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:
- The Economist‘s “Brexit briefs: Our guide to Britain’s EU referendum”
- The UK in a Changing Europe’s SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of the UK’s membership of the EU
Those who prefer something a bit shorter, or with a clearer message, may find these arguments persuasive:
- The Observer view on how to vote in the European Union referendum
- J. K. Rowling on Monsters, Villains and the EU Referendum
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.)