The EU debate: politicians selling a bill of goods

Brits have to decide the future of the country and are expected to know things not even experts can know. Maybe the EU referendum is just one big charade.

Tonight two salesmen will try to sell a bill of goods to the British public on ITV at 9pm.

In a debate intended to ‘inform’ the electorate, Prime Minister David Cameron and Nigel Farage hope to convince Brits to vote their way in the EU referendum.

I’m pessimistic about how informative the night will be. I expect both sides to spout one-liners and oversimplifications about why staying/leaving will have catastrophic consequences for Britain.

Though many would’ve preferred to see Cameron take on Boris Johnson I’m glad that’s not happening. Granted, it would probably have been more entertaining, but the last thing the EU debate needs is a Bullingdon pissing contest.

On paper the live debate could be a big opportunity for the Remain campaign to swing votes. After all, they have the PM making their case against a highly polarising politician.

Let’s face it, if you’re not on board with Farage by now, today’s debate is not likely to change your mind.

Politicians debating each other on live television before a big vote is a weird tradition anyway.

Only a fifth of Brits trust politicians to tell the truth. Why, then, should they consider them a reliable source for information?

The EU referendum debate has already demonstrated that politicians aren’t always concerned with serving the Greater Good.

One thing that is glaringly obvious is how easily politicians switch allegiance when it suits them. We see them change their views 180 degrees just to accommodate their latest crusade.

Cameron went from defending the EU in 2011 to criticising it when he announced the referendum in 2013 and back to defending it after he’d negotiated his deal.

Boris Johnson has written in many Telegraph columns, like this one, that leaving the EU won’t solve Britain’s problems. Yet when he saw an opportunity to personally gain from supporting Brexit, he changed his tune. After all, leading Britain out of the EU would bring him one step closer to the premiership.

Politicians who have spent years bashing Brussels – like Business Secretary Sajid Javid – now come to its aid.

Healthcare privatisation zealots like Michael Gove all of a sudden claim EU membership is the reason more money isn’t spent on the NHS.

Eurosceptic MPs like John Redwood flay the EU for imposing austerity on Greece while helping their party impose austerity on Britain.

It makes me think of Tony Benn, who divided politicians into two categories: signposts that always point in the same direction regardless of the weather, and weathervanes that point wherever the wind blows.

Most politicians appear to be little more than weathervanes whose primary motivation is what’s best for them.

They’re also telling others to stay out of the debate as if they have the exclusive right to share biased views. As soon as the Bank of England dares to mention the subject politicians bring out the gag.

“Why should careerist politicians be allowed to try and influence the vote but not people who are meant to be experts?” Ben Traynor rightly wondered in the Daily Reckoning.

The more I think about it the more absurd it all seems.

Brits are asked to decide the future of the country and expected to know what’s best when even experts can do little more than guess.

Yesterday Ben wrote that he questions whether the outcome of the vote makes any difference at all.

If he’s right and the vote hardly matters, you might wonder why you have been subjected to hysteric campaigns for the past year.

In November I said Cameron proposed an EU referendum to parry attacks from Eurosceptics within his own party. The PM never believed in the vote himself.

Prior to the 2015 general election the EU wasn’t on the minds of most Brits. Housing, education and the NHS all ranked higher on the list of priorities.

Government policy on these issues has been under great scrutiny. Britain lacks affordable homes, tuition fees are exorbitantly high, and the NHS is severely underfunded.

Yet for months now people’s concerns have been redirected to the EU. If I were in government I’d find that very convenient.

Maybe the referendum is just one big charade intended to lead our attention away from more important issues.

You might want to keep that in mind when you’re listening to the sales pitches tonight.

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