Answering Giles Fraser

Actually, I really want to like Giles Fraser. He has often written insightful, thought-provoking articles in the Church Times and the Guardian. He took a principled stand in the whole affair of Occupy St Paul’s. He seems like an all-round good guy. So I really can’t understand why he is so adamantly pro-Brexit.

Since yesterday’s March for a People’s Vote:

he’s been tweeting and retweeting this kind of message:

What 700,000 said to 17.4 million: “we know best”.

But what do the People’s March have to say to those who voted Leave because they felt profoundly unattended to? Just more of the same?

Less a demo, more a Waitrose queue.

One of his retweets (not Giles himself) describes anti-Brexit argument as

“smug, patronising, neoliberal middle class pish”.

Let’s leave aside the snide gibes about the middle classes. Do they mean anything more than “These are opinions that I don’t like, that are held by some educated people that I want to feel superior to”?

Here’s what I want to say:

Passionately wanting to Stop Brexit does not mean we don’t care about the people who felt the Referendum was their big chance to stick two fingers up at the whole Establishment, the whole political system that has ignored them and simply not worked for them. Yes, these people have been profoundly unattended to; that is a shame and a scandal that ought to be addressed; the Governments of Right and Pseudo-Left that have ignored them for the last 40 years should not be forgiven; the works of those Governments (austerity, privatisation, under-funding of the NHS, failure to regulate banks, or to deal with inequality, or to redistribute wealth through just taxation) should be undone.

But all those things are not the fault of the EU! Indeed, if we had been more like France and Germany and the Netherlands and Denmark and other countries in Europe, instead of constantly bleating and whinging and making out that we were a ‘special case’, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Our country and society and political system are seriously broken and ought to be mended. But you don’t mend a broken leg by cutting it off. We won’t mend a broken United Kingdom by cutting it off from the body of Europe, which is its best chance of health and improvement.

And, “What 700,000 said to 17.4 million: “we know best”?” I think we were saying, “We believe we know better?” So what? Perhaps we do know better? The great idea of democracy is that every person is of equal worth and their vote is equally important. But some things are too important to be left to that kind of a vote. I wouldn’t want the plan for my brain surgery to be determined by a majority vote of the whole hospital staff: I’d want the experts to say and do what needed to be done. I’m not talking about a General Election here: the choice of a Government is relatively trivial in comparison. (Though it beggars belief that, like turkeys voting for Christmas, the majority still votes for Government by the rich, for the rich; and that we cling to First Past The Post, in preference to a system that gives more weight to every vote cast.) Suppose we had a referendum on capital punishment? We won’t have one, for fear the majority would vote to restore the death penalty. The view of the people who are (or have self-appointed themselves as?) people with a better-tuned moral compass, is that that result would be just plain wrong.

I believe the EU referendum was similarly ill-judged and produced a similarly wrong result. When the majority of educated economic opinion (though God knows I’m no lover of the hierocracy of a priesthood of economists), of EU opinion, of world opinion, was that Brexit was / will be catastrophically wrong, a kind of national and economic suicide – then we should let our future be guided by that educated opinion, rather than by people’s general and justified dissatisfaction with how our Governments have been doing.

I think Giles Fraser is wrong about Brexit. Middle class or not, I still believe staying in the EU is the best future for all of us, in the UK and in Europe. And our best hope of establishing a more just, fair, social democratic Commonwealth for our nation.

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