Brexit: The Third Way
The authoritarian, neo-colonial, anti-democratic superstructure of the European Union and its more malicious than progressive ends prevent me from voting Remain, but the probable devastating economic and practical political results of a Brexit stop me ticking Leave.
This is probably going to read as political sacrilege and absolute irresponsibility. There’s also going to be very little in the way of jocular wording and humour. I should say outright that before this week I’ve been something of a floating voter in regards to the referendum. I’ve alternated between a Brexit based upon left-wing leanings, and a Remain vote based on flat pragmatism given the last few weeks of polling and vast economic consequences.
Today the United Kingdom votes in a referendum on its membership of the European Union. You should probably know that already. And if you’re registered to vote, then please go out there and vote Remain, Leave or the third option I’m going to outline.
My social media walls have been flooded with paeans about Remaining, with a capital ‘R’, but the truth of the European Union is that it isn’t a compassionate, progressive force of European state integration. It’s a bit more complicated. Not to be condescending, but the actual facts of how it’s actually a bit malicious are a bit left by the wayside by both Leave and Remain. It’s a bit difficult, I guess, to talk about neo-colonialism and discuss the impact on the scientific and academic institutions by Brexit.
And yet this article isn’t yet another Lexit bash but something completely unoriginal and cowardly. I’m finally comfortable that after reading on this subject for so long that I’m still too ignorant to vote based upon a series of prediction matrices, lies and slander, and a gut feeling that alternates every five minutes. What really frightens me is the likely result on Friday will be an outcome not of pragmatic, economic and ‘logical’ reasoning but rather an overly emotional, uninformed decision — Remain or Leave. That the reasons for the results aren’t necessarily the right ones.
Political Rhetoric & Post-Facts Politics
Boris Johnson ended his time on the Wembley debate stage two days ago by inferring Bill Pullman’s speech from the blockbuster Independence Day. I wish it wasn’t actually that ridiculous but:
Quite frankly this isn’t anything new. Cast your eyes across the Atlantic and you’ll find yourself with an orange five-foot-something scrotum who wants to ban Muslims and thinks Obama is involved with ISIS. This is post-facts politics at its finest, and Boris and his Leave chums have been mobilizing the emotional farce of it all to meet their political ends. Harping on about common fears of immigration and creating a great spectre of Brussels that has with a vast democratic deficit that you can vanquish with a referendum Excalibur. It’s been BoJo’s line of argument for quite sometime. Unfortunately, obviously, the reality is a bit far from the blonde-tinted vision of a EU-less future. The IMF, Oxford Economics, the Bank of England, and a vast number of other financial institutions and economists reckon that Leave would have a negative impact on the UK economy.
Again, though, does any of this matter? Boris and Gove have managed to frame the argument in a — ‘take back control’ — sense of us versus them. That they don’t believe enough in Britain because Britain is great and great is Britain. The fact is that even when it comes to the bullshit claims of a £350 million a week fee (it’s more like £180m but finding actual data is so fucking confusing it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack in Brussels underwater) that it doesn’t matter that Boris is correct. The majority of Leavers who see this claim will believe it and never change back.
Recent psychological research posits that in retaliation to facts, argument and a debate, people are more likely to believe even more in their entrenched opinion at the end of it all. Changing the minds of millions of Britons isn’t an impossible task, obviously, but human psychology means that dispelling the notions and arguments underpinning the Leave campaign mean that the Remain side has constantly, without fault, had to be on the backfoot during this campain. Just following the basic coverage shows that practically all of their events, speeches and rhetoric have become a reply to a Leave statement or speech. Leave has led the debate on Britain’s future, and Remain has never played the offence. So. Where are? Where are we now?
In the most recent weeks, British politics has spiraled into a disgusting toxic mess of personality, bizarre bitterness and spite. It’s involved the dehumanization of migrants, and the murder of a member of parliament at the hand of a neo-fascist. We’ve had a pretty horrible year in terms of political campaigns, but nothing constantly sickening and fucking depressing as this. At the end of it all, on the day of the vote, I feel bereft of any optimism or real ‘stir’ of political passion. Usually on election day there’s a charged atmosphere, but all I can feel is a numb apathy and disengagement at large. It’s a sickening, sickening political mess and just a scan at the data means that so little is going to change.
I want to tell you, quite clearly, voting Leave or Remain won’t change our political atmosphere for a second. This may sound like a cynical, diminutive piece but what I want to try and accomplish in whizzing through the ‘where are we now’ is that the actual stakes are much larger and confusing than one might think.
Consider some of this to be an education if you’re a Remainer, and a boost to your moral arsenal if you’re a Leaver.
A (Not Really) Beacon of Hope
The EU’s muddled history when it comes to supporting democratic institutions, economic discrimination, and a whole host of other authoritarian beats make it impossible for me to be morally responsible for remaining a part of it.
The European Union is not the shinning Colossus of Rhodes-like example of burning-bright progressive democracy throughout the world. On the contrary, it’s authoritarian both in structure and in action. The most powerful of its institutions, alongside the Central Bank, is the European Commission. A collection of 28 representatives appointed by each of its member governments. Much of these representatives form geographical blocs within the commission, and some of their recent work has been utterly frightening. They’re directly appointed by democratically elected representatives, yes, but that there’s no confirmation hearing for the British commissioner in the House of Commons means that issues of a democratic deficit aren’t so misplaced.
Their actions throughout the continent shoulder caution against thinking they have the European people’s best interests at heart. In Ireland, the trouble of the Lisbon treaty and the Eurozone crisis should make it readily clear that the commission isn’t one for negotiation. The more terrifying situation is that of Greece. Greece, like all Eurozone countries, has its source of currency outsourced to the Central Bank. Given the economic bother since 2008, Greece was put in quite the state until a left-wing anti-austerity. mass movement alliance Syriza swept to power. Promising to actually spend money rather than starving the Greek people of infrastructure and other public investments necessary to an actual economy.
The commission rejected Greek requests for currency, despite Syriza (the newly elected government ) requiring the necessary capital to play out its democratically-elected platform. The sovereignty of Greece reads a bit weirdly when it can’t even make economic decisions of its own. Even European leaders made it quite clear that Greece had to surrender its whole fiscal sovereignty in order to get any sort of cash infusions, and follow a directly austerity based platform (which harmed the economy further anyway). The Greek people rejected any sort of bailout in a stunning referendum but, in an equally stunning turn of events, it was imposed anyway. None of this is new, back in 2011 with another Eurozone crisis, Lucas Popademos jumped from the European Central Bank to head up a Greek interim government, completely un-elected. You might say that these sorts of settlements could never take place in Britain, and Cameron’s special agreement is even more proof, but do we really want to facilitate a political union that acts like this?
And then there’s TTIP. Actually if you’re reading this then you probably know what I’m talking about and that it’s already dead. It would have meant disgusting protections for corporations and for left-wing economic policies to have some huge legal obstacles. It’s dead, yes, but let’s remember where the spore of the ideas originated. Just because the policy has been vanquished doesn’t mean the same political sentiments don’t want to be manifested in some other form. Let’s remember, if you’ve not forgotten, that the Tory government has attempted to cut tax credits and disability payments. The attempts at policy themselves should reveal the political will within.
Even acting in the international sphere, the European Union has proven itself to be interested in promoting freedoms as long as those freedoms mean European neo-colonialism. In Kenya, thanks to the Cotonou Agreements (2000) allowing the Commission to construct trade blocs of countries, there are now quite sizable tariffs placed upon the import of cut flowers. There’s a deliberate attempt to affect the Kenyan economy too. These countries are forced to deal with the EU institutions as it’s illegal to deal directly with EU member states. The rotten deal they get is thanks to the Commission, and it’s one that almost reads designed in a way to impede economic progress within these developing nations.
The history the European Union and social justice has always appeared spotty at best, and yes, that we haven’t had a European-wide conflict since World War II, I believe, is more owed to economic than political integration. The EEC (European Economic Community) was actually a pretty good idea, but that it gradually morphed into a political union without democratic account is pretty disturbing. There’s some controversial thinking that the European Union’s action on Yugoslavia actually intensified the conflict rather than leading to a peace settlement, although I think that’s a bit of a leap of logic. Still, the referendum is more of a question of integration with globalization, and it’s important whether or not we have a peaceful world and how that world is conditioned EU actions both international and inwardly in regards to a confused and layered defence policy.
I didn’t even mention fucking Eurovision, and how we’re constantly robbed every single year. Actually this is just a bit of a jocular paragraph after all of that legal garble. A palette cleanser, really.
Stockholm Syndrome (except Sweden isn’t actu-
Yes, yes, yes I know. I know I just spent a few paragraphs arguing why the European Union is a demagogic authoritarian anti-democratic state, and attempting to pivot towards why it’s actually a great thing is a bridge too far. More articulate responses have been written as to why the Left should wait fora bit before asking questions about where our place in the European Union actually is. Quite frankly, the Remain campaign’s argument that we can ‘reform Europe’ isn’t impossible, but requires changing the European Commission (good luck) and forging alliances with a left-wing Germany and France (which is not going to happen for decades, if ever at the same time).
And this leaves us in the tricky spot of signing on board with a superstate that has a committed neo-colonial financial policy, is inwardly authoritarian and anti-democratic, and has a labyrinthine superstructure that gets in the way of any significant reform. Don’t get me wrong, the European Union has accomplished some pretty good things, but its structure and tone in regards to democratic institutions across the continent is frankly disturbing.
I just don’t think a better Union is possible. Except the vast majority of experts reckon us leaving would hurt the poor most. UK science would be considerably crushed by an EU exit. A recession is pretty likely. At the end of it all, the working poor, the disabled, and those on the economic edge would be hurt the most. As a lad from such an environment, I can’t bring myself to vote Leave, no matter my anxieties on neo-liberal economic policies and the deliberate dismantling of European democracy to serve the Commission’s ends. A Leave result would also be a seizure of government by the Tory right, and likely Boris Johnson, which is enough to make me shiver all the way from brains to balls.
It’s an economic hostage situation, and from my reading of the often-contradictory haze of economic thought on Europe means that, being practical, remaining in it is pretty important.
I would actually like to write a lot, lot more about the economic consequences of leaving the European Union. The impact on the NHS, the Labour movement, workers rights, regulations and protections, and so on and so forth. I really tried to present a balanced case, but everything I’ve written on remain is from a pragmatic but eurosceptic perspective. It’s why I can cynically dismiss a lot of the other positive actions of the European Union.
What I want to really argue is that this is not a case of Remain/Leave but about the whole cavalcade of confused, cross-wired consequences on either side. Voting for Remain means you’re making sure the country doesn’t take on years of economic shock, but we remain part of a disturbing monolithic institution which has authoritarian streaks and changing it is made institutionally impossible. Leaving it means sacrificing a chunk of the British economy on the alter of political sovereignty, alongside signing ourselves up to a few years of the Tories’ Top Hits™, and, given the Left hasn’t put the argument forward, the political right will at large claim momentum and victory off the back of the settlement. There’s too much uncertainty to be sure that leaving the EU will leave us economically alright. It’s not even a case of the practical links but the political ambiguity that would cause such mass economic shocks.
Except I’m not voting Remain or Leave.
(Small aside: I think the entire, and I do mean all of it, immigration debate is best left to a whole other article. It’s that massive. People’s qualms about mass immigration aren’t necessarily racist and that those on the Left so often demean these anxieties means we can’t actually answer the issues at hand with popular support.)
The Third Way: The Coward’s Way Out.
David Mitchell’s column on the comments of Richard Dawkins (who’s usually a bit of a prick) is a must read for everything next. Aaron Bastani’s video too. Basically, given that both Leave and Remaining end up in a lot of people getting fucked, or continuing to be fucked, I can’t personally bring myself to decide on this. It is a case of me also being too intellectually ignorant of the full confusing facts posited by both sides, as there’s little place to find objective data to the exact effects. The whole referendum campaign has been a rotating carousel of fast facts and steamy rhetoric, with little cause for educating people and playing more on their prejudices or their compassion.
With so few true resources on settling the matter of which way I should vote, I’ve decided to take what many may judge to be the worst action possible. I simply can’t be comfortable with being culpable for the destruction of millions of peoples’ wellbeings. Nor can I be comfortable subscribing to a superstate institution which has such a checkered, authoritarian history — and, especially, its neo-colonial trade policy is hurting potentially millions in the developing world. It’s not economics or sovereignty that has settled my mind but moral responsibility. Most of the people I’ve discussed the referendum with have decided based on their instinct, and based on what they’ve read. If I were to judge by going by my gut, I wouldn’t be voting at all.
I simply don’t think the British public should have been asked this question. As Mitchell wrote:
Calling this referendum is the worst thing Cameron has done to Britain. It’s such a hugely selfish and irresponsible act that I can hardly believe we’ve wasted so long talking about how he’s eviscerating the NHS, attacking the BBC and slashing disability benefits when, horrendous though those developments are, this crime is much greater because its consequences could be irreversible…
The deeper you get into it, the more terrifying questions arise. What is the point in politicians if it isn’t to give clear answers to those questions? To understand the broad truth that this country wants to continue to exist independently, but also wants to accept global realities enough to protect its prosperity, and then make a bloody decision? Yet both major parties are, to a certain extent, divided on the issue — the party of government disastrously so.
I quite frankly think this referendum should never have been held at all. It’s not that I don’t trust the British people, we’re actually pretty alright, it’s that this a decision that parliament and the parties are (usually) entrusted to decide upon. They’re politically and intellectually astute enough to answer the questions, as it’s their job, and have access to the necessary institutions to get the facts required to make their decisions. The fact this whole circus is going on at all is indicative of a true loss of faith and trust in British politicians. And that’s a dangerous revelation when you really think about it.
This referendum wasn’t really about Britain’s future, if you want to be really bold, it was about David Cameron and the Conservative Party. It was a cowardly avoidance of inter-party dispute that has now fractured both party and country anyway. And I respond to cowardice with cowardice.
Later today I’ll be spoiling my ballot for the European referendum. I feel it’s the smallest signal I can give, and just slightly above that of abstaining entirely as Paul Mason considered. I understand there’s vast, uncertain consequences on both sides of the argument. I understand I’m betraying my political party. I understand there’s so much at stake, but I feel if I voted Remain or Leave I’d be doing so misinformed and too fully aware of the people I’d be hurting in the process. It’s out of this petty moral responsibility that I simply have to refuse the confusing, depressing question. I know that I may be damaging the chances of Leave/Remain winning but this is a parliamentary democracy and I am well within my right of protest. It’s what made this country pretty alright actually.
And if some unimportant, insignificant twenty-something can feel that his (probably misplaced) idealism might survive the most depressing political campaign in British history, then maybe there’s hope on the horizon.