There is an unappealing prospect over the coming weeks. What should be an informed debate about the future role of a peripheral power in the 21st century, and what the most appropriate strategy should be to secure the best interests of the citizenry, has already degenerated into a risible example of why the referendum is not the appropriate means of securing an informed resolution of thorny issues.
Reducing complexity into a binary, pre-defined choice, encourages both sides of the argument into shrill, sound-bite pronouncements, and a failure to acknowledge that there is nuance and judgement to be exercised, both now and in the future. Instead it becomes a circus of cretinism, especially where the case for one side has no hard evidence, merely a jingoistic dog-whistle, manipulated by a small coterie of hypocrites whose public pronouncements bear as much relationship to their desired outcome as Tony Blair does to the pursuit of a Christian, moralistic polity.
It is hilarious to watch the tumbrils in a ritual dance. The same people who, last year, were making subliminal anti-semitic assaults on Ed Miliband's awkwardness around a bacon sandwich, have now moved on from a systematic attempt to destabilise Labour by using the obverse slur, will now be lining up in favour of the isolationist camp. They will doubtless find it necessary to peddle lies, distortion and, where necessary, personal attacks. A wounded animal without rationality, for example the ex-Mayor of London, will be extremely vicious. A thwarted toddler should be treated as such
The flexible posturing of the exit campaign is fascinating. At the first attempt they assailed Obama for pointing out that the UK would be a less important trading partner than the EU as a whole, and that any isolationist deal would hardly be top priority for the US. The current proposals for the EU-US deal are not attractive, and they may not even go through - which has resulted in some of the sputum-fuelled foaming to assail this situation. Yet at the same time they peddle the myth that the UK on its own would be better-placed to secure a more desirable outcome. This is not just a lie, it is a deliberately-constructed attempt to obfuscate and undermine the debate by diversionary tactics.
Not that one would expect consistency from a group of opportunist parasites. The reality is that the interests of the UK as a whole cannot be served either outside the EU or by pursuing an economic and diplomatic policy that resembles North Korea's. A rogue nuclear state is not an attractive option, and the assumption that the UK would be welcome back into whichever global and regional groupings it wished to endorse should be held up to the scrutiny it deserves - and then debunked. The myths and "what if" scenarios being put out are not just transparent, they are non-existent.
The remain camp need to break out of their self-imposed constraint of not exploiting the weakness of the exit campaign. For the UKIP sugar daddy to assert that the loss of around 20% of household income would be a price worth paying for a dubious notion of sovereignty is a fatal hole in their strategy - as their self-defined sovereignty implies participation in supra-national arrangements where the UK would have either no say or much more limited say over their content, even this is the kind of sub-literate mythology that should be paraded. Failure to articulate any positive or even consistent strategy to manage the transition from awkward partner to international pariah should be at the centre of the charge sheet that many of the Brexiters' high-profile cheerleaders are in fact traitors to their own declared cause.
The European Union is not perfect, nor is it unreformable. The existing structures and priorities can and must be shifted, but that can really only be achieved from within and by being a rational and engaged partner. It will continue to exist in some form, and the risks attached to being a marginal nation which has attempted to destroy a social and economic are large and unquantifiable. A pure microeconomic reductionism suggests that the residual EU might wish to trade with the UK, but the limits of such a worldview are clear and have many more historical precedents than the ignorant, uneducated plutocrats would wish us to consider.
Every time that there is a rational argument put forward for the remain campaign, the exit campaigners have to find someone, no matter how swivel-eyed, peripheral or senile, with apparent experience of the argument. Thus the resurrection of the pustular "economist" Patrick Minford, alongside seven others whose notability is mostly for their rapacity than their economic literacy and credibility, apparently destroyed the case for membership. There are always contrarians (otherwise the world would be a very dull place), but the intellectual honesty and rigour required for a debate is beyond them - and as usual they will be reduced to their playground chant of "Project Fear" whenever their amoral and incoherent bletherings are given a ritual demolition.
What is even more amusing is that most of the Brexit baloney is being fed from the right, but there are fellow-travellers on the left who believe that leaving the EU will provide the springboard for the development of a workers' state. Apparently the EU is the tool of big business, and its role in providing minimal social coherence and protection against multinationals could be replicated in an environment where most of those bank-rolling the Brexit campaigns would be looking to unravel both EU and UK social security in the name of unfettered profit. Conflating the EU with immigration is both absurd and dangerous, but this appears to be the rationale of many otherwise sane people on the left. If they think that the EU dilutes the wages and conditions of British workers, they will be in for a shock of their lives where they are at the mercy of a combination of 19th century social attitudes with a 21st century developing nation approach to labour relations.
Tempting fate, the next few weeks are likely to be centred on more of the same rather than any new arguments. For the remain campaign, the challenge is to continue to play up the risks and inconsistencies while presenting a coherent narrative of post-referendum change. A vision for the future of the EU is as important as demolishing the hubris of the post-Brexit delusions being peddled by the cretinous tendency. Easy enough to go for the easy targets of Trump, Putin, Lawson, Redwood and Johnson as advocates of British self-immolation, but also to explain that being in the EU is both less risky and more productive in shaping the future.
Now that the immediate fun of the electoral cycle is out of the way, the idiocy of politics by referendum dictates a challenge to the belief that the right outcome can be delivered by argument alone. The leave campaigners have demonstrated no proof of their assertions, and their "right to reply" to remain messages means that they can continue to pass off lies and distortions both in response to challenge and as a means of distraction from their lack of coherence. The remain campaign has to challenge this at the same time as making it clear that changing the status quo is only achieved by being inside the tent, rather than pretending to be a Great Power. The exit lie is based around nostalgia for an age that never existed, and can never be created.
Cold comfort, but at least in seven weeks this whole process will be over. Maintaining interest will be difficult, and managing blood pressure in the face of monumental stupidity even harder.