Let’s Take Back Control! We Want Our Country Back!

I can’t be the only one who is not wholeheartedly delighted by the image of Boris Johnson taking control:


And yet Boris Johnson against David Cameron is one of those fights you wish both contestants could lose. Irrespective of an In or Out vote, the idea of either of these would-be presidents being emboldened by a victory sends a shiver down my spine. So in this issue of whether to leave Europe or to remain in it, it’s no use playing the man: we have to play the ball.

The rhetoric of the Leave campaign is very interesting. The two slogans we see most often are “Let’s Take Back Control” and “We Want Our Country Back!” The word “back”, common to both slogans shows where the focus is: on a return to a more civilised age.

The problem of course is that that that age never existed. It’s an appeal to nostalgia: and one that is proving very successful, because if there’s one thing people love (especially older people) it’s the idea of bringing things back to the imagined and rose-tinted version of how things used to be. Basically, returning to when they were young. (I wouldn’t mind dropping a decade or so myself.) Essentially, the implication of these slogans is that Europe has made us old, and pulling out will make us young again.


I won’t go into all the practical pros and cons of a Brexit. Others have done that far more ably and comprehensively than I could. But I do encourage everyone who is eligible to vote, to do so — and to inform themselves of the issues before they do. Those who are prepared to read a lot of detail may find either or both of these carefully objective analyses handy:

Those who prefer something a bit shorter, or with a clearer message, may find these arguments persuasive:

And anyone looking for distinctively Christian perspective will find Justin Welby’s analysis gives food for thought. (Actually, I recommend it for non-Christians as well, if you want to see the positive, constructive, compassionate side of Christianity):

I won’t be so disingenuous as to pretend I don’t have a position of my own. I back Remain for two simple reasons. First, nearly all the fact-based arguments favour Remain — see for example statements by the Bank of England, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation, the OECD and the World Bank. And second, nearly all the pro-Leave arguments are based on fear. Fear of foreigners, fear of immigrants, fear of what the EU might become, and more generally, fear of the future. Hence, I suppose, that emphasis on “back” that I mentioned earlier.


That fear brings with it some very unpalatable side-effects. As we all know, fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. The rise of UKIP has made racism, which in the UK was disappearing into the haze of yesterday, politically acceptable again. It’s carefully disguised, but it’s there in the mainstream of political thought, and never more clearly than in some of the baser Leave publicity. J. K. Rowling nails this in her piece:

It is dishonourable to suggest, as many have, that Leavers are all racists and bigots: they aren’t and it is shameful to suggest that they are. Nevertheless, it is equally nonsensical to pretend that racists and bigots aren’t flocking to the ‘Leave’ cause, or that they aren’t, in some instances, directing it.

Not everyone who’s voting Leave is racist. But everyone who’s racist is voting leave. I want no part in that, and my experience of my own friends and acquaintances is that none of the programmers, palaeontologists, other scientists or humanities scholars that I know are buying the Leave rhetoric, either.

All of which leaves the question of why Leave’s campaign, riven with palpable untruths as it is, has had such success — bringing us to the point where we’re on the brink of throwing away half a century’s political progress for the sake of ten minutes feeling of unearned superiority.

And I think the answer is that whether Leave’s soundbites are true or not is simply irrelevant to their rhetorical force. “The EU Is Undemocratic” is a powerful, memorable statement; “Well, actually, we in the UK have an unelected upper house whereas in Brussels the proper analogy for the European Commission is the civil service, not parliament, and …” is not. In fact, no statement beginning “Well, actually …” has ever been a successful campaign slogan. While we’re still busy explaining why “The EU Is Undemocratic” is at best misleading, the Leave campaigners have moved on to “Let’s spend that £350M a week on the NHS instead!” and “Don’t let them force us to join the Euro” and “Turkey will flood us with immigrants”. Before we’re done explaining how even the first of these is not what it seems, the Leavers have everyone chanting “Take Back Control!” It’s the Gish Gallop all over again.

Me, I blame Star Wars.

Ever since Obi Wan’s ghost persuaded Luke to turn off his targeting computer and trust his feelings — in other words, to ignore actual information and just go with his gut — a flood of subsequent films and TV shows has presented the same lesson as though it’s a rational approach to take rather than an arrogant and delusional abrogation of responsibility.

Folks: turn on your targeting computers. Use the facts. Don’t trust my own no-doubt biased summary of them: go read that Economist analysis I mentioned, and draw your own conclusions.

… And remember: A vote for Brexit is a vote for a man who doesn’t understand how capos work. (Yes, it’s ad hominem, but too funny to pass up.)



8 responses to “Let’s Take Back Control! We Want Our Country Back!

  1. I dunno, it’s a tricky one. Both “sides” of the debate have been unremittingly negative, mainly trading on insults and fear; the few times they have been positive they’ve been specious at best.

    The supporters of either side I don’t trust either. Too many self-appointed spokesentities I suspect of being mostly driven by personal gain (particularly the CBI, but I suspect many others too) and plenty of others have already established an inglorious career of not knowing what they’re talking about and changing direction with the wind (any economist). I’ve given up even bothering to read what anyone has to say because even if it doesn’t come dripping with hyperbole, I’ve become extremely suspicious of personal bias.

    In my case, leave looks the slightly better option in that it means fewer politicians, which has to be a good thing, though admittedly the ones we’ll be left with are really a pretty rotten lot and I wouldn’t trust them to manage a piggy-bank let alone a whole country.

    For me, the “good old days” are the time when we used to train our own people instead of stealing them from other countries, and when we used to look after the less able on the basis that it was the civilised thing to do, instead of blaming everything on them. Apparently we can afford to do neither now, in spite of having a healthier economy than ever, or some such. Of course I’m not blaming Europe for those things, but they are however unwittingly(?) enabling them.

    The whole argument has been very unpleasant though, and I’ve seen a side to some people I would’ve rather not. There’s only so many times I can bear seeing someone shouting down any opposing point of view with “racist!” And, really, it was all so needless since this whole thing was about Bloody Useless Cameron getting in a panic that he may be losing votes to UKIP, so in true form he made one of his Grand Gestures with no consideration as to the consequences. Sociopaths do that sort of thing quite a lot, apparently.

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  3. It’s certainly true that the Remain campaign has been badly run (just like the Yes to AV campaign was). It’s said very little about the great hope that Europe holds out, projected very little optimism or positivity. I think a part of that is a simple failure of vision; but it’s also partly because they’ve been kept busy, running around putting out the fires that are set by the Leave campaign’s stream of outright lies. I wish the Remain campaign had done a better job, for sure.

    I wouldn’t want you — or anyone — to trust “the supporters of either side”. What I hope will happen is that people (especially the kind of people who read this blog) will go to the actual evidence provided by accredited and respected experts: for example, that very comprehensive overview of all the issues in the Economist. Although reading “I’ve given up even bothering to read what anyone has to say” hardly fills me with optimism on that score. How can you possibly make an informed choice without data?

    The good old days were when we used to look after the less able on the basis that it was the civilised thing to do, instead of blaming everything on them? Yes, exactly. Yet it’s precisely the likes of Leaver Ian Duncan Smith who have done the most to erode the UK’s protections for the most vulnerable people in our society; and it’s been European regulations that have preserved what workers’ rights we still retain. Voting Leave in the hope that it will result in a more compassionate society looks seriously mistaken to me.

    BTW., I agree 100% with Cameron’s personal insecurity being the root reason why we are even having this profoundly depressing and dehumanising campaign. A pox on him and his horrible political manoeuvering.

  4. He looks like a Donald Trump clone – strike one!

  5. David Brain

    Everything about this absurd “tribal” contest has reinforced the notion that it’s just that – a tribal contest. No-one is trying to persuade members of the other tribe to leave, they’re just trying to ensure that none of their own tribe leave by pandering to their base prejudices (and yes, both sides are doing this.) Oh, and if you are perceived as being in one tribe and you dare to suggest that anyone in the other tribe might have, you know, a point, then that’s pretty much the end of you.
    Meanwhile, trying to have any sort of actual conversation about reality is doomed to failure for the reasons articulated here; it’s just dull. Sure, it’s funny to laugh at the length of modern legislation as compared to famous ancient works, but none of them have to stand up in court. Building your case on the basis of “we don’t get to choose where our money is spent” is a bit dodgy in a country that is built on general taxation. Meanwhile, saying “well it’s OK because we’ll just veto anything we don’t like” is hardly a positive advocacy position either.
    I will give the Leave campaign credit for recognising that the problem is deeper than just a relationship with Europe. They lose it all again immediately by finding someone to blame rather than trying to propose real solutions.
    The core problem as I see it is that a single economic policy can never work except at a far more local level than we currently manage. The federal structure of Germany is perhaps closer to the ideal, but even they don’t get to pull enough levers to help them rebalance things. The UK is fucked because London has destroyed the rest of the country (and I say that as someone who lives in London and loves it.) I didn’t support Scottish independence but at least that would have forced some re-evaluation of policies. We can (and I still think should) have a single European currency, but that doesn’t mean that local areas shouldn’t be able to explore alternative economic models.
    But all of those sort of discussions have been trumped by a schoolyard brawl in which people have yelled “yah boo sucks you smell” at each other for four weeks.

  6. I have to wonder if London having totally fucked over the rest of the country (or asset-stripped it, to use more polite language, and then attempted to offload the blame for asset-stripping onto the asset-stripped) is actually one of the main causes of support for Brexit: very many people quite rightly don’t trust government types because they’ve been royally screwed, and Vote Leave is a way of expressing that, whether as a protest vote or actual intent. Either will do, it doesn’t make a lot of difference when you barely have to ha’pennies to rub together and are still told you’re a feckless scrounger ((C) David Cameron).

    What I have noticed is that there seems to be a bit of a trend for wealthy, metropolitan sort of people to want to be in, and for poorer people with fewer opportunities to vote out. And for the wealthy to demean the poor as stupid and racist. Which I guess is the way it’s always been.

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