10 minutes reading time (1900 words)

It is time to stop blaming leave voters for Brexit


The common criticism of leave voters - that they've not been blessed with huge intellects basically - logically requires a scenario wherein some honest politician said to them before the referendum:

"There is no Brexit benefit for you, but some of the elite will get a lot richer by feeding off the ruins of the UK's public sector, some of them will get to continue avoiding tax, and some of the MPs who are promoting Brexit will be rewarded with very nicely paid board memberships and the like. You and your family will pay the bill for this in a hundred different ways. So....what do you say?"

Whereas what actually happened was, those who rely on a limited number of right wing news sources got hit by a Tsunami of lies, manipulations and smoke screens, produced relentlessly by specific media channels and pro-Brexit politicians, with the aim of manufacturing a leave vote. 

That Tsunami continues - interested parties running interference in a desperate attempt to guarantee irreversible Brexit is delivered before the stoical UK population wakes up - and whilst increasing numbers of leave voters have escaped the river of sewage, some - much to the UK's apparent and escalating cost - continue to be swept along in the poisonous flood.

This article will have a quick look at the two most culpable parties.

The Media's Brexit manipulations

 We should start by saying that discussion of the role of the media is of necessity, generalised: individual exceptions to demographics trends of course, exist.  Having said that, let's dive straight in. 

So where did this mistaken impression originate?   Right wing tabloid headlines seem to give us a strong clue: 

75% of new jobs go to EU migrants (wrong)
Annual tidal wave of 228,000 non EU migrants (wrong)
EU migrants convicted of 700 crimes a week (wrong)
EU migrants [force] doctors to take on 1.5 million extra patients (wrong)
NHS will be 10 billion in the red in three years time - creaking under weight of migrants (misleading)

So did this media bias have any effect?  It seems likely; only 41% of non-newspaper readers voted leave, but between 70 and 65 % of the Sun, The Express, and the Daily Mail readers voted leave.

And paper editors seem to be admitting that they were trying to secure a leave vote: "So much for the waning power of the print media" said The Sun Editor Tony Gallagher just after the (surprising) leave decision was known, and in his new book, Hugh Whittow (Daily Express Editor) says that "our five year record demonstrated beyond dispute it was the Daily Express which has been, all along, the architect of an editorial campaign which bought about a dramatic political victory"

Sadly all of this influenced the main stream media as well ("Where the newspapers lead on issues, far more trusted broadcasters follow. The latest research from Loughborough University's centre for research in communication and culture found that issues which dominated the press also led the television news.") and it was not a victimless crime (see this article for stories about the human cost, or the book Brexit testimonies from EU citizens for a collection of harrowing testimonies from those affected).

Politician's Brexit Manipulations

There is strong synergy between papers and politicians. Ex Tory PM John Major was convinced that Rupert Murdoch sought to influence government policy and it has been claimed of Murdoch and Tony Blair that "the two men virtually ran Great Britain" whilst Paul Dacre (The Daily Mail) seems to play the role of King or Queen Maker to the Tory Party - when the Mail announced their support for Theresa May post referendum, Britain knew who the next PM would be. 

If anything, during the referendum, this synergy was stronger than ever:  "The [referendum] coverage was highly politicised, with around half the spokespeople cited coming from political parties or the two campaigns. Very little space was accorded to other groups, such as experts, academics, foreign politicians, business leaders, etc."  (Research published by Reuters)

So we should probably have a look at a few examples of the quality of information coming from the politicians throughout the referendum, and throughout the ongoing implementation of Brexit. 

The Vote Leave (official Brexit campaign) had apparently originally intended to focus on re-assuring people that a leave vote wouldn't impact jobs or the economy, but when too many experts said "Doh!  yes it bloody will" they switched to a focus on immigration, which resulted in their respective politicians (like Gove) dutifully trotting out ill founded stories about borders and immigration strain on the NHS.

And Gove is an interesting study (though the same could easily be said of other MPs of course).  In April 2016, in an article which seems to argue the UK should leave now just in case the EU ever does anything the UK doesn't like in the future, he said that 'it would not be in any nation's interest artificially to accelerate the process [of leaving] and no responsible government would hit the start button on a two year legal process without preparing appropriately'.  Fast forward to November 2017 - in the intervening period he accepted a job in the cabinet of a government that had recklessly launched article 50 with no preparation - and we find he is co-author of a letter to the Prime Minister demanding there is an artificial cut off imposed on any transition arrangements.

So what are leave voters supposed to make of this?   He was their champion, promoting a Brexit to them which would only be sensible if it met his specific requirements (including membership of a free trade area) but has now seemingly...erm.... what...just changed his mind?  Is the UK going to be damaged by the current government's actions (as implied by his 2016 article) or was he simply wrong in the first place?  

There are plenty of other examples of MPs appearing to be confusing the population.

Penny Mordaunt (new Tory cabinet minister) said in May 2016 that the UK 'does not' have a veto over Turkey joining the EU (that's just wrong: it would be a treaty change, so the UK would have a veto).

Jeremy Corbyn (July 2017) said that the UK will leave the single market because it is 'inextricably linked' to EU membership - (really? how appalling that no one has told Norway, Switzerland, Iceland or Lichtenstein that they've been getting everything so very very wrong, for collectively, decades - see this article for info on possible Brexit motivations of the extreme left and right)

Theresa May (March 2017) calling article 50 ''a historic moment from which there can be no turning back'? (yes there can, the EU and the UK architect of the article 50 clause, have said repeatedly that article 50 can be cancelled - and if the UK won't cancel just on grounds of common sense, they could consider cancelling simply to get the roses which the Italians have promised if the UK relents)

May again (January 2017) "We will take back control of our laws and put an end to the jurisdiction of the European court in Britain," - but that would mean severing all ties with the EU including leaving bodies like Euratom which even the director of the leave campaign declared was "near-retarded on every dimension" - it is desperately reckless leadership to announce definite actions when you have no idea of the consequences.

Nigel Farage: '[UK] pay £55 million a day as a contribution...our gross contribution is £55 million a day" ( according to full facts, it's more like £33 million pounds a day, and that doesn't include consideration of the benefits to the economy (the CBI (2016) believes that the net payment is actually negative - in other words membership brings more money into the UK than it sends out) and also does not include grants to various sectors and geographic areas of the UK. (source))

Government website (Sept 2017): "By boosting trade, CETA will create jobs and growth - and new opportunities for your businesses". this is actually not a lie. This is the UK government praising the CETA agreement between the EU and Canada. The lie was when someone told them it was published and they deleted it off the website.  There are various different interpretations of CETA benefits and drawbacks, but the interesting thing here is the UK government removing public access to information which shows EU membership in a positive light (i.e. seemingly shaping a narrative for their own ends, rather than for national benefit).

Liam Fox (July 2017, Tory's International Trade Secretary) said that doing a free trade deal with the EU should be the 'easiest in human history' - but neither labour or Tory want an off the shelf deal ("a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement" is what May is seeking) and most trade experts have been clear that it would take a decade to do a bespoke deal - during which time, the UK economy would become crippled.  A different minister later famously claimed that no one said leaving the EU would be easy (erm.....yes, your government did). 

Liam Fox's department (November 2017) tweeted a link to an article claiming the UK will experience a gain of 135 billion pounds as a result of Brexit - the tweet, since deleted - didn't find room to explain that the views quoted were the outliers (90% of economists think the figures are rubbish) or that the necessary policies (announced by the same group of economists, under a different name pre-referendum) would mean the death of UK manufacturing, agriculture, and the removal of worker protections (like protection from discrimination). 

We could go on and on but the key point here is that, for a variety of reasons which range from incompetence, ignorance, reckless striving for their ideologies, through to possibly much worse motives based in pure self interest, UK Members of Parliament have been routinely misleading the public, thereby fuelling the dishonest grand Brexit narrative which is sweeping the country towards disaster. 

It is very simple: UK Politicians should not be regularly misleading the UK public on such important issues.

The extent of the corruption of UK democracy (particularly that synergy with the media, and the way in which ministers get rewarded in the private sector for policies they generate whilst in public office) seems to have been exposed by Brexit.   

So this division between remain voters and leave voters is nothing to do with intelligence. The division's defining characteristic (generalising, out of necessity) seems to be that those who consumed many different perspectives during the referendum were more likely to get an accurate impression of Brexit and hence vote remain, whilst those who had (and may still have) a limited perspective - maybe reading one of those right wing tabloids every morning, and then watching the main stream news - simply got swamped in the lies and manipulations.  No one in their right mind - assuming they are not deeply ideologically motivated - would vote for Brexit if they had honestly been informed about what it is. 

If Remain voters and Leave voters don't unite to tell the politicians that their behaviour is unacceptable, then Klein's neoliberal disaster capitalists (mentioned at the top, and outlined in her book, The Shock Doctrine) are going to have a field day feasting on the shattered remains of post-Brexit Britain. 

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Saturday, 22 June 2024

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