REMAIN: From those wonderful folks who brought you the Iraq war
A slightly shorter version of this was published in www.politics.co.uk on May 26, 2016 This version has all the origninal zingers.
The Leave campaign has conclusively lost the opening battles of the EU referendum. It now has a bare month to win the war.
It needs very quickly to find a new reason to appeal to voters who normally vote Labour or otherwise line up on the left side of the political spectrum. So far the Leave campaign has offered them almost nothing. It has been beset with factional fighting and ego tripping and the dominant messages are those of the Tory Right.
This is especially and fatally true on the economy. Vote Leave and what do you get? The main answer voters hear is gaining a fanatical free-market government like Mrs Thatcher’s on steroids. This government would leave Big Business free to ignore the EU’s noble efforts to protect women and workers and health and safety and the environment and cute animals with big eyes. This is a free gift for Labour’s Remainers. It makes it all too easy for them to drum up support for an EU whose policies have brought mass unemployment to member after member.
Even without this problem, it is a mistake for Leave to concentrate on the economy. This is a battlefield chosen by the enemy. The economic benefits of leaving the EU are inevitably uncertain. We honestly cannot tell where the British economy will end up after we leave. But the economic penalties (with the help of unscrupulous lying) can be made to seem real and terrifying – and the Remain campaign can wheel out an inexhaustible supply of political, business and media grandees to say so. The Leave campaign can call on some big names of its own but many of them are box office poison to Labour supporters (not many hedge fund owners on our side of the barricades). Anyway, Leave can never win a war of endorsements. It will always be outnumbered by Remain, if only because so many grandees derive power or income or profit from the status quo – or even direct subsidy from the EU.
So why not turn the Leave campaign into a voter insurgency against those very grandees? Make the referendum a judgement on the way they have run our country. Turn a Leave vote into a demand for something better.
Remain’s grandees are led by the last four British Prime Ministers – Cameron, Brown, Blair and Major. They have all told the British people it is essential for them to remain in the EU – although two of them, Brown and Major, had their greatest success by keeping Britain out of key EU policies.
Also urging us to Remain is the political, administrative and business establishment which held the levers of power and influence behind those four Prime Ministers. With occasional changes of figureheads and slogans, the Remainers have given our country its rulers for the last 25 years. The EU referendum puts a simple choice to voters. Will they say thank you to those rulers, and please carry on? Or will voters look at their record and take the once-and-for-all chance to complain?
During that period our rulers gave us the Iraq war and the failed intervention in Afghanistan: hundreds of soldiers killed, thousands wounded, maimed, permanently scarred, billions of pounds spent, no national interest achieved. True, there were some dissenting politicians, but virtually none in the administrative, military and intelligence establishment. No one has paid any penalty for error and failure in these wars and our foreign and defence policies are still based on the same assumptions which led us into them.
During that period, our rulers handed our banking system to spivs or dimwits trading assets they could not value or even understand – and made us pay when they crashed it
During that period, our rulers gave us an economy dependent on colossal public and private debt, with big disparities not only in wealth and income but in opportunity and expectations. Millions of well-qualified people lost all hope of fulfilling work. Millions of parents lost the expectation that their children will enjoy a better life than themselves. Taxation became voluntary for the richest people and the biggest companies but more complex and oppressive for those unable to create fiction around their affairs. The welfare system remained an expensive shambles, maintaining a depressed underclass but continuing to penalize those who tried hardest to better themselves.
During that period, our rulers gave us an overloaded health service, drowning in debt, and in thrall to constant expensive and pointless reorganizations. Millions of older people, children and mentally ill people are routinely deprived of essential care.
During that period, our rulers tinkered constantly with the school system. Under pretence of freeing schools from the supposed shackles of local authorities they delivered schools to a centralized tyranny of arbitrary tests and targets, with illusory successes delivered by devalued exams and marking. Under pretence of increasing parental power, they reduced it. They forced more parents into desperate measures, even outright lying, to find a good school for their children. They made more and more demands on parents for money and support and tried to make them feel guilty for not providing it. They filled our schools with stressed children and teachers. Our rulers gave us a generation of schoolchildren equipped to tick boxes and less and less equipped to learn anything new, to speculate, to invent, to empathize, to communicate.
Our rulers fiddled constantly with all public services and with local government. Regardless of party label our rulers shared a misplaced faith in management science and a rooted belief that the public sector was always inferior to the private. As a result, one service after another has been battered by fatuous initiatives, stuffed with placeholders with meaningless titles babbling managerial gobbledygook, or carved up into pseudo-markets to give businesses an opportunity for monopoly profits at taxpayers’ expense. During that period, our rulers signed thousands of PFI or PPP deals in public services which were no better than expensive moneylaundering – making public finances look temporarily healthier and in reality giving them a long-lasting burden.
During that period, our rulers failed to manage or control immigration. Although our country has become dependent on immigrant labour our rulers have failed to make the British people appreciate its benefits and look down on them when they point out its downside.
During that period, our rulers created cities whose essential workers cannot afford to live in them, cities full of ugly buildings and drably uniform centres and angry frightened neighbourhoods where people do not know their neighbours. Our rulers failed to create any effective control on the consumption of any drug, legal or illegal.
Internationally our rulers still gave themselves the trappings of Britain as a great power, but in the last 25 years there is no country in the world where it has become safer for Britons to visit or work or settle – including their own. They have constantly proclaimed success in negotiations with the EU – most recently in David Cameron’s meaningless concessions – while presiding over a one-way transfer of powers from our country to Brussels. At best, they have turned Britain into the Private Godfrey of the EU – asking permission to be excused when something awful like the euro is about to happen. They prattle about reforming the EU but they have not reformed the fundamentals of the EU and they never will. Private Godfrey is not going to lead the platoon.
In spite of their dismal record on issue after issue, our ruling establishment over the last 25 years have become unshakeable in asserting their right to govern. They do not care very much for democracy and resent debate or criticism. Guided especially by Peter Mandelson, they have awarded themselves the right to lie or cover things up whenever they choose. They feed propaganda to their stooges in the media and know that it will be presented as fact.
They give each other jobs regardless of qualifications or success. The business leaders among our rulers demand world-class remuneration although few of them have created any world-class business. The politicians and administrators among them glide effortlessly after leaving office into lucrative roles with the special interests they were meant to regulate. They have turned public service into a waiting room for the gravy train. While still in power, they pass out public offices to supporters and sympathizers. The EU for them is a convenient extra source of patronage and a parking place for politicians in temporary eclipse.
The ruling establishment constantly insisted that their policies represent a “centre ground” which no reasonable or informed person could reject. In doing so, they minimized the differences between all the mainstream parties. English politics (the ruling establishment actually lost control of Scotland) became a set of dogs fighting for the same lamp post. For a short time it seemed that Jeremy Corbyn would offer a real alternative. But on the EU, this resolution collapsed. He followed the Blairite pack in his party and raised his leg obediently when it was his turn.
Voting Remain entails a vote of confidence in this ruling elite and their record. It means accepting that the next 25 years will be pretty much the same as the last.
Voting Leave means rejecting them and seeking something different. It means taking a chance. There is no guarantee at all of a better future after we leave. Securing it will require a mighty effort, which may be beyond our new rulers. But the British people might just decide that a 10 per cent chance of something new might be better than a 100 per cent chance of more of the same.