TUESDAY MAY 31, 2016
As the EU referendum debate enters its hideous final stages, both sides of the Tory party are furiously branding each other liars, while the rest of the country thinks, “Yes, that seems reasonable to me.” Ken Clarke has claimed that in the event of Brexit, Cameron would be out of No 10 in 30 seconds. Probably even quicker if you said the ghost of his dead dad was on the doorstep with a sack of used euros.
With the vote coinciding with Euro 2016, England’s games could have a major bearing on the result. Imagine, as a footballer, stepping up to take a free kick late in the game and suddenly realising that the whole future of the continent as a political entity, the integrity of Nato and the progress of TTIP rests on it. The pressure will be too much for Ryan Bertrand and he will sky it.
The politicians supporting Brexit are all dreadful, as are all the politicians against it, and most of the politicians for and against most things. The Leave movementlooks like a group of villains cornered by Batman in a hall of mirrors. Who better to head up a campaign against unelected people ruling over us than Lord Lawson? Nigel Farage, a sort of end of level boss for Freudian psychoanalysis, has a face that only a mother could abandon to the boarding school system. And I’m always a bit wrongfooted by Michael Gove, possibly because I half expect to see him in a Hammer horror film, his tiny wooden hands tightening mercilessly round his owner’s throat as he cries, “Gichael! Gichael! Stockik Gichael!!”. Boris Johnson, looking like a Harry Potter spell that’s brought all the hair in Dumbledore’s plughole to life, said he would debate with Cameron, “Anytime, anyplace, anywhere”. How about everyday for the next four weeks in Aleppo?
As awful as both sides are, we have to accept that there are strategic interests manoeuvring for position in their own struggles for personal gain. But there are also fixed interests. Things like corporations, military alliances, banks and superpowers – and they are entirely in favour of Remain. The roll call has been extraordinary: JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, the IMF, Richard Branson, Nato, the president of the United States. It’s hard to think of people more psychotically opposed to the interests of Britain’s citizens. Why stop there? What does Victor Von Doom think? Or Mothra?
The most obvious beneficiary of a Remain vote will be George Osborne, a man who exudes all the warmth of Scott of the Antarctic’s last dump, who made detailed claims about what the British economy would be like in 2030, despite not being able to predict the recession a week after it happened. It was like someone telling you they can predict what the weather will be like on any given day in 14 years time, while standing in the rain without an umbrella. If I try to picture Osborne as a child, for some reason all I see is a toddler so desperate not to share an icelolly that he’s suffocating his conjoined twin with the hat from his sailor suit, then passing it off as a novelty rucksack till it shrivels up and drops off. Of course, I’m joking. He throttled his twin in the womb with its own umbilical cord as a difficult but necessary measure to ensure he would hit his own arbitrary milk consumption targets. And yet he’s not all bad: Osborne is arguably the number one homicide target in the country, yet he can’t stop himself pulling on hi-vis jackets. Possibly the desperate actions of some subconscious crumb of his near-extinguished decency.
Yes, the EU has brought us stability. A massive relief, as without that European peace we would have never had the spare resources to go into Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. And admittedly, the EU does a certain amount to mitigate the ravages of a Tory government. It would have been amusing to see Cameron run a campaign where he admitted this, chortling to every interviewer that the public needs the EU to keep him chained up or he won’t be able to stop himself from destroying us. Paul Mason made an interesting case against Brexit, asserting that it would lead to a few years of a rightwing Tory government, probably led by Boris, freshly empowered by the result. Yet I think we have to factor in that Cameron is, unlike Boris, a fantastically competent radical rightwinger, and he will be equally energised by a Remain vote.
The protections offered by EU membership aren’t to preserve things like the right to strike. They are the protections you would expect in an economic union, designed to make things run smoothly; the character of the whole enterprise has always been technocratic. Cameron’s alleged deal on the EU was made in a five star hotel over a round of sandwiches: real people don’t make important decisions like that. They make the most important decisions in their life at 2am, in a taxi to their mum’s house while drinking a bottle of gin. Interestingly, the Remain camp has portrayed the EU almost entirely as an economic union, and it’s hard to find any real arguments about why it exists as a political one. As a Glaswegian, I’m not convinced that I really have so much more in common with people in Seville than I do with those in Kabul, who at least have a similar life expectancy and standard of club football.
In many ways the pro–Europe left’s message is the same as Cameron’s: remain and reform. Let’s stay in something that doesn’t exist. A British left that in our most recent elections struggled to convince its own traditional base that it could be trusted to collect the bins, somehow feels that its arguments will be better understood when delivered through an interpreter to a vast bureaucracy, partly composed of fascists. I suppose the left is so used to selling hope that, on a dying planet, it has found itself increasingly unable to describe reality. And the real left reason for leaving is a pretty bleak one to try to sell: Let’s try to get one arm out of this straitjacket before the shooting starts isn’t ever going to look great on the side of a battle bus. The left saw what Europe did to Greece and despite that, they want to stay, like a Scout group on Jim’ll Fix It determined to still enjoy meeting Kim Wilde.
There’s been the usual rightwing scaremongering that instability will scare away the rich. Thank God it hasn’t, and it’s only their money that has gone overseas. This must be the first time Johnson and Cameron have been opposite each other since sharing a fresher at an Oxford dining club.
Boris probably doesn’t even think we should leave the EU, he just needs to get enough of the Parliamentary Party’s Lithium Tasting Club onside for a leadership tilt. And things are pretty desperate for him: Osborne has all the patronage available to a chancellor, Boris has a column in the Telegraph.
Perhaps Boris should stick to doing what he does best: playing the endpoint of a recurring dream where I forcefeed the frozen head of Walt Disney mescaline and force him to invent a talking dog. But even in this kind of speculation, we allow ourselves to get drawn into the spectacle, staring enraptured at the play, while the pickpockets move among us. Let’s not forget the nihilism of fixed interests, their indifference to even maintaining a habitable world. Soon, rising inequality will see our cities split into heavily-armed gated communities and a Mad Max style wasteland that’s home only to tent cities of prostitutes and cleaners, their survival dependent on shooting down Amazon drones with catapults made from animal intestines tied between a forked stick. “Sorry kids. No food today. It’s just an Adam Sandler box set.”
The campaign has been full of surprises. Who would have thought the Daily Mail would turn out to be so against us taking orders from the Germans, an idea they couldn’t get enough of in the 1930s? Of course, a vote to remain in the EU can’t be seen as a rejection of racism as both campaigns have been thoroughly racist. But are people really the hideous bigots each of these campaigns has assumed them to be? Are British people really, on the whole, intolerant, unwelcoming, and fearful? I’d almost say that they define themselves as being the opposite of those things, and still within living memory actually fought a war against them. There’s little doubt that Britain has a problem with racism. We want immigrants to speak English, even though we’re never going to speak to them, because we want to be sure that they don’t have a chip on their shoulder about us, the way we do about them.
But referendum campaigns are supposed to be trying to speak to a majority of the population, and both sides of this one seem aimed at its very worst minority.
Isn’t part of the problem here that we’re accepting a hateful view of ourselves projected on to us by politicians who never actually meet any of us? Perhaps the best thing we can do is set ourselves against this whole hideous European debate and go as contrary to its spirit as possible. Cameron’s low estimation of the public can be seen in his decision to hold the referendum before people fleeing war and drought begin their attempts to cross the Mediterranean this summer. He imagines that dead bodies on beaches, and news reports from refugee camps would make us vote against the EU, as our primary concern would be keeping those people out. I think it’s more likely that this refugee crisis will create an outpouring of compassion. We can register our disgust at being spoken to as racists in this referendum by how we behave towards these refugees. People are drowning in the Mediterranean while we have a navy that could save them. We can press our government to act, and I refuse to be told that’s fanciful by people who think it would be easier to reform the EU. And we can act ourselves. People already are. Donating money, driving to Calais with supplies, trying to create political pressure, and let’s join them, each in our own little way, in a sort of Dunkirk of the spirit. We should do this because these are desperate human beings who need our help. As an added bonus, remember that whatever you do, no matter how small, will appal both sides of this intellectually enfeebled and poisonous campaign, and that the most radical message we can send them is that we still feel love.
The Brexiteers look like villains cornered by Batman in a hall of mirrors.