I have always complained that politics in the UK is boring and if I wasn’t following the news as often as I do I would probably miss an election. I exaggerate, but my general drift is that the election campaigning here is so much more quieter than what I am used to in India. The outcome is also not as dramatic and the power shifts from centre left to the centre right and between them these 2 groupings make up the ‘establishment’.

These established groupings have their own set of groupies in the form of media, pundits (public intellectuals?), think tanks (lobbying groups?) and so when voices emerge from outside these 2 groupings they are shouted down by these set of groups. Fledgling parties and groups are often asked to present a balanced budget manifesto and completely thought through policies with the unstated view that they really don’t have anything new to say that has not been covered by the existing groupings. Of course the fact that the main groupings also base their campaign on unproven pledges (controlling immigration numbers)  often goes unchallenged. The centre right and centre left then control the political ground with the understanding that power (and its spoils) will shift between them as long as they can keep everyone else out. Hence there is very little space for new ideas to emerge and often new policies is the same old stuff packaged differently.

So when the campaigning for the EU referendum started all the main political parties and most of their allied institutions attempted to closed ranks behind remain in the EU. However this time there was a difference compared to the general election as the establishment ,mostly on the centre right, was split and some leading members of the centre-right along with a share of the media , think tanks and set up shop to leave the EU. Without getting into the merits of each campaign this is probably the first time I have seen a genuine clash of ideas, both sides with the influence and authority to be able to think through ideas and the ability (with the help of friendly media and think tanks) to present their ideas to the voters in a credible fashion. The whole campaign has been nothing short of fascinating and I wish I had the time and resources to leave my day job and do more research on the campaign.

The Remain side ran their campaign on their standard template of we are the establishment and we know what is right for the country and we will bring in everyone from Obama to retired spies to scare the shit out of the electorate and also point out how the Leave side are power hungry loonies and closet racists. The difference this time was that the Leave campaign, having played this game from the winning side in the past, were equally adept at this game and ran a subversive campaign and played on the emotions of the electorate to raise a middle finger to the Remain’s fear campaign.

The Remain campaign was so bad that I wonder if they lived in the same country as the Remain supporters. The messages coming out of Downing Street was always about security, terrorism, property prices, jobs, economic future, food prices and basically everything that can possibly go wrong will go wrong if we leave the EU. It was almost as if they were baiting the voters to say we don’t think you can survive without the EU to which the voters said yes we can thank you very much.  While the Remain supporters (including me) were thinking that why are we not talking about the reasons we like the EU  i.e. the multiculturalism, the free flow of ideas and the idea of this one big tent that holds disparate cultures together.Why couldn’t the Remain campaign ask Merkel to deliver a speech in the UK where she says that while it is for the British to decide , here are  the reasons she thinks UK should be part of the EU. The Remain campaign was about the EU is not so bad and the Leave was it is bad and in that race to the bottom there was always going to be one result.

There is talk in the press of how this is class war and how the ‘common’ people have voted and how this is about small towns vs cities and more educated vs the less educated. I disagree with all that. This is not class war and the people heading the campaign are hardly class warriors. People were subjected to a fear campaign and when sufficiently scared the tendency is to raise the draw bridge. There is still some good to come out of leaving the EU but that depends on how quickly the drawbridge is lowered.

 

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