A hint of genuine revolution is in the air and most of the country is already sick with pessimism. The UK might vote to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum. The UK parliament is “in danger” of once again falling under the total control of the population. It is indeed grim to think that we could be soon living through all of the mess and unpredictability of an authentic democracy. MPs – empowered by the ignorant public rather than being supervised by professional EU bureaucrats – could be again in charge of everything. They would only have us, the people, to keep an eye on them. Anarchy – mayhem – despair – and, worst of all, economic uncertainty!
Is it correlation or causation? Glance over the UK economy and you are met with sluggish economic growth, stagnant productivity, and terminal levels of investment in research and development. And you simultaneously have an educated class which is openly terrified of “risk” and “uncertainty.” So yes, is it correlation or causation?
The man up there in the tiny cabin, pulling all of the levers to control this vast machinery of terror, is Stuart Rose, the chairman of “Britain Stronger in Europe” (BSE, but I’m too weary for any more jokes about this). Rose is the doyen of capitalists, a former CEO of Marks and Spencer and an immensely experienced businessman. Here is a summary of his current economic assessment:
* We should not leave our caves because of the risk to our security.
* Leaving caves, and moving on to a new and uncharted “herding sheep” stage of our development, would create profound economic uncertainty. Countless jobs depend upon remaining in caves, huddling around fires, and daubing on the walls.
* Supporters of agriculture cannot even tell us what this will look like. There are many unknown risks. Herding sheep is an impossible fantasy – playing games with our jobs and futures. People might get sunburnt. It is childish and irresponsible.
* We must remain in caves.
Media profiles of Stuart Rose never refer to him by his proper title: Lord Rose of Monewden. According to They Work For You, he is also a “Sir,” a “Knight,” and a “Baron.” Presumably these titles are quietly dropped from the media coverage because they confirm that he is an unelected legislator, with exactly the same democratic legitimacy as any EU bureaucrat. Rose is henceforth qualified to fill in as a kind of moral ambassador for the EU. This specimen who has never previously bothered, or even needed, to get elected has now had a patronising political campaign bestowed upon him, rather as crusades were awarded to knights of old by the monarch. And he thinks himself on the right side of history!
(In addition, the Labour MP Kate Hoey has noted that Britain Stronger in Europe cannot be best placed to defend the country when it has already lost Northern Ireland from its name. At least some deliberate confusion is generated by its sleight of hand suggestion that the UK will be no longer “in Europe” if it leaves the EU.)
The pessimism is, however, infectious. The Leave campaign should be frank in admitting its exposure to the virus and the amount which has been inhaled into its system. When Pat McFadden MP maintains that the public don’t really know what an independent UK “will look like,” it is easy to reply that things must be bad if democracy is now this unrecognisable. But in truth Leave doesn’t know what its own campaign looks like.
Is it a programme for renewed international trade and greater productivity, some kind of diabolical referendum on mass immigration, or a renaissance of classical Westminster democracy? Anybody who is trying to answer this question is at once at a disadvantage. Somewhere along the road the UK has acquired a political class which professes to have no competence or willingness to govern without EU supervision. Indeed, they are now almost boastful of their conformity on this question. If the people want independence, and most of their representatives don’t, then there will be nobody available to run the country unless the people can somehow whip up an entire new ruling class out of nothing.
“Vote for the EU because we just aren’t capable of running the country ourselves,” is unlikely to be adopted as a slogan by the In campaign’s army of career politicians. Yet the received message for most of the voters at the moment is precisely this. Over a third of voters are certain that they wish to leave the EU, but they are currently roaming the landscape without any functional political representation. They are reduced to pleading with ghastly, electorally-poisonous figures such as Theresa May and Nigel Farage to lend themselves out. It does appear quite starkly hopeless and you begin to grow so discouraged that the distant woodpigeon chant overhead becomes clearer, sweeter, more tempting: make do with the EU, make do with the EU. This undemocratic mud-pie is the best that you can ever hope for. Tony Benn’s old model of democracy is nostalgia, unrealistic in an age of globalisation and subdivided sovereignty. None of the leading Eurosceptics are young and nobody who is young is listening to them. There is nothing dependable behind the Leave campaign’s energy, however admirable it might be in itself. Make do with the EU.
William Hague’s recent surprise article for the Telegraph “Why I will be voting to stay in Europe” is an expression of the same fatalism. Hague had once fronted a Eurosceptic Tory shadow administration and memories of this will no doubt keep him warm in his old age, judging from the fond sniping at the EU in his article. The piece gives an overall impression of being tired of life and the world and politics in general. The European Parliament “does not remotely provide democratic accountability” and the EU “really is remote, expensive and over-regulating.” Still, the inconvenience of leaving tires you even to think of it. There will be endless fussing and arguments. The economy will require lots of sorting out and then there will be all the bother of having to subdue Scotland again. Why can’t everybody just be nice to each other?
Hague’s article is a wistful plea for depoliticisation, from someone who has abandoned politics altogether rather than simply the Leave campaign. It is necessary though to acknowledge how seductive his fatalism might prove to many potential Leave supporters. Maybe the polls will continue to surge up blindly through the fog. Perhaps a politician with the correct spirit of adventurism will spring like Napoleon from out of some obscure corner. But one should not underestimate how grave the situation is. It feels like we are presently in that critical period of a campaign when minds are being made amongst undecided voters. It will become increasingly harder to unmake them again.