Beneath the untruths

I’ve heard several people recently talk of the “politics of untruth”, as if things have moved into a particularly surreal space in the age of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. What happens when truth disappears? Are there unconscious things drawing people to vote in a way that makes life worse?

Boris Johnson and David Cameron: conflicted over the referendum
Boris Johnson and David Cameron: in conflict over the referendum

The crude answer is that people believe what they need to believe, which is not primarily about logic. The assertions that EU membership costs £350 Million per week and that Turkey is about to join the EU bringing mass migration have been thoroughly discredited. The fact that people are still believing them says a great deal for people’s needs and fears. Working with unconscious fears is also core territory for psychoanalysis.

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Sovereignty, patriotism and “Taking our country back” means remaining in EU

The paths of protecting our sovereignty and being proud to be British point firmly towards remaining in the EU. We don’t need to “take our country back” because we never lost it. It is Brexit, not a vote to remain, that challenges all of these things.

UK_EU_flagsIf we lived in a world of disconnected nation states, we might not need an EU — except for the small matter of avoiding war. I could argue that this applied for much of European history in that wars were relatively limited affairs (because most of Europe was close to subsistence farming, so there were not the human or financial resources to mobilise for a large war without facing starvation at home). But increased wealth and mechanisation of production and warfare change these things profoundly in the twentieth century.

But even then, royal households inter-married to build alliances and connections. Sovereignty didn’t mean total control of one’s own patch and ignoring the rest of the world: a strategic wedding might cement an alliance, wisely trading a little independence for stability. Continue reading “Sovereignty, patriotism and “Taking our country back” means remaining in EU”

Migration and house prices

This morning (2 June) Liam Fox was quoted as blaming immigrants for high house prices — as news came out of a slowdown in construction ahead of the referendum…

Construction industry slowing own because of Brexit fears
Construction industry slowing own because of Brexit fears
It was a masterful piece of Radio 4 news editing this morning (2 June).

First came the pro-EU story: Jeremy Corbyn had made a statement about the contribution of the EU to guaranteeing workers’ rights, pointing out that, without the EU, we would be reliant on the Tories for this protection.

Then the balancing “Leave” story: Liam Fox appealing to the young by claiming that EU membership means they would have to live with their parents for longer because the presence of EU migrants pushes up the demand for housing, and hence house prices.

Then the brilliant editing: the next piece referred to a slowdown in the construction industry because of concerns ahead of the referendum.

It doesn’t take brilliant powers of deduction to work out that less house-building pushes up prices.

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Democracy and the EU

The European Union is an impressively democratic organisation which has found an effective way to balance a directly-elected European Parliament and the democratically-elected governments of the nation states. This is the opposite of what the supporters of Brexit are claiming.

European parliament in session
European parliament in session

The basic structure of the EU can be traced back to the formation of the Coal and Steel Community in 1951. What has grown up is a very balanced and highly democratic process which balances the democratic voice of the peoples of Europe in a nuanced and effective way.

Law-making involves the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, and consultation with the Committee of the Regions. Of these:

The 751-member European Parliament is directly elected by the citizens of the EU.

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Distorted claims about Turkey

My eye’s recently been caught by a string of stories from Vote Leave, blatantly scaremongering about Turkey. Yet Boris Johnson and Douglas Carswell were both founder-members of Conservative Friends of Turkey, whose aims include to “Lobby in favour of Turkish membership of the EU”: have they had a politically-convenient change of heart?

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, which has been a church, a mosque, and is now a museum

The messaging has been blunt. The front page of Vote Leave’s web site currently (29 May 2016) leads with “Turkey joining the EU means even more stress on our country”. There have been posters from them saying Turkey is joining the EU, and an infographic on facebook showing a map of Europe with showing the population of Turkey as 77 Million, and an arrow from there to the UK, as if the entire population of Turkey is coming here. That makes UKIP’s wildly exaggerated claims about migration from Romania and Bulgaria a few years back seem moderate.

This is scaremongering, and grossly irresponsible.
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The fishing industry and the EU

Resentment at EU restrictions on fishing is leading many in the fishing industry to want to vote out. Their resentment is real, but their conclusion is wrong…

A Newlyn trawler
A Newlyn trawler

It is a sadly familiar story. The once-thriving British fishing industry now greatly reduced owing to EU fishing quotas, and, adding insult to injury, there are even regulations that require some fish to be thrown back into the sea. A news spot on Radio 4 recently showed Newlyn fishermen firmly behind Brexit. But this is the wrong conclusion: it attacks the EU at the time when the EU is acting to help the situation.

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It’s not £350 Million a week to Brussels, and we could learn from Norway

There’s been a persistent claim that EU membership costs the UK £350 Million per week. The snag is that it doesn’t, and the experience of Norway highlights the fact that there would be no big savings to spend elsewhere if we left the EU, but there would be big losses.

Vote Leave getting it very wrong about the money we send to the EU
Vote Leave getting it very wrong about the money we send to the EU

The “£350 Million a week” figure for the cost of EU membership has been very persistent. It is even on the livery of the Vote.Leave battlebus (which just happens to be made in Germany). There have been claims that this could be spent on all sorts of things, such as the NHS or British farming. But things are not quite what they seem.

It is funny how they focus on the NHS: it is a great British achievement and something to be proud of, but it is a cynical ploy to suggest that leaving the EU would help, when the numbers don’t stack up. Continue reading “It’s not £350 Million a week to Brussels, and we could learn from Norway”

The EU and security: why Boris Johnson is so wrong

On 9 May, Boris Johnson sought to challenge the idea that the EU has contributed to peace in Europe, laying the credit for that instead at the feet of NATO. He has had a change of heart, and it is worth looking at the real security story.

BoJo_security

StrongerIN have rightly seized on his words: his actions smack of political opportunism, and sound as if his support for leaving the EU and his personal ambition to become Prime Minister are closely linked.

An immediate riposte is that the mechanisms of the EU do limit the ability of Maverick politicians to play opportunistic games of rabble-rousing. This is no bad thing. People might claim it as undemocratic, but democracy does assume that voters are well-informed and rational: manipulative games also undermine democracy.

But Johnson’s narrative gets the whole thing horribly wrong.

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Migrants not affecting low wages…

Research at the London School of Economics is suggesting that downward pressure on low wages has come from the fallout of the economic difficulties of 2008 rather than immigration. Although migrants are being blamed, they suggest that migrants have actually helped the situation.

Migrants work in a field of daffodils at Nocton farm in Lincolnshire. Photograph: Bruce Adams/Associated Newspapers
Migrants work in a field of daffodils at Nocton farm in Lincolnshire. Photograph: Bruce Adams/Associated Newspapers

The LSE study, written about in The Guardian is a stark challenge to the view that migrants have been pushing down wages. It shows the Brexit argument against migrants to be very wide of the mark. My reading of this is that the fear is real, but we are in danger of making things worse by reacting out of that fear.

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European and local

A querk of the timing of EU referendum is that, now in late April 2016, I am campaigning both for election to Cambridge City Council and for a vote for the UK to remain in the EU. My election literature is clear that I am campaigning for both. How do they link?

Members of the Committee of the Regions standing in tribute to victims of the Brussels attacks
Members of the Committee of the Regions standing in tribute to victims of the Brussels attacks

My Independent opponent made a comment in a recent leaflet that we should keep Cambridge City Council elections local and that he was not going to talk publicly about his views in the EU. That set me thinking. I can see his point, but things are much more interconnected than that. At the very least, the stability brought by the EU means local councils don’t have to think about “the war effort” (or the war memorial) as they did in the twentieth century.

On the doorsteps we are a week away from the local elections and the EU referendum is two months away. Support for the Liberal Democrats and for EU membership are (mostly) going together, and there is a phalanx who clearly say they are voting “Independent and out”.

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