Nostalgia-driven politics, misinformation and racism are the biggest problems facing Britain today, says STEVE ANGLESEY.
On the morning of Brexit Day, the influential right-wing academic Matthew Goodwin published a blog headlined “All the lies about Leavers”. The sub-heading ran: “They’re nostalgic, they’re gullible, and they’re scared of diversity – all these myths have been debunked”.
You have to hope that Goodwin was watching television over the next few hours. First there was nostalgia, with crowds in Westminster singing the First World War anthem Take me back to dear old Blighty and a man driving around in a 1958 bubble car (the very European Isetta, created by Italian firm Iso SpA and re-engineered by Germany’s BMW).
Then came gullibility, as vox pops with Brexiteers from around the country displayed some confusion about what they believed B-Day was about to deliver. “We need our infrastructure back,” said a man named Wayne Morgan from a pub in Kettering. Told that Brussels had not interfered in stopping us rebuilding our infrastructure, he replied “I don’t really know. I was a young child when this came into fruition.” In Westminster, a woman holding a plastic union flag said Brexit would mean “our court laws will be changing to ours, so we have what a say in what goes on in this country. Human rights and everything will be turned into our laws and our courts will have the right to say what goes instead of Germany.”
Alas, we did not get the thoughts of the man from Old Leake, near Boston, who hoved into the cameras’ view while wearing a T-shirt reading “Two World Wars One Referendudum” (sic), but perhaps he would have provided enough clarity to vindicate Goodwin’s dismissal of the “myth of incoherent Leavers”.
Finally we hit fear of diversity with the awful poster stuck to doors on all 15 floors of a tower block in my beautiful adopted hometown of Norwich. This advised residents that: “As we finally have our great country back we feel there is one rule that needs to be made clear… We do not tolerate people speaking other languages than English in the flats.
“We are now our own country again and the Queens English is the spoken tongue here. If you do not want to speak whatever is the mother tongue of the country you came from then we suggest you return to that place and return your flat to the council so they can let British people live here and we can return to what was normality before you infected this once great island.”
Not the best support, then, for Goodwin’s contention that “Brexit has made our politics more not less tolerant, yet many on the liberal-Left continue to catastrophise, painting a picture of a country that their fellow citizens simply do not recognise.”
Of course, none of this means that only people who feared diversity, lacked knowledge about the EU and felt nostalgia for an idealised golden age of Britain voted for Brexit. However to pretend that those views do not exist and that they might have had some impact on the results of the referendum, not to mention recent European and general elections, is simply not credible.
Equally ludicrous are attempts from the Brexit-supporting left to suggest that Remainer reaction to the Brexit Night vox pops is more damning that the content of the vox pops themselves. “If you claim to be on the side of the working class but take pleasure in reposting a video designed to publicly humiliate an ordinary Leave voter who has been shoved in front of a camera for the first time in her life and told to talk politics, you really need to check yourself,” wrote the trade unionist and supporter of ‘Blue Labour’, Paul Embery.
“I’ve seen lots of mocking… but this video demonstrates what an immense signifier Brexit became,” wrote the political commentator Aaron Bastani. “‘To manufacture thought is like a masterpiece by weaver wrought’. The truth is they aren’t ‘stupid’ – the other side was worse at PR.”
So Embery seems to imply that we should expect ordinary working class people to be unable to define and defend what they believe in, while Bastani believes the vox popped were not stupid but merely naive and gullible when faced with propaganda. Aren’t these statements, in their own way, just as patronising as what they accuse Remainers of?
Part of the truth, surely, is that people from any walk of life can suddenly become inarticulate on camera (think of Bastani’s offer, when struggling in a discussion of anti-Semitism on Sky News in 2018 to “come back on tomorrow and I’ll be incredibly well-researched”). And that many who voted Leave did so for almost indefinable reasons surrounding notions of lost sovereignty which, as any number of TV interviews with Brexiteer MPs will demonstrate, are difficult enough to condense into a soundbite even for a professional.
It’s also true, though, that nostalgia-driven politics, misinformation and racism are among the most serious problems facing Britain today. To pretend otherwise is just taking the myth.
Steve’s selection of the week
What next for the nicotine-stained man-frog? After his jaunt to Trump’s boastful State of the Union speech, Farage plans to rally the anti-EU cause in other European countries. “The way the Poles have been insulted by the EU is probably more than they can bear,” he said. “A poll in Poland last year said, for the first time, that Poles believe the EU has a negative effect on their lives.”
Good luck with that one, Nigel. A just-released Kantar poll with fieldwork done between January 29-30, 2020, showed support for Leave in Poland has halved to just 6% of the population, while contrary to his claims, a survey late last year revealed that only 8% think EU membership has been a bad thing for the country.
Meanwhile Farage is rightly earning opprobrium for his comment on documentary The Man Who Made Brexit about whether the referendum was divisive. “There was one murder,” he said dismissively.
The Daily Mail columnist, married to Michael Gove, penned a lengthy piece about her Brexit loneliness. “Some people will, like me, have fallen out forever with old friends,” she wrote, complaining about “slurs from former friends, having my reputation shredded”.
Just a thought, but perhaps the best way to retain chums who happen to be the prime minister and his wife is not to slag them off on Twitter when they demote your husband (“a shabby day’s work which Cameron will live to regret,” Vine wrote after Gove was moved from education secretary to chief whip in 2014)? Or, when the PM offers the twin olive branch of a promotion for hubby and the chance to spend a family Christmas at Chequers, to accept gratefully and then go against him in a career-defining referendum a few months later?
A special guest at Nigel Farage’s Brexit Night party, the combative comedian sounded more conciliatory than usual when he told guests: “Let’s prove that we can all get together with the people who wanted to remain, with the young generation.”
Who better to win back the youth than Jim? A large section of his current stage routine involves swipes at millennials and a look at his Twitter timeline tweets include ranting about “Jeremy Kyle morons and millennials who know f**k all” (4/6/17), “dodgy millennials” (9/6/17), “loonies lefties and millennials” (20/10/18) and “young millennials on the Chase. What’s the point of going on?” (6/1/19).
Davidson added that: “I am a Leaver and my wife was a Remainer – I get up and leave the house to go work in the morning and she remains in bed all day.” He has been divorced four times, costing him £60 million.
The actor/singer was the star turn at Tory donor Jon Moynihan’s Brexit Night party, banging out the last verse of her 1981 hit Memory from Cats just as Big Ben failed to strike 11.
It’s unclear what guests including Mark Francois made of the line “If you touch me, you’ll understand what happiness is”, but how fitting that the song comes from the musical Cats, now a laughing stock thanks to its disastrous 2019 film adaptation. It is sung by the mangy and decrepit Grizabella, who has been ostracised by her fellow felines for her habit of droning on about the past. Remind you of anything?
Paige is a long-term Brexiteer, having told the Telegraph in 2016: “I refuse to let anyone dictate the shape of my bananas.”