Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Cameron and Osborne have treated voters with contempt

I'm a skeptic. I like to question everything and for those of you I debate with on social media, you know I can be an argumentative sod at times too. That said, I'm not a cynic. My entire political philosophy is more or less underpinned by the belief that if you take the six billion people in the world and round off the bastards, you're left with six billion. I honestly believe that the overwhelming majority of people are good, honest and decent and want the best for themselves and everyone else. I also believe that if you give people the means to do so, they will try to accomplish exactly that, and look to help those less fortunate than themselves whilst they're at it. This is precisely why I am a small government guy, I have too much faith in humanity to be a socialist. This, perhaps rosy eyed, view of the world even extends to MPs, from those wearing green rosettes to those wearing purple. They may disagree wildly on how to get there, but everyone agrees the destination is the same: peace and prosperity for everyone. And do you know what, I believe the same is true of David Cameron and George Osborne. I do not doubt that they genuinely believe that staying in the EU is in the UK's best interests. But the way they have gone about making their case has shown nothing but contempt for the electorate.

This was evidenced on the special edition of Question Time on Sunday night in which the Prime Minister was subjected to questions from the public. One audience member, when dealing with the issue of Cameron's renegotiation, likened him to Neville Chamberlain waving a piece of paper declaring 'peace for our time' less than twelve months before we declared war on Hitler's Germany. Admittedly, I had low expectations of Cameron's renegotiation, and I fully expected what little reform he did achieve would be dressed up as a much bigger win than it was. That said, I was still amazed, not just at how little reform was achieved, but by how little Cameron was asking for in the first place. The fact that he had to compromise on even that speaks volumes about the EU's aversion to reform, even when faced with the exit of one of it's most important members. But, just like Neville Chamberlain, Cameron returned with these reforms and proclaimed them as a successful renegotiation, albeit, tellingly, without as much fanfare as I was expecting. His claims of a 'special status' because of a few tweaks to migrant welfare is laughable. But by claiming that these reforms are legally binding, he has told a flat out lie. Not just to the electorate, but to parliament as well. And this contempt for voters manifested itself when confronted with the Neville Chamberlain jibe during Question Time. The usually statesman like Cameron got angry and confrontational. He knew he had been rumbled. When Cameron asserted that his reforms, such that they are, were guaranteed (though interestingly he did not use the term 'legally binding') because the other leaders had agreed to them, he was, rightly, openly heckled and laughed at.

But this contempt is not just the purview of our Prime Minister. George Osborne last week threatened voters with an emergency budget in the event of a Leave vote. The chancellor said that a vote to leave would mean a hike in taxes, cuts to NHS spending, the removal of the triple lock on pensions, and a host of other measures. Never mind the fact that over 50 Tory MPs have said that they would block such a measure, it would be completely unnecessary. As I've mentioned many times, the only feasible route out of the EU is via the EEA, aka, the Norway option. Adopting that as an interim measure, not only gives us a stable platform from which to gradually unpick 40 plus years of political integration (remember, Brexit is a process, not an event), but also maintains full access to the single market meaning that, bar some short term instability in the currency markets (which are rarely stable anyway), leaving the EU will be an economically neutral exercise. Even were that not the case, the worst case scenario predicted by the IMF is an incredibly shallow recession of 0.8%, and thus the scale of austerity Osborne claims he would implement is ludicrously unnecessary and economically illiterate. Furthermore, if there is a leave vote on Thursday, absolutely nothing changes. We don't suddenly exit the EU on Friday morning. Life will go on exactly the same, and even if Cameron was crazy enough to execute Article 50 at that time, there is still the two year exit negotiation period to navigate, in which we would still be members of the EU. This means that there is absolutely no need for an 'emergency budget'. I assume Osborne knows all this - and if he doesn't we're in deeper trouble than anyone suspects - so the sole exercise of this intervention can only be to frighten the public into voting the way he wants them to.

Much of the uncertainty in the markets, and indeed the electorate, around the economic question of our leaving the EU has not been a result of the prospect of Brexit itself, but from the claims of economic armageddon from the remain side. Had Cameron and Osborne prioritised their roles in the two highest offices of state above that of their roles as campaigners, they would have sought to reassure both the markets and the electorate that they would seek to maintain access to the single market and the most favourable trade deal possible in the event of a Leave vote and mitigate as far as possible any negative economic consequences. Instead they have sought to hugely exaggerate the economic implications of leaving the EU - Osborne's treasury analysis is a deceptive work of economics on a gargantuan scale - in order to frighten people into voting the way they deem best.

What is heartening though, is that voters have paid no attention to Cameron's claims of economic meltdown, special status in a reformed EU or world war three. Nor have they heeded Osborne's threats of punitive fiscal policies. The electorate have listened to these propositions, examined them, and rightly found to be lacking any substance whatsoever. Similarly, in the name of balance, they are well aware that the £350 million a week Vote Leave claim we pay to the EU, is a gross figure and thus not entirely accurate. Nor are they the xenophobes and bigots some would paint them as. Whilst they worry about the pressure on public services that mass migration entails, they know that on balance, immigration is a huge force for good and are roundly appalled by the likes of Farage's 'Breaking Point' poster. The reaction of the British electorate to the ludicrous claims on both sides of the debate has been the sole shining light in the whole affair, and is precisely why I am entirely comfortable in voting to leave the EU, and trusting them to elect our law makers. I only wish that our political leaders had shown them the same faith.

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