Today’s referendum should go down in history as the event at which politicians gave up any pretence of telling us the truth, and resorted to nothing but misinformation.
(Since writing this I discovered there’s a name for it – non-serious politics, where facts and knowledge are a hindrance and “feelings” are all that matters).
The politicians have tried to mislead us across a spectrum of untruths, from simple facts to the glossing over of complex issues.
For example, the simplest is the inaccurate claim that we will somehow “save” £350m a week if we leave the EU. This is simply untrue. It’s a mark of how bad things have got that Boris, the Brexit big-hitter, has spent the campaign in a bus with this porker emblazoned down one side.
To get to this figure you need to assume (a) a post-Brexit Government gives no money to areas poor such as Wales, or farmers, the fishing industry and others, all of whom receive EU funding, and (b) that the EU would pay us the EU rebate (£85m a week) if we left. Clearly ridiculous, a point conceded even by Out supporters on social media.
The largest feasible figure, without paying out any aid, is £280m a week; a more realistic one is £140m a week. Still a big number, and it’s the one you should have been given with which to make a decision.
This also throws into question George Osborne’s “project fear” statement that we’d need an emergency budget within weeks to plug the £30bn hole left by the EU exit. Clearly ridiculous, and not believed by anyone, down to the Downing Street cat. Even if the referendum sees us Out, it won’t be overnight – it won’t be for years – so the idea that we need a special budget within weeks is laughable.
What is true is that both sides have talked of figures of £1,000m a week (worse or better off) if we stay or leave, far bigger than any payments to the EU.
The Brexit side’s economist, Dr Andrew Lilico, has predicted lost growth of 2-3%, around £60bn, in the short term. This is twice Mr Osborne’s claim of £30bn, suggesting the chancellor just thought of a number.
A subtler deception is over migration, which will not come down even if we leave.
Net migration over the past decade has been around 200k-300k a year, half of these being from outside EU, and thus not affected.
Even No campaign strategists apparently do not want to reduce the number of migrants, just let in the people we need. Dr Lilico says certain parts of the country need migrant workers and the overall numbers would not change.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: “I would expect two or three years of the Government getting immigration down, to prove it could, then become much more relaxed.”
Both sides concede that EU migrants are of benefit to the country — they have high employment rates and are relatively young, so are less of a charge on public services.
(Incidentally, Dr Lilico told the BBC: “We are not leaving the EU to get better economic deals.” The gains are geo-political).
We laugh at those wacky Americans and their adoption of Mr Trump, who gets more popular the more outrageous his lies and insults, but the Brexit camp has benefited from the same kind of support. This is not a criticism of the Brexit supporters, but of our political system. Mr Trump attracts people who feel that they are ignored by politicians and Trump, a billionaire and narcissistic reality television star, has managed to persuade folk that, like them, he’s outside the system and if they vote for him it will upset “the man”.
Many Brexit supporters feel that the normal working person in this country has been forgotten — not only by Europe but by the Guardian-reading intellectuals in London who comprise the political parties. With the Tories and Labour mostly fighting over the same middle ground and the Lib Dems a nonentity, they have a point.
Most trade unions — the militant RMT is an exception — support the In camp, the TUC publishing a legal paper backing its argument that EU membership protects employees’ rights. Unite, with about 1.4m members, Unison, 1.3m members, and the GMB, 630,000 members, have all backed In.
One of the most interesting comments of the week on our social media came from a plasterer, who said everyone he spoke to was for Out. He was disdainful of the suit-wearing elite for being soft enough to vote In — and clearly he includes trade unions in that “elite”.
Overall the referendum seems to have been a success for democracy, with people talking about little else, and the level of debate on social media has been, on the whole, intelligent and good-natured, far better than the myths propagated by politicians.
Hopefully it will lead to a high turnout and, whatever the outcome, it’s The People 1, politicians 0.
As for the result, we’d like to hope that Messrs Cameron and Osborne lose their positions for the scurrilous tales they’ve spread, that Mr Johnson’s hopes of being PM crumble into dust for the porkies he’s told – and for the fact that this whole campaign is about two old Etonians playing poker for the country’s top job – and that Mr Farage finally gets his retirement, to be spent down the pub dishing out good quotes for the tabloids.
To out my money where my mouth is, I’m going to predict that the referendum will be 60-40 in favour of Remain. I’d guess it’s more likely to be 55-45 for Remain but the bigger the margin the better. For either side — the worst result would be 49-51 either way.