“The deal on the table is so technical to explain that a normal citizen, not people like us, would find it hard to form a view,” one EU official said.
I don’t think you could devise a better sentence to illustrate why, just sometimes, it feels more likely than not that the UK will vote to leave the EU. The Eurocrat was talking about Greece, of course, and why Greek people shouldn’t vote on Greece’s relationship with the EU, but Grexit or otherwise is not my point.
As for Greece’s government, I agree with John Rentoul, who describes Tsipras’s Syriza as a
“coalition of [the] radical left that is so admired by the sort of people who made sure Labour lost here”.
That I am unsympathetic to Syriza won’t surprise you, given that this is ConservativeHome and not Marxism Today [you’re showing your age - Ed], but I want to underline it, in terms of what I’m going to try to argue.
So: I have qualified sympathy with the Greek electorate, at best, and none at all for its student union Prime Minister.
But then: read that Eurocrat again. Go on. (But come back!)
How did you feel, reading those words, their tone? My unmediated response – my gut instinct – said: “Tell them to get stuffed, Alex. Call the referendum. How dare an unelected bureaucrat speak so disparagingly of your voters?”
The Eurocrat is saying – it doesn’t require much paraphrasing – that little people (that is: voters) shouldn’t be asked their opinion about something oh-so-clever, cooked up by big people (every facet of whose gold-plated lives is made possible by the work of those little voters). No doubt the phrase was originally uttered in French: de haut, en bas.
My emotional response to this is quite separate to the blame which my head understands that Tsipras must carry in making a bad situation worse. The intellectual response post-dates the emotional one.
Noticing this made me wonder about our own looming, if slightly less rushed, referendum. Might emotion order our voting choice more than we acknowledge? Isn’t this at least a partly justifiable inference, based on the Scottish referendum, and its aftermath?
Now, it is perfectly possible to make an argument that Britain should vote to leave the EU from solid principles. It’s not a case I would advance. I know some Conservatives become very worked up about this, exasperated that there are those of us in the tribe who refuse to see matters from such a perspective.
These are the (well-intentioned, some might say overly-focused) Tories who write columns designed to make your heart beat faster. Sovereignty! We could be like Norway, or Switzerland, or conjure into being some vast pan-Anglosphere Commonwealth 2.0.
I’m not mocking such people, since, indeed, I agree with them. (I part company at their obsession with the Prime Ministerial strategy towards renegotiation. Too much of it looks like code for “I never liked the Prime Minister and, now he’s won a majority, I need a new reason to fuel that dislike.”) Principles matter, and the principled case to leave the EU is sound.
But we each have dozens of principles, and sometimes they won’t cohere (only Bayesian machines are always coherent for decision-making: this is why your heart is sometimes broken.) One of my other principles is: you can’t always get what you want (and you are a better person for accepting this). This principle provides me the space to accept the non-evil narrative about what Britain has gained from being part of the Common Market: interdependency that works to our mutual benefit.
When principles conflict, what do we do? We use reason to choose the most apt for the present circumstances.
Reason – cold, logical reason – suggests that there ought to be a negotiable way to arrive at a compromise about our relationship with the other member states which would leave the UK a happy, semi-detached part of the club; and if there ought to be such a way, then such a way will be found. (Renegotiation of the UK’s deal with the EU can’t be that hard. “Hard” is curing disease, or nursing a loved one unto their death. “We’re taking control of our benefits system, so please edit a few bits of paper accordingly” – this is not “hard”.)
So I remain confident, if unexcited, about the outcome of the referendum.
Most of the time.
But reason can be short-circuited – ask the broken-hearted why they fell in love in the first place. Or ask a driver in the middle of road-rage about how much reason they bring to bear on their next, immediate choice.
And were I to read a statement such as our opening quote, close to the date of the referendum – particularly were it made by “President” Juncker (“Britain won’t vote to leave the EU” – oh really?) – I’m pretty sure my angry stomach would do the voting for me. To land a metaphorical punch on the Commission’s smugly unelected face would be irresistible.
I wonder if those big, clever Eurocrats are aware of their impact on “normal citizens”? Causing a British Tory to cheer a Greek Marxist, albeit for only a second, might not be their strangest achievement. A note to the haut from down bas: it’s not the Greek referendum you should worry about.