Heffer

This is extracted from Simon Heffer’s article in the Telegraph, 19 June 2016. The whole is well worth reading. But this (slightly edited) is the peroration.

“It is because of the enviable opportunity we have on Thursday that we should seize it and use it to secure change. We cannot tackle immigration within the EU, as the Prime Minister says. We cannot reform the EU from within, as the failure of Mr Cameron’s negotiations showed. We are not the only constituent nation whose domestic political culture is at odds with that of those who steer and advance “the project” of federalism and the creation of a superstate. If we have the guts to go, others will follow, and we shall return to a Europe of bilateral deals, alliances, and participation in the wider world. The European empire will fail because the world for which it was created – the world of the cold war, and international Marxism, and pre-globalisation – no longer exists, and European states need a different means to cope with the future.

“We should think not just of reconnecting with Hugh Gaitskell’s sonorous and beautiful idea of “a thousand years of history”, important though it be to regain the sovereignty whose loss he warned against in 1962. We should think too of Enoch Powell – whose strictures against potential control by a superstate began in 1969, four years before we joined – and these words of his: “Too often today people are ready to tell us, ‘this is not possible, that is not possible’. I say, whatever the true interest of our country calls for is always possible. We have nothing to fear but our own doubts.”

“On Thursday I shall vote for the true interest of my country. I shall vote to repudiate “Project Fear”. I shall vote for the liberation of the United Kingdom and for the reinstatement of its democracy. I shall vote not just for a thousand years of history, but for our future to be in our hands again.”

Indeed.

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Not the economy, stupid!

One development seems to have been overlooked in the current avalanche of claim and argument.

It is an article of faith in some sections of the Leave community that the economic argument is fundamental. We will not win unless we convince voters that their economic prospects will not be damaged by Brexit. Hence we must advance an exit plan which preserves Britain’s access to the EU Single Market: the obvious route is via membership of EEA/EFTA. Hence we must accept, at least temporarily, continued payment for such access. Hence also we must accept, again at least temporarily, free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

This logic may rest on a false premise. The Daily Telegraph is carrying a poll which asks, “Would you back Brexit even if it left you worse off?”

poll

The current response rate is 78% in favour.

This should be a major pause for thought. Of course, such a poll is unrepresentative, unscientific, self-selecting, and many other disparaging terms which can be applied. But if it’s even half right, a number of conclusions may follow. First, Britons may be less personally mercenary and more generously-minded than previously thought. More significant, the official Leave campaign may have judged the electorate’s mood correctly, both in emphasizing non-economic arguments about sovereignty and immigration, and in rejecting continued membership of the Single Market in favour of a WTO/free trade settlement.

The EEA/EFTA purists may disagree. But would they prefer to lose? Or to win for the ‘wrong’ reasons? If we do win, it looks as if it may be because of the Leave campaign, not despite it.

It’s too soon to expect victory. But not too early to hope.

Traits

The permanent traits of English character that he identifies will come as no surprise: ‘A people tough, sceptical… more grumbling than rebellious… ironic, appreciative of human oddity, allergic to moralizing but noting people’s faults, tolerant but indignant at blatant hypocrisy, deceit, cruelty.’
Jacket notes to In Memory of England, Peter Vansittart, 1998

I see you believe what you say, or you would not have come all this way to say it. But you must not expect me to renounce immediately the customs which I and the English have followed from one generation to another.
King Aethelbert of Kent to Augustine of Canterbury, 6th century AD

Thought should be harder, heart the keener, courage the greater as our strength dwindles.
Battle of Maldon, 10th century AD

Who governs Britain?

France is suffering one of its periodic bouts of industrial unrest. One of the main trades union organisations, the CGT, is mounting sustained protests against a government proposal, already heavily compromised, to modify employment legislation. Oil refineries and power stations are blockaded. Riot squads are tear-gassing demonstrators on the streets of Paris. It’s all quaintly reminiscent of Britain in the 1970s.

In February 1974, the National Union of Miners called a national strike. Prime Minister Edward Heath called a general election for 28 February using the slogan “Who governs Britain?” Once the results were in, the answer was clear: not Edward Heath’s Conservative Party.

A decisive intervention in the campaign was that of Enoch Powell, who argued that the main issue in the campaign was whether Britain was to “remain a democratic nation … or whether it will become one province in a new Europe super-state”.

After a second general election that year, Harold Wilson formed a majority Labour Party government. After his so-called renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU, and the subsequent 1975 referendum, the answer to our initial question was even clearer: neither Heath’s Conservatives nor Wilson’s socialists any longer governed Britain. The unelected and unaccountable European Commission did. And still do.

Riders and elephants

Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider helps explain social intuitionism: in forming judgements, intuitions come first, rational argument follows in an attempt to explain and justify the initial intuition.

Voters in the referendum will not be swayed primarily by rational, intellectual arguments.

The archetypal undecided voter hasn’t thought a lot about the EU. But he (she) has two conflicting concerns. Leaving the EU might damage economic prosperity, threaten jobs, increase the cost of living, as every authoritative voice claims. But remaining could open the UK to unlimited immigration, ever-greater pressure on social services, the NHS and housing and downward pressure on wages for plumbers and other tradesmen.

There is a respectable argument that the least-disruptive route to exit would in the short-to-medium term involve continued membership of the Single Market via the EEA/EFTA option. But the undecided voter may disagree. If we say: it’s OK, we have a way out which will preserve membership of the Single Market, and may protect your livelihood; but by the way you’ll have to accept all the other stuff (immigration, social services, Polish plumbers…), he well may say “Oh no, that is not what I meant at all.” He may instinctively feel that we don’t need any of this corporatist, statist, bureaucratic, elitist political stuff, and that Britain should control its own borders and immigration policy.

Who are we to disagree? Would we prefer to lose rather than win for the ‘wrong’ reasons?

Trade

Trade is good. It’s not a zero-sum game. By matching one party’s needs with a second party’s surplus, free trade in an open market enriches both parties.

Individuals trade; companies trade. But — with the exception of government procurement — governments don’t trade. Despite their rhetoric about striking trade deals, most of the time, most government intervention in the market is designed to impede free trade. By erecting tariffs and non-tariff barriers, they aim to protect indigenous industry, to promote consumer protection or to advance some dubious policy objective. Most “trade deals” aim simply to reduce constraints on trade previously imposed.

The single market of the European Union is a protectionist structure, erecting barriers to the ability of Europeans to trade with non-members of the Union.

Some who argue in favour of leaving the EU place the highest priority on Britain retaining participation in the single market — at least in the short-medium term. From this flow consequences such as continuing to accept, at least temporarily, the four freedoms of movement, of goods, services, people and capital.

We don’t agree. Trade is important, especially for a nation such as Britain. But inter-governmental trade arrangements cannot be given absolute priority. Our instinct is that in the end the natural individual propensity to trade will overcome governments’ desire to constrain it. Considerations of sovereignty thus have to take precedence over those of short-term trading constraints.