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The Leave ‘people’s army’ is just as Establishment as Remain – don’t fight the referendum on class

Jonathan Lindsell, 23 March 2016

There is nothing wrong with a campaign having elite or business support, and indeed it makes perfect sense to argue that employers, exporters and manufacturers should have a voice in the EU debate. However, it is hypocritical and plain untrue for one campaign to claim the mantle of the downtrodden and ‘The People’ while accepting money, advice and strategic direction from hedge funds and industrialists.

I don’t want this to turn into an ad hominem blog so let me be clear: it is fine for any person or company supporting Leave. My point is simply that there are titans of industry and politics on the Leave side whose hands softly fit into the Establishment gloves, so it is divisive to imply that Remain is peopled by illegitimate intelligentsia or big businessmen while Leave is the authentic voice of the people. With polls showing a near-even split, it’s fair to say that both campaigns are the voices of many people and neither of all.

To highlight a few, Labour’s largest private donor, John Mills, founder and owner of JML Direct, is a prominent Leave supporter and former Vote Leave chairman. The leader and main funder of Leave.EU is multi-millionaire Arron Banks. The same logic applies to Peter Hargreaves CBE, co-founder of  FTSE 100 financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown, who sent out millions of pro-Brexit leaflets this week.

The mantle of ‘the people’ is an odd one when applied to Tory luminaries past and present. The Leave campaign boasts, and often thrusts into the cameras, former leaders Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, former Chancellors Nigel Lawson and Norman Lamont, the London mayor Boris Johnson, and a host of lesser cabinet members. They are joined by Lord David Owen, former foreign secretary then leader of the Social Democrats.

Even Nigel Farage, who tried to get people to call Ukip the ‘People’s Army’ during the last election, was a public school-educated City trader before he got into politics. Ukip’s trade representative is William Legge, 10th Earl of Dartmouth, and its Treasurer until last year was multi-millionaire derivatives trader Stuart Wheeler.

There are business leaders and lords on the Remain side too, just as there are ordinary working people of all stripes. It would be a tragedy for this referendum to devolve into name-calling, class division and personal hostility. The Leave camp should try to convince people by their arguments for a post-Brexit future, not their hostile characterisation of those who wish to Remain.

Critical Comment by David Green, Director of Civitas

This article misses the point. There is no objection to people merely because they are rich or successful. There are wealthy, high-powered people on both sides of the debate. It is a question of what they stand for. The EU is an elite project because its institutions are designed to give central power to a few leaders who can’t easily be removed. This political elite desires to control other people’s lives.

Britain’s system allows the people to throw out the Government at election time. And we don’t have to wait for five years. A vote of no confidence in the House of Commons means that the Government must resign and an immediate election held. It last happened in 1979 but the power does not have to be used very often. The threat alone changes the behaviour of governments. The Cameron government, for example, has a working majority but it recently backed away from planned welfare reforms because it knew it would lose a vote in the Commons.

Business leaders who support EU membership are being criticised, not just because they’ve got money or power, but because they support the continued power of a political elite in Brussels that is prepared to impose policies regardless of the harm they cause – as the unemployed of Greece, Portugal and Spain can testify. They serve the interests of a reactionary political elite that expects to benefit at the expense of the rank and file. Stuart Rose gave the game away when he admitted that he valued immigration because it allows employers like him to pay lower wages.

The business leaders who support independence reject the idea of government as a device that allows the few to exert control over the many. They want to restore the ideal of government as a trust for all members of society, whose people can take back power when the need arises.

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