The Tory leaders of Vote Leave, those supposedly civilised and intelligent men, are creating the conditions for a mass far-right movement in England. They have lined up the ingredients like a poisoner mixing a potion, and I can almost feel the convulsion that will follow.
They have treated the electorate like children. They pretended that they could cut or even stop immigration from the EU and have a growing economy too. No hard choices, they said. No costs or trade-offs.
Now the Tory wing of the Brexit campaign, the friends of the City and big business, insists that we should remain part of the single market. So should you, if your job depends on Britain continuing to have access to EU markets, or you do not want your taxes to rise and services cut. Britain has fantastic levels of public and private debt, low productivity and a trade deficit. Few apart from the wealthy can view the loss of European markets with nonchalance.
There is no such thing as a free lunch – as hard-headed conservatives used to tell us. (Incidentally, I think we can stop believing Margaret Thatcher’s line that ‘the facts of life are conservative,’ or those self-serving boasts that Tories are realists after this campaign. They have taken one hell of a beating.)
If you want full access to the single market, you have to pay the EU. Norway, the example everyone quotes, makes a per capita net contribution of €107, we currently pay €139 per capita. I could never see why it was worth leaving for €32 a head. We would have to abide by most EU rules, including those that harm our interests without having the power to alter them. That €32 is just about enough to give everyone one small weekly shop, as long as they confine themselves to stocking up on white bread and turnips. What’s the point?
Still there is a price for everything including pointless gestures. Perhaps working-class voters, who know little and care less about the City and big business until their own jobs go, would be happy to pay it, if the EU did not insist that Norway must accept EU immigration as well. As the Open Europe think tank says:
In Norway’s experience, this actually results in far higher inward EU migration than the UK, when measured as a percentage of the countries’ total populations.
I do not believe millions who voted to leave will accept that uncomplainingly. Johnson, Gove, Duncan Smith, Hannan, and Grayling – our generation’s guilty men – assured them that they could slash immigration from the EU at the same time as protecting their jobs, and spending tens of billions on tax cuts and services. They behaved as if the English could have it all: free access to the European single markets and immigration controls. They never said that a waiter would cough loudly and deliver a bill.
Now they are wriggling like lawyers trying to dodge the judge. We did not quite promise that, they maintain. You should have looked at the small print. ‘It is said that those who voted Leave were mainly driven by anxieties about immigration,’ intoned Johnson this morning as he prepared to U-turn and accept the conditions full access to EU markets entail. ‘I do not believe that is so.’
This is just incredible. No dictionary on earth has enough insults to describe the frivolity and cynicism of the Tory right. For the left-behind leave voters of working-class England, immigration was why they wanted out. Rob Ford, whose chronicles of the rise of Ukip with his colleague Matthew Goodwin grow more essential by the hour, said on Sunday:
The mass migration from poorer EU countries that began in 2004 was something the left-behind electorate never wanted, never voted for and never really accepted. The economic case for EU migration was clear to the liberal mainstream elites from across the political spectrum, who thought that should settle the matter. Politicians from both Labour and the Conservatives never made a case for free movement, and seemed to believe they could assuage popular anger by restrictions that were manifestly impossible, given EU treaty rules. The left-behind voters weren’t fooled – they soon recognised that controlling immigration would be impossible without leaving the EU, and they have now voted accordingly.
What are they going to do when Tories tell them they cannot have what they voted for?
They will not say that they were fools to believe Vote Leave. Very few of us willingly accept that we have been stupid. The right-wing press will not admit it has egregiously misled its readers either. ‘Never apologise, always complain’ might be its motto.
Instead, I fear that millions of voters and their leaders in the press and on the streets will say that the’ guilty men’ have ‘lied’, ‘betrayed’ and ‘stabbed us in the back’. The opportunities for the brutish leaders and financiers of Ukip, and the greater brutes of Britain First and the BNP appear dizzying.
Until now, ‘stab-in-the-back’ myths have been myths without even a grain of truth in them. Socialists and Jews did not stab a potentially victorious German army in the back in 1918. Superior forces and a bankrupt economy destroyed it. Pro-Western fifth columnists and the plots of NATO did not bring down the Soviet Union. By the end, only a few communist diehards were prepared to defend its rotten structures.
Yet there will be a grain of truth in the new myth of England’s betrayal. Millions of people believed the Leave campaign when Johnson and his allies said they could have their cake and eat it too. I can see far-right politicians in Ukip and beyond turning on the pro-Brexit Tories. However self-serving their accusations will be, they will be enough in them to risk disorder.
In terms of pounds and pence, Johnson has already launched the most expensive leadership challenge in modern history. We are only beginning to imagine the damage he Gove, Duncan Smith, Hannan and Grayling could do to England’s civil peace and social fabric.