This is do-or-die week in Old Blighty. Our British cousins will decide Thursday whether to reclaim their birthright, voting to leave the European Union and the Germans, French and an assorted gang of easy riders, and reclaim their status as a world-power capable of sitting on its own bottom. This would prove the folk wisdom that “where you stand depends on where you’re sitting.”
The campaign got raucus over the weekend, with the campaign called “Remain” revealing more than a hint of desperation, as the public-opinion polls show a result too close to call. A month ago a result to remain in the EU was taken as little short of a slam-dunk, but sentiment shifted and momentum seemed to be with the hardy folk who want to escape the restraints of a bureaucracy in Brussels.
“People often complain about voting these days,” says Boris Johnson, the former two-term mayor of London who is a leader of the campaign to get Britain out of Dodge while the getting is good. “They say it doesn’t make any difference. They say that whatever party they choose they get the same old broken promises. In fact, they say there is no point in bothering at all.”
Lethargy can be comfortable everywhere; it’s the curse of the welfare state. Give a man a place to sleep, enough to eat and comfortable shoes and he’s often tempted to stay where he is until the big dog growls in his face. That’s about what the “Remain” campaign has offered, and ever louder in the final hours leading up to Thursday’s vote. Britons will wake up Friday morning to see whether there’s hope at last for change.
Britain is no longer Winston Churchill’s Britain, no longer inhabited by “a race of kings,” and it’s no longer even Maggie Thatcher’s Britain, but neither is it yet Little England with a future only as a province of the Europe it condescended to for a thousand years.
The Remain campaign, says Boris Johnson, offers only “no change, no improvement, no reform, nothing but the steady and miserable erosion of parliamentary democracy in [Britain]. If we vote Remain, we stay locked in the back of the car, driven by someone with an imperfect command of English and going in a direction we don’t want to go.”
Several big newspapers, which may or may not retain the prestige and influence to tilt an election or referendum in the Internet age when illiterates aspire to reign over the media, endorsed leaving the EU over the weekend. The Sun, the down-market but largest newspaper in the land, said “go.” Then the Daily Telegraph, the measured voice of the establishment (most of the time) endorsed leaving. On Sunday morning, the Sunday Times, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship, followed.
The referendum is pivotal, the Telegraph says, and in the powerful understatement for which the English language was invented, decred the level of debate that has sunk well below the elevated level man had hoped for. (If the rhetoric in Britain gives the editorialist a migraine, he must stay out of America.)
But on balance, “the Leave campaign has articulated an ambitious vision for Britain as an independent nation, once again free to make its own decisions. The Remain campaign, by contrast, has resorted to grim pessimism . . . [diminishing the kingdom] to a diplomatic pariah, scrabbling to put together trade agreements while our economy flounders.”
David Cameron’s government, desperate to keep the misery he knows, threatens, if the vote is to Leave, to put together an emergency budget that would cut spending and raise taxes. This, as intended, frightens the elderly and their pensions, makes dire predictions about trade agreements, falling prices of well-kept houses bought over the years, and the crash of the pound sterling. So far Mr. Cameron has not said anything about the heartbreak of psoriasis, but there’s still days to go.
What galls many Britons is the EU’s relentless ambition to regulate and legislate. Half of all laws and 70 percent of all regulations originate in Brussels, and there’s more to come. Despite the early scoffing that such fears were foolish, the EU has sought to become the single nation it said it never would, with its own currency, a central bank, no internal boundaries, a supreme court, and a police and judicial system. Some in Brussels dream even bigger, with closer “integration” and even a European army.
The Remain campaign has offered only fear of the unknown as a reason not to leave. “People can sense the true motives behind Project Fear,” says Boris Johnson. “It isn’t idealism, or internationalism. It’s a cushy elite of politicians and lobbyists and bureaucrats, circling the wagons and protecting their vested interests.” Shades of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The revolution lives in unexpected places..