Autopsy on a Lost Referendum
by Sean Gabb
(27th May 2016)
Though we have nearly four weeks yet of campaigning, I find it hard to believe that the European Referendum will end in other than a crushing defeat for the Leave Campaign. For many on our side, this will be the end of their hopes. They have spent twenty five years – sometimes forty – connecting everything bad in this country with membership of the European Union, and pressing for a referendum. They now have their referendum. It will be lost. Age alone will give many of them nowhere to go. Some will pass the rest of their lives complaining that the vote was rigged. Most will drift away into confused silence. My own view is that the Referendum was always a mistaken strategy, and that its loss will bring an end to one of the less valuable chapters in the history of our movement.
The failure of the Leave Campaign can in part be blamed on the personalities involved. They are generally chancers and incompetents. If there is some reason to believe they were bought off in advance, nothing involving Boris Johnson was bound to end other than in defeat. I have always thought him a sinister buffoon. The only reason he became and stayed Mayor of London was that he was running against Ken Livingstone. Even I might have voted for him. Everything else achieved in his life has been the effect of sucking up to the right people. I have barely anything good to say about Michael Gove, and nothing good about Michael Howard or the others whose faces I see in my occasional skim of the BBC website.
In part, though, the failure is structural. The Leave Campaign has no plan for how to leave and what to do afterwards. It has none because none of the many plans on offer has general support. The Remain side can unite round a clear and simple message: we are better off in the European Union. The Leave side is a loose coalition with nothing in common beyond wanting to leave the European Union. Do we repeal the European Communities Act, scrap virtually all the regulations from Brussels and elsewhere, and practise unilateral free trade? Or do we disengage using the treaty mechanism, and then keep most of the regulations? Or do we try for a Keynesian siege economy? There is no agreement. If the Leave Campaign were to speak in details, it would disintegrate. The alternative, of being torn apart by the Remain side, is ruinous though preferable. So long as the campaign remains in being, something might turn up before polling day.
But I return to the matter of personality. Every so often, I see an opinion article that speaks about a “freewheeling, buccaneering” Britain outside the European Union. I think this is meant to be an appeal to some fading memory of Francis Drake or Robert Clive. I know – and so does everyone else – that it simply looks forward to having London as a giant offshore casino, with a few warehousing jobs on minimum wage for the rest of us. Mainstream conservatism in this country has morphed into support of a soft money corporatism designed to suck wealth upwards. In terms of what it offers ordinary people, it is no better than European social democracy – and may be worse.
The truth is that the European Union is a nuisance. It hides political accountability and raises business costs. At almost no point, however, does it touch on the real problem we face, which is dispossession of our identity and freedom. It has given us neither Balkanisation nor a police state. Leaving would not in itself undo what has been done to us since 1979 or before. The same ruling class would be in place. This might no longer be able to hide behind the fig leaf of international agreements. On the other hand, it would no longer be obliged to keep in step with a cartel of other ruling classes, not all of them equally malevolent in every respect.
The ultimate cause of all the problems we face is not a few Directives that may or may not exist about the curvature of bananas. It is that we no longer see ourselves as a distinctive people, able and willing to hold onto our ancestral homeland and our ancestral ways. Membership if the European Union is one symptom of this collective failure. So is multiculturalism. So is our cultural prostration before America. So is the degeneracy of our rulers, and the immiserisation of our working classes. These symptoms cannot be addressed before the cause is addressed.
So, how to address the cause? Let us rule out a rich man willing to lavish money on us. The money would not come to us, but be grabbed by the usual suspects and spent on cocaine and whores in the usual manner. The rich man would almost certainly be a fool, more focussed on speaking in the Albert Hall than on doing something useful. And I doubt there are any rich men on our side – certainly none likely to make even a third rate Donald Trump. What I suggest instead is a growth of self-sufficient communities of interest.
We need to form closer bonds with each other than the commonalities of outlook that have brought us together. Because state and corporate employments are increasingly closed to us, we are forced to consider self-employment. This gives us the moral advantage of independence. This being said, the self-employed flourish best not as isolated individuals, competing in some anonymous market, but as members of tight networks. We need to do business with each other, and to help each other. In every respect where it can be given, we must give regular preference to each other. We should employ builders and window cleaners who share our outlook. We should expect preference in the sale of our own talents from those who share our outlook. We need our own schools and institutions of learning and research, our own orders of distinction and merit. We need standards by which to discipline the unworthy, or purge them from our communities, and to prevent infiltration. We need to show indifference to smears from the ruling class media, and discretion and flexibility enough to shelter us from its direct invasions.
Now, I am not suggesting withdrawal and quietism, even if that might be the result for some of us. The purpose is to create communities with institutions of outreach and proselytism, and a cultural revival and style of life that makes us worth listening to. It is not an unprecedented strategy. It has, with necessary variations, been followed by every group of outsiders who survived and flourished and had eventual influence. I think of Christians in the second and third centuries, or Jews in twentieth century England, or Moslems at the moment in England. These are all examples from which we can learn.
How long before these communities can grow into a network of communities able to have a measurable influence on our national life? I have no idea. But I do insist that, had this been our strategy in 1992, some difference might now have been made. Instead – and, so far as I have been alive and active in this time, I do not exclude myself from the blame – we have spent a quarter of a century variously whining about the Maastricht Treaty and helping rich men grow still richer by arguing for the transfer of state monopolies into their hands. It is simply unfortunate if we must begin a strategy that might work somewhat later than we should have. But nothing can be achieved otherwise. The sooner we begin, the better it will be.
So let us get the Referendum over and done with. Let it go 60:40, or 75:25, or only 55:45. Even let it be narrowly “won” – it will make no difference. What we badly need is to stop fighting what time has shown to be the wrong battle. We must stop mistaking symptoms for causes. There is no with-a-bound-he-was-free option. Voting will not save us. If we are to save our country, we must start with ourselves.