It is no wonder that people are disillusioned with democracy. Who, faced with a straight choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, would not yearn for a third box marked “Neither of the above”?
I would have felt a similar lack of enthusiasm if faced with a choice for my mayor between Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith, though at least I would have had a fair idea of the differences between them.
Unlike in our own local democratic vote for Police and Crime Commissioner in which, as my colleague David Banks has pointed out, the electorate was left to fly completely blind, with no information provided on the credentials or objectives of the candidates. Small wonder that many more chose not to vote at all than to turn out and mark a box out of some sense of civic duty or tribal loyalty.
Incidentally, even if she were of my tribe, I would not have voted for the victorious Vera Baird because I take strong exception to politicians who have been ejected from the House of Commons by the electorate immediately clambering back aboard the publicly funded gravy train, whether as Police and Crime Commissioners, peers or European apparatchiks.
British democracy continues to be weakened by the Labour Party’s recent insistence on choosing leaders of surpassing uselessness, thereby handing power by default to the charisma vacuum that is the sometime PR man David Cameron.
I have yet to meet anyone who feels really enthusiastic about the man, or truly grasps what he stands for beyond the good old Tory objective of keeping his bottom firmly on the seat of power.
The recent series of laughable policy U-turns are strongly suggestive not of an administration that is “listening to the people” but simply making it up as it goes along, with no clear mission or agenda.
Hurrah, then, for the discovery that there is at least one thing that Mr Cameron is prepared to pursue with single-minded passion: keeping Britain within the European Union at almost any cost.
Hurrah, too, for the cynicism of the good old British public, which sees every turn of the ratchet in Mr Cameron’s increasingly desperate “Project Fear” leading to a firming of the “Leave” position in the polls.
The President of the USA and the Prime Ministers of half the countries in the world say we’ll be screwed if we leave the EU, you say? Excellent, I’ll have some of that.
Now you’re saying it will result in the outbreak of World War III and the country will become a barren post-nuclear wasteland? Marvellous, that will make a nice change from watching the X-Factor.
History was my favourite subject at school and I went on to complete a degree in it, and even made a characteristically idle attempt at a PhD. So I like to think I know a bit about it. Here I would go on to explain why Mr Cameron’s history in his speech of yesterday was hopelessly flawed, but I don’t need to bother because Simon Jenkins and Andrew Roberts have already done so.
Instead, as we are talking of history, it seems a shame to skate over last week’s shock revelation, courtesy of Ken Livingstone, that Hitler was actually a keen Zionist. All right, quite possibly in the same way that the proponents of the slave trade were big fans of immigration. The important thing was that Hitler had made a nod in favour of exporting Germany’s Jews to Palestine, before he “went mad” and started killing them, which somehow made it all right to go on hating both him and them. So long as they live in Israel, not Golders Green.
I realise that citing Hitler in support of any argument is never likely to turn out well, but mention of his name did prompt me to look up (in translation) his famous passage in Mein Kampf about “the big lie”:
“… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”
Does that sound familiar at all, as you contemplate the unfolding EU referendum campaign?
Closely allied with the big lie is the very widespread belief amongst the PR and political spinning community that the way to win any argument is to repeat the same point endlessly until people either accept it or at least lose the will to keep arguing with you.
The big lie and repetition come together perfectly in the Prime Minister’s endlessly recirculated and mendacious mantra that “we are stronger, safer and better off in a reformed EU”.
Because there is no reformed EU. Dave’s much vaunted “best of both worlds” deal delivers none of the important changes he himself said he wanted, and is not legally binding in any case.
So the EU project will chug merrily along towards its manifest destiny of a United States of Europe with one government, one set of laws, one currency, and its own army and gendarmerie, and any “opt-outs” will ultimately prove to be worthless.
Never forget that the EU is not a club, an alliance, or a free trade area. It is a proto-state. The clue is in its name, flag, anthem, president, parliament, embassies and all the other appurtenances of statehood.
Either we accept absorption into this new country – whether reluctantly or with passion – or we get out while we have the chance. Because we may never have another.
Whether we will be better off, safer and more secure in is not necessarily a big lie but it is certainly highly debatable, and I’m sure there are others better qualified than I am to make the case for both sides of the argument over the coming weeks (though I suspect the real answer is “we don’t know and there’s only one way to find out”).
From my historical perspective, the strains imposed by trying to impose a single currency on an economically diverse continent for the sole purpose of driving its political integration are much more likely to lead to conflict than to suppress it.
One thing is sure. This is a great opportunity for each and every one of us to make one of the few democratic choices we will ever be given that really matters.
(And I say that even though all past form suggests that a majority leave vote would be followed by explanations that we didn’t really mean it, and an opportunity to vote again after a suitable pause for our re-education.)
So whatever your viewpoint, no matter how bored you are with the arguments or how disillusioned you may be with politicians in general, do please remember to make sure that you are registered to vote and cast one on 23rd June.