The fools, the fools, the fools!
Michael Gove’s vision of an Albanian future for Britain outside the EU was described in a tweet by Jacob Rees-Mogg as “eloquent”. Hardly in the category of Patrick Pearse’s graveside oration, but a good enough indicator that this battle will be fought not on Gradgrindian facts or the economy, but on the far more dangerous territory of emotional fears and concerns. So an idea so daft that only a Blackadder scriptwriter would be equipped to find a suitable description has, because of primal xenophobia, a material (if as I hope still remote) chance of throwing this country into the wilderness that (a large part of) Ireland chose a century ago, and from which it has never emerged. And against it the (not quite so large part of the) Government of this country has sought to counter this vision with Osborne’s own dodgy dossier, in which the spurious algebra is no more convincing than Euler’s humiliation of Diderot over another rather tricky issue.
Everyone here is looking foolish, most especially David Cameron for miscalculating the UKIP risk and calling for the referendum at all. There are good reasons why our form of democracy does not often resort to this device: Boaty McBoatface tells you why. (For a more serious demonstration, look at the ballot paper for the London mayoral election: what choice do voters really have if you don’t think bicycles are safe or that public money should be wasted on garden bridges?)
Cameron’s second blunder was in allowing his MPs to make individual decisions. It may have been an inevitable consequence of his first, but for me the astonishing thing is the number of Tories who have allowed ideology to triumph over common sense. And it is that chilling prospect (and the no more enticing one offered by the loony left opposition) which is the real reason to support the EU just as we have it, with all its muddles, inefficiencies and confusions. Those are our best defence against extremism and ideology. The EU could and should be our best weapon for tackling multinational tax avoidance and for regulating obscene levels of executive pay; but even where it fails, its very incoherence, its innate contradictions, its point de zèle offer by far the better outlook for a quite nice, not terribly important country to muddle through as best we can.