Weapons of mass distraction and the EU referendum

Both sides of the EU referendum campaign are guilty of being ‘economical with the truth’, gilding lillies in ways we never thought possible. The amount we pay to the EU? Rubbish. The impact on the economy if we leave? Overblown and based on supposition. Statistics as a weapon of mass distraction.

Negative campaigning isn’t limited to this referendum but its use here has been exceptional. That’s because the less you have to offer the more you have to blame someone else: if you can’t win on facts and policies, incite division and fear and hate. It’s unpleasant but it’s part of the neocon cookbook, a strategy drawn from the heart of neoliberal politics. Set the victims up to blame each other and you take the focus away from your own agenda. It’s a conjuring trick, slight of hand. It’s a con.

The most toxic issue of all is immigration, a torrent of racist dog-whistling and xenophobic little-England immigrant-blaming built on half-truths and outright lies. Yes, immigration is a real issue, it has changed the UK, and it’s doing so at a pace a lot of people are struggling with. The embarrassed political classes have created a vacuum by failing to address public concerns and this has created fear and uncertainty, fuelled by a lack of understanding and made worse by racist tabloids and UKIP.

I despair that anyone buys into the lies being told and can feel only contempt for anyone who engages in the vile victimisation of migrants, or anyone else, for their own selfish ends. But worse, a vote for Brexit will not fix immigration. If you vote to leave the EU based on this premise you will be disappointed. You will feel cheated. Just as you will feel cheated if you think leaving will boost funding to the NHS. It won’t. The shrill voices for ‘leave’ want their Britain back but, trust me, this isn’t your Britain or mine, they’re not doing this for you and me. It’s why I’m clear where I stand on Brexit, you can make up your mind.

This referendum is a fig-leaf covering a Tory cockfight. The only vaguely positive thing has been the public stepping forward, refusing to let politicians get away with it. They have been far better at holding those who choose to peddle vicious untruths to account than much of the media. But it worries me what long term damage this debacle is doing to political trust. Regardless of the outcome we may well be unleashing a tidal wave of anger against a system that is failing to govern.

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