Lead Thyself

With the “name the date” game on hold, for the time being, instead of engaging with the substantive policy issues that confront the country, the press are now playing the “who will lead the ‘leave’ campaign?” game.

Theresa May is apparently “out” (in the sense that she is supporting “in”) while Boris Johnson, one of the most committed europhile politicians in the country, is considering how to announce that he wants to stay while making it sound like he would rather leave. Michael Gove, far less popular and much less well-known outside the Westminster village than Tory-leaning scribblers seem to imagine, is reportedly thinking about backing “leave” (I seriously doubt it) but Cameron is “pleading” with the Justice Secretary to keep him on side. Sajid Javid, as an unapologetic supporter of the Thatcher government may be ideologically attracted to the “leave” proposition, but being on the “wrong side” of the vote will harm his career prospects so he is definitely thinking about considering whether it is feasible for him to wait and see.

The loopiest suggestion I have so far read is that the “leave” campaign should be led by Michael Portillo, a man best known for losing his seat at the 1997 General Election and sitting on the This Week sofa next to Diane Abbott. This is obviously a joke, but that is just about the level of the journalistic trade; as far as the hacks are concerned, sovereignty and self-governance are laughable, something to be scorned and ridiculed as essentially trivial.

Referendums, however, are not like the everyday soap opera of Westminster party politics. Referendums do not require people to lend their power to elected “representatives” who act on their behalf. In a referendum everybody speaks and votes for themselves. We do not need “leaders” to tell us what to think or how to vote.

Furthermore, the legacy media is not a neutral party in wanting the “leave” camp to follow a single leader. The presence of a so-called leader is what allows journalists to control the narrative, portraying principled policy disputes as personality clashes and using their privileged position to dole out information in whatever way suits their narrow little agendas.

In a debate that concerns policy and principle, knowledge and expertise are much more valuable than access to “important individuals”, which, given the general inability of gossipy hacks to analyse and research, pretty much cuts the journos out of the loop.

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