BREXIT – The influence of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – By Nick Cohen – The Guardian UK

BREXIT – There are liars and then there’s Boris Johnson and Michael Gove 

Nick Cohen  The Guardian UK

The Brexit figureheads had no plan besides exploiting populist fears and dismissing experts who rubbished their thinking

Brexit leave logoWhere was the champagne at the Vote Leave headquarters? The happy tears and whoops of joy? If you believed Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the Brexit vote was a moment of national liberation, a day that Nigel Farage said our grateful children would celebrate with an annual bank holiday.

Johnson and Gove had every reason to celebrate. The referendum campaign showed the only arguments that matter now in England are on the right. With the Labour leadership absent without leave and the Liberal Democrats and Greens struggling to be heard, the debate was between David Cameron and George Osborne, defending the status quo, and the radical right, demanding its destruction. Johnson and Gove won a dizzying victory with the potential to change every aspect of national life, from workers’ rights to environmental protection. 

Yet they gazed at the press with coffin-lid faces and wept over the prime minister they had destroyed. David Cameron was “brave and principled”, intoned Johnson. “A great prime minister”, muttered Gove. Like Goneril and Regan competing to offer false compliments to Lear, they covered the leader they had doomed with hypocritical praise. No one whoops at a funeral, especially not mourners who are glad to see the back of the deceased. But I saw something beyond hypocrisy in those frozen faces: the fear of journalists who have been found out.

The media do not damn themselves, so I am speaking out of turn when I say that if you think rule by professional politicians is bad wait until journalist politicians take over. Johnson and Gove are the worst journalist politicians you can imagine – pundits who have prospered by treating public life as a game. Here is how they play it: They grab media attention by blaring out a big, dramatic thought. An institution is failing? Close it. A public figure blunders? Sack him. They move from journalism to politics, but carry on as before. When presented with a bureaucratic EU that sends us too many immigrants, they say the answer is simple, as media answers must be. Leave. Now. Then all will be well.

Johnson and Gove carried with them a second feature of unscrupulous journalism: the contempt for practical questions. Never has a revolution in Britain’s position in the world been advocated with such carelessness. The Leave campaign has no plan. And that is not just because there was a shamefully under-explored division between the bulk of Brexit voters who wanted the strong welfare state and solid communities of their youth and the leaders of the campaign who wanted Britain to become an offshore tax haven. Vote Leave did not know how to resolve difficulties with Scotland, Ireland, the refugee camp at Calais, and a thousand other problems, and did not want to know either.

It responded to all who predicted the chaos now engulfing us like an unscrupulous pundit who knows that his living depends on shutting up the experts who gainsay him. For why put the pundit on air, why pay him a penny, if experts can show that everything he says is windy nonsense? The worst journalists, editors and broadcasters know their audiences want entertainment, not expertise. If you doubt me, ask when you last saw panellists on Question Time who knew what they were talking about.

Naturally, Michael Gove, former Times columnist, responded to the thousands of economists who warned he was taking an extraordinary risk with the sneer that will follow him to his grave: “People in this country have had enough of experts.” He’s been saying the same thing for years.

If sneers won’t work, the worst journalists lie. The Times fired Johnson for lying to its readers. Michael Howard fired Johnson for lying to him. When he’s cornered, Johnson accuses others of his own vices, as unscrupulous journalists always do. Those who question him are the true liars, he blusters, whose testimony cannot be trusted because, as he falsely said of the impeccably honest chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, they are “stooges”.

The Vote Leave campaign followed the tactics of the sleazy columnist to the letter. First, it came out with the big, bold solution: leave. Then it dismissed all who raised well-founded worries with “the country is sick of experts”. Then, like Johnson the journalist, it lied.

I am not going to be over-dainty about mendacity. Politicians, including Remain politicians lie, as do the rest of us. But not since Suez has the nation’s fate been decided by politicians who knowingly made a straight, shameless, incontrovertible lie the first plank of their campaign. Vote Leave assured the electorate it would reclaim a supposed £350m Brussels takes from us each week. They knew it was a lie. Between them, they promised to spend £111bn on the NHS, cuts to VAT and council tax, higher pensions, a better transport system and replacements for the EU subsidies to the arts, science, farmers and deprived regions. When boring experts said that, far from being rich, we would face a £40bn hole in our public finances, Vote Leave knew how to fight back. In Johnsonian fashion, it said that the truth tellers were corrupt liars inBrussels’ pocket.

Now they have won and what Kipling said of the demagogues of his age applies to Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. [and across the pond – Donald Trump.-clyde]

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

The real division in Britain is not between London and the north, Scotland and Wales or the old and young, but between Johnson, Gove and Farage and the voters they defrauded. What tale will serve them now? On Thursday, they won by promising cuts in immigration. On Friday, Johnson and the Eurosceptic ideologue Dan Hannan said that in all probability the number of foreigners coming here won’t fall. On Thursday, they promised the economy would boom. By Friday, the pound was at a 30-year low and Daily Mail readers holidaying abroad were learning not to believe what they read in the papers. On Thursday, they promised £350m extra a week for the NHS. On Friday, it turns out there are “no guarantees”.

If we could only find a halfway competent opposition, the very populist forces they have exploited and misled so grievously would turn on them. The fear in their eyes shows that they know it.

The English and Welsh vote to leave the EU, and its opposite in Scotland and Northern Ireland, spells the end of the UK. We should accept this with grace and goodwill. Since Scotland’s independence is now inevitable, it would be better for Britain immediately to negotiate an amicable departure. Not only might this allow Scotland to retain its current EU membership, it would also encourage Scotland to reach a favourable agreement on the retention of British armed forces in Scotland, including nuclear arms, as part of the Nato alliance. The inevitable corollary of Scotland’s departure is the unification of Ireland. This would provide continued EU membership for a people who voted in favour of it. Those wishing to retain British citizenship would be welcome in England and Wales. To act now during Britain’s secession from the EU would spare us all unnecessary pain later on.
David Hughes
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

  • So a surprise for most people, including a lot who voted leave. But thanks to the journalists at the Guardian who wrote eloquently about being undecided in the referendum, and intelligent arguments for leaving, as well as for remaining…. a very complex, multilayered vote for many people. A prediction: a referendum in Scotland in 2017 with a vote in favour of independence and remaining in Europe, precipitating another referendum in England on the EU, with a remain vote. The conclusion of three years of democratic revolution: an independent Scotland.
    John Barrett
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  • Clyde Duncan  On June 27, 2016 at 3:25 am

    Donald Trump a bigger worry than BREXIT, but before that bogeyman rises …

    by Michael Pascoe – Sydney Morning Herald

    By the very nature of BREXIT and the uncertainty about what happens next, interest in it will be fanned at least until the greater threat of the USA presidential election takes over. That’s a bigger worry to plug into if the run of unexpected results continues.

    For the rest of the world, the biggest fears about BREXIT are what further countries’ exits it might spark. Those fears may not come to pass. The election of Donald Trump as USA president would scare markets vastly more than BREXIT because such an event would be so negative in its own right.

    It’s one thing for the UK to seek a diminished role, it would be quite another altogether for the world’s greatest power to elect a sectarian bully who promises a trade war, among other things.

    The hope that most Americans are not dangerously ignorant people and that they will bother to vote against Trump should sustain us. Trump being elected President of the United States of America must remain unlikely – but so were BREXIT and Trump winning the Republican nomination.

    While waiting for fear-of-the-Donald to grab top spot on the markets’ list of things to worry about, hopefully traders will realise the British vote actually doesn’t mean the sky is falling, a little stability will return to markets and the world will let the British get on with sorting out the mess they’ve got themselves into.

    But before we lose interest in Littler Britain, I’d like to add three points to previous comments.

    First, perhaps the biggest loser from Britain leaving the European Union will be the EU. It will miss the power of the UK to balance the German and French influence, and particularly Britain’s greater faith in market mechanisms to try to counter the worst of Brussels’ bureaucrats. Europe will end up the poorer for not having the influence of those whinging Poms. – [for those who don’t know what “whinging Poms” mean, it’s “limey” by another name.-clyde].

    Second, the EU’s immediate reaction is one of understandable annoyance. The optimists think the divorce will be amicable; the EU has signalled it won’t be. And with good reason: the EU needs Britain to suffer as a warning to others thinking about leaving.

    And whatever pain Britain suffers, it will become worse when BREXIT core supporters – the old, the poor and the less educated, the tabloid readers – find out their vote won’t make them better off, that Boris Johnson really can’t make their lives better by waving a Union Jack over them. Disappointed populist movements are not nice things.

    Third – and this matters more for the rest of the world – is the lesson to be learned that it is dangerous to allow the populist ratbags in politics and media to equate globalisation with increasing inequality.

    Broadly speaking, the rich, especially the obscenely rich, have been getting richer while the middle class has not. But that’s not because people in China and Mexico have suddenly stolen the well-paid jobs, as Donald Trump would have Americans believe, as do local protectionists espouse. Technology is the great employment disrupter of our times, rather than outsourcing.

    The jobs that have gone to developing nations help develop them, create further jobs there, creating middle classes, more global customers, more entrepreneurs, inventors and contributors towards a better, more stable, world.

    The rise of developed nations’ inequality has come about because governments have allowed it, have fostered it. You don’t have to be a devotee of French economist Thomas Piketty to acknowledge the rich having greater influence over the institutions of government and influencing those institutions to their own benefit. In particular, the great benefits accruing to land owners compared with the rest have poignancy here.

    No, trickle-down economics has not been working in the developed world – the money has gushed upwards instead. Local economists Paul Frijters of the University of Queensland and Gigi Foster of the University of NSW have interestingly posited that it’s mainly political favour rather than skill and work that make most of the rich richer.

    The challenge for governments more generally is to deal with the causes of that inequality and the tension it in turn causes, to be prepared to challenge the most powerful and best connected, the people with the money to pay the lobbyists, mount the campaigns, hire the cheer squad commentators.

    It’s easier to scapegoat foreigners than to explain domestic policy failure and deal with it. But the eventual price of the easy option generally works out being higher.

    P.S. Fund manager Mike Mangan has reminded those receiving his newsletter of two great quotes pertaining to England and Europe, the first from George Orwell in his 1941 England Your England:

    “The famous ‘insularity’ and ‘xenophobia’ of the English is far stronger in the working class than in the bourgeoisie … Nearly every Englishman of working-class origin considers it effeminate to pronounce a foreign word correctly. During the war of 1914-18, the English working class were in contact with foreigners to an extent that is rarely possible. The sole result was that they brought back a hatred of all Europeans, except the Germans, whose courage they admired. In four years on French soil they did not even acquire a liking for wine.”

    The second is from that incomparable commentator, Sir Humphrey Appleby, in 1980:

    “Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years. To create a disunited Europe … We have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish. With the Germans against the French. With the French and Italians against the Germans. And with the French against the Germans and the Italians. Divide and rule you see … We had to break the whole thing up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside we can make a complete pigs breakfast of the whole thing … The Foreign Office is terribly pleased. It’s just like old times.”

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 27, 2016 at 3:36 am

    Yes Minister: Why the UK Joined the EU – Diplomacy

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 27, 2016 at 4:02 am

    Xenophobia won it for BREXIT. As an American facing the reality of Donald Trump, that terrifies me …..

    At least for now, Britain is my home. I care about this country, and it’s devastating to see it pummelled with such turmoil. This could have been avoided – and in the USA, it still can be

    Lauren Puckett – Independent UK

    Well, the unthinkable happened. After a remarkably divisive campaign, Leave pulled out ahead of Remain during the June 23rd referendum, clinching a victory for BREXIT. Bye Bye, EU. Britain doesn’t want its mother hen anymore.

    Shortly afterward, David Cameron resigned as PM, the pound plummeted, Scotland announced a second independence referendum, social media exploded and in general all hell broke loose.

    What a time to be an American living in London.

    I could try the easy route: detach from the drama. Just sit back and enjoy the show. Forget that the repercussions of BREXIT will send shockwaves across the entire world, rattling the economy and making the immigration debate an even dodgier tripwire than it is already. I’m an American. All I should be worried about is where I’ll be purchasing sandwiches for my 4th of July picnic, right?

    UNFORTUNATELY, it isn’t that simple.

    Widespread shock fell over Britain like a fog when the results were announced. Sentiments echoed throughout the office, the newsroom, the tube: “I really didn’t think this would happen”, “I just can’t believe it’s real”, “This is going to change everything”. Of course, this is supplemented with jokes (or real threats, who knows?) about moving to Canada, France, Scotland, Australia, and so on. But underlying all this chatter is a real sense that something has shattered in Britain. Something has broken.

    Just look at the faces of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove as they “celebrated” the Leave campaign’s victory Friday morning. They looked solemn; chastised; a bit like children shuffling away from the “time out” zone. Sure, there are many happy people who backed the Leave campaign – but even they can’t deny the way Britain feels like it’s cracked in two.

    I’ve been desperately digging for silver linings since the BREXIT announcement. As the eternal optimist in my family, that’s my role. But all I can come up with is this: America, YOU BETTER BE PAYING ATTENTION.

    There’s a lot the USA can learn from this referendum. The USA is facing its own political turmoil at the moment, as Clinton and Trump sprint for the presidential finish line, running on campaigns more different than night and day. And the electorate is facing many of the same questions Britain debated throughout the BREXIT process: How do we address immigration? How much control should the government (or any other entity) have over our finances? How can we protect ourselves from terrorism? How are workers’ rights guaranteed? Women’s rights? The rights of marginalised communities? How can we protect our economy, our currency? What do the experts say? How do we make Britain/America great again?

    It feels almost conspiratorial that, on the morning of the BREXIT announcement, Donald Trump landed in Scotland. He was one of the only American leaders to back the BREXIT campaign (that should tell you something), and his arrival in the UK on Friday is too perfect. I’d laugh if it didn’t terrify me. Because for months, both Democrats and Republicans have been saying Trump’s campaign would never make it as far as it has. He could never get a following based on a message of isolationism, scare-mongering, extreme nationalism, xenophobia, racism – the works. Surely the American people – surely the Republicans, of which there are many rational and kind-hearted voters – would never let that happen.


    And still I hear: “There’s no way he’ll get the White House. Trump just isn’t presidential.” Both Trump and Clinton have the worst favourable ratings of any nominee in decades, and yet they somehow became our candidates. It isn’t a far cry from what happened here in Britain: every major expert, from the Governor of the Bank of England to Stephen Hawking, thought Remain was the best decision, but? No dice. We still got BREXIT.

    So, America, I AM HERE TO TELL YOU. The unexpected can happen. Watch what’s occurring across the ocean, because if you aren’t careful, you might be looking into a crystal ball.

    It’s now clearer than ever that Americans need to stand up against Trump if they have any hope of avoiding an aftershock like the one following BREXIT. That means more young people need to vote; a YouGov poll says the majority of young voters in Britain backed Remain, but not enough of them turned up to the ballot box. That means minorities need to keep on getting their voice out there. That means doing exactly what Bernie Sanders did on Friday: giving all we can to the best option we have (in Sanders’ case, endorsing Hillary Clinton).

    And – perhaps this is the hardest part – it means getting people to listen. It means sitting down with people who disagree with you and talking this through with them. Show them the evidence. Show them why Trump is the wrong choice – morally, ethically, politically, economically. It’s amazing how that worked with some people in Britain; I read a report earlier of a young man who swayed his father’s vote over to Remain at the last minute. It can happen. But it takes communication.

    At least for now, Britain is my home. I care about this country, and it’s devastating to see it pummelled with such turmoil. This could have been avoided – and, hopefully, it will be in the future. Britain will brave the storm.

    But America still has an election ahead. If it wants to avoid a victory from BREXIT-like politics, it better keep its eyes wide open.

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 30, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    Huge Spike in Hate Crimes In Britain After “BREXIT” Shows What A Trump Presidency Would Bring Us

    by Dartagnan – Daily Kos

    From ThinkProgress, Time Magazine, and USA Today, welcome to the post-BREXIT Britain:

    There has been a significant rise in hate crimes since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union last week, according to local media — which is probably not a surprise given the blatantly xenophobic campaigning of Leave supporters.

    The Independent reported Tuesday that there have already been over 100 incidents of racial abuse and hate crimes since the U.K. voted to leave the union last Thursday. A Facebook album called “Worrying Signs” has compiled reports of the incidents throughout the country — from personal threats and attacks to vandalism at cultural centres. Polish and Muslim communities in particular have faced the brunt of many of these attacks, but it’s certainly spread beyond that as well.

    Britain has seen a 57% rise in hate crimes since last week when a majority of its voting-age citizens, encouraged by cynical politicians spewing anti-immigrant rhetoric, voted to leave the EU. The hate has emerged not only through vandalism at the homes of immigrants and people of colour but by personal threats and violence, ranging from verbal assaults to anonymous notes left at schools:

    In just one of the hundreds of incidents now being reported, little cards were left at homes and a school in Cambridgeshire, reading “Leave the E.U. No more Polish vermin.”

    The rise in racist attacks appears to be pegged to the belief that migrants will have to leave the U.K. following the referendum — in which the Leave campaign vowed to “take back control” of immigration.

    If that sounds familiar, it should. This is what happens when a so-called “economic populist” movement using race as a scapegoat motivates people to try to change governments.

    Substitute “Latino or Hispanic,” “African-American” or “Jewish” for “Polish” “Pakistani” or “Romanian” and you will get a good picture of what will happen to this country if a candidate whose entire campaign has relied on stoking racial resentment is allowed to ascend to power. It doesn’t matter what “disclaimers” are put out afterwards. It doesn’t matter what the candidate does or does not say once he’s elected. All that matters is that his followers feel vindicated, with all the reasons for their simmering hatred receiving a tacit seal of approval by the public at large:

    On Tuesday, a group of men in Manchester shouted racist slurs at another passenger on the tram and told him to “get deported.” One of the men shouted “Get off the tram right now, bro I will waste you… Don’t chat shit when you’re not even from England!” before throwing a drink on the passenger.

    Even as Donald Trump pivots to a phony embrace of trade protectionism in order to woo working-class white American males who’ve been dealt a raw deal in this economy, the high point in his rallies (and we will see many more of them over the summer) continues to be a feverish chant by his supporters to “Build That Wall.” His rallies prominently feature people who claim to have been victimized by undocumented immigrants. He supports banning Muslims from even entering our country. Anti-Black and Anti-Semitic skinheads have flocked to him. There is no doubt in his followers’ minds who the enemy really is, and it has nothing to do with Tariffs, Trade or China.

    In Britain the “Leave” movement is finding out that all of the soaring rhetoric they heard about the benefits they would enjoy for leaving the European Union has proved to be nothing more than the hollow bleatings of cynical politicians more interested in their own temporary elevation to star status than actually solving any of that nation’s economic troubles:

    The spike in crimes is no surprise given that Leave supporters often made their case through xenophobic and racist language, rather than serious conversations about the economy or the refugee crisis facing Europe, two issues of concern to many U.K. citizens and residents. As the U.K. economy continues to suffer from the vote to leave the union, and Leave supporters walk back many of their promises about how leaving the E.U. is good for the British economy, it’s clear that sadly, the xenophobic rhetoric is all that has remained.

    In the U.S.A. we have an equally irresponsible candidate unwilling to engage on critical issues facing the American public in anything but bombastic, inflammatory rhetoric better suited to the lowest echelons of AM talk radio. Rather than commit himself to any intelligent course of action this candidate prefers to communicate to his adoring crowds by selling them on xenophobic, racially-charged fantasies, promising them a different country if they will only vote him into power.

    But those fantasies don’t magically disappear when the candidate is elected. They become the ugly stuff of what we’re witnessing now in Britain.

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