A short note on terminology: in line with the common understandings I will be using the designations of remain/leave to refer to the respective voting groups. The overall process will be referred to as Brexit.
Theresa May has triggered Article 50 and in swift succession called a general election which for good or ill is broadly concerned with Brexit. Before the consequences of this, for good or bad, become clear and people claim too much hindsight I want to be able to lay out my thinking for the choice I made and the responsibility I bear for it.
Those of us on the leave side who argued that we voted with our conscience have often been described as either being duped or deluded. We either didn’t understand the complexity of the choice we made or we were ignorant of the obvious consequences. Some of us, myself included, have been accused of a far worse intent, of wanting the country to fail for a variety of unsound motives.
In order to address these criticisms, I intend to show you the path I took in my thinking. At the outset I want to admit, and I’d appreciate it if you’d do the same, that 99% of our thinking collectively, has been based on forecasts that no one could properly support or refute. It is impossible, at this stage, before negotiations have really begun and before we’ve actually left to know what the true outcome will be. There are many reasons for this: the complexity of leaving a political body that helps to shape a large proportion of our laws, the economic complexities, in the short term at least, of trying to ensure that our economy continues to function and the cultural impact of setting ourselves apart from nations we considered partners for over 40 years.
The path I took also looked at these predictions from the Remain side within the context of a critical eye to establish if their claims were robust. I’ll happily admit that it was laughably easy to refute many of the claims that the Leave campaign made. The dishonesty of the approach from Leave was quite shamefully obvious and vindicates the view that the Leave campaign displayed a contempt for the truth. The claim that we sent £350m a week to the EU was only true if one was willing to take a very liberal view of the accounting. Any attempt at truthfulness would have placed the number much lower. The irony is that even a fuller accounting would still have left us as a net contributor which is arguably a more important point of principle. But the contemptuous ease with which one could dismiss the claims of the Leave campaign left Remain presuming their own claims were robust simply because they were not composed of the same nonsense on stilts. I intend to show how poorly many of the Remain claims were formed and how on principle one could dismiss them and adopt a different approach.
Finally I would add that each of these highly complex issues is interwoven into the others, frames them and shapes perceptions. Part of the struggle presented by such complex issues is that they have no start or end point either in time, physicality or ideology. The problems are not limited to one country or region, they could go on for years and neither side has a workable set of solutions to counter these problems that they can enact without other, substantial, changes. The outcomes for leaving or staying in each case could be good or bad, depending on your point of view. This is an important point to acknowledge if one is to move beyond a simple grandstanding form of political discourse to something more meaningful. We do ourselves no favours if we do not admit the weaknesses of our arguments or the contingency of our hopes and dreams.
The economy could go well as we free ourselves from extraneous bureaucracy and build strong trading relations with the rest of the world; the Italian banks (who look increasingly precarious in their capital structures) could fail and take Europe down with them or the EU may strengthen considerably and leave us behind as they form long term relationships we are outside of. We would end up as a lonely island floating in the north Atlantic cut off from the prosperity being gained on the continent. The chances of any of these being true or false, at this present moment is impossible to predict accurately. Therefore debating the truth of those points is almost a self-defeating exercise. Instead, I believe, we need to ask ourselves what kind of country we want to become and what kind of people we want to be. We need a vision of our future and to ask ourselves honestly, to what extent the EU forms a part of that. For better or worse I came to believe that the EU would be a hindrance to that effort.
Much of the skepticism in this kind of approach was put down as a simple disdain for experts. I think it rather more likely that people have, in the wake of the financial crisis, come to realise that whilst there are still experts there are certain matters that even experts can have little expertise on. The true limits of economists were exposed by the Queen questioning on the great recession as to why no one saw such an obvious calamity coming. The only one who could ask the emperor if she had any clothes on was the emperor herself.
So if we cannot rely on forecasting economics or cultural impacts where can we go to bring about a clear understanding of the virtue of leaving or remaining? The first point I’d raise is that just because you cannot forecast specific economic outcomes does not mean you can’t make any forecasts at all. There are some very reasonable predictions one can make which can inform the decision. Economics, in the modern sense portrayed in the media, relies on very complex interactions of variables which are not uniform in nature or operation and which move rapidly in feedback loops. As such the predictions it makes are highly dependent on many other processes remaining in place and continuing their current trends. Not all systems of economic forecasting are this dependent on highly variable inputs. Many of the great works of economics abandoned maths almost entirely in favour of examining the social relationships that govern commerce. It was forecasting what people felt most strongly about that gave economics its great insight, not the specificity of agricultural outputs or ratios of debt: GDP.
The second point is that if we can dismiss the claims of the Remain camp for their failings we can arguably build a case for Leave on the opposing principles. Remain spent a good deal of energy attempting to smear Leavers with the accusation of racism and by contrast then claiming that Remain stood for human rights. If it can be shown that the EU itself is racist and no defender of our rights then not only does the accusation against Leave lose some weight but we can arguably dismiss the Remain position for having little genuine substance.
Finally let us not forget the importance or historical nature of the debate. In a time of declining political engagement and increasingly atomised lives, the referendum became a lightning rod for so many other issues, that the pure fact of in or out of the EU almost came second to the opportunity to become engaged in something genuinely politically meaningful. It was one of the very few issues in my lifetime that got everyone talking about politics and the future of our country in a serious fashion. My voting to leave was a surprise for alot of people I know as they consider me (as indeed I consider myself) to be a metropolitan liberal, not a rural conservative. Metropolitan liberals voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU so my position was seen as not just contrarian but downright weird.
Since the referendum my feelings on the issue have strengthened rather than weakened. The biggest single reason I voted out is that all the main arguments to remain were actually better expressed as arguments to leave, precisely because when examined the Remain positions lacked the substance they imagined they had. In the immediate aftermath of the vote a number of my colleagues and friends who voted to remain expressed serious misunderstandings of the position that people like myself took. These misunderstandings were not just minor disagreements but very large gaps in comprehension. For some people the realisation that these gaps existed provoked a profound resentment towards the opposite side. Many of us who voted leave were referred to as nothing more than ignorant racists. We are even now often laughed at in polite circles for simply being too stupid to have understood the consequences of our action – hence the wide accusations of buyer’s remorse amongst leavers. Addressing these criticisms is a central motivation for me writing this piece.
The problem of economics
It was not something Remain was keen to admit, as it showed the shallowness of their own approach, but immigration, whilst a stronger motivator for leave voters, was not being driven solely by a backward xenophobia. Instead, I would argue that the factors driving that concern were largely economic. Lack of affordable housing, impacts on low wage jobs and pressure on local resources & systems of welfare all loomed large in many people’s minds as reasons to oppose immigration. The problem the referendum exposed was that at the heart of Leave was a long term inability to talk about mass migration in economic terms which had left people with a stunted political vocabulary. Being constantly told you’re racist, without much explanation of the context left Leavers often with what they felt was only one political home – UKIP.
The remain position was broadly an argument in favour of the status quo. The idea was that we have benefited from free trade with the European Union and would continue to do so. Immigration was taken to be a natural part of that and, to be fair, for both sides it was a short leap from open doors to conspiracies of racism. For Leavers there was more than a hint that Labour, in particular, had deliberately opened doors to dilute the native population and keep wages down. Whilst for Remain anyone advocating anything less than a totally open door policy was merely a cheap racist and a UKIP supporter.
The Remain claim that if we stay in everything will be fine was broadly based on the idea that Europe as the world’s largest market was destined to remain strong and diversified enough to weather any issues that were foreseeable. But this claim of the “world’s largest market” rested on only one reading of the EU’s economic position and grossly underplayed the variation within the EU. One doesn’t need a degree in economics to recognise that the very high unemployment rates in Greece and Spain, Portugal or France are a social as well as an economic problem. Nor does it take expert knowledge to recognise that these high rates have persisted for years now. The world’s largest market does not appear to be aiding these people with employment opportunities or raising their incomes through welfare to such an extent that their poverty diminishes rather than increasing. This is not to argue that we could do any better as individual nations but it does make clear that the EU is no guarantor of our economic future as it cannot guarantee its own present.
In our own individual case the incentives maybe more perverse. To create the very particular type of free trade that characterises the EU we must ensure there are no barriers to entry for the mainly global companies that ride off these agreements. We have become somewhat dependent on growth in London and a purely financial form of growth at that. This is not necessarily in the best interests of the majority of the workforce or the small to medium size enterprises who employ the bulk of the population and pay a substantial portion of the tax revenues. The banking laws or regulations they need, the government support they require, is not forthcoming under a system which sees greater benefit in single, large, projects which are usually only possible in partnership with multinational corporations. A Remain strategy of status quo enhancement provides no long term solution of sustainable economic growth for much of the country. As dangerous as leaving is for making the present arrangement unstable it is not clear what Remain intended to do about the half of the country that had been diminishing for over 40 years. Membership of the EU was not arresting their economic decline to such a visible extent that it made those people afraid of leaving.
So entrenched has this lop sided structure become that one of the most publicised fears was that Brexit would force the biggest global firms to leave entirely and take their investment and tax revenues elsewhere and that alone would precipitate a collapse of our economy. We apparently have so little indigenous industry of a sufficient size or competitiveness left that we cannot survive without the kindness of strangers and rather than being seen as a problem it’s taken by the Remain camp to be something that recommends the EU and therefore should not be upset. The EU saw fit to do little more than us about the global banks whose trading strategies started the great recession. European bankers received bonuses for failure that were just as grotesque as those in the City. If we are to regulate these entities properly to ensure we don’t end up in the same position again it seems we will have to act on a democratic mandate to pressure our government to secure the types of controls most ordinary people find acceptable. We would not be able to do that to the same extent if we are constrained by agreements that overrule our domestic law making.
That status quo position also grossly overstates the impact of these global firms intentions as even under the hardest Brexit many of them would still wish to sell their products in the UK and would require staff and offices here to service that market. We should be aware of larger firms leaving but if this difference is so great as to precipitate our permanent economic decline we would do well to address that problem of a lack of domestic competitiveness rather than seek to placate those firms with even more public money. Whilst there may be problems in the short term it would surely be in our interests to develop the capacity to grow our own economy even under circumstances of lower foreign investment. For whatever risks arise, the Remain camp extolled the virtues of membership without explaining the problems of that or what incentives they saw to alter anything had we stayed.
The danger of leaving the “world’s largest market” therefore is a claim that we should examine by also remembering that we are one of the world’s largest economies and therefore form part of what makes that market large. The danger is also presumed in the permanence of that status. It takes no great grasp of history to realise that China is potentially returning to a position of pre-eminence it once held for centuries. Together with India and Indonesia and Japan the sheer weight of demographics alone will drive the focus of most businesses eastwards. There is nothing in the current plans of the EU to suggest that they can successfully counter the fact that 90% of the world lives somewhere else. Nor does the suggestion of our clubbing together to protect our interests seem entirely wise. We are unlikely to persuade others to trade with us if our own marketplace remains locked away from them and our relative bargaining power only persists for as long as have the historically unusual privilege of being richer than everyone else. Once those factors begin to equal out there is no reason to think we in the UK (especially outside London) will get a better deal just by bundling our bargaining position together with the Germans and the French. The assumption of being stronger together only works if you have shared interests and complementary bargaining positions.
One could argue that I’m doing precisely what I criticise others of: tea leaf forecasting. I think the accusation is fair and I’d gladly admit that precisely none of what I just supposed could come to pass. But demographic forecasts of population size are not economic forecasts of GDP. We know that living standards are going up worldwide and people are living longer. We know that, barring some kind of apocalyptic disaster, Asia will hold 75% of the world population. Those people will be increasingly wealthy and independently so. It is therefore not a prediction of the highly contingent sort, to say that we will need a response to trading with Asia which attracts Asians. We will need to offer them goods and services they want and if banking is the only, major, part of the bargain the UK brings then it will only be London that benefits from that arrangement. It is only my opinion but I think we can and should do better than that and a continued membership of the EU offers us little incentive to change and less room to decide what form that change should take.
The problem of control
One of the strongest challenges offered by Remain was the assertion that they stood on the side of a tolerant, multi-cultural approach which emphasised our collective human rights. To vote leave was to endorse a John Bull version of Britain which would erase much of the progress seen since the 1950’s and return us to a much more authoritarian state. It was less clear from the Remain camp what made them think that the EU hadn’t already facilitated that. As a country we have long had more CCTV per person than any almost other state on earth including North Korea and the EU did almost nothing to prevent that occurring. The steady erosion of liberties that began after 9/11 had accelerated either without their opposition, or without that opposition making much impact.
It was one of the confusions of the Remain position that because we retained some control we had control. As I illustrated above they didn’t stop us creating the type of domestic surveillance Orwell warned us about. But this is to confuse the outcome with the intent. In most of the areas of defense the powers of the EU do not run as deep or as wide. So they had little jurisdiction over these decisions. That does not mean they do not want that power. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote there was an immediate acknowledgement that with the difficult Brits out of the way they could now proceed towards forming an army. Current efforts in that regard are not nearly as complete as Messrs Farage or Gove would have us believe but that doesn’t mean that an idea, currently in its infancy, was not their ultimate aim. A vision of the EU being somehow reticent in law making ignores the amount and types of laws they have already created and over what areas. Whilst it would be fair to acknowledge that a great deal of those laws are highly specific technical regulations, many of which had little impact here, it is that tendency to make very detailed specific laws which override any principle of self-organisation, that lead me to believe we should back out while we can.
It also loses sight of the ways in which the European Courts of Justice came to make law by docket rather than mandate. John Hirst was for a time the most litigious man in Britain’s prison system. He was originally imprisoned for bludgeoning his landlady to death. In accordance with the Representation of the Peoples Act 1983 he was unable to vote. At taxpayer’s expense he went all the way to the European courts of Justice to secure this. The court sided with Mr Hirst but was defied by an overwhelming vote in the House of Commons. Their reasoning was that the UK government had deprived him of his rights without a proper due process, namely if the franchise was to be removed then the government needed to show that measures taken were compatible with Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The focus of my ire here is not at the individual issue of prisoner’s rights but on the process followed and what it tells us about the EU. The whole act took place as if it possessed no context. It transpired Mr Hirst had Asperger’s Syndrome, which is no crime at all and which could arguably construct some sympathy for his position. His disability would not exonerate him but it might make his crime more comprehensible. But the European courts decided that Mr Hirst was entitled to vote not because he was a deserving person with a defensible reason, which might be a judgement one could rationalise, but because the UK government had failed to follow an acceptable process. We needed to show measures were taken in the appropriate manner. As if the acts we had passed, that the government based its decisions on were not relevant!
The interpretation of human rights in this context was that the rights were granted in absentia of the means to earn them. One simply needed to exist and the kind of person you were and the society it took to make those rights whole and workable was not a consideration they thought worth defending. An more conspiratorial reading of the situation was that the court showed the EU’s true purpose. That the way to create this society was not through a set of shared interests or compatible cultural norms and ideas but through the enforcement of a complex rule book. A vast, winding bureaucracy would apparently guarantee our freedom. As a conspiratorial notion it is quite compelling. However stepping calmly back, I think the more intelligent reading of this is that the court simply felt it had a mandate to defend the original interpretation of the human rights acts. Their concern was not towards the outcome of each case, which the UK government bore the responsibility for in interpreting the claims. They simply needed to set the boundaries within a careful reading of the law. This would be perhaps fairer to the court but it still leaves open the problem that by acting this way the court was not enforcing human rights towards a specific end – it was not saving the UK from committing a horrendous breach of human rights because the process already being followed was racist or an abhorrence. It was rejecting our interpretation of the rules we had already committed ourselves to in good faith. It was not a commitment to the spirit of the game but a disagreement over the decision of the referee. A normal problem for sport but not a good way to govern nations.
The problem of migration
The jungle at Calais, a ramshackle collection of tents and makeshift buildings with poor sanitary facilities was a temporary home to thousands, of refugees seeking a life in Britain. Many of them had arrived without passports or money to travel so were stuck attempting to enter the country illegally or by hitching rides, often without the consent of the drivers. In the run up to the referendum the camp took on a more symbolic quality with a number of UK volunteers and charities seeking to show that we represented something more humane than the intolerance of UKIP. What was less well discussed in the media was the fact that the camp had been there for more than 10 years. What had the EU done over the course of that decade to address this problem of a collective trail of humanity crossing several national borders en route to a member whose duty to absorb these people was not made clear? They had built only a limited amount of accommodation and the system for processing these people in a fair and dignified manner was buckling under the strain. The real answer came in the aftermath of the vote to leave. The French police bulldozed the camp and then sent the desperate people whose temporary homes they had now destroyed to face asylum claims or deportation. I would accept that the French government did nothing our own government wouldn’t have considered. I won’t deny the ugliness of what Leave suggested about the people coming here. It just strikes me as ironic that a particularly violent and immediate form of racism that Remain said would be prevented by the EU then emerged on the other side of the channel. It is somewhat galling to hear people declare my position racist because I consider it a duty to organise a proper response to those peoples applications rather than leaving them trailing across the continent in squalor. If we are to take the Remain advice and reverse course it would seem a considerable problem that the EU’s stated commitments don’t appear to materialise in practice.
Hungary and its right wing government led by Viktor Orban provide further instruction on what the EU can or can’t seem able to do. While Orban was pushing for a referendum on accepting further asylum seekers, Hungary’s border guards were accused of brutal violence whilst enforcing the building of a new border fence. The EU was seemingly inept at preventing this from escalating and whilst a collective solution is always hard to produce we must face the fact that either the EU can do something competent about these wider problems, which arguably no one country can solve themselves or it admits its weakness in these areas and sits at the side lines. It can’t preach both an interventionist approach – that we should take the numbers of refugees it decides upon and then sit back when a genuinely interventionist approach is required because one member state is engaged in actions none could reasonably support. It is this inconsistency that led me to believe that even if I could ascribe some moral purpose to what the EU recommended it was often failing to make that occur in practice. Either it appeared to be incompetent or complicit. In the end the character of the EU was shamefully exposed by its payment of 3 billion Euros to Turkey, a state which is becoming increasingly autocratic and whose long war on the Kurdish people has produced no end of atrocities on both sides. This payment was made with the explicit intention of keeping nearly a million Syrians in a hopeless state in refugee camps. So the EU has failed to produce either a robust solution or a democratic compromise. It cries racism at those of us who question the wisdom of open doors but fails to produce a workable solution to what is evidently a humanitarian problem of historic proportions.
It could be argued that these are selective readings rather than a pattern or a trend. But think also on the status of Africa within the EU’s concept of free trade. The primary way Africa could trade with Europe is through commodities, in particular agriculture. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy paid enormous volumes of subsidies, both in type and size, to a range of landowners, some of whom were not even growing anything. They paid as much as £500 per head of cattle which is higher than the GDP per capita of much of Sub-Saharan Africa even today. These values mean that most of these nations cannot compete with us on price, so the enormous competitive advantage they possess is rendered mute. If we stripped these subsidies away it would be potentially very difficult for many of our farmers to continue making a living and we might see prices of certain basic food items rise substantially. But we could also see clearly the benefit of importing goods from those poorer nations who’ve been locked out of our marketplace and providing them with a real, lasting, trading relationship would be a stronger sign of their equal status as human beings. More so than proclamations from people who shout about human rights while locking some of the world’s poorest people out of the world’s largest market.
The problem of association
Many of us on the Leave side were lumped together in a seemingly homogeneous racist mass. This was achieved principally by saying ‘look at your supporters & colleagues’. The inference was clear. A vote for Leave was a vote for Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, Jörg Haider and Marine Le Pen. This unsubtle argument ignores two important counter arguments. Firstly it assumes that by implication all Remain supporters were good examples of humanity. Whilst this would be true of the greater part of the public in Remain camp we could be less circumspect about the morals and motives of some of the leading donors to the campaign – Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Whatever their public protestations these two American banks have paid billions in fines for criminal actions in recent years and I very much doubt their donations to the campaign were motivated out of good feeling for the democratic will of the body politic. The second important counter to the accusations of being in poor company was the actual composition of Leave. The voters themselves came from across all classes, races, religions and regions of the country and prominent supporters included both Sir Digby Jones, Lord Mervyn King and senior trade unionists. Anything that unites the former head of the CBI, former governor of the bank of the England and the most socialist wings of the Labour party deserves more consideration than “you’re all racists”.
The problem of responsibility
Prior to the referendum the idea of us leaving the European Union was preposterous. It was an ingrained part of the political landscape and despite decades of tension the drive to leave was portrayed as being the ideology of nutcases. Only a madman would want to leave the world’s biggest marketplace. Even now in the aftermath of the vote there is a lingering sense of this madness, as if this was not supposed to happen and we are all living in a bad dream from which we will hopefully awake.
It seems an odd choice to me at least, because that version of ourselves is a chorus to the idea of fate. That our future was already locked and we are merely passengers within it. There was no other option, or rather any other option was a move backwards. A retreat from progress and enlightenment towards some medieval conception of ourselves. I think this vision of Leave is wrong for several reasons:
Firstly the future is not set and it is moving in wildly different directions than the past. We cannot pretend that artificial intelligence or climate change are simple continuations of what went before. They are problems of immense complexity, technically and more importantly, morally. They strike to the heart of asking who we are as people and what we value. I would not suggest that Leave have a ready answer to this, no-one does, rather what I would point to is that we need control to produce very unique and directed outcomes. The answer to climate change will not be the same in Doncaster or Plymouth or Glasgow nevermind Lisbon or Warsaw or London.
If the EU is anything it is a single political organisation designed to produce a single political response. The whole point of the thing is that we have so much in common with other European nations that it makes sense for us to produce one answer to those questions, even if it is only a partially complete answer that we refine locally. What Remain has lost sight of is that even a partially complete answer that we refine is still an answer of tone, of character, of purpose and of moral direction that means we end up producing the same answer morally. You can’t have very individualised moral responses in concert with 28 other nations and still retain the idea that made the EU a single political structure. If it is to continue we should subsume ourselves within it and give up being a separate country or break away.
At this point in history this seems like an overreaction, potentially an oversimplification even. But the one thing Remain never explained during the referendum and still doesn’t is where is the EU going? This was not a vote purely between the status quo and John Bulls retreat to the cricket green. This was a vote to leave the EU or go deeper in. Imagine for a moment the aftermath of a vote to remain. This would clearly have been seen by the elites of Europe as a ringing endorsement of their actions to date and their purpose to come. The most recalcitrant large member would have democratically endorsed them – why not proceed to a grand federalism? My implicit accusation is perhaps unfair but I do wonder what attention would then have been paid to the north of our country, to those outside of London’s prosperity had Remain won. No convincing answer has yet been forthcoming and given what has now happened none ever will.
The accusation was also made that people are stupid and incapable of making these kinds of grand decisions, or at least it was so complex that it was beyond most of us to arrive at a reasoned conclusion. If this is true then the very idea of democracy is a sham. No one disputes the idea of general elections – which arguably deal with far more detailed and comprehensive arguments about our future than a single question of allegiance to one political structure. No one idealises a return to monarchy just to overcome the electorate making difficult decisions, so why endorse an organisation that allies itself with big business and places its accountability at arm’s length from the people?
My grandfather’s generation are the last generation we speak of creating hope in that simplistic sense of winning the war & building the welfare state. They did not belong to a foreign country or some ancient place of swords and dragons that we cannot return to. They were also not simply led by one great man like so many sheep. If we should learn anything from our idolisation of that period of our history it should be that even very ordinary men can do great things, decent moral things, when they put their minds to it. But they must be committed to the cause and possessed of hope.
We are facing a time of profound challenges – climate change, robotic labour, artificial intelligence, genetic alteration. These things are going to irrevocably change our society and we need the space to decide what to do about them in our own way. Having a decision imposed on us for this will be politically disastrous because the people at large will feel no obligation to that purpose. Whatever we decide as a society the consequences will be long term and an uneasy mix of guesswork and hard work. We therefore need a means of making these decisions that encourages people to believe not only that they had a hand in making them but also that the politicians, so often evading their duty, will finally be held accountable in the present and future. History will judge us all and it will not do so kindly. There are reasons to hope in the midst of this transformation though. People are already clamoring for some control over their own lives because the bureaucratic monsters that occupy our public spaces give us no means to deal with these challenges.
They may not always articulate it clearly but there is a sense for many people in which our public life and in particular our politicians have become corrupt and inept. The polity have done nothing about the obscene levels of fraud and mismanagement in the last two decades and many are losing patience with the obsessive cry that doing anything different will “damage the economy”. Especially when those argued to suffer from the damage form no significant part of that economy anyway and feel that they receive a very disproportionately small share of its rewards. We may not know what options are best to explore but people are aware that we can’t develop new ways of thinking being locked in a box which says we are incapable of understanding or acting without instruction.
We cannot build hope in a society which demeans us or tells us the future is fixed. We need the option to be different to build hope because at its root hope is about change. Either a change for the better as the status quo is poor or a hope to maintain the status quo against the changes that seek to break it. We can cast Brexit in both these lights but a maintenance of the status quo, in a vote for Remain, would place our faith and hope for the future in the hands of politicians we have less power over. Remaining in the EU would have given us the option of a technocracy; a safe and arguably well run technocracy but not one that aligned itself with change in our country. It would do what it thought was best, not what we might feel was needed. It would ascribe to us our fate in relation to a collective future and would codify this idea before we would be given the opportunity to confront them with a different vision of ourselves. Indeed the very idea of a different vision of ourselves would be irrelevant in that context because there would be only one self that they thought was relevant – the European. This idea of fate kills democracy because it declares to any voter that their actions are pointless – it will happen regardless. It may well be that genetic alteration or climate change happens regardless but we need to have a choice about how we respond to ensure that it is the one that inspires hope in ourselves.
One might wonder why I would choose to open a blog aimed at a progressive future by openly admitting a decision that many would claim is deeply unprogressive. I do so because the reconstitution of the left, especially if it loses this election in a weeks time, will become dependent on its ability to not only admit its mistakes but to present a vision of hope. That starts with a responsibility to view our future with all its encumbrances in place. We need to be bound by a realism that seizes power for the right reasons and which is accountable to our fellow citizens for more than an expanded welfare state or tax the rich slogans. We need a future determined not by a fate we don’t think we can change but by a hope that we are strong enough and smart enough to do better.
I’ve placed links in this post from a variety of sources to deliberately demonstrate that i’ve read more than the usual suspects in assembling this piece. But for more general background reading see the links below: