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[personal profile] peterbirks
 I have found this referendum vote the hardest electoral decision in my life. My route to my eventual decision will not be so much an issue-related discussion as a philosophical one.

 

My feelings:

I love Europe

I am a free-trader

I am an economic liberal in the Gladstonian sense

I am a social liberal

I consider small companies to be the dynamic lifeblood of an economy

I consider large companies, in the main, to be position defenders that have nothing to do with free enterprise.

Regulation, as a default, is a bad idea. It is not always bad, but a strong case needs to be made for it.

Decisions made by committees are usually slow and more often than not wrong. If half the committee want to go in one direction and the other half want to go in another, "staying where you are" is not a compromise – it is a worse decision than the other two. Fudges eventually lead to a bigger disaster down the road.

 

Who I am

I am old

I am in London

I am probably a net beneficiary of being in the EU

 

The difficulties

1) This is a vote where the reason why you vote the way you vote can differ from the ostensible reason on the ballot box

2) This is a vote where people disagree on (a) what the vote is about (b) the permanence of any such decision and (c) the significance of such a decision.

 

What this means is that, even if I laid out my complete political, social, economic and personal positions, people on both sides would claim that the reasons I give are reasons why I should vote on "their" side. Now, you don't tend to get this in ordinary politics. If I said that I thought the economy was constructed to exploit the working class, that would hardly be pounced on by the conservatives as a reason to vote for them. Alternatively, if I said that the NHS was an inefficient bureaufuck that is only liked by people because it did a lot of good for their gran or prematurely born kid, or because it pays their wages, that would hardly be seized upon by Labour as a good reason to vote for them.

 

I began this campaign with the statement that I would probably end up voting "Remain", but with a heavy heart. Over the following 10 weeks the arrogance of the Remain side and their choice of campaign ground led me to shift my ground dramatically. A week or so ago I would perhaps have put the likelihood of me voting Leave at around 80%.

What put me off?

Smugness;

Mutual back-slapping humour that Remainers thought was an attempt to persuade the undecided but which was in fact just a way to make them feel even cleverer and more superior than they felt before, which led to ….

More smugness

A refusal to engage on genuine issues, resorting instead to "independent" analyses from interest groups that all benefit from EU membership.

Assertions that all Leavers were racists, Little Englanders, xenophobes, or, well, let's face it, not as intelligent as we Remainers are"

A refusal or inability to understand genuine concerns among people who liked Europe, liked immigrants, but disliked Brussels.

 

 

Perhaps shrewdly, the Remain camp seem in most cases to have realized that their mockery, smugness and sense of moral superiority was perhaps not the best way to persuade people on the fence such as myself. I seemed to see arguments which consisted mainly of two lines:

(a) the EU benefits the writer

(b) Everyone who is on the Leave side is a racist, a Little Englander and/or looking to return to a mythical 1950s.

 

Contrariwise, I began to read a significant number of rational, well-thought, arguments on the Leave side which reflected how I felt – that the EU was an out-of-date, impractical, over-large, over-bureaucratic, protectionist club that worked in favour of

a) employees of large organizations

b) senior executives in large organizations

c) politicians

d) research fellows

e) anyone who lives in Brussels

 

It worked to the detriment of

(a) small businesses, with insanities such as the working hours directive meaning that, if work had to get done, the net result was that people worked the extra hours anyway, but could not officially be paid for it.

(b) farmers in emerging markets outside of the EU

(c ) companies that could have developed trade with countries outside of the EU, but were never able to because the EU system of trade discouraged such development

(d) the young in Spain, the young in France, employees of small companies, the unemployed young.

 

As Mervyn King observed, it's possible that this vote is not as significant as we like to think. After all, come 2025, even if Leave wins:

But, let's look at what will not change:

We will still be in the European Economic Area or WTO

We will still be in NATO (and France won't).

We will still be in the UN, G8 and G20

We will still be in Europe.

We will still deal with Interpol and Europol

Travel to Europe will be as easy as it was before.

Human rights legislation will not vanish. The EU Convention and European Court of Human Rights are not part of the EU. Until parliament passes a new bill of rights for the UK, these will still apply, as will precedents already passed down to UK courts from Brussels.

We will not eject people from the UK. Under the Luxembourg compromise all those already in the UK are legally entitled to remain.

The NHS will not collapse. Indeed it could become easier to find qualified staff from non-EU countries.

 

So, as you say, with so much NOT changing, why are both sides making such a fuss?

For some, the belief is that the EU took seriously wrong turns when

(a) it renamed itself the EU, thus setting down a "mission statement" for what it thought the former EEC was really about

(b) it tried a back-to-front economically insane system of "single currency, separate treasuries", with results that we can now see (and which, by the way, many of the current Remainers singularly failed to predict).

(c) it decided to expand from a relatively homogeneous western European system to one that welcomed the ex-members of the Soviet bloc -- more for political reasons than economic common sense.

 

One thing that is beginning to seem plain to me is that Europeans living in Britain (and those born in Britain who now live in Europe)  are far more vehement Remainers than most others. In a way that is unsurprising; their pro-Europe instincts would lead them to be so. But their view must also be considered tainted for just this reason. Disinterested, they are not.

 

However, in Europe as a whole the enthusiasm for the project is falling. Only a small majority of voters in the EU look on it favourably (Pew Research Centre).

It is not a fanciful concept to say that, because the solidity of the EU as a concept (with or without Britain) is weakening, the EU at the moment needs Britain rather more than Britain needs the EU. Should Brexit win, it is not fanciful to see the Schengen agreement fall apart, the euro gradually disintegrate into first two currencies (hard euro and soft euro), then three, and then into a situation where it's like the Norwegian, Danish and Swedish kroners – a currency that shares a name but which is effectively a different currency. Either new notes will be printed or a grey market will develop with different currency ratios from the centrally dictated 1:1

Little wonder therefore that the concern on the matter is so great on the European mainland.

 

I see the EU as a sclerotic crony-capitalist system which favours big companies and big government -- discouraging small entrepreneurs by creating high barriers to entry. That has led to an economic bloc with a growth rate abysmally below most of the rest of the world, and an unemployment rate amongst those aged 18-25 that it should be ashamed of. It protects jobs that exists (but which gradually disappear anyway) and discourages capital providers from creating new ones.

 

This lack of dynamism is endemic to the EU. A new Europe of entrepreneurship could give young people the futures they deserve. This EU can only give the gerontocracy and employees of large/public corporations the wealth that they don't deserve.

 

So, I found myself leaning more and more to support the Leave. Every post I saw on Facebook or Twitter urging Remain was pushing me further towards voting Leave.

 

Now, although there is an irrational side to this response – I was reacting to the smug middle-class liberal certainty of, quite often, youth – there was also a rational side. What I desperately wanted was rational discourse that would persuade me of the benefit of voting "Remain", not single-line bollocks about how anyone who voted Leave was an idiot and, probably, a racist.

 

The philosophical dilemma

I knew that most of those who would be voting for "Leave" would be doing so for reasons which I did not like. My dislike of the EU is that it is not internationalist enough, that it is protectionist and corrupt at its heart, that it is "crony capitalism".  Well, that's all very well, but if most of the people voting to leave are doing so because they want fewer Johnny Foreigners on their streets, my own vote for Leave would be unlikely to achieve the objectives I desire.

In other words, I had to ask myself whether the best way for me to achieve what I wanted might be, paradoxically, to support temporarily the system that I thought would eventually fail.

So, the philosophical question of "can I vote for a side where I disagree profoundly with the views of most of those voting the same way" leads to the practical question "can I vote in a way which might be less likely to lead to the outcome I desire than voting the other way?"

 

Let me be clear – I consider the current EU to be rotten to the core – its claims of democracy to be a sham, and its real rulers to be behind-the-scenes businessmen and politicians working along the lines of the Democratic and Republican parties in the US between the world wars. Many Remainers will disagree with my conclusion here, but that is by the by. I think the people really running Europe are corrupt. Just look at the pension arrangements of the Kinnocks (final salary schemes into six figures, paid for by the taxpayer) and the quality of the hotels that EU insiders stay in when they visit other cities. Say what you like about my mate Simon Billenness and his focus on international problems rather than ones nearer to home – at least he stays with local people and works on a restricted budget. You won't see many MEPs doing that.

 

Without heading into detailed practicalities on the case of issues, my eventual conclusion was that, for me, voting to Leave was the "right" thing to do, while voting to Remain was the "sensible" thing to do.  Simultaneously, I felt that voting Leave was the "brave" thing to do, while voting Remain was "cowardly".

 

As I said at the beginning. I would benefit from the stability likely to emerge in the short term from a Remain vote. I don't have 60 years of life ahead of me. For once I agree with Jeremy Hardy – a vote that is for "forever" rather than for five years, should mean that a young person's vote should counts for more than an old person's.

 

Large companies, financial services, passporting (it's a technical financial services thing) would all get blasted to the skies if we left (well, perhaps not, but the extra work over the next few years would make a big dent in the profits of many large companies). My equities holdings would take a bashing. Probably 95% of my wealth is in sterling, which would weaken. Property prices in London would fall.  All of these would work to my disfavour.

But that doesn't make voting Remain "right". For the good of the country, property prices SHOULD fall. Equites ARE overvalued relative to gilts, precisely because the sclerotic nature of the EU is condemning us to a decade or more of Japanese-style semi-deflation. But that's the side my bread is buttered.

 

An argument for Leave that I have seen put forward is that if we had never taken risks, well we would still be living in caves. And this is true.

However, it misses the point that in all likelihood 95% of the initial explorers who tried to not live in caves died from starvation, or animal attack, or whatever. The 5% that survived did much better than those who stayed in the caves, but the majority of the adventurers died. For the individual, the marginal gain from taking the risk might not be worthwhile, even though it would be for the overall good of the species.

 

In the past week it appears that Cameron and some others have realized that I am not alone in my demographc, that there are a number of rational people who love Europe, but hate the EU and those who work within it.

If one person "changed my mind" I would say it was Tristan McDonald – he made (for me) the key point that voting leave now is a bit like immediately leading out the ace of trumps in a bridge contract. It will win the trick, but it might not be the best strategy. And, although this is the last "referendum" (at least, I hope it is) it is not the last chance for leaving. That option will not go away. Since I oppose referendums, I could say to myself that a "Remain" vote (being for the status quo) also includes the opinion "I don't think the people should have the right to decide".

 

Also, Moneyweek makes the valid point, with which I think I agree. This is that the "Leave" vote in this situation really should require more than a simple majority of voters. It is, effectively, a constitutional change, so perhaps either a 60% majority or a simple majority of the total electorate should be required (or voting should be mandatory). Since I know that there is no hope of this larger majority being achieved, I can vote "tactically" to help the Remain side over 50% of those who vote.

 

 

And, thus, with a heavy heart, I was back where I started, voting Remain. I disagree with nearly all of the campaign stances on the Remain side, and with most of those on the Leave side (although at the top end, the Leave side has put forward a far more rational and sustainable argument)

 

So, there I stand, a person who is a "sensible coward", intending to vote for a muddied compromise. I wish I were a brave idealist prepared to vote for something which I believe in, but which I don't think my vote would achieve. Over the past three months I have come to dislike most of the campaigners on both sides, with the appeals to me from the "sensible arm" Brexit side having more emotional resonance than those from the "sensible side" of Remain.

 

This has been helped, partly, by the fact that the sensible side of Brexit has already won. The change in tone from the Remain camp; the admission that work needed to be done. Sure, Remainers might say "but that was always the case", but they weren't shouting about it until there seemed to be a very real threat that they would lose. The EU, and the British governments that follow Thursday's vote, have been put on notice that membership of the EU is not the "given" that they thought. Eurosceptics in other parts of Europe have been encouraged; even the most dogmatic and narrow-minder of the Germans have started to realize that they cannot create reality by changing an EU regulation. I am not an evangelist over this vote and I have come to like less those who are (on either side). It's a complex nuanced question forced unnecessarily on the British public,  demanding a blunt yes or no simple answer that both sides will misinterpret.

Not only that, we cannot know the full implications of either yes or no. Anyone who thinks that, in the face of these difficulties, that the answer is simple, has a different take on the EU from mine.

 

June 2017

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