Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Brexit debate: a plague on both their houses

David Cameron wants people to be in no doubt about the disastrous consequences of leaving the E.U. Project Fear plumbed ever deeper depths last week as we were told that Brexit would weaken our security and increase the chance of a European war; that prices would rise, the economy would tank and that house prices would crash.

On that last point, many struggling renters and would-be homebuyers will say "bring it on". It well illustrates how corrupted is our economic system that higher prices for essentials such as food and clothing are deemed a bad thing, whereas higher priced housing (which is no less an essential) is good.

A bigger question, however, is why Cameron ever contemplated a referendum of which the consequences could, in his view, be so catastrophic; why he was was willing to take Britain to the brink for the sake of modest concessions from his European partners. But in those days he sang a different song: The E.U. was in desperate need of reform, he asserted, and Britain would be just fine without it.

So finally we come to the real question: does it matter that politicians say whatever suits them to achieve their ends? Is it OK, as many in the referendum campaign are doing, to make wild and often contradictory statements in order to appeal to people's visceral fears?

Politicians in a democracy have to take people with them, to be sure. But that should make politics a collaborative, social endeavour, not a gross shouting match between grotesque personalities. As it is, the entire realm of politics has lost the confidence of an electorate who increasingly call down a plague on all their houses, and may long resent the obligation to pick between two equally unattractive sides.

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