Brexiteers begin to dream
At the same time they insist that they are spelling out a truth that the European Union and captive British governments have sought to mask: That the EU’s commitment to the free movement of labor has robbed the UK of control over its own borders, exposing the country to unlimited immigration.
With their campaign fractionally ahead in opinion polls, the anti-immigration stance of the “Brexiteers” seems to be paying dividends. Meanwhile, Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, split between pro- and anti-EU factions is plunging ever deeper into internecine warfare. Britain’s pro-EU Prime Minister David Cameron is locked in combat with anti-EU Conservatives, chief among them Justice Minister Michael Gove, and Conservative MP Boris Johnson, who was till recently mayor of London.
Now former Conservative Prime Minister John Major has weighed in on Cameron’s behalf, accusing Gove and Johnson of running a campaign based on deceit. Palpably hungry for power, Johnson has fought the Brexit campaign with blatant appeals to xenophobia and nostalgia for the days when white Englishmen ruled the world. Consider his crude attack on US President Barack Obama’s endorsement of the so-called “Remain” campaign. Pointing to Obama’s “part-Kenyan ancestry,” Johnson alleged that the president was betraying ancestral resentment toward the British Empire.
(Kenyans, incidentally, have every reason to resent British imperial rule: Britain has had to pay vast compensation to Kenyan people who were tortured in the 1950s by the then British authorities.)
While Johnson and his colleagues rail against interference by Brussels, they are not at all bothered by the meddling in British affairs of the New York-based Australian media baron Rupert Murdoch. Why would they be when Murdoch’s British newspapers the Sun, the Times and Sunday Times have for years been rabid in their hostility to Europe? Murdoch was a furious Brexiteer long before the term existed. Only one thing has equaled his loathing of the EU: His hatred of the BBC. The BBC with its public service remit and the European Union with its social legislation are institutions for which this apostle of untrammeled free markets sees no justification.
Following the scandal that erupted over phone hacking carried out by his News of the World, the tabloid Sunday newspaper that he shut down in 2011, the octogenarian Murdoch’s career as a major player in United Kingdom public affairs appeared to be over.
Yet now he is as much at the heart of the country’s politics as ever, with the Brexiteers serving his cause no less than their own as they lambast “anti-democratic elites” in London and Brussels — as if Murdoch and the plutocratic interests behind the Brexit campaign did not constitute an anti-democratic elite in their own right.
The incredible thing is that Murdoch’s name goes unmentioned by in all the talk about the European Union referendum in the British media. Not that he will mind this. After all, to a considerable degree he is the British media, with the television station that he founded, Sky, now challenging the BBC as the UK’s national broadcaster.
For Murdoch, Brexit would crown a propaganda war that he has waged with ferocious single-mindedness. It has been the mission of his British newspapers to revile the European Union remorselessly while ignoring the signal benefits Britain has enjoyed from belonging to it: Parts of the UK would have virtually died but for European Union subsidies.
If many British people are ill-informed about the European Union, it is thanks in no small measure to decades of Murdoch-inspired “disinformation.”
Promising to empower the dis-empowered, Murdoch and the Brexiteers are making their pitch to the same constituency as US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, people with a bitter sense that an era of mass migration and headlong change has condemned them to socioeconomic irrelevance.
Brexit would be a triumph for populist nationalism of far-reaching resonance and a massive setback for progressive politics. Yet the outcome of the referendum remains on a knife-edge. What few doubt is that it has the potential to convulse a continent.
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