Wednesday, 15 June 2016

From Messiah to mascot

A couple of months ago, I was pretty confident that Europe was only a big issue for a tiny group of obsessives. By making their pitch to the minority who are deeply into niche interests like xenophobia and following conspiracy theories about Brussels plotting to make all our bananas straight, I thought the Leave campaign had shot itself in the foot.

But, apparently, I was wrong. A campaign based on the urgent need to keep foreigners out of Britain seems to be working pretty well.

Never mind that the big number emblazoned on the Vote Leave Battle Bus has been fact-checked to death and found to be a complete lie. Never mind that most of the people now pledging a post-Brexit spending spree, to be lavished on every interest group or public service you can possibly imagine, are the same people who've spent the last six years as cheerleaders for the austerian idea that every spare penny spent on public services is a penny that could have better spent reducing the deficit.

Never mind that the notion that the government could favourably re-negotiate all the trade agreements that Britain already has, rather misses the obvious point that there's a massive opportunity cost associated with locking our representatives into x years of renegotiation of stuff we already had in place, instead of concentrating on whatever new opportunities or threats come along in that time.

Never mind all that, because if we don't act now, Brussels will definitely be in a position to unleash weapons of mass migration within 45 minutes, bombarding our country with volleys of Schrödinger’s immigrants who would be totally capable of lazing around on benefits whilst simultaneously stealing all our jobs.
It is all a bit like the run up to the last Iraq war, only turned in its head. In 2003, there was a lot of scepticism out in the country, but there was a burning certainty at the centre of power that "we" had to act now. Blair's dossier might have been dodgy, but you get the impression that he'd talked himself into believing that war was the right and necessary thing to do. And once he'd convinced himself to believe, the strength of his belief became in itself a justification for acting. The time for quibbling over mere evidence was over - you just had feel the strength of his conviction and believe, brothers and sisters!

In 2016, the muddle-headed belief in dodgy scare stories seems to be out there on the streets, (fed by the dodgy dossier cobbled together by pro-Brexit press barons, well-funded astroturf groups like Migration Watch and all the politicians who've ever thought that migrants make a pretty convenient scapegoat for every intractable problem they can't solve). But at the head of the Brexit campaign, there isn't some new Blair, blazing with messianic certainty. At the centre of this doughnut of belief, there's a hole called Boris.

Amazingly, the official face of Vote Leave, doesn't seem that bothered whether we're in or out. Boris looks a lot like the lovable floppy-haired dog that that's been the face of the Dulux paint brand for years and the resemblance is more than fringe-deep. You might get a warm, fuzzy feeling from watching an Old English Sheepdog being used to flog paint, but you know in your heart of hearts, that Rover, or Floppy, or whatever he or she's called isn't really endorsing the brand of paint. Almost certainly, the dog's thinking something completely different, like "Woof! Dog biscuits!"

And when it comes to Boris, you know with even more certainty that he's not bothered about the Brexit product, but is probably thinking something completely different like "Cripes! I'd like to be Prime Minister!" I say this with even more certainty because, unlike the Dulux dog, Boris has expressed himself in human language and other people have recorded and written down the words that came out of his mouth.

If you're still under the naive illusion that BJ actually believes any of his own sound bites, I would direct you to this collection of Boris Johnson quotes, curated by the excellent Tom Pride and expertly rearranged into an EU debate in which the Boris Johnson who's finally realised that he might become Prime Minister by becoming a figurehead for Tory Eurosceptics, argues with the Boris Johnson who hadn't yet decided which side of the fence he ought to come down on to further his career.

In 2003, the nation made a poor choice, based on questionable evidence, because one individual at the heart of power was gripped by a terrible certainty. In 2016, we're in danger of making another poor choice, based on questionable evidence, but this time, the individual leading the charge probably doesn't even care whether it's the right or wrong thing to do, so long as it advances his own career.

Is it worse to be so wrapped up in your own beliefs that you ignore the evidence and leave chaos in your wake, or to be so cynical that you're prepared to lead the nation into an irreversible leap into the dark, just so that you can inch your own career a little further up the greasy pole? You decide.