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The EU Referendum: When 2 + 2 = 5

27 Jun , 2016  

Rupert Dreyfus is the author of Spark and The Rebel's Sketchbook; transgressive black comedies which keep the spirit of rebellion alive by taking swipes at the establishment as well as those nightmarish corporations which seem hell-bent on turning our world into one giant supermarket. You can find him at

The political establishment – particularly those who favoured the leave position – will assert that the EU referendum is a triumph for democracy.

Any criticism levelled at the arduous process which has brought us our present headache will be met with a howl that you’re an enemy of the beloved democratic process. Furthermore; they will tell us that this was about maximising democracy and sovereignty.

However, for the critical observer this couldn’t be any further from the truth. In fact I’d go so far as to say that the opposite is true: a lively, functioning democracy doesn’t look like the shambles we’ve just witnessed over the last few months.

The question of Britain’s future in the world has just been answered by an electorate which has been intentionally confused with contradictory information on key issues such as immigration and the budget.

Already some of the proposals which paved the way to a leave victory are surfacing to be outright lies.

One example is Nigel Farage telling supporters on their “independence day” that the leave campaign bus which had promised an extra £350 million for the NHS (a figure already in dispute) was a fib all along.

In any other profession this would’ve been subject to criminal prosecution, but it’s permissible in the politics game. Worse still it’s encouraged because there are often no serious consequences. And this is just the start of things to come.

In the Digital Age everything is archived and I predict that as the cross-examination intensifies over the coming years, the gravity of our predicament is set to become uglier and uglier as the quality of life for poor people declines even further.

Heaven knows where it’s going to take us but all I do know is that the utopia we were promised by the leave campaign doesn’t exist.

One of the key arguments was that leaving the EU would “take back control”. It was an imprecise slogan we routinely saw and heard throughout the campaign.

Those parroting it clearly don’t understand how power systems work.

In order for it to be true the control would shift to the hands of communities and workers; those people who any real democracy is supposed to serve. Yet it hasn’t and it won’t.

The control is still in the tight fist of the ruling party of the day which wants ordinary people to be as far removed from the democratic process as possible.

Your role will always be to tick a box next to a narrow set of options once every five years and then let the masters run the ship. Meanwhile control will be passed to unaccountable private power just like it always has. Make no mistake.

The wider consequence of all this is that evidence now has no value in public debate and that all of expert opinion is to be distrusted.

A glaring symptom of this was the widely held cynicism of electoral democracy which ran so deep that a significant number of people believed that their vote would be meaningless unless it was tattooed onto the ballot paper with ink.

For these voters electoral democracy in the West is about as authentically democratic as the former Soviet Union or present day Russia.

While it’s tempting to ridicule, a more productive response is to recognise that many people don’t trust their leaders – and clearly for good reason. The next step is to do something about it and redefine what taking back control should actually mean.

But what’s even more dangerous for society is that an extensive propaganda campaign has devalued the notion of truth.

The implications of this cannot be understated because anyone familiar with history knows that anti-intellectualism is rife in fascist regimes and among contemporary fascist movements.

The quality of debate from both sides was painful to listen to, but those who swayed the public were perhaps best represented when Michael Gove said that “Britain has had enough of experts.”


Pre-Brexit most serious economists, historians, business leaders and trade unionists were in agreement that remain was a better option and had warned about the dangers of leaving the EU.

In any other walk of life you’d do good to listen closely to experts with your critical faculties sharpened but liberal democracy has helped to blunt our critical faculties and turn our experts into shady self-serving characters. You’d be forgiven to wonder if the Enlightenment ever really happened.

And the truly frightening thing is that none of this has come about by accident.

Historically authoritarian regimes mobilise their citizens by propagandising them to believe in their political superiority over rival ideologies.

In North Korea the intensive propaganda campaign aims to convince citizens that the West is morally repugnant, America is the devil himself and that Juche is the only true revolutionary strategy.

However, in the West a similarly intensive propaganda campaign is designed to depoliticise citizens and paralyse them with a sense of hopelessness so that they shrug their shoulders and distrust democracy, accept that somebody else should run their lives and get on with less important matters.

The EU referendum is a case in point: The destination is unclear but the present landscape isn’t filling many of us with hope.

Leaving the EU under these circumstances doesn’t indicate a triumph of democracy; it indicates a triumph of corporate propaganda.

When citizens are sceptical of experts and there’s no such thing as truth, the gateway opens for people to believe in things which don’t serve their interests.

Meanwhile those in power – those who actually have control of our future – are free to implement their vision for the world regardless of what those being governed think about it.

Europe knows all about this and the European Union partly exists to safeguard the continent from a repeat of contemporary history. However, it’s just been significantly weakened.

In practice I was no supporter of this institution, but in principle I recognised that there was no coherent, coordinated strategy for the alternative.

With the European far right and fascist parties celebrating the precedent which has just been set for leaving the EU; with Russia already “mobilising for war”; with the rise of right-wing populism; with a domestic left so fractured and disorganised as to be rendered temporarily “out of service”; it’s time for us to unite and organise outside of the existing framework of power while there’s still a chance for survival.

If we don’t then things are set to get much, much worse.

The time to create the alternative is now.

3 Responses

  1. kevin says:

    Which is?

  2. RaidCall says:

    But Mr Cameron has said the referendum was a “once in a generation, once in a lifetime” decision, saying the UK had “referendums not neverendums”.

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