Several months ago I wrote a piece examining what I described as Carole Cadwalladr’s “strange fever dream” of an article concerning the overweening influence of big data analytics on the outcome of Britain’s EU referendum.
To that end, the details that Vote Leave Campaign Manager, Dominic Cummings, has made available are long on hype and short on results. Based on what we have seen to date, the notion that his campaign were “do[ing] things in the field of data that have never been done before” sounds like little more than bluster from a man whose primary talent is self-publicity.
In recent days, proceedings have taken a more sinister turn with another Guardian journalist raising the spectre of Russian influence and maybe even “dark money” (is that different to regular money?, ed.). These are serious allegations. In the circumstances, we can but wait for the outcome of any investigation that follows.
However, the tide of people leaping on this news as means to delegitimise the referendum result need to be rebuffed.
None of this changes the fact that the Remain campaign lost the vote. A majority of the British electorate voted to leave the EU in the most unlikely of circumstances, with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Leader of the Opposition, the Tory Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Bank of England, the Church of England, the CBI, the OECD, the IMF, and even President Barack Obama recommending the opposite outcome. Weighted against that amount of institutional prestige, the “leave” result was, I would argue, far more significant, than the figures 52 percent and 48 percent would ordinarily indicate.
The British have never particularly liked the EU. Even the most ardent Remain campaigners argued that Brussels is in need of “reform” (whatever that means). How or what that reform should be was never spelled out. The Remainers’ primary argument was that EU withdrawal is a risk.
In that regard, they have proved more right than anybody could have known. Certainly, I did not bank on the apparently bottomless ineptitude of the political parties and of large parts of what is called the British establishment (media, academia, trade associations, etc.).
Faced with the reality of EU withdrawal, rather than digging into the details, the respectable media is engaged in a fantastical search for a mastermind or super villain—whether it be in the form of a big data billionaire or Vladimir Putin—to blame for their failures. Maybe this mysterious individual is secretly controlling events from an underground volcano lair somewhere on the moon?
Do journalists imagine that these sub-Bond narratives are an effective substitute for investigation and fact-finding (normally involving nothing much more glamorous than a lot of reading)?
The Occam’s Razor explanation for the behaviour of the appointed campaigns—Leave and Remain—and of our present government is much more down to Earth. The British establishment is presently peopled by large numbers of lazy, ineffectual, and, on the whole, not particularly bright people. David Cameron offered a referendum he thought he couldn’t lose and lost it. Theresa May fought a General Election from which she thought she could not fail to gain seats and lost seats.
Now, we’re being told the serial failures of these inept careerists are a result of dark web magic or Russian money. There is, of course, a more straightforward explanation.