“The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population – the intelligent ones or the fools?” – Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People
Do you REMAIN confused, or does the Brexit decision LEAVE no room for doubt?
We British heretics may or may not have it all sorted before referendum day in a week’s time on Thursday 23 June, but should we really care? Why bother even turning up to vote in this rare exercise of true democracy, bearing in mind that it’s not going to liberate children or launch a Kind revolution? Sure, this vote makes a change from the usual sham democracy in which the big issues are decided by professional politicians at the behest of media moguls, corporate lobbying, and noisy, self-promoting, porky-peddling humbugs.
On the other hand, is democracy all that great? After all, a considerable proportion of the populace are ignorant idiots. The demos is swayed by demagogues. The people are always wrong. They have no idea how to evaluate complex evidence and arguments; they care only about their own interests and those of others like them, voting along race, class or other identity lines rather than putting the general good of the whole nation first.
Every thinking person has understood all this, from Plato (channelling Socrates) to modern times. Even the early leaders of that supposedly great democracy the United States of America were no big fans. It was John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers, who spoke of democracy’s tendency to degenerate into “the tyranny of the majority”, a criticism later endorsed by Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America, and John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty. But I doubt the concept could be more vividly explained than by the economist John T. Wenders, who said in relatively recent times that “Democracy is two coyotes and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”
As for the Kind franchise, we are probably outvoted more like a hundred to one, and the coyotes are not interested in our suffrage; they are just happy to see us suffer.
Nevertheless, the Brexit vote is a genuinely Big Deal. It is going to decide loads and loads of really important stuff, with a potentially major impact not just on the British economy but also the European one and even global prospects for growth in the next few years – just look at the wobbles and panics caused by Brexit’s predecessor Grexit, even though it didn’t actually happen because the Greeks got cold feet.
And economic prosperity is not even the biggest issue. It is also about the importance of national sovereignty (and, yes, democracy) versus claims that peace and security, plus international cooperation on such vital matters as climate change and tax havens are better handled at the European level. Also, while the European Convention on Human Rights is not formally an EU matter, commitment to the fundamental rights in question is distinctly an issue that separates the leavers from the remainers – as does signing up to the social and economic rights set out in the European Social Charter, which covers employment standards relating to working hours, equal pay, disability, trade union membership and much more.
Take Back Control is the mantra of the Brexiteers. To those in business, especially buccaneering types of the less scrupulous sort, it means cutting out “red tape”, which actually translates into trashing the Social Charter safeguards. But the working public who stand to benefit from regulations – which are vitally important to us all as consumers, too, when it comes to such matters as product reliability and safety – hardly seem to notice the threat of their removal. That’s because Take Back Control is sold to them as being about stopping the foreigners coming in – a message that must sound particularly appealing if you don’t have much in the way of skills or education, and fear being outcompeted in the labour market. With so much concern over immigration, not all of it unwarranted, Brexit looks a very real possibility.
By comparison, Prime Minister David Cameron’s slogan for Remain sounds clunky and unconvincing: Stronger, Safer, Better Off. A sustained blast of Project Fear statistics and expert opinion on the dire consequences of leaving the EU, including the strong advice of President Obama, seem to have cut little ice, and the positive case for continued membership has been muted.
The campaigning on both sides, though, has been outrageous, making the whole shebang look like a talent show for who can tell the most floridly blatant lies. We already have Would I Lie To You? on the BBC but it is all about telling improbable fictions in a cleverly plausible way. The referendum carnival of fools, by contrast, is more Britain’s Got Liars, where the contestants score highly – or hope to – for being even more stridently and stupidly implausible than their opponents.
What seems to have happened is that genuinely intelligent figures on both sides, not least the famously erudite Boris Johnson leading the Brexit charge, have dumbed down their rhetoric to chase the enormous Ignorant vote, in the hope that the Ignorant (especially the Ignorant and Stupid) will believe anything if you shout it loudly, often and preferably in spectacular fashion – a tendency that must surely have reached its high tide, so to speak, in a “naval battle” yesterday on the River Thames in London, when a substantial fleet of Brexiteer vessels was outgunned by a cunning Remain volley of extremely loud soundbites from pop star Bob Geldof. His side had fewer boats, and they were much smaller, but honorary Sir Bob knows a thing or two about blasting out noise with megawatt electronic systems. All in all, quite possibly the best maritime entertainment for us Brits since the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588!
Dazzled by the apparent triumph of showmanship over substance, we might easily conclude that the country has gone to the dogs and we would be better off emigrating. Well, there’s a case for that, and I’ll come to it.
Oddly, though, I have been quite impressed by the overall standard of debate, and I find myself deeply engaged in the arguments rather than alienated. Daft claims have been made on both sides, but they have also been challenged and rebutted in the course of this long campaign, not just by the leaders in head-to-head debate but also in direct engagement with the public in televised question and answer sessions, some of which have allowed the public to pursue their own particular issue with supplementary questions after the initial response. So we have heard from employees and entrepreneurs with a wide range of skills and trades, from every quarter of the UK.
In my humble opinion – and this time I really do mean humble, not scornfully elitist – their contribution has been brilliant. They have probed the competing lines of argument sceptically and skilfully, bringing to the table all manner of local and expert knowledge. As such, it has been a great advertisement for democracy. Of course, these studio-audience affairs are very stage-managed. Vox pop soundings taken in the nation’s pubs and market squares among random unprepared potential voters tend to revive one’s doubts that the public at large are really up to making such a big decision. But take it they will. For those who like democracy, this has the great merit that for better or worse the electorate will own the choice they have made, and may become more engaged with public affairs in future as a result. Even those of us who continue to worry about the downside of the universal franchise must admit that it is probably here to stay, so it makes sense for us, too, to hope for a more participating and better educated populace.
I have not yet indicated which way I will be voting, and I do not intend to. Some may think it is implied in what I have said above, which is OK by me. But why would my choice be of any interest? While I feel I can claim some expertise on Kind issues, my knowledge of economics, and of what goes on in Brussels and Strasburg, is relatively slim. So your guess is as good as mine, or maybe better.
One could, I suppose, take a specifically Kind point of view, focusing on the future for children in or out of Europe. What sort of attitudes and education would they be exposed to in a Brexiteer-led, “independent” Britain? That sort of thing. We could also bring the future for Kinds into our purview. Would a separate Britain be even less tolerant? Should we worry that even our most basic human rights, to life and freedom, would be under threat?
Again, I think heretics here can speculate on these matters as well as I.
But there is one issue, free movement within the EU, that affects those of us who are on the Sex Offenders Register (SOR). A few words of comment may be in order on this as I have some relevant personal experience and have done a bit of digging too.
The general debate has of course focused on how to limit immigration, a debate influenced enormously by the massive recent influx of refugees and economic migrants crossing the Mediterranean into the EU from the Middle East and North Africa, bringing with it the fear of importing foreign criminals, including jihadis and sex offenders of the type seen in Cologne: men under the impression that white girls are sluts and who treat them accordingly.
If Brexit Britain takes extra measures to pull up the drawbridge against such people – which in itself is a perfectly reasonable objective – it would hardly be surprising if the EU were to reciprocate, clamping down on SOR people.
As I know from what happened to me last year when I went to the Netherlands and France, information is passed about those on SOR to the EU border authorities. I have to notify the police a week in advance of foreign travel and these days when you book a flight you have to give your passport details. So when I arrived at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, it was obvious they knew who I was: I was taken aside and asked a good many questions about my purpose of visit and schedule before they eventually let me in.
Could they have stopped me entering the Netherlands under the present rules? As I understand it, under the Schengen Information System (SIS) rules, to which the UK is a party even though we are not part of the Schengen free travel area, border control officers can only detain (for up to three hours) those thought to pose a high risk and when there might be grounds for an arrest. That is why, under those same security rules, Britain only stopped the very small figure of around a thousand individuals (according to former Home Secretary Alan Johnson, speaking on BBC2’s focus on immigration) coming in from the EU last year. Bear in mind that there were around 20 million visitors from the EU in this period. It seems I was checked under Article 36(2) after an alert put out by the British police for “ViSOR nominals”.
But if we come out of the EU, this relatively sparing approach is sure to change. Instead of a few minutes’ worth of questioning (which I also faced when leaving France, on the French side, to return to Britain), there will be the much greater likelihood of new rules coming in, such that one could be turned back to the UK at the EU border. So, it could become a really SOR point. Maybe some of us would be better off emigrating. But where to?