Where have they all gone?

On Saturday, I spoke to a good friend on the phone. She is German, like me, and works for a British firm in London. Some weeks ago, she was sent to the Middle East to supervise a local project which unfortunately lead to her missing the full, on the ground Brexit-experience that we enjoyed here. She is still there, in the sweltering heat, and is trying to follow the post-Brexit fall out as closely as possible.

One of the things that my friend is particularly angry about is the fact that Johnson, Gove and Farage, the triumvirate that engineered the victory of the Leave-side, have now all but vanished from the political stage. Well, you might say, that’s an old hat, isn’t it? It might feel as if, given that within the last two and a half weeks, most of what people like me and my friend thought we had known about this country is no longer true. Thus, with headlines chasing each other, people seem to get used to this new reality fairly quickly.

My friend though is still struggling. “This is just not correct”, she, a strong supporter of Britain’s EU-membership, said. “How can it be that these people are not held accountable for what they have done?” Fair point. Of course, the media reported widely on Johnson’s withdrawal, Gove’s betrayal and Farage’s resignation as chair of Ukip. As we found out, he wants to remain a British MEP even though he was one of the core driving forces that made the UK vote for Leave.

Calls for him to step down fell on deaf ears, even though MPs like Tom Brake have critised him heavily. Last week, when I interviewed Brake, he said: “You can’t call for the EU to be dismantled and at the same time benefit from a generous salary and expense allowances. Nigel needs to do the honourable thing – he cannot spend years complaining about the Brussels gravy train and stay on it.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Farage intends to do.

Besides Nigel, let’s not forget people like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Their failure to accept responsibility is as disappointing as that of Nigel Farage. None of this is of course a surprise. I knew from the beginning onwards that neither of the three were willing to carry the burden of implementing the vote of the British people.

What I am surprised about though is that we don’t hear anything from Leave-voters, those that thought that the NHS would get 350 million pounds more per week if the UK left the EU, those that believed that the UK could just end European migration with a snap of a finger. Why are we not hearing from them?

It’s obvious that they have been misled and lied to by people like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Most of the claims made during the campaign were taken back quickly, within days, and quickly afterwards, the main protagonists are leaving the stage and nobody stops them from doing so.

If I was a Leave-voter, I would be really angry these days. I would feel fooled and used by people who obviously were not interested in the fate of the British people but only in their own careers. But Leave-voters seem to not bother. I googled around a bit and found an interesting entry on Quora. On the question whether Brexit voters felt betrayed now that Farage and Johnson have resigned, user Alex Higgins had an easy answer: “No. Farage is a national hero who has restored Britain’s freedom. Johnson was stabbed in the back by his ex-friend Gove and left with no option but to withdraw. Very simple really.”

If this is what Leave-voters think (I still haven’t met a single one of them, elitist me), then there is only one conclusion one can draw: A large part of the population in this country does not mind if they are being lied to.

In a democracy, we get the politicians and the government we deserve. This seems to be especially true for today’s Britain.

 

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Will the death of Jo Cox make a difference?

It’s been a quieter weekend than I expected. Before the death of MP Jo Cox on Thursday, I braced myself for a Saturday and a Sunday full of heated arguments, nastiness and more lies and half-truths. After the attack on Cox though, both campaigns cancelled their events for Friday and Saturday. Rallies were scrapped, battle buses stayed in their garages. Campaigning resumed mildly on Sunday, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attending the Andrew Marr Show, as did Michael Gove. Prime Minister Cameron appeared on the BBC’s Question Time on Sunday, possibly one of his biggest TV audiences.

With the recall of Parliament on Monday, only Tuesday and Wednesday will provide the opportunity for both sides to try to convince the undecided – currently at 12 percent – and reassure their supporters ahead of the big vote on Thursday. The tone of the debate has become noticeably calmer, less aggressive and I assume that the last days before the referendum will not become as outrageous as they would have had Jo Cox not been killed on Thursday.

Since the attack, I have been asking myself whether this could potentially swing the vote. Will the more sombre tone harm the Leave side? Could the death of Jo Cox, a Labour-MP, lead to more Labour-voters showing up at the polling booth (assuming they registered beforehand)? Will it make Leave supporters think twice and ask themselves whether they really want to vote for a side that has stirred up so much hatred and anger in the run-up to the referendum? Or will it impact the Remain-campaign because it takes away several campaign opportunities for leading politicians to address the crowds? Or, another possibility, will it help Prime Minister Cameron to appear more as a unifying figure which might then lead voters to follow him?

The idea has gained some traction. Some – mostly unnamed – campaign strategists and political scientists think that the murder of Jo Cox could actually “help” the Remain side. Honestly, I am a bit sceptical about this. Yes, maybe it might influence those that are still undecided. But those that already know which way they will vote?

I would like to believe it, yes, but I also have in mind what Andre Spicer, a Professor for Organisational Behaviour at Cass Business in School, explained some weeks ago: With issues as complex as the EU, people tend to make up their mind fairly early, on the basis of what they know at that point in time and what they are told by their peers and closest friends. Thus, the flurry of economic studies that has been published during the last couple of months did not shift the mood as much as one would have hoped.

My colleague Stefanie Bolzen, one of our politics correspondents here in London, visited Jo Cox’s constituency on Friday. According to her, the murder will not change people’s voting intentions on Thursday: “The emotional European idea that people will change their mind about voting Brexit is nonsense”, she wrote on Facebook. “European Wunschdenken. Brits far too pragmatic.”

I am thinking along similar lines. My base assumption is now that there will be vote for Brexit. Not because of the polls. I still don’t trust the polls, independent of which side they see in the lead.

It’s because a part of me has come to realise that a large part of the British population wants to believe in simple solutions for complex problems, irrespective of how unrealistic these solutions are and how far-reaching the consequences of those might be. To me, that’s not just a British problem but a problem that many other Western democracies such as Germany, the US and France face. Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and the “Alternative für Deutschland”, the alternative for Germany, all avail themselves of this trend.

Somewhere along the line, we seem to have lost that stable majority that was endowed with reason and voted rationally. Looking at all those false claims that are being made by the Leave-campaign and the fact that they do resound with voters, I can only come to the conclusion that this is what people want to believe, independent of whether it is true or not. Leave-campaigner Michael Gove, the former education minister, hit the nail on the head when he – under huge applause – exclaimed that people in this country have had enough of experts”.

That is quite worrying to me. Are people really imbecile enough to think that the elites running the Bank of England, the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD don’t know what they are talking about? With a world that is getting ever more complex, I guess our Western democracies will hit a wall fairly soon, unless we rid ourselves of this narrow-minded attitude.

There are no easy solutions for difficult problems, full stop. I guess that Brits might have to go the hard way before they realise. How about if we have a third EU-referendum, in about 40 years from now?