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Brexit in the post-truth era


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So far so terrible in the great Brexit debate. Before I continue, if you haven’t registered yet, go and fucking REGISTER. You literally have until midnight if you’re voting in person and the deadline for postal votes is 5pm tomorrow. You don’t want to be that friend who isn’t invited to the party but has to receive all the notifications in the group chat about where everyone should meet up.

Like I was saying, so far, so terrible. We’ve been inundated with claims and counterclaims, warned of economic disaster and threatened with explosive immigration. If you were looking for a level headed discussion on pros and cons, you’ve come to the wrong damn country at the wrong damn time. Did you know that 76 million Turkish people are literally waiting to abandon their country and come to the UK? Think of the exponential growth in kebab shops; think of the little fat children won’t you?  But wait, apparently that’s not happening anytime soon.

These fierce, contradicting arguments appear to be the product of what Johnathan Freedland in the Guardian refers to as the era of post-truth politics. In his piece, he takes aim at the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson for their apparent distaste for facts and truth. The idea is if you squeeze enough personality and likability into someone, combine that with the understandable public scepticism of what is seen as the establishment, you get politicians who know they can play fast and loose with facts whenever it suits them. If you sprinkle your arguments with the slightest hint of that age old ‘little guy vs nefarious big guy’ narrative, the truth is yours to bend like Beckham.

This can be a criticism of both sides of the political spectrum and is especially true in the Brexit debate, where each side is unwilling to concede any ground to the other for fear of losing the political game. What we are left with is claims like the 350 million a week we send to Brussels, which is contested to no end. Both sides claim they’ve got the facts and both sides claim the other is wrong. That clearly isn’t possible: you can’t both have the facts when you’re both claiming the other is lying. Trust me; I googled the definition of a fact, and it states:

A thing that is known or proved to be true

So who is telling the truth? Is it 350 million or not? Apparently it isn’t but Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign, already paid for posters and buses so it’s too late to change it now. Oops. The real number varies from year to year but is about 250 million. That doesn’t change much if you’re a leaver and it really shouldn’t; both numbers are a minuscule percentage of the government’s budget and I imagine there are more pressing issues that make people want to leave the EU.

But it does exemplify the post-truthiness of this debate. You can watch Michael Gove steadfastly refuse to cave when challenged on the 350 million figure even when it’s repeatedly called out. He could just say, “Guys we are sorry about that. We were super excited about putting forward our argument and we got a bit carried away. But the point still stands. Also the guy who does the bus paintings is on holiday in Ibiza so we can’t really change them now.”

We would then swiftly move on to other arguments, I hope.

Lamentably, post-truth is here to stay, as can be seen with Trump and YouGov polls, which are showing that Boris Johnson is the most trusted politician on the EU debate: he has a -26% net rating, which sounds bad until you realise Jeremy Corbyn has -36% and the prime minister lies face down with -56%... The same Boris Johnson who is routinely called out for his ridiculous claims about “overreaching” EU regulation.

(I made this on paint. Don’t hate, appreciate)

David Cameron is unfortunately the face of the remain camp, and he has kind of brought baggage with him. People will not find it easy to separate their view of him in relation to domestic policies from their view of him in relation to the EU membership debate. His robotic and structured talking points approach does not bode well on a debate which is largely based on gut feeling and emotion. Cameron-bot 2.0 is soon to come with extra added features like caring eyes and a smile that doesn’t look like he’s being held at gun point, but for now version 1 will have to do.

At the Intelligence Squared Brexit debate, Nick Clegg made a very cogent point about this being a judgement call: there is no one factoid that will change and illuminate your mind on this debate. As a young person I am more inclined to remain and as someone who doesn’t really identify with nationalism I am inclined to remain, but these things don’t preclude me from searching out facts and numbers, things that help purify the muddy waters of this debate. This is something I will be doing until June the 23rd or at least until I get tired of seeing Boris’ flappy hair. Here are some websites that I’ve used to help untangle this whole mess in our post truth era:

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