Yasmin Alibhai-Brown looks at the vocal Brexiteers campaigning from afar.
Some of the most ardent of Brexiteers choose to live abroad and direct common folk on what to do and think about their sovereign nation – Great Britain.
The most vocal include Nigel Lawson, previously chairman of the Vote Leave campaign, Louise Mensch, an ex-Tory MP who opines maniacally about British politics, Steve Hilton, once David Cameron’s bestest friend but now mutated into a frantic populist and Niall Ferguson, academic, columnist and zealot.
Outlying nationalism is both mightily rewarding and easy. These guys – all UK natives – have become sages without suffering the same anxieties about what comes next for those of us who actually live on these isles, for better and worse. You see them often on key programmes, flying in to tell us what’s what, and then returning to their nice foreign abodes. Their money and influence is secure.
It turns out they aren’t free to set their own rules after all. Recently, Lawson breezily let it be known that he lives in a mansion in Gascony, south west France and has applied for a French residency card. His upper class buoyancy didn’t play too well. He was widely berated. One pro-EU Brit tweeted: ‘One rule for him another for the rest. Merde va te faire foutre (f**k you).’
Hilton projected himself as a Tory-with-heart who cycled everywhere, wore flip-flops, seemed oh-so-concerned about migrants, the poor and social cohesion. That was then. Hilton became a real man, a Fox News presenter, millionaire follower of Trumpism.
Hilton is still showcased by the BBC and other media outlets, for unfathomable reasons.
Mensch is another rich, overseas dabbler. When she turns up – as she did on Question Time in 2016 – she was mocked by audience members. The almost-somebody has faded into a near-nobody. Only she, being vain, doesn’t know it yet. Ferguson was always the biggest beast of these migrant patriots. He is a dazzling intellectual and communicator. His books are bestsellers; he delivered the Reith lectures, he goes to Davos, is well connected.
Now he too comes crashing down. At Stanford, his university, Ferguson and others set up Cardinal Conversations, backed by the conservative Hoover Institution. They invite ‘provocative’ speakers – like Charles Murray, who has claimed that black and Latino genetics are linked to intellectual inferiority – and kick up controversies on campus.
Last week, some emails between the prof and his acolytes got into the public domain. Ferguson saw Michael Ocon, a left-wing student activist, as an enemy within. He asked two Stanford Republicans for some ‘research’ to discredit the student and shared tactics on how to grind down the left.
The recipients promised to do his dirty work for him. These right-wingers thought they had the right to snoop on undergraduates and intimidate them politically. Ferguson has resigned from Cardinal Conversations. He stands naked before us, a man who can’t stand opposing views.
All these guys use stirring language and high principles to establish a right-wing world order.
Trump and Brexit are part of their grand plan. But each time the realities are exposed, they weaken a little their hold on power and politics. That matters. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Schadenfreude. There’s nothing more agreeable than watching conceit trip up.