Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The unbearable smugness of Nick Cohen


One depressing aspect of this campaign is that our own side has lamentable spokesmen with poor ideas. It is made worse by the Vote Leave not having a credible Brexit plan. It leaves the goalposts wide open to attacks from the unbearably smug Nick Cohen. He reveals the weakness of the clapped out arguments of the eurosceptic aristocracy which is one of the reasons the Leave campaign is failing. But characteristically, from Cohen, such salivating enthusiasm reveals his own colossal ignorance. This will be a fisk job, but one worth examining. 
No one does as much damage to a country as patriots who affect to love it the most. If you doubt me, ask yourself what is missing from the European debate. The virtue-signalling right flap their arms to semaphore their belief in restoring Britain’s greatness. Yet they do not answer an obvious question: if leaving the EU is in our interests, why do none of our allies want us to do it?
It's funny Cohen should invoke the expression "virtue signalling", because there is no greater manifestation of virtue signalling than international politics. Everything is ego, gesture and pretence. It's a cosy club of narcissists who believe their own rhetoric. To their minds the EU is the very embodiment of progressive, enlightened values in the spirit of internationalism and cooperation. And so of course other "world leaders" would not want to see Britain breaking up that cosy consensus and shattering their illusions. 

The real pity here is that Cohen does not recognise this. Far from being the embodiment of internationalism and cooperation the EU is the exact opposite. It is Euro-parochialism. Kipperism writ large. It shuts our the world, it stops brown people gaining entry and is entirely protectionist and inward looking. A younger Nick Cohen with more intellectual vigour would have made this very point. Rather dishonestly though, Cohen picks on the low hanging fruit of David Davis to make his wider point. 
Davis talks of Brexit as an ‘opportunity to renew our strong relationships with Commonwealth and Anglosphere countries.’Yet he cannot point to a single Commonwealth country who agrees with him. The language of the right can be as deceitful as the left’s. ‘Anglosphere’ is just the right’s PC replacement for what we used to call in blunter times ‘the white Commonwealth’. Even in 2016, the dream that has the Eurosceptics talking in their sleep is that we can forge new bonds with the old empire, or at least the white dominated countries within it, and regain a part of what we once were.
He's right in that the Anglosphere is something of a delusion. It does not conform to any real world trading patterns and the only real commonality is that of language. The idea that the USA is open to more liberal links with anyone is risible - but it's actually no great sin to want it even if it is implausible. Cohen implies it is somehow racist to care more about the opportunities such would present than those with nations who do not share our language. But he he would. He's an asshole.

Cohen remarks that "It is a sign of both the ignorance and presumption of the Out campaign that it did not think to ask the ‘Anglosphere’ for permission first. Julie Bishop, the Australian foreign minister, has said that her country would not indulge the British right’s fantasies."

But we can all play that game. While the current Norwegian prime minister would like nothing more that to take Norway all the way into the EU and has even geared the offices of the Norwegian state to shoring up the lies of David Cameron, the Norwegian public utterly reject EU membership and there are any number of former ministers who would be delighted to see Britain join Efta. 

And this is why I dislike Nick Cohen. He is capable of some astute observation which stands as worthwhile journalism in its own right - but persistently embellishes it with smugness and outright distortions. He's playing to his largely ignorant fanbase - who themselves buy the same delusion that the EU is the embodiment of progressivism. 

Cohen has it that "Australia prefers to see the world as it is rather than lose itself in nostalgia. ‘It is in our interest if a strong United Kingdom remained a part of the European Union,’ she said. ‘The EU is a significant trading partner for us; a strong UK as part of the European Union would be in Australia’s interests.’"

That's just an opinion. That it comes from a politician doesn't give it greater gravitas. If anything this referendum has revealed just how little expertise our politicians hold. He may sneer at David Davis, but his ignorance is not exceptional and it is mirrored on the opposite benches in relation to the EU and wider trade issues.

Britain being subject to EU political subordination has no bearing on Australia. What it does mean is that if Australia wants to change trading conditions with the UK it must go via the EU. I fail to see why that is in their interests, but if it is, that's clearly because they see a tactical advantage in that. That means their interests are not our interests - and therefore should be disregarded.

But then it's doubtful that a foreign minister has very much knowledge or experience of the nitty gritty of trade. Their job is to go on junkets, walk on red carpets and sign pieces of paper in front of the cameras. The real business of trade is the removal of technical barriers to trade in institutions Julie Bishop will only be dimly aware of.

In terms of establishing common rules on food hygiene (for example) the forum is Codex Alimentarius. Had she any direct experience of this she would know that the EU is an obstructive delay to progress because we have to agree between ourselves a common position instead of dealing on a bilateral basis. All we're getting from Bishop is ignorant posturing.

We should also not forget that that leaving the EU in all likelihood does not mean leaving the single market. It is highly unlikely that any UK government would consider that approach and it is wholly implausible to expect the EU could even facilitate that in the two years allotted by Article 50. So as far as Australia or anybody else is concerned, it shouldn't make a jot of difference. As to what America thinks about our EU membership, I am not minded to give a tinker's damn. What one "virtue signalling" lame duck president and his staff thinks is wildly different to the next set of bozos. 

Cohen has it that "The Commonwealth and the Americans will ignore us" if we leave the EU. But Cohen can't have it both ways. If the Anglosphere is not a coherent trading entity then neither is the Commonwealth. We deal with Commonwealth states individually already. 

Since London is a global hub, it is inconceivable that African states would ignore us because there is every advantage in wanting to improve trade links - more more crucially digital, telecoms and financial services. Such issues are not decided at the EU level. For improving such links we look to the non state actors - the global super regulators, the various philanthropic foundations, NGOs, and trade alliances. With a free vote and freedom of association we have unprecedented leverage at these global bodies. These form the basis of an emerging global single market where the EU is wholly redundant and if anything is a retarding influence.  

Cohen, like just about everybody else, is still stuck in the dark ages - the days of blocs and big ticket trade deals - but world trade hasn't worked like that for some time. The shifts in relationships between global private regulators has far greater significance on world trade than any of the talking shop agreements like TTIP. The joke of it is, TTIP probably won't even pass. When it comes down to it, the EU isn't actually that good at trade. Agility in global trade by far outweighs market size in the new era. 

In the end all Cohen has to go on is the vague threat that Scotland will quit the UK as though that were now a political possibility. There is zero chance of a referendum bill passing after Brexit, and with everything in flux, not a cat in hell's chance of the ScotNats winning it. The SNP have burned a lot of their popularity in recent months and the oil price crash puts any economic reasoning to bed. Cohen knows this, but he takes his readers for fools. Which I suppose is fair since his devotees very much are. 

If all Cohen really has to go on is the empty rhetoric of David Miliband, he shows us that he is the mirror image of David Davis. A dinosaur with obsolete ideas and a childlike understanding of global trade. It is as this blog has always said. The politicians and the self-congratulatory hacks are best ignored. This is a decision for the grown ups. 

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