Monday 11 June 2018

More than simple short term interest

It has been suggested that many of those supporting Leave did so for reasons which were more to do with their own personal enrichment than with the interests of the country as a whole.  It certainly seems to be the case that rich Brexiteers will, by and large, either make money out of the decision taken, or at least be no worse off.  But so what?  There’s no rule preventing people from supporting decisions from which they will benefit – and the fact that they will benefit from a particular decision does not preclude the possibility that they also happen to believe that decision to be the best for the country as a whole as well.
Clearly there was a degree of mendacity about many of their statements; there’s something farcical about Farage claiming retrospectively that he never said that we’d all be better off when there is so much evidence to show that actually he did say exactly that.  But this isn’t one-sided either; is anyone going to argue that none on the Remain side thought that they would be better off if the country rejected Brexit?  Why is it only the winning side whose motives should be questioned?
There’s something more than a little hypocritical about anyone complaining that campaigners on either side were acting out of personal self-interest when the whole campaign strategy of both sides was based almost entirely on an appeal to voters to understand where their economic interests lay, and to vote accordingly.  Both campaigns were more to do with how much people would gain or lose individually as a result of the decision taken than with any consideration of what sort of Europe and world we want to live in.
The odd thing is that although the campaigns might have been based so strongly around the idea that people would vote for their own economic self-interest, and although many people will justify their votes in those terms, I’m far from certain that such rationalisations have much to do with reality.  I suspect that it was more about (conscious or unconscious) pre-existing beliefs.  It’s much easier to oppose immigration based on false arguments about depressing wages than on an innate hostility to foreigners or to oppose contributing to the EU budget on grounds of not paying in more than we take out rather than on not wanting to help poorer regions.  And it’s much easier to stress the economic benefits of the single market than to argue that integration and harmonisation are good things in themselves.
With Brexit increasingly looking like an impossible task in anything resembling the timetable being demanded by the Brexiteers, debate will inevitably move, over coming months, to a reconsideration of the principle rather than simple the detail.  The sad thing is that I see no real prospect of holding a debate which is any more honest about the choice of futures facing us than was the last one. Neither side seems capable of extricating itself from the fundamental assumption that the only thing that matters to anyone is his or her own short term financial gain.

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