The FT’s Janan Ganesh was at his most eloquent earlier this week when he laid into Leave campaigners who dismiss anything from the Remain side as establishment or elitist.
There is bespoke invective for any third party who speaks against their cause, always on the theme of elite collusion. The governor of the Bank of England? Goldman Sachs puppet. Big business? Gluttons at the trough. As for the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde, she was put up to it by Treasury back-scratchers.
Yet the leaders of the Leave side are just as much an elite as the other lot. He continues:
What damns the Leavers is not their belief that the Treasury forecast is wrong. It is the hint they give off that they do not really mind if it is right. They can live with a recession if they must. If others cannot, well, nobody said the path to freedom is lined with cherry blossom. Their nonchalance is all the worse for their pose as underdog yeomen, a droll routine that has cabinet members and an Etonian former mayor of London deploring the “establishment”, presumably while buffing each other’s brass necks.
As if to prove him right, the following day, after publishing its report on the impact of Brexit on public finances, the Institute for Fiscal Studies was accused of being a “paid-up propaganda arm of the European commission” by Vote Leave and “part of the cosy establishment” by John Redwood.
The establishment has never been easy to define but if a director of N M Rothschild, Fellow of All Souls, MP in the governing party and former cabinet minister isn’t part of it, I don’t know who is.
The leaders of the Leave side are just as much establishment as the leaders of Remain. It may look like they have fewer big names but it’s worth remembering that most of the newspaper owners want Britain to leave the EU. A Reuters study published last week showed that most of the UK newspaper coverage was heavily skewed towards Brexit. Not bad for a supposedly anti-establishment campaign.
No, the truth of it is that, as with elections, the EU referendum is a competition between elites. The voters must make up their own minds but the information they get comes through politicians, academics, journalists, think tanks, industry bodies and professional services firms.
A commonly heard complaint every time you hear people interviewed is that they want the facts. That’s pretty difficult, given that we are talking about what might happen in the future but most of those who have analysed the data and used it to model the various scenarios have drawn similar conclusions. The numbers might be different but the story is the same.
The IFS report summarised them:
Apart from Economists for Brexit and Open Europe’s most optimistic scenario, every other study has concluded that the economy would be smaller by 2030 if we left the EU. The projections range from horrendous to merely unpleasant.
The estimates for the short-term hit are, if anything, even worse as they occur over a shorter period.
The figures from the CBI/PwC study are particularly interesting as they expect a severe hit and then things to settle down and improve over the longer term. This chart shows their most optimistic scenario.
The trouble is, as Janan says, most of us don’t have the resources to weather that storm. It may indeed turn out more-or-less OK in the end. It’s possible that, by 2030, the economy might not be that much worse. It might even be slightly better, though I doubt it. But in the meantime, our already fragile economy, with its slowing growth, flatlining productivity and an inability to cope with the sort of interest rates we used to think of as normal, will have been given another kicking. That means even slower pay growth if we are lucky and possibly pay cuts and unemployment if we are not. Even for those of us in relatively secure jobs, that’s another five years the youngsters have to save to buy a house and another five years the middle-aged have to work before they can retire. In short, with the economy as it is, another recession would be enough to finish a lot of us off.
Set against this, all the opposing elite has to offer is bluster and polemic. Their articles may be beautifully written, their speeches entertaining and sprinkled with classical references but they are short on anything that comes even close to evidence. Rather than building up their own body of knowledge, they have tried to denigrate their opponents with ad hominem attacks. As even the Mail on Sunday concluded last week:
They have failed to produce a substantial body of evidence that Britain will prosper or gain as a result of quitting the EU, and time is running out for them to do so.
Leaving the EU is a one-way door. The onus is on the people who want the change to make the case and they haven’t come anywhere near.
When choosing which elites to believe, I am more inclined to go with the ones that have given this some proper thought; the organisations who have looked at the numbers in detail and used sound methodologies to draw their conclusions. Should we leave the EU, none of them will be right, at least not exactly, but they will probably not be far short of the mark. When lots of clever people have crunched the numbers and have come to a broadly similar conclusion, there is probably something in what they say.
There is no elitist conspiracy here. Just about everybody who has looked at the evidence in any detail believes that leaving the EU would be a disaster for the UK. You may describe some of the people who say this as establishment but they are no more so than their critics. The difference is that those warning about the dangers of leaving the EU have actually done some work.