheet.

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But if, as expected, we go on to lose the referendum by a sizeable margin, our only remaining hope will be that the victorious David Cameron acts in as smug and condescending a way as he did in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum. Counterintuitively, this is when we need the prime minister to be at his arrogant best – to claim that the issue is settled for a lifetime and then swan around taking his gruesome victory lap and talking overexcitedly about how Britain will play a leading role in his mythically reformed European Union.

In other words, we need the prime minister to do everything in his considerable power to mock and belittle us if Remain carry the day, because this will add much needed fuel to the eurosceptic movement, light a fire under the the referendum post-mortem (Pete North is already talking about Nuremberg trials for those Brexit big beasts who did the most to let the side down) and hopefully result in a post-defeat surge in support like the one enjoyed by the SNP last year.

And there is every chance that this will happen – David Cameron has a big ego and a thin skin, and his political radar often deserts him when he gets emotional. Sadly, this may now be our best hope – to keep the margin of defeat as small as possible, and then hope for (or indeed provoke) as many gaffes and missteps as possible from the victorious Remainers.

It bring no joy to report this state of affairs – clearly it would be far better if Leave were consistently ahead by 10 points in all the polls and on course for victory, even if it means winning on the back of a “Brexit plan” drawn in children’s crayon. The only consolation is that this blog increasingly believes that the EU is doomed one way or another, that within ten years or twenty it will disintegrate under the weight of its own paralysing indecision, internal contradictions and interminable one-way ratchet towards closer integration.

We would all like to spend the remainder of 2016 preparing for secession negotiations and pressing the government to adopt sensible stances – and we should continue to fight to win, right up to the end. This is the last negative word this blog will write about the Leave campaign until the referendum is over – at which point you will find me, gavel in hand, on the bench at Brexiteer Nuremberg.

But increasingly it seems that our immediate job on 24 June will be to keep the flame of liberty alive, ready for the next opportunity – if and when it comes. And if we are truly dedicated to the cause, we must now begin preparing for that eventuality, too.

 

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The Furore Over David Cameron’s Tax Affairs Reveals Britain At Its Worst

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Responsibly lowering his tax liability through perfectly legal means is one of the few things that David Cameron has accomplished with any real competence. If only his stewardship of British sovereignty and democracy was half as accomplished, his premiership might not be such a letdown

No, I’m not going to write about David Cameron’s tax return, because despite the sound and fury emanating from the Paul Mason, “neo-liberalism” hating Left, it is a complete non-story.

That much is outlined well enough here, here, here and here.

This blog is more than happy to discuss tax reform – preferably of the fundamental and flattening kind – but not through the lens of our national envy and hatred of wealth and success. Because this tawdry intermission in our political conversation serves only to highlight all of the flawed parts of our national psyche – particularly the disdain bordering on hatred many people feel toward wealth and success – while fading out everything that makes us great.

Of course there are privileged people in this country with wealth and resources that the poorest among us can only dream about. But every moment we waste casting envious eyes at those with more than us, bemoaning our own lot in life and viewing ourselves as part of a vast Collective of the Oppressed and Hard Done By is a moment we are not accepting the agency and responsibility we have for our own lives and decisions.

Should we be outraged that the legal, private tax affairs of an elected politician somehow set a bad example? Okay – but only if we are really willing to go down a path that ultimately will lead to witch-hunts of anybody who fails to “voluntarily” donate 90% of their income to Our Blessed NHS (genuflect).

Bear in mind, many of those shouting the loudest themselves are guilty of the same (or worse) behaviour, cynically (and hypocritically) attempting to use this story to advance their political agenda. And in terms of Cameron’s mishandling of the media story, are we really going to focus on this one particular instance and not the many other clangers? I could write a blog post every day for a year about why David Cameron is a lousy conservative and a disappointing prime minister, and still not get around to talking about his family’s mundane tax affairs.

So if you want to read a furious polemic about the Evil Tories and their inherited wealth, look elsewhere – Owen Jones and Paul Mason will take good care of you. Likewise if you want to read a simpering, fawning defence of the prime minister.

Our country faces an existential choice in the coming EU referendum while the liberal, enlightenment values which we supposedly hold dear are under attack everywhere from GCHQ to social media to the university campus.

And so long as that remains the case, this blog will focus on the things that matter, not the shiny distractions which only serve to reveal our petty biases and jealousies.

 

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What Might A Post-Osborne Conservative Party Actually Look Like?

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George Osborne has political enemies. But are they also ideological opponents?

What hope is there that the Conservative Party might realistically follow a different intellectual and ideological path after the Age of Cameron and Osborne?

While there have been precious few public signs of senior cabinet or backbench, leadership-calibre Conservative MPs willing to make a public stand for a smaller state and greater individual liberty, perhaps we should be encouraged by the fact that many Tory MPs apparently hold such a low opinion of George Osborne, the navigator largely responsible for the party’s current centrist course.

James Kirkup has been surveying attitudes to the Chancellor within the parliamentary party:

How much trouble is Mr Osborne in? Put it this way: Tory MPs who a few months ago were so wary of his power over their future that they flinched at the mention of his name are now speculating about whether he will keep his job.

By way of evidence, here are some things Conservatives have said to me about the Chancellor in recent days. Two of the quotes below come from serving members of the government. One is from someone who holds a senior office in the Tory hierarchy. One is a backbench MP who could easily have a prominent place in Cabinet in a year or two.

1. “No chance. None. Zero. Never going to happen. Dead. Deader than dead.”

2. “He has been found out. He doesn’t believe in anything and no one likes him. It was useful for people to support him when he was on the way up, but no one will stick with him on the way down.”

3. “The thing about George is that a lot of people think he’s a bit arrogant and rude, but that’s because they don’t really know him.

“Well I’ve worked with him pretty closely for several years now and so I know that the truth is that in person he’s actually much worse than that.”

Kirkup goes on to chart a path back out of the wilderness for Osborne, which is of far less interest to this blog, which ardently hopes that the Chancellor and his “New Labour Continued” strategy perish in the desert.

But there is no point looking forward to the departure of Cameron and Osborne unless there is a reasonable prospect of them being replaced by other, better alternatives – future leaders whose conservatism does not retreat at the first sight of negative headlines, and who know when the pain of public opposition is worth the gains (i.e. not in pursuit of a paltry £4bn of savings from Personal Independence Payments for disabled welfare claimants).

Back in November of last year, this blog pointed out that winning power only to implement Tony Blair’s unrealised fourth term of office was a waste of a Conservative administration, and that those who campaigned and voted Tory deserved better:

The fact that David Cameron and George Osborne are watching the slow implosion of the Labour Party and conjuring up plans to woo Ed Miliband voters – rather than capitalise on this once-in-a-century opportunity to execute a real conservative agenda unopposed – reveals their worrying lack of confidence in core conservative principles and values. If the Prime Minister and Chancellor really believed in reducing the tax burden, reforming welfare, building up our armed forces, shrinking the state, promoting localism and devolving decision-making to the lowest level possible (with the individual as the default option), they could do so. They could be building a new, conservative Britain right here, right now. Virtually unopposed.

But Cameron and Osborne are doing no such thing. They simper and equivocate, and talk about fixing the roof and paying down the debt while doing no such thing, and still they attract endless negative headlines for inflicting an austerity which exists primarily in the minds of permanently outraged Guardian readers.

If Britain is not a transformed country in 2020 – with a smaller state, more dynamic private sector and greater presence on the world stage – there will be absolutely nobody to blame other than the party holding the keys to government. The party with the word “conservative” in their name. The Tories will have been in power for ten years and have nearly nothing to show for it, save some weak protestations about having fixed Labour’s prior mismanagement of the economy.

That’s not the kind of party I want to be associated with. That’s not the party I campaigned to elect in 2010, back when it seemed possible that a new Conservative administration might aspire to being something more than a moderate improvement on Gordon Brown.

In other words, in order to make an exciting potential future leadership candidate, the Conservative MPs rolling their eyes as the Chancellor of the Exchequer self destructs (or uses up another of his nine political lives) must not simply dislike George Osborne – and there is increasing evidence that his support is a mile wide but an inch deep – but actually have an entirely different vision for the party.

That rules out all of the most obvious successors (Theresa May, Nicky Morgan, Philip Hammond, Michael Fallon, Jeremy Hunt) as well as those one-time Bright Young Things who have recently proven their unreliability by failing to come out in support of Brexit (Sajid Javid, Stephen Crabb, Matt Hancock, Rob Halfon).

Unfortunately, that mostly leaves a pool of potential candidates who are probably too new to Parliament to mount a credible leadership bid by 2020, or citizen politician types who have already publicly disavowed any future leadership ambitions. This blog took a warm liking to Chris Philp (if only he can be cured of his europhilia), David Nuttall (with some specific policy reservations) and James Cleverly when these MPs recently addressed a Conservatives for Liberty lobby event, and also Lucy Allan – though the latter’s social media exploits and alleged behaviour towards her staff raise some worrying temperamental questions.

Kwasi Kwarteng is also a sound conservative, advocating a return to a contributory welfare state as well as being an excellent author. Dominic Raab is very bright, and strong on individual liberty and meritocracy.

None are what you might consider to be household names at present. In some cases, that may have the potential to change by 2020, depending on what happens and whether any of these candidates are promoted into the cabinet as the Conservative Party approaches the end of David Cameron’s term.

But the green shoots of a British Conservative revival do exist. They are small and fragile at present, and no matter who is leading Labour in 2020, Cameron’s successor will have to contend with Tory Fatigue after ten years back in government, making the urge to tack to the centre even harder to resist than it is already.

Which is all the more reason why this blog believes it is now imperative to identify, support and champion those future leadership prospects who fit the profile of an heir to Thatcher rather than another disappointing, Cameron-style Ted Heath tribute act.

 

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What Conservative Government? – Part 4, Iain Duncan Smith Resignation

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How many more ideologically principled, Thatcher-style conservatives can David Cameron’s centrist political machine afford to alienate?

There is a telling line in James Kirkup’s excellent, fair assessment of the full context behind Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation:

The Prime Minister has already done things that will underpin his eventual legacy: winning the Scottish independence referendum and the general election.

Kirkup probably meant this as praise, but in reality it is the most damning indictment of the current conservative government imaginable – far worse than anything that Iain Duncan Smith said in his resignation letter.

Because it is quite true – some of the greatest accomplishments of David Cameron and his core team of loyalists since 2010 are avoiding having the country disintegrate on their watch, and managing to win a second general election against a historically weak Labour leader pursuing a transparently flawed strategy. If the bar for success in British government has truly been set so low then we are in real trouble.

But David Cameron is not a visionary leader. He came to power in 2010 promising to get Britain through difficult economic times, and was re-elected in 2015 promising to be a reasonably competent Comptroller of Public Services. And to be fair to the man, he never really promised to be a great statesman or a formidable world leader.

Being a doggedly centrist technocrat is all well and good, but eventually people quite rightly start to ask what your government is for, besides acquiring the reins of power and then keeping hold of them for as long as possible. David Cameron’s best answer – the main headline from the Conservative Party’s 2015 general election manifesto – was that we should vote Tory because they have a “plan for every stage of your life“.

Nobody within the Conservative Party seemed to care that this sounded alarmingly socialist and suggestive of the Nanny State – people craved security above freedom, it was believed, and so that’s what would be promised and delivered. More of the status quo, whether the status quo worked well or not.

In other words, as this blog has long been saying and my Conservatives for Liberty colleague Paul Nizinskyj has now eloquently written, David Cameron’s role model is far more the steady pair of hands in tough times rather than the visionary, bloody minded reformer – more Ted Heath than Margaret Thatcher.

I won’t lie: my first reaction on hearing the news that Iain Duncan Smith – who together with Michael Gove is one of the few Conservative heavyweights left with any discernible core conviction – had finally snapped and told George Osborne exactly what to do to himself was “great – anything to make the smug little cretin sweat”.

Because George Osborne is David Cameron with less charisma. And since David Cameron has almost no charisma of his own, that puts George Osborne well into negative territory. Given the fact that his blunders (the Omnishambles Budget, tax credits, PIPs) have done as much to colour the political landscape as his “victories”, I also find his reputation as a master political strategist to be hugely overinflated.

If running to the political centre by jettisoning core conservative principle by adopting left-of-Labour policies like a £9 minimum wage counts as political genius then sure – anybody who can successfully cross-dress as a politician from a different party to pick off some extra votes is a master strategist. But it makes George Osborne a lousy conservative.

Not everything in Osborne’s budget was wrong. Should the thresholds for tax brackets move upwards with inflation? Ideally yes, they should do so every year to neutralise the effect of fiscal drag. But to package measures such as this with reductions in the Personal Independence Payments to hundreds of thousands of disabled people is frankly idiotic.

In some ways, this is emblematic of the ridiculous nature of the Budget spectacle, a choreographed event which encourages the Chancellor of the Exchequer to play god with other minister’s departments, either stealing their flagship ideas (as with academies) or otherwise presenting them out of context. But it also speaks to this government’s utter failure to enact a bold, coherent and unapologetically conservative agenda.

Janet Daley sums it up perfectly:

Mr Osborne’s reputation as a tactical political genius has gone south too. Maybe that’s been the problem all along: his understanding of politics was all about tactics – about messaging and grids, presentational gloss and re-branding – and had nothing to do with fundamental, irreconcilable principle. I am prepared to guess that he quite literally does not understand politicians who are prepared to risk everything for an idea, a conviction: a personal moral mission.

He thinks that they are bloody-minded and naive, with no comprehension of the modern science of winning elections. But that, it seems, is not what the people believe: they are beginning to think that their leaders should stand for something, should have a fundamental sense of what they are in politics for. It’s what they call “authenticity”, and it could turn out to be more of a winner than all the clever marketing techniques in the world. Imagine that.

I understood what Michael Gove was trying to accomplish at Education. And I get what Iain Duncan Smith was wrestling with at the Department for Work and Pensions, and admire his semi-successful efforts to get people into work, and to make that work pay more than dependency on the state. Unlike many others who write sanctimoniously but ignorantly about the issue, I have witnessed the welfare state up close, and seen exactly what our “compassionate” system is capable of doing to people when the dead-eyed state machine is responsible for their lives.

I get all of that. But I have no idea what David Cameron is trying to accomplish as prime minister, or what George Osborne thinks he is doing at the Treasury. Because it certainly isn’t paying down Britain’s debts, as they both like to claim. Nor is it guarding Britain’s sovereignty and place in the world – Cameron has gutted Defence, and is in the process of tricking the British people into voting to remain in what he falsely claims to be a “reformed” European Union.

Neither Cameron or Osborne are motivated by the desire to roll back the state and make the British people more free – their heavy-handed government is all for ever-greater restrictions on both ancient and recent hard-won civil liberties, and is seemingly anxious to sacrifice what freedom we have left upon the altar of “national security”.

There is almost nothing about shrinking the state and expanding personal liberty in this government. But there are lots of policies – cutting state spending on the poorest and weakest in society while continuing to lavish stage largesse on wealthy older people (through non-means tested benefits and the lack of a housing supply policy to benefit the young) – which play right into Labour’s hands, making the Tories (and those who support them) look like nothing more than selfish, grubby opportunists, lining the pockets of the already wealthy while others suffer.

In short, I don’t know what this Conservative government is for, besides trying to stay in power and preventing Labour from stealing it. And apart from the work he was doing in his own department, I suspect that Iain Duncan Smith didn’t know either, no matter how much obligatory praise he heaped on Cameron in his resignation letter.

So I cannot do anything but endorse Iain Duncan Smith’s decision to quit. The final straw was no doubt Downing Street’s insistence that Duncan Smith come out all guns blazing in defence of the welfare cuts in the Budget, while simultaneously planning to walk back the proposals themselves – making IDS look like the crazed ideologue and Cameron / Osborne as the calm voices of reason. Who would want to stick around to be treated in that way?

And if Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation destabilises the government – so what? We currently have a nominally conservative prime minister who is busily enacting Tony Blair’s fourth term of office. We effectively already have a Labour prime minister – or a New Labour one, at least.

Maybe an improbable defeat to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – or a good scare, at least – is the shock the Tories need to dig deep and find a real conservative leader.

 

Postscript: Iain Duncan Smith’s full resignation letter – which this blog believes was far too generous and courteous – is shown below.

I am incredibly proud of the welfare reforms that the government has delivered over the last five years. Those reforms have helped to generate record rates of employment and in particular a substantial reduction in workless households.

As you know, the advancement of social justice was my driving reason for becoming part of your ministerial team and I continue to be grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to serve. You have appointed good colleagues to my department who I have enjoyed working with. It has been a particular privilege to work with excellent civil servants and the outstanding Lord Freud and other ministers including my present team, throughout all of my time at the Department of Work and Pensions.

I truly believe that we have made changes that will greatly improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged people in this country and increase their opportunities to thrive. A nation’s commitment to the least advantaged should include the provision of a generous safety-net but it should also include incentive structures and practical assistance programmes to help them live independently of the state. Together, we’ve made enormous strides towards building a system of social security that gets the balance right between state help and self help.

Throughout these years, because of the perilous public finances we inherited from the last Labour administration, difficult cuts have been necessary. I have found some of these cuts easier to justify than others but aware of the economic situation and determined to be a team player I have accepted their necessity.

You are aware that I believe the cuts would have been even fairer to younger families and people of working age if we had been willing to reduce some of the benefits given to better-off pensioners but I have attempted to work within the constraints that you and the chancellor set.

I have for some time and rather reluctantly come to believe that the latest changes to benefits to the disabled and the context in which they’ve been made are a compromise too far. While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. They should have instead been part of a wider process to engage others in finding the best way to better focus resources on those most in need.

I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.

It is therefore with enormous regret that I have decided to resign. You should be very proud of what this government has done on deficit reduction, corporate competitiveness, education reforms and devolution of power. I hope as the government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure “we are all in this together”.

 

Iain Duncan Smith

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Brexit: How Much Democracy Would You Sacrifice To Reduce Uncertainty?

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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.

A man walks past various currency signs outside a brokerage in Tokyo
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.

 

EU Democracy - Brexit

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