Monday, 6 June 2016

Brexit lies and lunacy - and the need for hope

Somewhere, perhaps, there is an honest, straightforward case being out forward for leaving the European Union.  It would be astonishing to find it, given the current toxicity of the debate which the leaders of the leave campaign stoke with racism, downright mendacity and personal abuse whenever confronted with views or challenges that contradict their entitled farrago of self-interest and false patriotism.  Crying "treason" and "immigrant" is no substitute for answering the basic question of "how do you plan to enact the process of European withdrawal"?

One of the most disappointing facets of the campaign has been the complete denial of history.  The drooling scapegraces and their more sinister backroom supporters still appear to be stuck in the English delusion of Britain alone in the world.  This is a specifically English disease, and not all the nations of the UK need to stand accused.  Their fantasy universe has Britain as the sole victor of the Second World War, rather than rescued from stalemate by Soviet and American power, and the UK as some sort of independent powerhouse isolated from the world by its very superiority.  A cretinous and amoral set of lies, feeding prejudice and not rooted in the reality.

The outrage from the Leave campaign about the possibility of an activist House of Commons after a vote to leave is breathtaking.  With no programme in place for redefining the relationship, where do they think that the legitimacy of a British position would emerge from?  Rupert Murdoch is not a satisfactory answer.  Their promises of free trade and cherry-picking the rest would be held up to scrutiny - 60 million isolated Brits playing 440 million EU citizens is hardly an equal contest.  Yet another false outrage from a group who have never been held up to rigorous scrutiny.

Anyone who has read the appendix on Newspeak in "1984" would be aware that doublethink was required by all adherents of the party.  The Brexit variant is "no thinking" as at the same time as the isolationist farrago is peddled, the virtues of deregulated markets are set out as something that the EU holds us back from.  The dismantling of social protection and solidarity is somehow a virtue, which, when allied to withdrawal from European standards around environmental protection and human rights, should set the antennae twitching, irrespective of one's place in the political spectrum in normal times.

In the meantime, the standard dog-whistle remains immigration and fear of the other.  When Farage has to be called out on the subliminal suggestion that remaining in the EU is likely to result in foreigners raping British women, and his fellow-travellers make assertions that the UK will be able to close down all immigration, without significant challenge, this is a sick travesty of what should be a debate about the nature of society and the values that it shares.

The Remain campaign has tended to focus on the risks of leaving.  This is legitimate, but it is not the basis on which a sustainable future can be built.  The positions being put forward by the more radical pro-Europeans, including useful contributions from other countries' public intellectuals (Zizek's views in particular are very interesting), are that there is a necessity to stay aligned in order to achieve the potential for change.  This is not just true for the left, but also for the right.  If the neoliberal cause has such deep-set support and the force of argument, then that should be put forward within the EU rather than outside it.

The European project has made mistakes, and will continue to do so.  Yet in the last seventy years it has achieved adaptation through the Cold War and the collapse of authoritarian Communism, and has ushered in a period of stability in Western Europe that would have confounded predictions based around a determinist view of history.  The system, initially based on economic co-operation, has extended to cultural, social and environmental areas where internationalism is the only rational response.  The global challenge does not end at national borders, no matter what lies are preferred by the Leave campaign, and however idealistic one can be about international governments, the EU is one of the key steps going forward.

It will not be enough just to refute lies, or to bewail that the internecine feuding within the Bullingdon Club has hijacked the national interest.  In the run-up to the referendum, the Remain campaign has to spell out that there are opportunities as well as threats from staying in, and that the hollow phobias of the Leave campaign are both hypocritical and based on lies.

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