Fear and loathing on the referendum trail 3: How to lose a referendum – rely on the politics of fear

We’ve seen how neither referendum camp is arguing for the radical democratic reform the EU (or the UK come to that) urgently needs. We’ve also seen how the differences between them are in practice fairly marginal with the majority on both sides signed up to the same neoliberal agenda that has been steadily eroding democratic accountability since the 1990s.

The so-called ‘debate’ has been transformed by the media into a series of vox-pops with the man or woman in the street, most of whom appear to have an extremely hazy understanding of what the EU is or how it works. Bigger issues, such as the power of transnational corporations and lobbyists, the possibility of reforming EU institutions, the pressure points for potential democratic change, are ignored.

You have to wonder whether Cameron, Osborne and their chums deliberately set out to lose this referendum. First, offer an open invitation to chancers like Boris Johnson, whose position on the EU makes a chameleon look drab, to convert it into a Tory leadership campaign. Second, time it for when most students (heavily favouring Remain) have left university and are roaming about all over the place and even less likely to vote. Third, resort to an unfit for purpose and creaking online registration system that inevitably crashes under the weight of last minute registrations. Finally, rely on negative and insipid campaigning and the politics of fear.

Meanwhile, many Labour MPs, who might have been expected to have argued strongly for Remain, have gone AWOL, egged on by Guardian journalists to blame Corbyn for Brexit rather than attack Farage, Johnson and Gove.

What's in store for us after Brexit?
The post-Brexit consequences according to Remain

The Bremain elite decided to play the economics card. In doing so it overplayed the politics of fear, aiming to bludgeon voters into supporting the status quo as, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, they would panic towards the polling booths. A torrent of economic reports warned of the ever more catastrophic consequences that will follow Britain leaving the EU. Johnson, Farage and Gove became  three of the horsemen of the apocalypse, bringing in their wake confusion, chaos and crisis, not to mention war and plagues of locusts.

Whether the economic assessments are right or wrong is beside the point. (Although, as none of the establishment forecasters were able to spot the global crash of 2008, we should take their current predictions with a large dose of salt.) Relying on sound-bites from discredited politicians such as Tony Blair or John Major, while encouraging Angela Merkel or various French politicians to intervene to throw their weight behind Remain wasn’t exactly the sharpest idea in the box. Such tactics were hardly likely to inspire voters to sign up in droves.

The Remain establishment fails to comprehend the level of contempt with which official pronouncements emanating from the political class are held. Put bluntly, people just don’t believe them. It’s more than that; a large minority these days seem to have given up entirely on evidence, unprepared to accept statistics but retailing anecdotes and assertions as if they were holy writ.

Michael Gove thinks we've 'had enough of experts' and would like voters to believe him instead
Mr Bean thinks we’ve ‘had enough of experts’ and would like voters to believe him instead

Having relentlessly dumbed down the electorate with vacuous sound-bite politics for a generation, the political class is now reaping the whirlwind. The Brexit side can come up with any daft argument or unsupported assertion and they’re regarded as on a par with the conclusions of the IFS or the World Bank. The result is a debate of the dimwits.

Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, the impression is that all the energy is on the Leave side. To leave seems positive, to stay seems, well, just boring. Momentum has swung towards Brexit.


2 thoughts on “Fear and loathing on the referendum trail 3: How to lose a referendum – rely on the politics of fear

  1. […] I began by being fairly unenthusiastic about the EU and a referendum campaign that feels more like Big Brother. I’ve now convinced myself to vote Remain. This remains a Remain with reservations. Let’s not kid ourselves; the EU is no shining example of progressivism, it’s been captured by nation-state governments and neoliberal ideologues. However, we have to ask which option is the lesser evil. Which offers the better chance of democratic renewal in Cornwall and the UK generally? Which would be more likely to take action to decarbonise our economy? Finally, which is better for Cornwall in the long run? And the answer to all three questions is clearly Remain. I shall be voting in a spirit of scepticism. I don’t want a neoliberal EU and I don’t buy into the economistic, never-ending population growth, never-ending consumption, never-ending ‘growth’ scenario peddled by the political elite and the likes of Cameron and Osborne. […]


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