Monday 16 May 2016

Project Fear vs Project Fear

The EU referendum debate is an incredibly important one, the outcome of which will decide the entire socio-economic future of the UK. It doesn't matter which side you're on, or whether you haven't made up your mind yet, it's clearly a decision that is going to have huge social and economic repercussions.

The problem of course is that both sides of the debate are engaging in desperate and pathetic fearmongering tactics in order to try to frighten people over to their side of the argument.

The Brexit camp have combined utterly dishonest fearmongering tactics and pathetic Third Reich comparisons with an abject failure to spell out anything resembling a coherent economic strategy for what a post-Brexit economy would actually look like. Meanwhile senior figures on the "Bremain" side of the debate have taken to fearmongering about economic Armageddon should the British public vote to leave the EU. No doubt Gordon Brown will soon be wheeled out to scare pensioners into believing that Brexit would cost them their pensions, just like he scared the overwhelming majority of Scottish pensioners into shooting down a Scottish independence movement that was actually supported by the majority of working age voters.

How did it come to this?

Anyone who followed the Scottish independence referendum will have seen how the Unionist camp beat the hope and optimism of the Yes campaign with their "Project Fear" tactics. In fact the director of Better Together Blair McDougall openly admitted that the Unionists could have lost the Scottish independence referendum without having resorted to such desperate fearmongering tactics.

The victory of "Project Fear" in Scotland made it completely inevitable that the EU referendum debate would turn into a desperate fearmongering competition replete with spurious Hitler analogies and terrifying forecasts of economic doom from both sides of the debate.

Tories on both sides

If the success of "Project Fear" in Scotland didn't make a fearmongering arms race completely inevitable, the presence of senior Tories on both sides of the debate certainly did.

Fearmongering rhetoric is the favourite tactic of the Tory party. If they're not still harking on about the 1970s or blaming Labour for the 2007-08 global financial sector insolvency crisis, they're running a filthy BNP style muck-slinging, Islamophobic divide and conquer campaign to get their latest Eton posh-boy installed as Mayor of London.

Any debate that has foul-minded people like David CameronTheresa May and George Osborne on one side and horrifically right-wing zealots like Michael GoveBoris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith on the other is clearly going to end up getting messy.

With self-serving and fundamentally dishonest Tories on both sides of the debate, the degeneration of the argument into a sub-Tabloid level fearmongering farce was completely inevitable.

Driving people away from the debate

Over the last few weeks by far the most common request from people who follow the Another Angry Voice Facebook page has been for some relatively unbiased, fact-based analysis of the EU debate.

There are clearly an awful lot of people who would actually like to make their minds up about the EU based on facts and evidence, but they're being driven away from the debate in droves by the heavily biased fearmongering propaganda being pumped out by both sides.

Totally unbiased coverage is impossible

I can't promise to give a completely unbiased angle because I believe that quitting the EU when the Brexiters have completely failed to come up with anything resembling a coherent economic strategy for what a post-Brexit UK would actually look like would be a spectacularly reckless move. Brexit under such conditions would empower the hard-right fringe of the Tory party, and with no actual blueprint for what they plan to do, it would give them free rein to do whatever the hell they want.

I strongly believe that it 
would be a classic case of "out of the frying pan, into the fire" to bail out of an EU that is riddled with right-wing economic dogma, but in the process hand even more political power to fringe right-wing Tories who are much more fanatical pushers of hard-right economic dogma than the EU institutions.

I'm not a big fan of the EU, but if your boat has a few holes in it, it's generally a good idea to first attempt to repair the holes and bail out the water, rather than immediately abandoning ship and trying to swim to some mystical fantasy island that doesn't even appear on any maps.

Even though I have my opinions and admit them openly, I'm certainly not going to allow my commentary to descend into the utterly pathetic fearmongering seen from both sides of the debate so far. If you ever see me comparing the EU to the Third Reich or uncritically repeating projections of doom sourced from the very financial institutions that failed to even project the biggest financial crisis since the Wall Street Crash, then feel free to call me out on it.

Who benefits the most from this farce?

I'm of the opinion that a low turnout in the EU referendum would strongly favour the Brexit camp, and that the lamentably low standard of debate so far is making a lower turnout very much more likely. If people end up believing that both sides are feeding them inaccurate fearmongering propaganda, they're more likely to just abstain.

The head of Leave.EU Arron Banks has admitted that Brexit depends on a low turnout. He told a gathering of policy experts at the (extremely right-wing) Cato Institute that "If turnout is low, we win. If it’s high, we lose, our strategy is to bore the electorate into submission, and it’s working."

Driving fair-minded people away from the debate through the use of fearmongering tactics plays right into the hands of fanatically right-wing Brexiters like Arron Banks. People like him don't just know that a low turnout is necessary for them to get what they want, they openly admit that they're depending on it.


Trying to form an objective view on the EU referendum debate is very difficult because all economic projections are riddled with uncertainty. One thing you can be sure of is that anyone who tries to present economic projections as if they're facts, rather than theoretical outcomes based on fallible economic models, is not to be trusted. Without looking at the underlying assumptions built into the economic model that generated the predictions, the numbers are pretty much meaningless.

Another much more obvious thing you can be sure of, is that anyone who tries to compare the peaceful and co-operative structure of the EU to Hitler's militarist Nazi empire building is using desperately low smear tactics, and should be completely ignored.

It's becoming more and more obvious that really strong arguments from either side of the EU referendum debate are pretty damned rare in comparison to the sheer volume of fearmongering propaganda. 
Admittedly this is quite a dispiriting conclusion, but a good starting point for dealing with this situation is the adoption of the policy that it's a good idea to apply your critical thinking skills to pretty much everything anyone tries to convince you to believe, whether it's about the EU referendum or not.
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