I’m angry and disappointed about the vote for Brexit even a week later. I still hope that it won’t actually happen but I struggle to see which political leader might stand up and say it shouldn’t happen (or engineer a situation for another referendum). I have a long list of people that I’m angry with about getting us to this situation. They aren’t principally the people who voted, I’m more disappointed and sad about that but those both who have lied to achieve the referendum result and those who built the situation that led to the result.
The principal blame must lie with the immediate causes of the referendum and the result. Two Etonian, Bullingdon boys have brought us here, despite neither (I believe) actually wanting to leave. Both gambling the country’s interest for either their own or their party’s benefit. David Cameron feeling the need to offer the referendum both to hold some unity within the Conservative Party and limit the impact of UKIP in the election. I think that he almost hoped for another coalition with the Liberal Democrats who would have blocked the referendum. Boris Johnson on the other hand calculated that campaigning for remain would boost his popularity with the Conservative membership. He expected to lose but with a higher profile and having been on the correct side for most members. He saw that as the route to the Conservative leadership when after winning the referendum David Cameron stepped aside in a couple of years time. They should both be ashamed of themselves for taking such a big gamble with the country, with people’s livelihoods and lives. Their actions, more directly than others I will list led to this, which make break the union (with Scotland), diminish Britain in the world and do much harm beside. I feel no pity for David Cameron, he gambled not just with his future but with ours, not for the country’s gain but the Conservatives. Besides this both these characters will come up again in this blame list for other aspects of the blame.
The Leave campaign told mendacious lies and gave misleading information throughout the campaign. Most clearly the £350 million per week for the NHS. Not only are the payments to the EU less than that (after rebate) but much of that amount is spent in the UK in various ways anyway. In addition to the outright lies there were huge amounts of wishful thinking expressed as fact, the assertions that the UK will get a good deal with all the benefits and non of the responsibilities of a European state which is simply unrealistic; access to the single market will have a code whether it is free movement of people or a potentially increased contribution to the budget. They also accused the Remain campaign of “scaremongering” but the interesting thing is right or wrong the estimates now the vote has taken place are at least as bad suggesting that the estimates were really believed. Boris, Gove and many others are smart enough to have known that much of the campaign was based on lies. They fought a dishonourable campaign and it is isn’t OK. They should feel ashamed of the lies and I hope that they will be held to account by the leave supporters but I fear it will be forgotten or excuses will be found.
The press, particularly The Mail, The Express and The Sun but also to lesser degrees The Times and The Telegraph have day after day for several decades been publishing negative stories about Europe, some spun, some given undue prominence and some outright lies. Of course Boris also has personal responsibility in this area too, almost having invented the genre of borderline truthful stories and even complete lies, to the extent that he was sacked from The Times. The power of Murdoch and Dacre is undemocratic and damages civil society. In my view there need to be real constraints on the concentration of media power. Despite falling circulations the papers have a significant impact in setting the agenda for TV, Radio and online news. It isn’t just the impact of individual articles but the daily drip of xenophobia, anti-European and anti-immigrant stories and headlines that distorts views.
The broadcasters and their interpretations of impartiality are also to blame. The belief that if one economist or businessman speaks for Remain that one must be found to speak for Leave. If the overwhelming majority is on one side there should not be a need to provide balance, in fact balance is bias when it isn’t representative. There was similar with regard to the fact checking on broadcast TV of the campaigns. There seemed to be a need to balance the comments between the sides event when the mistruths were imbalanced. e.g. Leave’s £350m pledge is bad maths. In’s claims that it will cost everyone x per week is well within the range of most forecast but some disagree. They need to be stopping every interview or speech every time a lie is told, they need to give numbers of lies that can different for each campaign or candidate in an election. Too many were left with the belief that they “are all as bad as each other” and that isn’t good enough. Broadcasters must be clear about who is lying most and ideally call out each specific lie. If that interrupts every interview then so be it, politicians will learn that lying in those situations doesn’t work. There is also an education problem about the EU that the broadcasters could help with, there seems little awareness that the most power lies with the member states in the Council of Ministers where the elected leader of each country has a democratic say and much of the rest lies in the European Parliament and between the two they appoint and direct the European Commission. It is a democratic institution and while not a perfect seems like a better attempt at democracy than the UK Britain with the over-mighty Commons, the unelected Lords and the monarchy.
Politicians have been blaming Europe, for all sorts of things for decades, often when it is only an excuse. In other cases I suspect that the British government has laundered unpopular policies it wants to introduce through the EU so that it can be blamed despite the fact that the British government introduced it. The other unhelpful behaviour is the treatment of negotiations where the presentation is of battling over red lines and Prime Ministers acting as if they are saving us from something awful rather than discussing how by working together they can make things better for every country. The EU policy is rarely explained, justified and celebrated by the politicians.
Much of the Leave vote came from disadvantaged areas, there are large parts of this country that have been left behind as economic growth has focused on the richest and on London and the South East. Much of this is the result of government policy and inaction over my entire lifetime, at least back to Thatcher. The destruction of industrial communities, the high unemployment (acceptable cost for low inflation), sale of government assets, particularly the council house stock that has been hugely depleted without adequate investment to rebuild. This then plays into the immigration issue because housing is expensive and council homes unavailable. Solving the employment issue and people feeling prosperous is going to be harder especially with increasing automation of many jobs. My blame in this area definitely includes New Labour which always allowed itself to be too constrained, it felt the need to join the attacks on those claiming benefit, to penalise and in place vilify. They failed to rebuild the social housing, preferring to support home ownership and the rising debt that went along with it leading to the credit crunch (the Torys had the same policy and would have done no better).
And the final person I blame is myself. I didn’t actively engage with the remain campaign, I didn’t go door to door. All I did was wear an IN sticker when was being handed out near work, send a couple of tweets (probably ineffectual as most followers agree or are outside the UK anyway), discussed it at work (between a number of us we persuaded one wavering voter) and with some friends (I don’t think I shifted the couple of leavers although may have reinforced a couple of votes). I could and should have done more which is why I’m on the list.
Boris and Cameron
Leave campaign lies (Boris and Gove)
Right Wing Press (Mail, Sun, Express mostly, also Boris)
Broadcasters interpretations of impartiality
Politicians blaming Europe
Governments since the 80’s allowing increased inequality