With days to go to the EU referendum, with all polls pointing to Brexit, what does this tell us?
Well, for one, it proves that facts and expertise are not important. This is has been declared out loud by Michael Gove saying people have had enough of experts, and Lord Lamont discounting economic research as opinion and propaganda.
I’ve often criticised the Labour Party leadership for failing to understand that getting elected is more like a game than an exam. But even with my level of cynicism, I have overestimated the extent to which knowledge or insight play in rallying voters’ support.
Almost every economist, business leader and international leader has called out Brexit as foolish. And yet support for leaving the EU is swelling.
Much of the energy behind the Trump and Brexit phenomenon has been put down to anti-establishmentarianism and the result of mistrust of politicians.
Yet the lesson that will come from Brexit is that facts and expertise are unimportant. Whereas charisma and scapegoating are. The result of this is the incentivisation of politicians to be less knowledgeable and more manipulative.
The success of Trump and the Brexiteers has taken the establishment by surprise. But should it have? Many economic commentators such as Krugman and Wren-Lewis have highlighted how establishment US and UK right wing parties have used a smattering of anti-immigration fervour to deliver electoral victory – despite knowing full well that it lacks truth or dignity. But when extreme sections of these right wing parties fully embrace hate issues, the centrist right are out-flanked – unable to deny it having used it for their own ends.
I have just finished reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. The narrator relates his journey into the unforgiving landscape around the River Congo. As he winds his way against the flow, he finds the local peoples mercilessly enslaved and their ruling overlords gone mad.
“The horror, the horror.”