Saturday, 19 November 2016

Spare us the "post truth" baloney

If you are fairly new to the Brexit debate it cannot have escaped you that all the lead Brexit spokesmen are complete morons. Had I only recently drifted into this arena I probably would have voted to remain. The arguments put forth by all of the Brexiteers is panglossian nonsense and it comes from extremely dubious politicians. The Brexiteers lost the economic argument early on and never really recovered the ground.

In a lot of respects Brexiteers have got lucky so far in that the immediate Brexit fallout has not been that severe. It's only because we have a sane PM who isn't one of the Brexit brigade that confidence in the UK is not collapsing completely.

That is not to say there are not sane Brexiteers it's just that moderate Brexiteers offend the sensibilities of the eurosceptic tribe and remainers won't give us any exposure because that would mean admitting there are good reasons to leave the EU. Consequently we toil in obscurity and are largely excluded from the debate.

This dynamic has prompted a lot of discussion about the concept of "post-truth politics". How can it be that the remain side lost when the leave politicians made such thin arguments and are in the main political lightweights?

Much of this though is a conceit in that if the remainers are honest they told their fair share of porkies and exaggerations and much of their case was dependent on economic projections and doom-mongering hocus pocus. We didn't hear much of a principled defence of the EU, only the drastic consequences of leaving. The best they could muster was "yeah, we know it's a bit shit so we need to stay in and reform it" just after David Cameron had completely failed to secure any meaningful reforms.

Right up to the wire Cameron repeated the mantra of staying in a "reformed EU" when it was perfectly obvious to all that the brake on freedom of movement was a policy rehash and the other measures were so utterly inconsequential that nobody can remember what they even were. After persistently bleating that three million jobs depended on EU membership and that David Cameron was the all conquering hero, the remainers are not in any position to be lecturing us about "post-truth politics".

And when it comes to being post-truth, the narrative to this day still remains that the UK was a loosely aligned member of a trade bloc when in fact the very existence of all these Brexit complications points to the glaring truth that our membership was something much more profound and comprehensive.

This is the one truth that Brexiteers have always known. The EU is not what our politicians pretend it is. In that regard the leave vote is as much a rejection of our political class for lying about it as it is a rejection of the EU.

We must also remember that as bad as Brexiteers are, remainers are also pretty awful. The finger wagging superior lectures from Anna Soubry are enough to put anyone off - so too are the limp wristed millennial whiners who called senior citizens selfish. Apparently senior citizens who have invested in society for the betterment of their children and grand children don't have a valid opinion because they will be dead soon. Real nice attitude. And let's not forget the up front attempts to gerrymander the electorate by giving non UK citizens and children the vote.

In fact, now that I think on it, the petulance and pettiness of remainer really was quite astounding. Jo Cox's corpse was still warm when Polly Toynbee, Alex Massie and James O'Brien were pointing the finger at Brexiteers. Add to that the Geldof moment along with a procession of other sneering members of the celerity class, losing was inevitable.

I think what sticks in the craw for remainers is that if the decision were a rational one based entirely on cold short term economic metrics then they probably would have won. But democracy is a funny old game. Most votes are decided on gut instinct and that is every bit as valid as a cold calculation on something like this. In the end both sides were so dreadful that it was decided on a coin toss at the last minute.

In the final analysis the leave campaigns were irrelevant. They made a lot of pointless noise, wasted a lot of money and spoke only to a hardcore of the already convinced. They campaigns made no real dent in the polling and the public didn't really engage until the last couple of weeks. My website hits reflect that much. By then the government and media had become so shrill and patronising, the final verdict was a two fingered salute to the powers that be.

That is why this cannot be characterised as a populist insurgency. That died with Ukip at the general election. It had no intellectual foundation and no substance with which to capitalise on its exposure. The activities of Vote Leave and Leave.EU were mainly a space race to create the most noise so that they could claim credit for something that was largely out of their sphere of influence. No different to a teenage vandal tagging with a spray can.

There was no sophistication behind it. In the end, Arron Banks was fleeced by publicity men and there was no real strategy at work. The had no idea what they were doing and everybody who had any dealings with Leave.EU all noted how remarkably thick and crass they were.

If the lesson you took from this is that "post-truth politics" as a campaign technique works then you are misreading it badly. The same is true of America and Trump. Just about everybody has noted that the key element in both votes was social media and really it was the private conversations between individuals that swung it. In this I would say the official campaigns were largely useless for both sides.

Voters are not stupid nor are they easily taken in. The marketing slogans used by the leave campaign are necessarily bad because the reasons for leaving are all based on conceptual and philosophical arguments which cannot be condensed into a soundbyte. The remain campaign could paint a picture of peace, unity rainbows and ponies while we were talking about fluid concepts like sovereignty and self-determination.

In fact, though Ukippers tend to be demented obsessives, some of the best expertise on all the nooks and crannies of the EU tend to be of that ilk. They were largely downed out by an increasingly self-confident and boisterous "new Ukip" and became tainted by association. The notion that voters were such gibbering imbeciles that they were swayed by a bogus statistic on the side of a bus is precisely the kind of misguided snobbery that cost remainers the referendum in the first place.

In a free society we will always have a noisy and confusing battlefield of ideas and the battle for the truth is an ongoing one. In this there can be many verifiable facts but when observed from different angles facts take on contexts of their own. The way we sort it out is by having a national conversation on all the platforms and we then have a vote on it. We had a year long national debate, itself an extension of a lingering dispute, and even though remain had every advantage, they lost - and they deserved to. There was a mountain for leavers to climb and we climbed it.

For America, the vote was decided by those who chose to stay at home. For the UK, though, we had a very respectable turnout and by whatever means, for whatever reason, the majority of people voted to leave. There is no populist surge, we are not mindless zombies enslaved to the tabloid media and we do not need our betters to referee public discussion for us. The fact is that remainers couldn't make a winning case for keeping things the way they are. It's really that simple and now we must move on.

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