There used to be a fake auction house at the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street that ran a highly effective scam. As passers-by elbowed their way in, a convincing sounding bloke would hold up luxurious looking gadgets –promising to give them away to the first bidder.
The sale started and as the price dropped a voice would ring out at a critical point and the winning customer – a member of the gang hidden among the crowd -would walk away with what appeared to be a top end bargain.
At this moment – with the pressure ramped up – thrilled punters would surge forward, jostling and shouting, until they too had been handed a tenner’s worth of goodies in a sealed black bin liner. Once home, buyer’s glee rapidly descended into buyer’s remorse, as the unhappy dupe discovered that he or she had been sold a worthless piece of junk.
It was a brilliant swindle that lasted a decade, because it turned on a very basic principle of human psychology: few people are ever willing to admit, that they were stupid enough to have been conned.
Much the same is true in politics.
In the run up to the Gulf War in 2003 YouGov polls showed that around 54% of British people supported the overthrow of Saddam. The tabloids and many broadsheets – with the notable exceptions of the Independent and Guardian – bought in. The Sun thoughtfully provided its readers with a “dartboard of traitors.” A willing press, right wing commentators, the ‘dodgy dossier’ and Tony Blair’s relative popularity conspired to convince most people that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – that could be deployed in 45 minutes.
Donald Rumsfeld US Defence Secretary insisted the invasion would be swift and uncomplicated. It would all be over long before Christmas.
Very quickly that belief faded like dust into the desert sand and a catastrophic decade of deadly conflict was unleashed, but by then of course it was too late.
Twelve years later in a follow up YouGov poll only 37% of British people admitted to having believed the invasion to have been right in the first place. You would be hard pressed to find anyone now willing to admit that they thought the Iraq war was good at the time and hardly anyone at all who would call it an unqualified success.
With every day the Brexit project unravels and yet the 52% who backed it seem as willing to accept they have been tricked as the Oxford Street punters or the Gulf War supporters. Once again the papers are branding naysayers “enemies of the state” or “mutineers” in much the same way that The Sun called Charles Kennedy a traitor.
In July Liam Fox said that leaving the EU and securing a free trade deal should be “one of the easiest (things) in human history.” Sound familiar? Farage told the BBC last year that Brexit would be easy. I wonder how many will agree in 12 years’ time?
In the run up to June 2016, as Leave were busy labelling every warning about the consequences of Brexit – ‘Project Fear’ – they themselves were concocting “Project Lie” a dossier every bit as dodgy as Tony Blair’s “WMDs”.
Taking advantage of the fact that most Britons did not understand the complexity of our relationship with the EU and – critically – that nobody in public life would be brave enough to point this out – Leave embarked on a campaign of deceit that would have made the crook in the Oxford Street auction house blush.
They lied when they said we sent £350 million a week to the EU and again when they said it could be diverted to the NHS.
They lied when they said we had no control of our borders, when they insisted it wouldn’t hit our economy, our freedom to travel, our global standing – our reputation in the world – our place in the queue for trade with the US.
They lied when they claimed the UK had no influence because of the EU, that we were outvoted, that 70% of our laws were made there – that it weakened us when in fact it made us stronger.
They lied about Turkey.
They lied about sovereignty. They even lied about the dark blue passports.
They lied when they said it would be good.
On the 23rd of June 2016 Britain was sold a costly black bin liner full of crap. Making that error does not make those who bought it fools. Failing to recognise it does. Perhaps it’s time to find the courage to ask for our money back.