Nick Cohen

Brexit: the-stab-in-the-back myth is coming

Brexit: the-stab-in-the-back myth is coming
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I don’t know if 'Leave' supporters will win. With the young abstaining and the old voting in a low-turnout referendum, it is just about possible that they could. But it is already dismally clear how they will react if they lose: they won’t accept the result.

Nigel Farage was proud to admit that he would be a bad loser. 'In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way,' he told the Mirror. 'If the Remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.'

The old-fashioned among you might have thought that in any electoral contest the side with the most votes wins. How out of touch you fuddy-duddies are.  It is not enough to win a majority of the vote anymore. To win pro-Europeans must secure two-thirds of the vote before they can rightfully claim victory.  I would love to see this notion extended. Would Farage say that we have only truly voted to leave the EU if Brexit wins by two-thirds to one-third? Does the same apply in sport? Will we hear Robbie Savage announce that although Leicester City won, they did not get two thirds of the goals, so the win doesn’t count?

Admittedly, many democratic states require constitutional changes to be approved by two-third majorities. Article 5 of the US Constitution, for instance, requires two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-quarters of all states to endorse a change. But in America, as elsewhere, the proposers of changing the status quo must secure two-thirds of the vote. As we are in the EU, the international example suggest that the Leave campaign should secure two-thirds of the vote before the status quo changes.

As it is, David Cameron has decided that a majority of one will be enough to take us out. Far from being grateful, the Brexiters are filled with spite.  Nigel Farage echoed the off-the-record views of Tory MPs when he continued

If we were to lose narrowly, there'd be a large section, particularly in the Conservative Party, who'd feel the prime minister is not playing fair, that the Remain side is using way more money than the Leave side and there would be a resentment that would build up if that was to be the result.

In other words, the stab-in-the-back theory is back from the dead, and finding a new lease of life in the columns of the right-wing press. General Ludendorff developed the original betrayal myth. The Allies had broken the German Army on the Western Front. The Kaiser’s empire had collapsed, and revolution was breaking out across Germany. But Ludendorff could not accept that Germany had been defeated.  In February 1919, he declared

The political leadership disarmed the unconquered army and delivered over Germany to the destructive will of the enemy in order that it might carry through the revolution in Germany unhindered.  That was the climax in the betrayal of the German people.

It was not just a lie but a self-serving lie. Ludendorff was freeing the army from responsibility for defeat in war and covering up his own failures in generalship. He lacked the integrity to admit his failures.

You can see the same cowardice on the British right. The politicians who are keenest on telling the masses to accept responsibility and stand on their own two feet, are hopeless at accepting responsibility for their own political failures.  Hence the Daily Telegraph reported yesterday

Backbenchers furious at the way Mr Cameron and his allies have conducted the referendum campaign are considering calling for him to go, even if he wins the June 23 vote by a significant margin. They believe that the campaign 'has not been a fair fight' and will 'show Cameron that it will not be forgotten by the Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party', a source said.

The danger when listening to them is to mistake the wood for the trees – and indeed the trees for leaves.  To get into the minutiae for a moment, right-wing Conservatives complain about the government sending a leaflet to all homes expounding government policy. I suppose they have a small point but none of them has the sportsmanship to accept Cameron made the huge concession of breaking collective responsibility and allowing ministers to campaign against their own government’s policy.

They cannot give credit to Cameron because they regard all opposition as illegitimate. And this is the wider point, which should concern everyone who thinks that Gove or Johnson could be leading our country soon. All who cross them, whether it is the CBI, TUC, Obama, governor of the Bank of England, IMF or OECD, must be lying and corrupt. In an echo of Marxists of the 20


century, they will never admit that an opponent is arguing in good faith.

The referendum is exposing to the public gaze an enclosed world on the right of politics – and it is an ugly sight. People who read the same newspapers and attend the same meetings suddenly have to explain views and prejudices they have taken for granted to outsiders, and they cannot manage it.

If you think of them as cultists forced out of the safety of the sect into a country they barely understand, you will understand why the 'Leave' gang has such trouble in answering the most basic of questions. They cannot  do it because no one asked basic questions in their right-little, tight-little world. To be a part of the club, you had to be against the EU. It was beyond debate.

Thus within the space of a couple of months Boris Johnson went from saying we would have two referendums, to just one referendum; to saying we would be like Norway and then Switzerland and then Canada then Albania. They have had years to prepare answers to the obvious 'What do we do next?' question but never put in the work. I suspect because at some level they knew that none of the answers were good.

Rather than debate honourably, they have preferred to damn all who opposed or merely questioned them as heretics or infidels led astray by evil motives. Naturally, such people won’t uphold the rather fine British virtue of shaking hands when the match is over and taking the result in good grace. Instead, they will claim to act on behalf of the British people, while refusing to accept the will of the British people.