The trouble with a blog like this is that, after a honeymoon period in which people of all political persuasions take a look at it out of curiosity, the only regular readers are those who are likely to agree with it. You end up preaching to the converted, articulating why they’re right, not persuading others that they’re wrong. And, for those of us who are convinced of the case for Vote Leave, persuading Remainers that they’re wrong is the task on which we have to concentrate in the next three days. So I’m sorry this is a long one, but please read it all, and quote at will.
Let’s leave aside politicians who have staked their careers on a Remain vote, and industrial leaders who are doing nicely out of the current game, and don’t want the pack reshuffled. These people are impervious to argument. Instead we need to address all the regular decent folk who are leaning towards Remain for less selfish, more emotional reasons.
Prominent among these are people who are put off by one or all of the principal three personalities leading the Brexit campaign. Of course if their arguments are sound their personal appeal should be irrelevant, but alas politics isn’t like that. The truth is that they are all, in their different ways, much more vivid to the public mind than Cameron, Osborne or Corbyn, whose likeability has taken a massive dive in recent weeks, and excite greater extremes of admiration and distaste. So, for the benefit of the uncoverted, we need to dig a little deeper.
Nigel Farage (who is not part of the official Vote Leave campaign, remember) comes across as a highly articulate but bullying wide boy who has little appeal to the genteel regulars of the market town tea-shop. He is not afraid to cross the boundaries of good taste in order to make his points hit home. He might be a public schoolboy (Dulwich College), but his persona is as naff as Nando’s. But he is a former commodities trader with long experience as an MEP, and knows what he’s talking about when it comes to business and the EU. And he’s right; you don’t have to like the man.
Michael Gove can seem bookish and remote, but he is unfailingly reasoned and courteous even in the face of vulgar abuse. And he was in at the ground floor of the group that evolved into the first Cameron cabinet, so his decision to back Vote Leave was career-breaking and utterly principled – he has even ruled himself out of any imminent party leadership contest. Both his intellect and his motives are above reproach. He is also, as he might have more opportunity to demonstrate once this desperately serious business is concluded, one of the warmest and wittiest politicians we’ve ever had.
Boris Johnson’s combination of personal indiscretion and slick-tongued arrogance is unattractive to many, and he is vulnerable to the suspicion that his enthusiasm for Brexit is skin-deep and born of cynical careerism. But his eight years as Mayor of London (in which office he excelled) lend weight to his oratory in the Vote Leave cause. Nonetheless, many people seem to have bought the line, slid into a number of columns by Remain journalists as an assumption, that a Brexit vote will automatically result in his becoming prime minister. This idea has to be stamped on, and hard.
A new leader of the Conservative Party is elected by the membership from a short-list of two arrived at by a vote of its MPs, and it doesn’t take a research psychologist to see why Boris might not be overwhelmingly popular with his parliamentary colleagues. For a start, most of them are Remainers. Then there’s the fact that he has swanned with much fanfare into two constituencies, while most have them have had to haul themselves up the north face of politics with no trumpets attending. And although he can be a brilliant orator at a rally, and is adept at squashing hecklers, he is often found wanting in debate and interview because he relies more on native wit than on mastery of a brief. It is entirely possible that he might not make the final cut after an MPs’ vote, if a credible straw man – or woman – can be found to oppose Theresa May, who has been the most grown-up, least vocal and least divisive Remainer, has long and deep experience of the party, and is the obvious choice to heal its divisions with calm and commonsense whatever the outcome on Thursday.
So much for the politics of personality. But there is a wider and less tangible movement still contributing to Remain’s poll ratings, a mood that has to be dispelled, a cast of mind that needs to be discredited, and it consists of this; that a Brexit vote will distort British civil society in favour of narrow-mindedness, and put liberalism and diversity on the back foot. So we have to understand and articulate why this is pernicious nonsense.
For a start, the far-right in Britain has consistently been a political joke, though not a funny one, since shortly after its inception in the early 1930s, for even by then British society, especially in its urban centres, was already too diverse and cosmopolitan for fascism to take hold. The British Union of Fascists, the National Front, the British National Party – all have withered, in their time, under popular scrutiny and opposition. With some honourable exceptions this was not true -and amazingly, is still not true – in continental Europe, which is why the masters of the EU do not trust its peoples, and why the institutions and policies of the EU are so scandalously anti-democratic. But Britain has no reason to fear and suppress the popular voice, as the EU does. Depending on your point of view, you might say that the election of Harold Wilson or Margaret Thatcher was British democracy’s low point; but here we are, still a rich, peaceful and powerful nation, with still not a single fascist ever elected to Parliament.
But, although we can be proud, we cannot be complacent. The ever-closer-unionisers of the EU are still in denial of the obvious fact that the far-right and far-left are gaining ground across the continent precisely because national elections are becoming transparently irrelevant. The last thing we want is for that to happen in Britain. The primacy of our democracy, of the liberalism and diversity that Britain pioneered, is what Vote Leave is fighting for, and if we fail we run the very real risk of losing it all in a pincer-movement of foreign oppression and domestic extremism.
That is the most important point. But now let’s go to the most trivial, and work our way back up again.
In this week’s Sunday Times (which came out for Brexit in its top leader) its has-been restaurant critic, A.A. Gill, observed that he had found the single, killer argument for Remain for which he had longed in all the tedious dinner-party conversations about the referendum he had had to endure over the past months. It was the basket of bread on the table at a London establishment called Noble Rot, which he was reviewing. For there before him were all the finest variations on baking a lump of dough that Europe has to offer, and he took it as the ultimate metaphor for why we should stay in the EU.
Rot, and ignoble rot at that. You can’t bake bread in Bologna or Paris and expect it to be perfect when it gets to London, so the stuff had clearly been sourced from very nearby. But anyway, in the unlikely event of a French or Italian baker going back home if Brexit dawns, their recipes would still be there for the enjoyment of all. But of course he knows that; his point was rather that if we take this inward-looking, troglodytic decision, public taste for foreign breads, and indeed all the fine foreign cuisine currently available in London, will immediately become decisively unfashionable, and it’ll be pie and chips with Hovis at the Savoy for ever more.
This ridiculous nut isn’t worth the sledge-hammer. Of course our gradual education in and taste for continental food might have been encouraged by the EU, but we’re not going to lose it now. The Farage voter in Essex still doesn’t know his focaccia from his panini, but he will in time, whether or not we vote to free ourselves from the bureaucracy that regulates its yeast. That’s a function of the shrinking world, not the burgeoning superstate. Smug restaurant critics who think no further than their own sophistication, let alone celebrity chefs who just admire foreign cooking, are not a great advertisement for Remain.
So let’s move up a notch, to all the luvvies for Remain who have been so keen to patronise us with their lofty pan-national sentiments. The sight of Bob Geldoff flicking a V-sign at Vote Leave fishermen from the comfort of his private yacht was pretty unedifying, and a great symbol for the whole mob of them whose job it is to provide an entertaining alternative to harsh reality. But then we had Eddie Izzard, in his time a brilliantly original stand-up comedian, and a highly intelligent and articulate man, making a complete fool of himself as a rude, shouting yob on Question Time. Why was he so moved?
It’s not just that the artistic community, especially its most successful members, benefit from a system of EU grants and subsidies that HMG has always been a trifle hesitant to provide, not, in other words, just the gravy-train. It is actually that same worry about liberalism and diversity. I’m sure Eddie Izzard wouldn’t mind my saying that his sexuality is unusual, and the inference I draw from this is that he fears a cultural change consequent upon Brexit, one in which his talent will be marginalised in favour of Jim Davidson, and he will suddenly have bricks thrown at him on the streets of Soho. No, Eddie, our culture is liberal for good, because we started it.
Just look at the history of British entertainment over the last 50 years. Brilliant, dynamic, ground-breaking, it has inspired the world – and mostly before we became embedded in the European project. The Beatles and Pete and Dud, just to take two outstanding examples among many, were thriving even as de Gaulle was telling us to get lost, and it was Britain that produced the Satire Wave. European television and pop music are still largely embarrassing compared to ours, and we import very little of either; and our most popular, cutting edge comedians, like Izzard, are largely incomprehensible across the Channel (even when he’s speaking his fluent French). The continentals prefer Monty Python and Benny Hill. It is the very diversity with which we have been blessed, by the accidents of history going back 2000 years, that makes our arts so constantly challenging and surprising, not some cross-border economic compromise gone horribly wrong. The bribes might go, but the genius will not, and neither will the British appreciation of it.
There may be many in the Brexit camp who liked Songs of Praise much better when it was just a televised service with best hats and 19th Century hymns. But they treasure Pete and Dud as well, and anyway these are not people who will seize the upper hand if something goes their way for a change; they just want to be left alone. What’s wrong with that?
So there’s my latest briefing. Good luck with it in the pub over the next couple of days. Next time; why Scotland should vote Leave.