Brendan O’Neill

Every pro-EU argument boils down to not being able to trust the ‘plebs’

Every pro-EU argument boils down to not being able to trust the 'plebs'
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We all know that the Remain camp has peddled the politics of fear. But what is the object of their fear? What’s the thing that makes them so scared, so convinced that a litany of social and political horrors will befall Blighty if we pull out of Brussels?

It’s you, and me; all ordinary people. It’s the public. It’s our unpredictable passions. When the pro-EU lobby frets about a post-EU Britain having Boris as a PM, becoming a right-wing cesspool, getting rid of workers’ rights, becoming less eco-friendly, and / or becoming vulnerable to neo-fascistic forces, what they’re saying is: ‘You can’t trust the public. You can’t leave politics to ordinary people alone. Some politics must be done in the cooler forum of the EU.’ For them, the EU is a bulwark against the blob, tamer of the throng, mercifully keeping in check our extremism.

Whichever way you slice it, every panicked declaration of the Remain lot comes down to saying, ‘Who knows what the mob will get up to once they’re freed from the rights-protecting, environment-respecting directives of the EU?’ And the closer the referendum gets, the clearer this disdain for the demos is becoming.

Some Remainers now openly say the referendum is a terrible idea because voters are fundamentally stupid. Former comedian turned Observer columnist David Mitchell (like Samson when he had his hair cut, every comic who becomes a broadsheet regular loses his funniness) thinks this referendum is ‘the worst thing Cameron has done to Britain’; it’s a ‘crime’, in fact. Why? Because ‘the issues… are complicated’ and it’s mad to make them the subject of a ‘random vote’ after ‘a frenzied few months’ of discussion. We’re ‘flattering the public’s estimation of its collective wisdom’, he says, when we should simply welcome ‘the intercession of a greater power: not God, but government’. In short, don’t leave big decisions to the unwise and frenzied; get cool, knowledgable heads to make the call.

Likewise, Richard Dawkins thinks we’re too dumb for politics on this scale. The EU ‘is a complicated matter of economics, politics, history’, he says, so it’s ‘an outrage that people as ignorant as me are being asked to vote’. Don’t be fooled by his false intellectual modesty: if you believe Dawkins thinks himself ignorant, you’ll believe anything. This is just something those freaked out by the demos do: include themselves among ‘the ignorant’ to take the sting off the fact that they’re calling us ignorant. Dawkins thinks politics is too complicated, not for his large, scientific mind, but for our tiny minds.

Then there’s all the fear of what will happen if we Brexit. Paul Mason, self-styled man of the people who doesn't actually seem very fond of the people, is concerned about the plebs. Much opposition to the EU is really ‘plebeian opposition to migration and multiculturalism’, he says. We should be worried about the bitterness and nastiness of the ‘plebeian end of the Leave campaign’. Shorter version: bloody plebs.

Every argument of the Remain camp boils down to: we need something, some power, to stymie the plebs. Some leftists say the EU acts as a check on the Tories. Leaving the EU would give the Tories ‘free rein’ to unravel the protections ‘that EU membership offers us’, says a Guardian columnist. This is a profoundly undemocratic argument. It says the stupid little people voted for a bad party, and therefore we need faraway experts to limit the remit of those stupid little people and their preferred party.

Or look at the radical leftists, including Yanis Varoufakis, who are traipsing around Britain pleading with people to vote Remain. (There isn’t enough bemusement at the fact that Varoufakis is agitating for a Remain vote. The EU treated his country, and him, like crap, and now he’s fighting to preserve it. It’s positively masochistic.) These radicals present us with a list of terrible things that will unfold if we leave the EU — bad politicians will come to power, the far right will rise across Europe, etc — every single one of which is really an expression of fear of what ordinary people will do, and what they’ll support, if left to their own, EU-unchecked devices. Like medieval priests panicked about the debauched ways of their flocks, these radicals fear what we believe and what we want to do, and they see the EU as a much-needed lid on our madnesses. They aren’t radical at all — they’re profoundly conservative, fighting to conserve the political order, preferring it to the people.

For centuries, elitists have feared the feelings of the blob. Today that elitism can be found among supporters of the EU. What motivates them is not a positive vision of a new Europe, but a deep fear at what Europe could become if ordinary people, ‘the plebeian end’ of society, had their way.

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