British Members of Parliament are elected to represent the interests, not the opinions of their constituents, which is an ever more valuable principle in a society in which you are encouraged by intrusive pollsters and canvassers to feel like a thick nobody if you don’t have an opinion on everything, and in which almost everybody’s opinion on almost everything is consequently half baked. And you can always tell that someone has put no thought into the formation of their opinion when they introduce it with the words “I just think…”
In the late ’90s this formula was often extended, notably by audience-members on Question Time and the like, irrespective of the subject under discussion, to “I just think that, as we approach the millennium…”, as though the imminent flipping of a whole four digits all at once had anything to do with the price of fish. I just thought that, as we approached the millennium, I’d better get used to the idea of starting the year on my cheques and letters with a 2. Not much thought required on that one, except for the nanosecond it took me to twig that the millennium wasn’t going to begin until Jan 1st 2001, which made me a proper little Plato compared to almost everyone with whom I shared the priceless privilege of my suffrage. But I digress.
In the current festival of opinion-punting occasioned by the EU referendum it is interesting to note that most of the I Just Think, (or IJT, pronounced “Eejit”) is coming from people who say they’re going to vote Remain, but can’t offer any proper justification for doing so. How many of these have you heard recently?
“I just think we’ve had peace in Europe for 70 years now, and…” (Yes. Thanks very much to NATO, and thanks for nothing to the EU. Next!)
“I just think we shouldn’t be turning our backs on Europe.” (We’re not – the guns will still be pointing south and east.)
“I just think it’s better to build bridges than walls.” (Oh, nice one. They got it from the Pope, who was actually talking about Donald Trump’s plan to build a literal wall on the US/Mexico border. In any other context it’s just a pretty metaphor that anyone could agree with if it suited them.)
“I just think we’ll be better off if we stay in.” (Really? Why? Oh no, cat got your tongue? Ah. Thought so.)
“I just think we’ve got to stop pretending we’re still a great power.” (But Britain is still a great power. It’s just that in 1900 it was so imponderably rich and mighty that it now feels titchy by comparison, but only to us. It’s the world’s 5th largest economy and 4th most powerful military force, which is why the EU is so desperate to keep us in. We don’t need it. Mind you, I was only joking about the guns.)
“I just think this is the 21st Century…” (Yes, well spotted. Ever been on Question Time?)
Oddly, what you never hear is “I just think that if the Prime Minister says we should stay in then it must be in the best interests of the country”, except from Conservative MPs gambling on their promotion prospects. Almost nobody any more trusts Cameron or Corbyn, let alone the gangs of self-serving oligarchs that actually run the EU, the World Bank, the IMF or the OECD. “I just think” does not express any deference to any of these, but arises from a fear of thinking, a timid reluctance to question the status quo, no matter how horrible its prospects. The Eejits don’t want to rock the sinking boat by breaking for the shore.
Well, it’s time they found some gumption, did a bit of research and thought, and started opening with “The fact is” instead of “I just think”. When they do that the Leave campaign will win by a country mile, and all the sovereign nations of Europe will follow, in their different ways, to reform the EU into a free trade zone with no supranational ambitions. I would say good luck to that – especially with a friendly, powerful neighbour outside but trading with it, and constantly there to remind it of the primacy of democracy, and of the vital importance of thinking to make democracy survive, and work to the benefit of all. The British have to vote Leave for Europe’s sake, not just Britain’s. The alternative is the rejection of democracy all over Europe, as its peoples rise against autocracy with the gun and the fire-bomb. The ballot-box has to win, and win through thinking.