At the start of the EU referendum campaign, I was mildly in favour of Remain. My position has changed. It is now strongly for Remain.
This is not another example of asymmetric Bayesianism. Had the debate been a high-minded one about the merits of the EU, my position would probably not have changed as it has. On the one hand, the work of John Van Reenen and colleagues has given me a stronger view of the flaws in the economic case for Brexit. But on the other, I take Andrew Lilico’s point that there are risks to staying in the EU and perhaps Brexit would help to improve the poor governance of the euro zone: the imposition of austerity onto Greece – and its support for bankers – shows that EU institutions are deeply flawed. Larry’s correct in saying that “Europe’s economic model isn’t working.”
However, the debate is no longer between good reasonable people on both sides. It has become a matter of decency versus barbarism. The Leave campaign has – with some under-publicized exceptions – been one of the most disgraceful spectacles in modern British political history. Nick is entirely right to say it has “poisoned rational debate”.
For one thing, it’s biggest claim – splattered over their campaign leaflets and buses – is a barefaced lie (pdf). EU membership simply does not cost us £350m a week. Equally, the idea that Turkey will soon join the EU is also a lie. As Michael Dougan says, the Leavers are guilty of dishonesty on an industrial scale. Yes, some of the claims of Cameron and Osborne have been as stupid as we’d expect from such utter mediocrities but the bulk of downright lying has been on the Leave side.
It would, though, be wrong to say the Leave side is merely lying. Liars at least care enough about the truth to want to deny it. In other respects, however, the Leavers just don’t care about the truth. Farage’s claim that “the doctors have got it wrong on smoking", Gove’s remark that people “have had enough of experts” and the overlap between high-profile Leavers and climate change deniers all tell us the same thing – that the Leave side contains a big element of crass anti-intellectualism.
And then, of course, there’s immigration. The slogan “vote Leave, take control” isn’t offering voters real control over their own lives – of the sort that would come with genuinely empowering policies such as worker democracy or a citizens’ income – but simply immigration controls. Leavers aren’t doing this because they’ve got good new evidence that immigration is bad for the economy or public finances – they haven’t – but simply because they are playing on people’s fears. They are stirring up xenophobia and racism, and diverting attention from the fact that stagnant wages and poor public services are due to austerity, the legacy of the financial crisis and the failures of capitalism, rather than to immigrants.
Of course, not all Leavers are anti-intellectual racist liars. But most anti-intellectual racist liars are on the Leave side.
Now, some of you have a vision of a Britain outside the EU that is a free, liberal, socialistic country. These are ideals with which I have sympathy. But we are kidding ourselves if we think a vote for Leave will be a move towards such a society. Instead, it’ll be a mandate for Farage and the inward-looking, reactionary mean-spirited philistinism he embodies. As Phil says:
If Leave wins, who wins? The most backward forces in British society do. The Europhobic Tory right, UKIP, and every two-bit racist outfit.
Usually, when I vote it is with misgivings: no political party fully represents my beliefs. On Thursday, however, this will not be the case. I’ll cast my vote confidently and proudly as a rejection of Farage and all he represents.