The ‘morality police’ of Brexit are closing down debate, says YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN. We must not let them
What? We can’t object to Brexit? Can’t even scream as the nation is propelled headlong into a lightless chasm? The rules have apparently changed. All Brits are expected to fall in line, to commit absolutely to the referendum result.
Remainers can whisper anxiously in closed rooms. But out there we must be jauntily jingoistic, prepared to suffer whatever comes, never question the motives of Leavers, cheer on the political blackguards who took the nation to the edge.
In Iran and Saudi Arabia they have ‘morality police’ who control individual behaviours to protect Islam. In Britain we now have Brexit jihadis who use coercion, vilification and harsh injunctions ostensibly to protect democracy. Remainers have no freedom of speech. The air itself feels thick and oppressive; dissenters are suffocating.
Few dare talk about how racism and xenophobia played out in the plebiscite. Those latent animosities were positively stimulated by right-wing polemicists and politicians. Racists could shed shame and feel pride; they were protected from censure. Those of us who raised the ‘r’ word were masticated by Brexit bulldogs.
A fightback is long overdue. The next time one of them barks: ‘Are you calling good, decent people racist?’ Be brave and say: ‘Yes and no. Not all Leavers are racist but too many are. All racists voted to leave the EU. We will call them out.’
Next to the accusation that ‘Remoaners’ are not democrats because we won’t shut up. Hokum. Firstly, complex politics cannot be reduced to a simple yes/no final answer.
When populations are asked to choose in this way, emotions are heightened and reasoned deliberations drummed out, as happened with the EU vote. Secondly, a referendum, as Margaret Thatcher, famously noted, ‘is a device of dictators and demagogues’. Through the 1930s, Mussolini and Hitler used them to hold on to and build power.
Parliamentary scrutiny is also weakened. That is evident in the House of Commons. Since the result elected politicians cower before populism, worry about their own election prospects. Most know the country cannot thrive without migrant talent or the EU. The national interest can’t be prioritised. Mobs must be kept happy. What a dereliction of duty.
Then there is the narrative of ‘elitism’ and the ‘unheard’, a narrative we must repeat to get the right grade in the newly compulsory subjects of non-elitism and averageness.
Otherwise expect to be soundly chastised. Brexiter Giles Fraser, good man of God and Guardian columnist wrote recently: ‘Blakenall Heath seethed with the anger of the unheard… I began to get some sense of what it felt like when nobody listened to or cared in the slightest about what you said. It felt like no one gave a shit. Every now and again the place would show up on some list of crap towns for posh people to snigger at… These weren’t the ‘left behinds’ – a term that implies that with a quick hop and a skip they might just catch up. This place was the inevitable byproduct – waste product, even – of market forces, and the price that more prosperous parts of the country had secretly accepted as worth paying for the many other benefits that capitalism delivered to them.’
I agree that today’s capitalists are un-sharing, uncaring profiteers, but these words are lazy and shabby, his slurs too. The inhabitants of Blakenall Heath, in Walsall, are not just acted upon but have agency. Some are left-behinds; others are stay-behinds. Sometimes you have to leave home towns, terribly hard though that is.
Moreover, Blair’s government did reach such places and start to reduce poverty. It’s these Tories who pushed austerity and still do. How is Brexit going to help Fraser’s flock? That is the unanswered question.
Finally, too many Britons are under-educated and unskilled. To survive the modern world, resources are needed to bring them on. (It is basic human right.) And yes, take over work done by migrants from the EU.
However, many of those most in need are wary of any policies that might transform their lives. Just watch the Channel 4 series Educating Manchester to see how generational disadvantage is not always pre-destiny or the result of official indifference. Leaving the EU is going to make things worse, not better for them. As a socialist I believe the state is responsible for the welfare of citizens. To get states to deliver, citizens must be politically savvy, informed and determined, like, say, the Grenfell residents and Hillsborough families.
After David Cameron announced the referendum, people living in depressed areas were too easily duped by Brexit politicians into believing it was all the fault of outsiders. I can’t forgive that. In the next chaotic period Boris, Gove, Fox et al will get ever more mendacious and manipulative. Remainers must combatively defy the maniacs and their many supporters. Won’t be easy. But has to be done. Our country needs us.