BRITAIN - SEE THYSELF: A WORD BEFORE THURSDAY
"Enoch was right"
Even a stopped clock etc.
This is all good but skip to 37 minutes.
Was I really so foolish to expect this kind of standard of debate in the hastily called EU Referendum? Perhaps so, but perhaps I was just foolish for watching this clip in the first place, especially way back in January, when I was (seems insane to recall such daffy hope) actually looking forward to the referendum campaign, not knowing then exactly how cretinous and contemptuous the campaign would get, thinking it might be bad for the Tories when in actual fact it's been bad for both parties (or rather all 4 parties i.e the two Tory and two Labour parties we have now), and us as the electorate. Politicians would be better judged by actions than rhetoric but when did rhetoric get soooo dumb? It's been a nigh-on 40 year process now & I'd say the biggest moves towards the current glossolalia of guff our great and good generate began in the 80s when Thatcher's govt and Murdoch's media made sure a mutually-assured destruction of nuance and a rush to the bottom of stout commonsense was in order. Any obsessive viewer of BBC Parliament's election-night repeats from every election 60-82 (c'mon I KNOW I'm not the only one) could see that weirdly, once upon a daydream when we had iron and steel and coal, politicians weren't trained to habitually talk down to people, dumb everything down to soundbite brevity and emptiness. Watching footage of the 75 campaign what strikes you isn't just the uncanny similarity of arguments but the different-league eloquence of politicians, the lack of intellectual fear, the collosal regression in oratory since then. Of course spin and lies have always been an essential of political discourse but since when did elegance, clarity, concision and incisiveness have to be written out of rhetorical stances and public debate? This is the full Oxford Union debate from 1975, with just a few days left until the vote. Peter Shore, Jeremy Thorpe, Barbara Castle, Ted Heath, FEEL. THE. HEAT.
A withering condemnation of our current political realities that the above 41 year old vid is by far and away the best EU debate I've seen in 2016. Although I admit I'm perhaps indulging in the same kind of cultural nostalgia for a lost epoch that fires the 'kippers I ask you to note that nothing that is said by anyone in this video could not be immediately understood. This isn't about obfuscation. It is clear and direct talk, intended to be heard beyond the debating chamber but not feeling the immediate need to get out the crayons and the fuzzy felt in awareness of that wider audience. It also demonstrates an innate respect between its combatants - what the debate reveals, in marked contrast to much of the debate in this year's referendum. is that impossibly, back then, politicians didn't think of the electorate as needing slow-talk and head-pats and simpleton sloganeering. All year the seriousness of the referendum, this crossroads moment, has been emphasised by both sides. Yet the way both sides have conducted their campaigns has been clownish, not worthy of us or the supposed immensity of the decision, always emphatic about the 'power' that has been put in our hands while treating the public as nothing more than docile cattle, easily mollified by bullshit promises, easily panniced by scarifying warnings.
I kept waiting for personality to disappear from the debate instead of steadily impose itself. I kept waiting for prognosticating claims and their counter-claims to quieten down so we could get to the nub of the debate - what power means and with who it lies and how the EU affects it. This never happened. At all times the pressure of the debate was towards discussing short-term economic and political realities. At no point was discussion allowed to become conceptual or principled - rather what was emphasised was the NOW-ness of the debate, how it must be in response purely to current events. The issue of sovereignty, which is the issue I was most interested in hearing about, received pitiful lipservice from Brexiteers with vague talk about 'taking control back', nearly always combined with anti-immigrant rhetoric as ever in response to current 'crises', not as an impassioned statement of political principle. The limpness of the way the Leave campaign actually talked about the constitutional realities of sovereignty suggested to me they'd worked fuck all out and would be happy post-Brexit to see the UK further surrender what meagre sovereignty it has left to business and asset-strippers. As a lover of parliament, as someone who prefers my democracy in its most direct and closest form, I also searched in vain for a single remain-camper who could explain to me how any of their listed great-things-about-the-EU could not be achieved by us on our tod. Always the talk was of the present government, not possible future governments, and I found myself getting nauseated by the idea that this vote is basically about what kind of fucking Tory party I want.
Everyone in the debate has claimed a monopoly on facts about the future, 'facts' that (like possibilities about the past) simply weren't logically sound or even factual. Both sides screamed about risk, while never actually crediting the public with the ability to cope with the concept of risk, and how crucial it should be in such a vote. That tone of endless condescension was also the hallmark of the well-meaning liberal left Remain case throughout the campaign. Much talk about how many people shouldn't be ALLOWED to vote (the old, those resistant to immigration, basically those who think differently from a vaguely internationalist/liberal-capitalist standpoint), about how lovely lovely pluralist righteous London should secede from the UK, long lectures about business and economics (none of which left me thinking anything but that I'd be fucked either way) from the IMF and the CBI and other assorted cabals. Even suggesting on social media that the EU had plenty to not be proud of, in the treatment of Greece and others, the two-tier discimination against non-EU migrants, in the sham(e) of the Turkey deal that basically leaves the legal door open to mass-deportations and dehumanisation, led to accusations that I was a freedom-hater, a racist. a Tory, a bigot, someone who wanted to destroy people's lives - always with the assertion, 'why would you want to take away my freedom to travel around Europe?' Not a single Remainer seemed even dimly aware of how their assertions of that freedom might sound to anyone who couldn't even dream of affording travel to a different city let alone a different country, how their positing of a beautiful beckoning Europa where the young and sexy and creative could travel to any point on the Gare De Nord destinations board might actually sound to those of us daily scraping up pennies for bus-fares to another 12 hours of wage-slavery every day. If there was one thing you weren't allowed to be, without being condemned by both sides, it was 'undecided'. If you were undecided, with Remaincamp looking more and more hysterical/scaremongering to Brexiteers and Brexiteers looking more and more deluded/xenophobic to Remain-campers, inbetween them you felt well within your rights to stick your fingers in your ears and plan on staying in and washing your hair on the 23rd, the lookout for the future reduced for a while to the brute realities of a Brexit accompanied either by a swing right by the Tories, or the rise of UKIP, perhaps with a new name, as a national force for social conservatism a la Front National, pulling working class Labour voters away from Labour until Labour dies roundabout 2021 after an even more devastating election. Whichever way I looked, the referendum increasingly insisted that the future, no matter the outcome, would be horrible. Two Labour parties. Two Tory parties. An entirely depressing notion of ourselves as incapable of sustaining peace, rights, freedoms, without the comforting headlock of the EU. The remain picture would've still not have convinced me, would have had me merely spoiling my ballot or not voting if the Leave campaign hadn't been swimming on such an ever-darkening plateau of ordure. Lead, whether the Leave campaign wanted it or not, by this 'legend', one of the most duplicitous, mendacious shitbags in British politics. His utter cuntishness, even more than Farage, will force my hand in the booth tomorrow. The public love him. Britain see thyself.
Of course, even back in March I expected the likes of Johnson, IDS, Gove, Farage, to quickly start snarling about immigration control, bitch about the free movement of cheap labour that has benefitted so many of them in their 'other' jobs. A more loathsome pack of populist rats would be difficult to conceive, even if one of the earliest and most persuasive statements about Brexit was actually from Gove (like most persuasive Brexit cases, a positive statement of confidence rather than a negative statement of fear and hatred). Though the left-wing case was barely stated I found myself cocking an ear towards the likes of Frank "The Undertaker" Field and his gloomy predictions about Labour failing to connect with the working class, I went and saw speeches by Dave Nellist and TUSC in Coventry which persuaded me way more than Labour leavers. Though doomsayers like Field and Cruddas have a vague point about Labour divorcing itself from its core electorate I still smell rats, see without a doubt a desire to simplify and generalise about working-class responses to immigration that simply doesn't marry with my observations at the frontline that most of us are at. In my experience real racism towards immigrants comes almost universally from those classes who don't actually live next-door to immigrants, the middle-class who don't like the idea of those inner-city neighbourhoods where immigrants are placed percolating into their own leafy suburbs. I read with interest about groups of builders busy unionising arriving construction workers in order to combat their poor treatment and wondered whether EU migration policy was just another step in dehumanising labour, another brutal equation of people with capital. As the campaign progressed however it was the unremitting nature of the talk about immigration, Farage in particular endlessly dragging things back to it, that persuaded me Remain would have to be how I voted. People will keep drowning, children will keep starving in inhumane conditions as the EU make shady deals and avert their eyes and yet I will still have to vote Remain. I am not a success for the Remain campaign. I am the failing of the Leave campaign, a campaign so squalid, so wretchedly small-minded and divisive it has me voting for an institution I don't trust, for a relationship I see as helpful and empowering only to the already powerful. A vote utterly without joy.
Without joy, with a slight sulkiness that I've been forced to vote Remain because of who I'd stand with if I didn't. A sulkiness that the Leave campaign was so comprehensively hijacked by Little-Englander racist fucknuckles like Farage. A sulkiness that Europe, and being a European, as I proudly am, had become over the course of the campaign entirely equated with the EU, with supporting all those unelected rich white men who control it. A sulkiness that even though I consider the EU a non-progressive shoring up of the same old interests in the same old hands, I simply can't vote to leave when contemporary political realities make such a choice stomach-turning and repellent. Eventually your gut has to kick in, no matter what your heart says. I cannot vote for anything that even remotely would make Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Britain First, BNP, UKIP, the Tory right, happy. It's a shitty reason to vote the way I'm going to vote, but the campaign has broken me, has thrown my pretensions to making an intellectual choice on the bonfire of its lividity, its witless monotony and cant, a campaign that has reduced this vote to the pitiful status of another general election, where like any member of a minority has always done, I vote not from hope but purely tactically, purely from fear. And I vote knowing that we have all learned a bit more about ourselves this year. We are nationally proud of our belligerence, doubtful of doubt, sure that we can quickly, easily learn everything and know the facts, hungry for prevarication so long as it shores up our opinions. We are torn apart, perhaps fatally. We are deaf as a post, perhaps terminally. Britain see thyself.