We have all read and heard much about what motivates campaigners for a Leave vote in the forthcoming British referendum on continued membership of the EU. Starry-eyed nostalgia for Empire, hard-headed analysis of economic and political reality, first-hand experience of the European racket, like that of the scarily bright and articulate Daniel Hannan MEP (whose new book ‘Why Vote Leave‘ should be read by everyone who wishes to cast an informed vote in June) – all of these play their part.
And yet Remain remains the Establishment position, and remains also on the front foot (a cricketing metaphor that only Commonwealth readers will understand). While dismissing those who want us to get the hell out as nutters of various stripes, we have not applied the same pop psychology to those who want Britain to stay the hell in.
So let’s start at the top. David Cameron gave us the impression that if he didn’t return from his negotiations in Europe with a deal he could recommend to the British public he would resign as PM and campaign for leaving. I, for one, admired him for this principled stance. Unfortunately what it actually meant was that any deal he secured would become the one he wanted, and he has painted himself into a political corner, having to advocate continued membership lest the credibility of his government be destroyed, and the Tory right take over his party. That outcome might be a grim prospect for some, but it does not affect the argument on the merits of British membership.
Nevertheless, he is pulling out all the stops to secure a Remain verdict. President Obama’s un-American use of the word ‘queue’ stinks of an outgoing incumbent who doesn’t much care any more, and was happy to take his text from a mate on his way out. The most unlikely celebrity Remainder, Jeremy Clarkson, is such good friends with the PM that he was able to call him when things got a bit sticky in Argentina (see his interview in The Times a couple of weeks ago). Don’t be surprised if Clarkson is recognised in Cameron’s resignation honours list for his services to exports (which, in fairness, he would thoroughly – I was going to say richly – deserve). Then there’s Niall Ferguson, the man who wrote ‘Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World’, a brilliant and ambitious historian who was just too bright and awkward to be the national treasure of a media don he wanted to be, and whose Remain stance now makes him look like a scholarship boy siding with the bullies.
Let’s now jump down to the likes of you and me, before addressing the middle level of power and influence. Of course many people are worried about the uncertainty of Brexit, whether it will cost jobs and cause recession, and I would refer them to Labour MPs Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart, who are clearly, within their party, the successors of europhobes Barbara Castle and Peter Shore, as well as the great Austin Mitchell, and understand that the greatest peace-time evil, unemployment, has had a field-day in the Eurozone. These voters must just make themselves as well-informed as they can, develop a nose for mendacious propaganda, and vote with their heads and hearts on the day.
Others, possibly more secure in their employment, are worrying that we have a moral obligation to support European co-operation, even buying the old lie that it has kept the peace (almost) in, well, all the European countries that actually sort of matter, since 1945, with NATO merely lucky in its embarrassing success. They miss the point that after 1945 the old Franco-German animus ceased to be of global significance; the initiative had passed to the US, Russia and China. Only if Europe were united (remember ‘ever closer union’) with a single defence and foreign policy, and armies under a single command, could Europe be the crucible for World War III. And if southern European countries are in serious trouble as a result of their signing up to a currency union they can’t possibly sustain – well, the UK will have a lot more money for foreign aid when its contribution is no longer filtered and diminished through the EU. If the power to do good in the world, especially Europe, is what worries you, then vote Leave.
But now we come to the people in the middle of this debate, the vocal Remainders with collective cred, the’business leaders’, the global bankers, the diplomats, the Treasury officials. And here I adduce a personal experience.
For five years we have been resident ex-pats in Amsterdam (see my previous blog), and our friends here have voiced concern over what might happen to us were we to become no longer citizens of the EU, as though we will be clinging to the undercarriage of the last departing chopper. But this city is crammed with ex-pat professionals from the US, Australia, India, you name it, and they seem to get on pretty well. Maybe we’d have to present ourselves at the British Consulate, which is in the smartest part of town, just by the most beautiful public park, for a rubber stamp once a year. Maybe we’d have to fill in a few more forms. What the hell? It’s just a bit more work.
And that, I’m afraid, is the point for all these experts and leaders and wonks whose pronouncements we are told to take with nods of solemn respect. They don’t want an upheaval because it will mean more work. They will have to deal with new conditions, get out of their comfort zones and think anew, and the younger colleagues who are after their jobs will be better at it than they are. George Osborne’s officials must have laughed at being asked, for the only time in their careers, to come up with the gloomiest forecast they could possibly contrive, but they did it because it might mean less work in the long run. Unemployment might be an evil, but having to work harder for your salary, for those with secure jobs, is deeply unattractive, and that’s what all the bankers and civil servants are going to have to do if we vote Leave, because making it work will be their jobs. And, of course, they will do it – because otherwise their juniors will.
There is currently much public resentment at the salaries and bonuses paid to so-called ‘fat cats.’ I’m not in favour of state intervention in private sector salaries and bonuses, because inequality is the price of freedom, and it’s up to these people to square with their consciences what they do with their money. It is a very British vice to confuse morality with good taste. But I have no objection whatever to their being made to work harder, a lot harder, to justify their weekly envelope.
So if you harbour envious hostility against bankers and unsackable civil servants, vote Leave, and make them suffer while the rest of us benefit from the freedom.
Next time; Why so many Europeans want to be British