Why are society’s most privileged complaining about elitism?
Published by the ipaper (13th June, 2016)
These are worrying times for those of us who do not desire to see our nation retreat into isolation, pulling up a drawbridge over the Channel and snarling at the concept of co-operation. With each passing day, the debate over Brexit seems to descend to another dispiriting level. One side sounds faintly hysterical, the other seems driven largely by fear of foreigners and distaste for modernity. This is politics at its most raw and visceral, fuelled by personal ambitions. It is fascinating to watch. Yet the country’s future is at stake.
Given that those seeking withdrawal have spent so many years waiting for this moment, their inability to explain the shape of Britain’s relationship with the European Union if they win is astonishing. They parrot the idea that our economy is so big those pesky foreigners will fall into line with our demands, ignoring realities of the open market. Non-member Switzerland spent 17 years negotiating just one insurance deal and has failed to secure financial access – among the reasons why its banks are in London. It has also been told to choose between border controls or economic access after a referendum on immigration.
Brexit leaders dismiss such facts with spurious talk of taking back control. Typical was Nigel Farage’s shambolic performance on the Andrew Marr Show. The Ukip leader admitted he wants to cut net immigration to about 30-40,000 people a year, while also saying he supports family reunions, currently running at 43,000 a year from non-EU nationals. So as the presenter pointed out, he is arguing effectively for no migration from either inside or outside the EU, which would destroy several industries, public services and the City of London. ‘The numbers simply don’t add up,’ said Marr correctly.
Yet even worse is the naked hypocrisy as key Outers exploit concerns of voters. We see a cabal of hardline right-wingers – aided by a handful of useful idiots on the left – posing as anti-establishment insurgents. One Oxford-educated cabinet minister even accused a broadcaster doing his job by questioning him of being ‘on the side of the elites’. Does anyone seriously think an Old Etonian classicist such as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is not part of the elite? Or the embittered Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory party leader reportedly living in a free Tudor house loaned by his aristocratic father-in-law?
Now we hear politicians who have spent years demanding smaller public services insisting they are suddenly the true protectors of the poor, the sick and the infirm. John Redwood, for instance, has persistently called for deeper cuts to taxes and spending to boost the economy during his long career. Yet he suddenly seems to have made a U-turn, claiming Brexit will end austerity, protect disability benefits and lead to the hiring of 60,000 more nurses. ‘Voters want prosperity, not austerity,’ proclaims this man who was for so long the champion of small-state conservatism.
There is one definite effect of Brexit: it will usher in uncertainty for several years, thus recession is more likely than rapid growth. This will not solve the conundrum the country faces over how to fund the health service, especially if it is unable to hire the foreign staff propping it up. But then the MEP Daniel Hannan, one of the loudest Leave voices, toured the United States to condemn the NHS in the past, calling it a ‘mistake’ and insisting he ‘wouldn’t wish it on anyone’. He argued for its replacement with ‘personal health accounts’ in a book with his fellow EU critic Douglas Carswell, now Ukip’s solitary MP.
Remember this when you see the Brexit battlebus emblazoned with bold promises to fund the NHS instead of Brussels, based on the falsehood we loose £350m a week on the EU. Even more grotesque is to see some of these people pretending they seek a fairer immigration system when all they really desire is fewer foreigners on our streets. For all his many faults, at least Farage is honest on this. His rivals in Vote Leave pretend they want more balance between the EU and Commonwealth countries as if promoting the cause of migration from countries such as India, Kenya and Nigeria. Meanwhile they hail the ultra-statist Australian system, which sends child refugees into imprisonment on tiny islands; clearly little Englanders like big bureaucratic government.
Most are simply playing dog whistle politics of the most demeaning kind. This is why it is disappointing to see optimists who once held modern views on migration such as Johnson sacrifice his beliefs for his ambition. Even worse is seeing the smart Michael Gove push this cause. The justice secretary long argued inside cabinet for saner immigration policies; just last year he said publicly the immigration debate had been poisoned by people saying we should pull up barriers. ‘Is Britain full? No, it’s not,’ he said rightly. Now this pair back Ukip’s pessimistic policies and, sadly, all too often sound like its spokesmen.
The case for Brexit is phoney and filled with risk. Citizens fuming over political failure will only end up feeling more betrayed if they support it and a successful vote for withdrawal fails to save the NHS, spark mass housebuilding or stop immigration. They should ask why this cause is promoted by Vladimir Putin, the most malevolent leader in Europe, and backed by neo-Nazis and extreme leftists across the continent. But above all, they should ponder whose interests those Westminster turncoats abusing their trust really have at heart?