Our floundering present can quite reasonably be put down to Brexit, an obvious fact which nevertheless would be denied by almost our entire political class.
But this week we have two more polls on our national attitude to the European Union, and on our leaving it. We are used to these polls now, slowly but surely recording our growing national embarrassment over what we did in June 2016. But the Best for Britain poll is a doozie. It asks respondents how they feel about Brexit according to seven key criteria. In each, the question is whether Brexit has improved or worsened our situation, and the results all overwhelmingly recognize the disaster that Brexit has introduced.
Price of the weekly shop? 90% say worse, to 6% better. Economic growth, 76% to 12%. Goods and services, small boat arrivals, seeing a doctor and so on. And an Opinium/Observer poll finds very similar results.
But the point isn’t how public opinion has changed, since there is no real evidence that it has. The outlier here was the strong anti-EU sentiment briefly whipped up during the referendum.
An ignorant electorate frightened into voting for Leave
In 2015, the year before that vote, the EU’s own regular polling of opinion showed that 64% of British respondents approved of the free movement of people; 55% approved of a common European policy on migration; and 39% – more than the EU average – approved of immigration from outside the EU.
So what happened in 2016? An ignorant electorate was easily frightened into voting to leave, since nobody among our supposed political elite bothered to put a coherent argument about what we gained by membership. For the Conservatives, the 21st century was, after all its delusions, proving an existential threat to its position as the natural party of government. Brexit was conceived over endless whisky-fuelled boozy late nights in Commons bars. And as usual the rest of the political class dithered and sat on its hands, too scared even then.
But it’s not just politicians, mind. A poll of leading British business figures in 2015 showed 82% were in favour of staying in the EU, but come the referendum hardly a one spoke up. They were all hiding behind their desks, not within a million miles of the front lines. In this cowardice, they not only sold out their country but – by their own estimation – the best interests of their companies too.
What are our politicians scared of?
Now, when the air is thick with feathers as chickens come home to roost, those who failed to explain the benefits of EU membership are this time failing to acknowledge the damage, let alone apologise. Of what exactly are they scared? Is it that renowned British (or more precisely English) stupidity? This writer has commented before on how profoundly unserious the English are as a race. Bread and circuses is all we have ever wanted, which has given our elected leaders all the scope they need to fight their petty ideological wars, with the public as usual the poor bloody infantry. What purpose do our political parties believe they have, we might reasonably ask, other than fighting each other?
The supposedly smart view to explain the squeamishness over Brexit shown by Labour and the Liberal Democrats is that: “Ah, it’s good tactics not to come out against Brexit, for fear the Tories will stir up the Brexiters again and we’ll see another referendum result”. Only nobody for a moment believes we will see a repeat of that catastrophe. Any delusions the nativists among us may have harboured about leaving the EU have been flushed away by now.
Never a strong push to leave
In any case, there was never a strong push to leave the EU, as the figures above show. Membership of the EU was just an ill-informed background grumble.
So here we are, out in the cold and suffering all the hardships and deprivations half of the country told the other half would happen, and still the opposition parties daren’t even mention the word ‘Brexit’. The American journalist HL Mencken famously advised young journalists, when interviewing a politician, to ask themselves: “Why is this bastard lying to me?” That dictum might now be amended to: “Why is this bastard scared to do what’s right?”