On Brexit – My takeaways (Part 1)

This post pretty much allows me to vent my frustration on this tragicomic epispode of British politics. The discussion in this post is divided into 5 very short sections:

  • What I think will happen after the referendum
  • About that Campaign and the Leave – Leavers, Trump, Opportunists, the status Quo and the Establishment
  • Is Cameron’s job at risk? – It should be
  • The possible need for an early general election
  • Conclusion – Don’t call referenda

What I think will happen after the referendum

Tomorrow will definitely be an interesting day. I’m particularly curious to see what forex markets are going to do.

If Brexit happens, my guess is as good as that of the Remain side and the experts that the Leave side so dislikes. The exact quantitative details are irrelevant in my opinion. A Brexit vote creates uncertainty in the short term and decreases trade, and financial flows in the long term.

However, I think that the lesser discussed political argument is the most interesting. The campaign was ridiculously nasty and personal. I mean someone actually died from a violent crime!

About that Campaign and the Leave – Leavers, Trump, Opportunists, the status Quo and the Establishment

Borrowing the words of a much better writer than myself,

“Leave seems dishonest, courts bigotry, and doesn’t actually appear to have any real benefit to anyone whose name is not Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson or Michael Gove.”

[…]

“both Trump and the “Leave” initiative seem to be two strains of the same virus, i.e., a few massively entitled folks harnessing for their own benefit the furious yawp of a group of people for whom things are not currently going well, who want to find someone to blame, and who just want things to go back to a time when they are certain things were better — if not in general, then at least for them. In both cases this larger group is very unlikely to get what they want, even if they get their way at the ballot box.”

This is one of those things I have been struggling with for quite some time, probably going back to the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece or of the Swedish Democrats:

  • What’s the mechanism, the model best suited to understand how these demagogues come in an take advantage of the prejudices that people have been fed and that have been legitimised through repetition?
  • What is demagoguery?
  • Is there such a thing as the establishment?
  • Is it relevant?
  • How does one make sense of all these things?

Is Cameron’s job at risk? – It should be

There’s a good chance  that Cameron will lose his job either way. There’s a good chance that back-benchers will rebel against Cameron and try to initiate a leadership challenge even if the Remain side wins. Although if Leave wins, his downfall is obvious, his survival in case Remain wins is not at all assured.

It strikes me that this has very much been like the deaf leading the blind. Of all the people who are to blame for this mess, I blame Cameron the most, because he was the leader of the country. He set the agenda, the tone and the calendar.

  • He should have been better informed about the EU.
  • He have been better informed about the implications of an exit vote.
  • He should have been better at estimating his leverage in Brussels rather than walking around branding a pointless non-credible veto than made him look ridiculous abroad and stimulated animosity to the EU at home.
  • He should have set more realistic negotiation goals
  • He should have been more engaged with EU institutions in order to reform them from progressively from within rather that with threats.
  • He should not have called the referendum.
  • He should not have used the EU and this referendum to settle internal Conservative party disputes.
  • He should have been better at his job.

The possible need for an early general election

If he looses his job in the next couple of weeks, that’s his own fault. No one else’s. But everyone will suffer either way.  This is because the referendum may very well trigger an early election.

If early general elections are not called shortly thereafter, the Leavers and the Remainers will tear each other apart inside the Conservative party, possibly destroying the unity necessary for the survival of the present government on account of possible defections to UKIP or a newly created party and by-elections in the constituencies affected.

So if his position is too fragile (i.e. if Leave wins or if too many Conservative MPs leave the party) then he should resign and request from the Queen that she call early elections. I know this sounds very unusual. He received a (relatively) huge and unexpected popular mandate (by UK FPTP standards) just last year.

 

Conclusion

Referenda are very messy tools to use:

  • They can back-fire on the one calling it.
  • The issues are often too complicated for non specialists to understand.
  • They are normally the tools used by tyrants or of special interest groups
  • They are not suited as tools for negotiation – If you thought that Tsipras and Cameron had nothing in common, you stand corrected. This is a lesson both of them should learn.

People should stick to representative democratic institutions and processes, overseen by checks and balances and judicial body that keeps them accountable and (as) honest (as possible). If they screw up, you can revolutionise the world at the next election.

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