Click here for a summary of this piece, consisting of just over 700 words.
Are You Sitting Comfortably ?
The history of the United Kingdom (whose every seam is under terrible stretch and strain just now) continues so fast, so scattered, so hurt, so incoherent, so unguided and ill-advised, that it is hard to keep up, hard to make sense of it. One hangs on, just about. And even that’s hard enough.
I truly admire the journalists who write opinion articles for the very few organs in this country that are genuine newspapers and members of a “free press.” I may not agree with some of them, or any of them equally all the time, but in the middle of this continuous storm of frenetic and momentous developments, they do keep putting thoughts together that are at least apparently coherent. I am left wondering how they do it. How can coherence, calm reflection, still be possible ? Much of the time, these days, I just feel lost at sea, shipping in a new rogue wave at every moment. Sensible reflective thought is hard enough at the quietest of times. In these times ?
But I cannot be still, unless I speak, even into a void. Even into a maelstrom. Even if I am just another maelstrom myself.
And today, Monday 19th June 2017, close to Midsummer’s night, an iron-clad gladiator from the far right of our reeling Conservative Party, whose name is David Davis, has bustled across the water to start unstitching this nation from the continent of which it is a natural part. With what real authority is he making this momentous trip ? With what real assent ? In whose real interests ? With what real sense ? What will historians say about this day ?
I shall build an argument, some of its components having been set out in a bit more detail in earlier posts uploaded here. I shall try to draw a conclusion on the basis of that argument. This is not a short piece, I wish it were. I have not been able to make it short.
In the process of my argument, I need to talk about what makes a democracy and what is sovereignty and what constitutes a true and valid and sovereign democratic decision. (And what’s it like to stand at the top of a burning tower, trapped, with no way out ?). I want to talk about what a “free press” means (as opposed to a virulent propaganda machine acting on behalf and at the behest of a bunch of dodgy billionaires who don’t like regulation). I want to talk (again) about truth-telling and the language of the public forum, and the speakers thereof, and of honour and of crime and of punishment. I want to talk about the right wing’s hatred of regulation and “red tape” and their need to have personal control at whatever cost to nation and neighbour. (Do you remember the Twin Towers ? Do you remember that Jordanian pilot burning in a cage ? And that bomb in Manchester ? And those knives in the Borough market ? And those vans which nowadays deliberately break into the living bodies of people on the pavements of our streets ? What’s going on ?) I want to talk about our way of life and what we stand for and whether it’s working at the present time. Are our society and its systems up to the mark ? Are they fit ?
We know they are not. We are living the fact that they are not. How can they be ? They trap and burn our people to death. They betray and divide us.
And, as an ageing Englishman, I want to talk, in conclusion, about Brexit.
Are you sitting comfortably ? How can we possibly manage all this together ? Yet what a crisis we have reached. And all the issues mentioned above are implicated in the crisis that we are facing. So much is in question and in the valley of the shadow, and how desperately we need to start to put things right just now.
Of course this plan, this mind-shape, this building of an argument which aims for a conclusion, this stacking of bricks towards a roof, a key-stone, this way of going about things, is probably already hopelessly retro and won’t work.
Argument ? What’s that ? If truth does not exist any more, and the public forum is just a fight for supremacy between different phoney adverts and lies, then argument is old hat, pure self-indulgence, a retreat into a dream world, a world now submerged. Who listens to argument any more ?
Argument used to prove things, establish a conclusion, open up ground, make agreement possible. But you don’t need to prove anything now. You just conjure it up. A rabbit hops out of your silk hat and wags its ears. A crowd gathers. The selfies begin. But it’s hard to sleep at nights when the world we live in has become some lawless hooligan’s magic spell, flickering in the dark.
I shall say now, near the beginning of this piece, where my argument is going to end. Its conclusion will be that the EU referendum of 2016 was a bogus, unsound exercise for a whole range of reasons, including behaviour by politicians and other campaigners which I shall call criminal. For that and other reasons, the relatively close result was meaningless and void and has been manipulated by Brexit supporters and camp followers (including our rabid right wing “press” and our present Prime Minister) to a degree that should be punishable. I shall argue, in fact, that it is our duty as a people to recognise that this tumultuous issue is in truth just a terrible red herring, a sham, a false step, a cul-de-sac, a trap into which we must not fall ; for the whole Brexit business – the process of “deciding,” the so-called “result” and all the incoherent and incompetent nonsense that has followed – is just a symptom and scapegoat, in itself, of a society which is failing its own people and in desperate need of renewal across the board. And this last is what we should be concentrating on.
All our best energies and all our best people are needed for the renewal of our nation and its institutions. France was (and still is) faced with similar question marks and upheavals as those which confront the UK , but in its response has chosen a clearly remarkable man as leader and although of course we need to wait and see what such a man, with his background, really means by reform, and how profound and effective these will be, at least we can see something genuinely new happening in that country, steered by someone of flair, freshness, humanity and directness. By stark contrast, the UK has gone for mean-spirited mediocrity alongside self-deluded, self-defeating backward extremism. A retreat behind illusory walls. A return to chasing foxes. In the final analysis, Brexit is an inexcusable distraction and “magic” solution of unworthy spirit, a conjuror’s rabbit on a dirty table, a foolish emperor without clothes, feted by rich hooligans. The UK problem was not “out there” across the channel. It was always here. The solution has to be sought here as well, not through severance but in community and through reform. And similar solutions need to be sought and found everywhere else as well. We’re all in this together.
“Too late, too late, Remoaner, all too late. It’s started now. It’s decided. There’s no stopping it. Tee-hee and yah-boo. Let’s keep to the timetable. Let’s hurry on.”
But I am going to argue that the referendum result was actually not “decided”. It was not a proper decision, properly arrived at, made by “The People,” requiring politicians now to carry that instruction through. All of that’s a con. In a great many ways, the referendum was a crime, a crime visited upon the People, upon our democracy, upon our sovereign state. The nation has been sold a pup. A righteous anger in its sovereign people has been manipulated and exploited by unworthy and inadequate individuals and demagogues and turned into a ghastly nonsense, a con that shames us all and will do us harm.
Back to Mr Davis, holding UK history in his hands this sad Monday. I am arguing that he is going, not as emissary for a people but as accessory to a crime, a felon, disgracing all of us, disgracing himself.
“Too late, too late, Remoaner.”
Brexit as a Crime
I have used the word “crime.” And crimes need investigating and the true criminal(s) identified. When an abuse of justice has taken place, and a wrong judgement made, and people refuse to let the subject go, and keep worrying away at it and finally unearth the missteps, or trace the true culprit(s), so that the falsely accused can be given back his/her freedom, we don’t find fault with those campaigners who refused to let the matter go. We don’t sneer at them, we don’t say Gedd over it. You lost, ok ? Bring back fox-hunting. Bring back Grammar schools. Bring back hatred of the stranger. Tee hee.
On the contrary, we commend the campaigner’s perseverance and examine what went wrong and seek to learn from the mistakes and failures of this case. We know that there must be no end to the struggle to arrive at justice and right judgement, if not at first, then at last.
Just so, and for the sake of this nation and its children, we must continue to campaign in defiance of the judgement that followed Britain’s EU referendum. There is still time to see the mistake and the true problem and to come together to make it good. At last.
I am saying that our ills were not and are not caused by the EU, and our ills will only be increased by leaving the EU. Following Brexit, there will be no meaningful or relevant “taking back control.” There will be less control than ever.
And when I say crime, I am following and taking up a statement made by the deeply impressive President Macron of France. In his election manifesto, he described Brexit as a “crime” that will plunge Britain into “servitude”. This man is infinitely more impressive, in my view, than any politician presently available to lead us in this country and I have no doubt whatsoever that he is right.
But this word “crime.” What does he mean ? I have often heard Greeks say the word – “krima“ – and although the Greek-English dictionary translates the word as “sentence,” or “judgement,” in common Greek conversation it often seems to means little more than “sad.” Ah, Life is cruel, life is unfair, unkind. Ah, krima.
I doubt if Macron, in his French equivalent of that word, meant it in so general or loose a way as that. On the other hand, I doubt that he was making specific accusations of criminal activity, either. Maybe he just meant that a great wrong has been committed – by a seething knot and combination of poor decisions and processes, inadequate leaders, and disgraceful, dishonest and immoral campaigning techniques on the part of both “sides” – working on a society beset, alienated, confused, reeling, dysfunctional and liable to use this referendum as its only opportunity to protest and hit out. Maybe.
But I found Macron’s word “crime” helpful to me and it brought things into focus. On my own account, I want to say that I believe that the process that led to the Brexit “decision” is a crime committed over time by various bodies and individuals in positions of influence and authority, abusing those positions and our systems for the sake of self and against the interests of our community. Thus, “Brexit” was not a real decision, and does not belong in history as anything except a symptom of dysfunction and disarray. It is a crime, a wrong-doing, an explosion of ill-feeling – some of it entirely understandable – but which is continuing to misdirect and distract this nation. Is a whole population going to allow itself, then, to continue to be accessories to a crime ? Should we not rather seek out and isolate what is really happening here and regain our equilibrium in a way that meets our best interests ?
Our Politicians have taken an Oath to Tell the Truth. What if they break it ?
Time to mention the Nolan Principles.
Like many other people who do responsible jobs, MP’s are required to follow a code of conduct. It is their equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath which doctors take. The code for MP’s is called the Nolan Principles and every new MP takes an oath to abide by it. There are seven principles and if you want to read all of them you will find them here.
I have chosen to reproduce just four of them as part of this post. For convenience I have numbered them :
1 Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
2 Integrity – holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work…
3 Objectivity – holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
6 Honesty – holders of public office should be truthful.
The Nolan Principles are commendable and reassuring. It feels quite good just to know such standards are recognised and that they exist. But are they followed ? Principle number six, for instance : “Holders of Public Office should be truthful.” Is that principle followed ?
Of course we know that it is not. On the contrary, it is ignored all the time and with impunity. And before, during and since the EU referendum, it has been blatantly flouted by both sides of the argument, but by the Leavers by far the most. That red bus, Farage’s carefully chosen, carefully timed photo of “immigrants” on the march, Gove’s fictional “invasion” of 76 million Turks. It is on record that Boris Johnson, promoted by Theresa May to the post of Foreign Secretary and now touted yet again as possible Tory Leader and even Prime Minister, has already been sacked twice in his career for lying. Sacked. Not once. Twice. Quite an achievement. And that was before he stood up for the cameras in front of the Brexit campaign bus, with its utterly false promise of more money for the NHS, post Brexit. How many people voted “Leave” on the basis of those lies and abuses, the false fears and hope the campaigners nurtured and cultivated for their own profit ? We won’t ever know.
Why do we give such leeway to the liars, those who break their word, given on oath ? Is Mr Johnson’s very strong attraction to the Lie the reason for his ascendancy in the present Conservative Party ? Do they see truth-telling as just more red-tape, to be swept away for “freedom’s” sake? Really ? And journalists keep talking to him, they keep asking him questions. Why ? Have lies become this nation’s staple diet ? Why do we insist on coming for more ? Please sir, can we have some more (the food bank has run out and there are only your lies to feed us now) ? Please sir, might you lie to us in Latin ? For a treat ?
Why do the liars’ ways prosper in our democracy, when we know that this system in which we take such pride, relies absolutely on trust and is broken without it ? They simply must not prosper any longer.
And why are the Nolan principles not enforceable or enforced ? Why are there not extremely stiff penalties for any breach, and a body with powers to impose them ? If doctors are found to have broken their Hippocratic Oath, there is a consequence. They face being struck off. But politicians ?
For clearly, Mr Johnson and his ilk are a bit forgetful when it comes to taking a mere oath. It’s all a bit too abstract for them. They need tangible reminders that holders of public office like themselves should act “solely in terms of the public interest.” Just for starters, the People they are accountable to cannot make a responsible decision if they are not being properly informed.
Why are people in public office who flout standards of good conduct in this way not shamed and punished, as felons ? For that is what they are. The idea that someone who behaves as Mr Johnson does can gain and be accepted for high office is simply astonishing and needs correction, long overdue. It threatens this nation’s people. It makes a mockery of this nation and its systems before the world.
And if a national “decision” is made, if not altogether on the basis of lies and fictions, then surrounded, polluted, infected, influenced by them to an unknown but significant degree, that decision is invalid and unsound.
Democratic Decision-making – What does “Properly Informed” mean and why does it matter?
I have put the following argument elsewhere in more detail (see links at the end of the piece). What is Democracy ? It is a delicate system of checks and balances that seeks to make power accountable under the law, to honour and defend individual rights, to value and mobilise the skills and contributions of all its citizens, and to ensure justice and security and freedom of speech for all, including the vulnerable, the poor and minority groups.
What is sovereignty in a democracy ? Sovereignty is where power and responsibility ultimately reside in a society. We invest it with authority to make and uphold the major decisions we need made. Sovereignty used to reside, of course, in the sovereign and his/her court. Now it resides in Parliament, representative and voice of the people, and accountable to them. And this place and role of parliament is to ensure that decisions that affect the nation are not carelessly or ignorantly taken, but are scrupulously considered, and the decision-makers therefore properly informed, just as a doctor is required to ensure that patients are properly informed before making decisions on their health, or in the law court the jury must be properly informed before passing judgement.
And if sovereignty lies with the People as represented in parliament, and if our language is the currency upon which our Democracy relies, as totally and fundamentally as our economy relies on sound money, then lying to the people in order to affect a decision and turn it to your own advantage or wishes, constitutes a mortal attack upon the nation’s sovereignty and is hence an act of High Treason, to be punished accordingly.
For a holder of public office to lie to the People does not merely distort and corrupt the matter in hand, the validity and integrity of the decision being sought ; it reveals contempt for the People and destroys trust and, in doing so, infects the blood and sinews of democracy itself and is therefore a capital crime. The EU referendum process and campaign was beset by lies and mayhem and for that reason alone its “result” is wide open to question and absolutely does not merit the solemn, reverential and fork-tongued phrases that have followed since – “The People have spoken – we must obey.”
Reeling and punch-drunk, appalled, deceived, confused, we staggered into the polling booths. Beforehand, the brexiteer fanatics had been frantically working on us, using every trick in the book, many of them extremely underhand and improper, the tricks of demagogues and dodgy salesmen ; afterwards it was suddenly quite different. From being their putty we become their sovereign “People” ; from kneading and frightening and cajoling us, they were suddenly saying they must “obey” us. “The People have spoken”. But actually this was not different at all. It was just the same criminal deceit continuing. The same cynical charade, farce, disgrace and mockery continuing.
But it was not only the lies during the campaign that call the result into question. Cameron’s idea of holding a referendum at all was the height of folly and showed not only a disrespect for the huge and complex issue at hand, but also for the electorate, and for democracy, In my view his idea was irresponsible in itself to the point of criminal negligence and malpractice, and rendered any result that came of it, whichever way it had gone, null and void and meaningless.
In our millions, we the electorate could never have been given sufficient information on this complex subject for us to make any decision that was “properly informed.” For that reason alone, and without taking any account of the wicked frenzy in which the campaign was conducted, the figures arrived at were therefore not a “decision” in any meaningful sense. All the result says, in truth, is that just over half the population in the UK wanted to express dissatisfaction with present conditions and to defy the preference of the Prime Minister of the time.
The Public Interest vs Self Interest
David Cameron is chiefly responsible for setting up this fiasco, an act of stunning arrogance and carelessness. Why did he do it ? Because he was sure he would win and he had a split in his own Party and for him that was where his horizons ended. If I am right in this, and I think I am, and most other people I have read on the subject say so too, then Cameron had “forgotten” the Nolan Principles which he was sworn to uphold (see Principle One). He chose the referendum route not in the public interest, but in his Party’s interest and – in the final analysis – his own interest. Not just a whole nation, a whole continent now suffers the consequences. Has he shown the slightest contrition or acknowledgement, since ? I have not seen too much. All I’ve noticed is that he’s making loadsa dosh and sharing pictures of his toes. He broke his oath and went on to do huge public harm. What recourse do the People have ?
Before moving on, I want to make another point on the politicians’ role in this. In making his move towards a referendum, Cameron also played a mischievous part in further degrading Parliament’s role in our constitution, and its role in defending for the nation the process necessary for that crucial check of being “properly informed” in our decision-making. He put a further wedge between the people and their representatives, and between executive decision and the information and thought necessary for that decision to be valid. In assenting to the referendum as parliament did, I would say that it too failed in its duty to act “solely in terms of the public interest”. Each member of parliament has a duty to be true to his/her knowledge, the information s/he has to impart. That individual must not be the people’s delegate, programmed just to repeat or passively comply with the wishes of others, even though they may be misguided, but to be true to what he or she knows is right, in good conscience and in open debate. The electorate relies on its representatives to be true to themselves, not cyphers for others.
Yet another word on our politicians here, with regard to the first Nolan Principle. How can politicians be truthful, thereby restoring faith in democracy, if at the same time they have to toe a party line ? How can a party creature parroting pre-conceived slogans as directed, restore real and warm contact with the electorate ? May’s pathetic repetition of that fatuous jingle “strong and stable, ” (as we witnessed a reality of more and more weakness and instability), came straight from some second rate text book on selling junk, which says that if you repeat a jingle often enough, true or false, they’ll buy the article in the end. Don’t bother talking to the buggers – just keep repeating on them. Robotic jingles, that’s the thing, as if to an enemy, as if to a dog. But though May takes it to excess, it has become familiar fare from the great majority of our politicians. It is absolutely the norm these days, and an infuriating one, that any political interview constitutes a battle between interviewer and interviewee, the one to get at the truth, through and despite the defences and word games and evasions and formulae of the other. As blocks to connection between electorate and their elected, these ritualistic contests are almost as bad as having to deal with lies, and they do almost as much damage.
The Whip system, the party system and discipline, shared accountability etc, all have their justifications, reasons and places in a democracy’s evolution and history. But they need to be reviewed, and with desperate urgency, to be made fit for present purpose. As they stand, they do great damage to the democratic process and cause a severance between the people and its representatives which – I suspect – played a major part in the Brexit vote. Not the EU and its regulations, in reality. Just pissed off and betrayed by our own lot. Let’s give them a kicking.
And now to Theresa May herself. Suddenly, post referendum, there she was at the summit and centre. Tories all round her, strewn about the floor, in various states of damage and puncture. The country beyond was deeply split, the Have and Have-not divide gaping ever wider. But she’d manage and still keep the taxes low. Theresa May expressed herself ready to take us sternly, strongly and stably by the hand and lead us to Brexit. Brexit means Brexit. Red white and blue. Fox-hunting. All that. Some people quickly started to call her Mummy.
Now they have stopped doing so. How swiftly May became the whole nation’s scapegoat. The abruptness and extent of the change says at least as much about the hysterical state the nation is in, as it does about her own personal shortcomings.
Her shortcomings are many, just as mine are. In her case, I must accuse her of time and time again saying and acting on behalf of “the People”, when in fact she does not mean the “People” at all. She only means the people who voted Brexit in the referendum, by a small and highly questionable majority. She sees herself as their champion, and they as her supporters, the people whose backing she needs to retain if she is to stay in power. The 48 % of the People who voted Remain, whom she once perhaps agreed with, had jolly well better lump it. A true and honest reading of the referendum result, a true leader’s reading, who had the whole nation’s and the public’s interest at heart (see Nolan Principle number one), would have been that the nation is massively and almost evenly divided and all ways possible must be found to heal that divide. Has Theresa May done a single thing in that direction ? Not a single thing. In whose interest, then, is Theresa May working ? The public interest ? I suggest Theresa May is working only in Theresa May’s interest.
And again, I think naïvely, I assumed at first that she was not of the extreme far-right and was merely playing along these retrograde old obsessives like David Davis and Liam Fox until she could afford to drop them and face the electorate with some reality. But it seems she has always been intending to lead this nation to what is being called a “Hard Brexit” and maybe still wants to and maybe still will. And then I remember she had a meeting with Davis early on and they struck a deal. In return for his support, it would be Hard Brexit. Deal. For whose sake was that deal made ? Who else was present when it was struck ? Who was consulted ? The People ?
And ever since, May and Davis etc have shown huge disinterest in the openness mentioned in the Nolan Principles (see Principles four and five). And a huge unwillingness for parliament to play any meaningful role in deciding which of the many different possible versions of Brexit is adopted, even though each version will have momentous but different consequences. In whose interest is this secrecy and this attack on Parliament’s sovereignty ? I suggest Theresa May’s. She can’t risk losing Davis’ support.
And is this “taking back control ?” Control for whom ? It is a power-grab by the few and for the few.
Pause for Breath
Now where have we got to ?
We have covered the way the referendum was conducted, in contravention of the Nolan principles, rendering the result, in my view, meaningless. For instance, did anyone tell the UK electorate what the EU contributes to this nation ? Without that knowledge, they could not have made any meaningful decision. Instead, everyone concentrating on stoking fear in both directions. The so-called threats. The debits. Let’s go witch-hunting. Let’s go fox-hunting. Stuff the “experts.” Stuff the facts. I say it again : this was an unsound decision unsoundly arrived at.
And we have covered the point of Cameron’s choice of holding a referendum in the first place, merely as a stratagem to settle his own party’s differences on the subject of the EU, this too in contravention of the Nolan Principles. (And shall we remind ourselves of what Thatcher said about referendums ? – “a device of dictators and demagogues.” DDD, for short. Yes indeed. Demagogues. In the streets where the demagogues rule, people do not walk in safety. There’s no sheriff to take control. No one knows who’ll be turned on next).
Now let’s move on. I have a couple more points to make.
So far, I have just talked about our politicians. I need to talk about our “press” as well.
A “Free Press” – or Rogue Propaganda run by War Lords ?
In this nation we support the principle of the Free Press. Theresa May recently made that point in similar rapt and reverential tones to those she adopts when repeating “The People have spoken.” “We believe in the principle of a Free Press,” she said. She said it with some real pride, perhaps, as well.
What does “Free Press” mean ? It means a source of news and information that’s free to speak the truth to power, and to a nation’s people, without fear of reprisal or interference from government or any other form of censorship. It means an independent system for establishing the true facts, whether or not the Executive power would find it easier if you didn’t. A free press is a source of information for the population, a source which – within reason – is beyond the control of the state and the executive presently in power.
What does it mean to be a journalist in a true democracy, employed in a truly free press ? You are not free to write what you like, what you want. On the contrary, you are duty-bound to use your freedom to write openly on what you actually see or find out, with a code of conduct to ensure that you write what you see or find out in good faith and with good care. You thus serve the truth and act as its servant as best you can. You use your freedom of expression to establish and communicate the true facts without fear of reprisal. Your loyalty is to what you find and your duty is to describe what you find clearly and truthfully. To be a journalist in a free press is therefore a privilege and a responsibility and is sometimes dangerous.
If we accept this description and definition as being reasonably accurate, we can surely see clearly that the majority of our “newspapers” do not constitute a free press in any way.
By this I mean of course the Right Wing press. The Telegraph, The Mail, The Express, The Times and The Sun. The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Mail, The Sunday Express and The Sunday Times. And The News of the World, renamed the Sunday edition of the Sun (as far as I can make out) following the humblest day of Mr Murdoch’s life, all those years ago.
And the reason that it is not a free press is because these papers’ journalists are, by and large, required to follow the line of their editors and/or owners and are in effect the bought creatures of those editors or owners. Their words are not free followers of the truth, but slaves to their employers’ line. And the papers’ material is not essentially the truth talking, but their far right line talking, using and often bending the truth for their purposes, or in obedience to the orders of the editor or owner, who controls the papers’ material and its staff with a rod of iron, in a sense imposing his own censorship.
Read George Osborne’s plans for editing the Evening Standard, around the time he started there a few weeks ago. His words kept slipping from “I” to “The Standard” and back again, as if the two entities were indistinguishable. Not freedom of the press. License and a platform for George and George alone.
For these papers are, to one degree or another, not real newspapers at all but platforms of opinion for a far right line and all too often their headlines shriek an opinion, seeking not to inform but to influence, to sell a line, to convert. They are propaganda sheets serving the interests of their owners, each one of whom is a billionaire. Is that significant ? I think so. And it’s corrupt.
So Mrs May’s “free press” is actually a handful of very rich individuals, verging on demagogues and autocrats, with a licence to express their prejudices and seek to influence public and politicians, through the services of compliant employees. I see them as warlords, of a kind, each with his own private army of scribblers, trying to hold and gain as much territory and influence for himself, as possible.
Yes, they failed to win it for May at the recent election, despite their best concerted efforts, their campaigning headlines howling for attention in their serried ranks on the shelves of every supermarket in the country. Yes, maybe their power is weakening at last. But at least with older people, they still have weight and provide comfort, reassurance, confirmation. And their readers still look to them as if they are a source of trustworthy knowledge, as well as rabid opinion.
For years, it seems to me, long before Cameron’s referendum, these papers were deliberately and concertedly and very frequently highlighting and campaigning against “immigrants” in a way that made me ashamed of my own language and my own people. We are better than this. Who were they speaking for ?
Was this a deliberate strategy ? It looked concerted. But we don’t know. Was it a strategy to set an agenda for Brexit, to prepare a climate most likely to influence a leave vote ? Did this long campaign poisoning and polluting the air of our supermarkets day after day play a part in influencing opinion when at last the referendum came ? I cannot but think it did. At the very least it played a part. It set a climate. It gave a kind of permission.
And I am astonished that these newspapers were not taken to court for incitement to racial hatred under the provisions of the Public Order Act 1986, or the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and that they were not very heavily penalised time and time again, until they decided they’d better stop.
A Movement of Billionaires for Billionaires
And some of these billionaire right wing autocrat war-lords, so called custodians of the “free press”, tend to know each other really quite well. They bicker a bit but also there are friendships, or at least alliances. The billionaire Barclay brothers who own the Telegraph came to Nigel Farage’s party to celebrate the Brexit “win.” And the billionaire Murdoch is a friend of the billionaire Trump. D’Acre of the Mail, the billionaire Rothemere’s untamed rottweiler, may even have played some small part in May’s sudden emergence as Tory leader. And a few months later she entertained him to dinner in Number 10. And made a sudden budget U-turn the minute he expressed disapproval of an item in it. Strong and stable ? And Michael Gove, that “clever man,” (See link. Gove was Chief Whip at the time this speech was made, on the Coalition Government’s inglorious final day) is now back in government. Did Murdoch, who employs him as a journalist, have a quiet word ? Possibly, suggests Tom Watson, Deputy Head of Labour, in a letter to May. Oh no, no, no, says Michael Gove, emanating injured innocence. Who do we believe ? Who, on the records of those two gentlemen, should we believe ?
And what do they say to each other, these billionaires ? What else do they get up to ? Do they say, we grieve for the left-behind in Sunderland, the only-just-coping. Oh, how we grieve. The inhabitants of Sunderland are our sole concern. And we now rejoice, sure that Brexit will make things better for them. For instance, just a few months of Brexit and all the food banks will disappear ! Will that be what they say ? Is the welfare of the poor and barely coping uppermost in their minds as they “take back control” ? Why are they so pleased about Brexit, these billionaires, who fought for it so hard ?
Might it just be that they like to make things move when they press on them ? Or is it just that they don’t like paying taxes ?
And what did Aaron Banks, the billionaire who bankrolled Farage, mean when he said to The Guardian : “We were just cleverer than the regulators and the politicians. Of course we were.” He didn’t break the law, he says. He “pushed the boundary of everything, right to the edge. It was war.” And later: “You’re looking for a smoking gun but there’s a smoking gun on every table! And no one cares. No one cares!” And Banks knows Trump and Steve Bannon and has had dinner with the Russian ambassador. (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/apr/02/arron-banks-interview-brexit-ukip-far-right-trump-putin-russia)
And what is Cambridge Analytica, owned – it seems – by yet another billionaire called Robert Mercer, Trump’s biggest donor ? The Guardian suggests that Nigel Farage’s links with Mercer led to Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the Leave.EU campaign. Mercer has done something clever with social media, whose tricks may well have played a part in the Brexit result. And what means that visit Farage made to Julian Assange, exiled in the embassy in London, whose Wikileaks also played a part in Trump’s election victory ? And there’s something else a bit mysterious that might be part of this network, based in faraway West Canada. What’s it called ? AggregateIQ. Go and admire the Northern Lights from the roof of AggregateIQ !
Are we sniffing some more foul play here ? Or something teetering on the edge of foul play, pushing boundaries, fighting a war ? Is Theresa May interested ? Is she concerned ? Or is she too busy taking advantage ?
For all these reasons, and taking into account the blemishes and faults and question marks that abound, I think the result of the EU referendum cannot be accepted and does not hold water. It is a crime and those who keep dancing to its tune, or seek to give it credence, are accessories to that crime and are making this nation an embarrassment and laughing stock. It is unsound, unclean, unreliable. It is an invisible suit of clothes. When Mr Davis crossed the channel this Monday close to mid-Summer, he went naked, fraudulent and absurd, riding not on a decision, nor a true mandate, nor anything at all that warranted a serious response, or had authority or coherence ; he rode to Europe on a rude noise, a stinking bubble, a pathological symptom of a country’s malaise, a distress signal misread and unscrupulously manipulated for his own ends and the ends of the woman he now works for, a woman found desperately wanting. For some bizarre reason, this woman wants to bring back fox hunting along with grammar schools. But May has become herself the nation’s fox, closely pursued on all sides, from all parts of the country. And still Mr Davis left her in this day and rode away for his grand encounter, in the service of nonsense and wrong, to bring nothing but harm to his nation’s health and future.
I am slowly coming to an end. What were the influences on people when they went to the polls to vote Remain or Leave in the EU Referendum ? There is actually no solid or reliable reason to believe that every person who voted Leave actually answered the question as the questioners meant it. Leave. Leave what, exactly ? “Take Back control” Of what ? So many things now feel so out of control. We all want to feel we have more. Vote Leave to change things. Vote Leave to feel better. Vote Leave to give those sleek, cocky and careless Westminster buggers a kicking.
Austerity as a factor in the Brexit vote
The Tories have been starving the NHS of resources for years, even while they keep insisting, untruthfully, how well they support it. By definition, the NHS has to be funded by the state and by taxes and that runs against the Tory ideals of a small state and a low-tax economy. One very ugly symptom of that tension is the blame-game the Tories resort to ; they keep looking for excuses to blame doctors and nurses for the NHS agonies. Under them, though, we are steadily losing one of the greatest achievements of this country’s history. And the Tories have allowed all these food banks to spread and spread, because of the poverty that grows and grows on the Tory watch. And they keep talking so smoothly on TV, denying everything. They keep lying. Then all those zero hours contracts. Those cuts to legal aid. And cuts to Local Authorities and Social Care. And so many libraries cut. And the cuts to the police who guard our streets, the cuts to HM Revenue and Customs, so that there are less resources for chasing down the billionaire tax-dodgers. The bullying and humiliating and de-personalising of people on benefits, the surreptitious bullying of disabled people. Student fees and debt. No pay rise for council workers for years and years, no support for areas whose industries have withered, the poor roads, the worst maintained in Europe, then posh dinners for billionaire Tory donors, their posh cars, their yachts, the vast outrageous salaries the bankers receive…..And on and on.
I suggest that the divisions and dire conditions brought on for so many people by Tory austerity policies and philosophies over the years cannot fail to have played a part in the Leave vote, for at least a significant proportion of the population. They voted “Leave” as an expression of their discontent and distress, their yearning for something to change. “Take back control”. That slogan was so clever but so dishonest. In the meantime, “Remain” could talk of nothing else except the economy. But whose economy ? Georgie-boy’s economy. Davie-boy’s economy. A Tory economy. The Tory donors’ economy, those hedge-fund managers. That’s what they meant. Those rich people here and far away who buy this and that and we have to watch them from outside the fence. In a way, the referendum made sure that Davie-boy and Georgie-boy got their just desserts. But the voters were misled, in all senses. The Leavers, with all those billionaire backers, would not be coming up to Sunderland to celebrate the result. They were rushing to the airport to be photographed in Trump Tower, fingering gold, thumbs up.
And now at last the immigrant thing. We have referred already to the campaign of racist incitement which the right wing billionaire “press” conducted for so long beforehand. And Cameron indulged in a bit of it as well, seeking to benefit, in a way which I believe demeaned his post and for which he is culpable and which he should not be allowed to forget.
But aside from the malign operations of a billionaire “press” and an unprincipled and irresponsible PM, there was a real issue here, a real belief that immigration was out of hand and uncontrollable. Certainly as Home Secretary, May had not managed to meet her targets. But as many people have pointed out, immigration wasn’t really out of control and a radical curtailment is actually not desirable. Of course the stranger feels more of a threat in strained and straitened times. The issue swells and looms and becomes the only thing that people think about and blame. And the demagogues pounce, seeing their opportunity, and work the theme. The subject is delicate and also explosive, but in my view should be addressed frankly and honestly in communities. If it is not the truth, it should not be colluded with.
I would guarantee, in the meantime, that if pay went up, if food banks became unnecessary, if housing improved, if our communities were sufficiently renewed and restored, the stranger would become less of a bother and threat, less of a negative, less of an image of dykes breached and wild water pouring in.
Future Shock is the real Issue. We need to come together on it.
However, there’s another form of immigration altogether and this in truth seems utterly uncontrollable and will continue to breach our dykes and allow wild water to pour in and it will continue to haunt our lives and infect our behaviour, unless we manage it better than we do. But I do not mean the immigration of peoples in this case. I mean the intrusion into our lives of continuous, momentous and ever more rapid change, radically altering our familiar world, almost before that world has had time to become familiar, de-personalising, disorientating, aggravating, creating anxiety. Technical changes, structural changes, waves of them, rushing at us, rushing into and through us, dragging us along.
These days, the world is changing radically many times in each person’s lifetime. Did this also play a part in the Brexit vote, a yearning for a simpler nation, novelty less invasive and overwhelming, cricket on the green, bicycles riding home ? Be that as it may, here we have something useful, at last, that Mr Davis could start to do this Monday near mid-Summer.
Nothing to do with Brexit. Europe wide, let us all come together in the mess and horror of these times and, remembering Jo Cox, the anniversary of whose death took place as I wrote most of this piece, look at what all our societies need to do to renew themselves across the board and all aspects. The divisions and tensions in the UK that led to the Brexit vote will not be resolved by Brexit. Many of our problems in the UK are the result of wrong and divisive right wing policies over years poorly led and poorly delivered. But many more are the result of conditions common to all countries everywhere at the present time and the most useful thing we can do is bring together people of calibre who will seek pertinent solutions and explore ways of implementing them. Brexit is a crime and delusion, a signal of distress, not a course of action worthy of any sensible man. Mr Davis, try at this late stage to be a sensible man. Try to be worthy of our nation’s history and of your unexpected place in it.
I shall end by referring to a book. It was published in 1970 and its American author was Alvin Toffler. He died quite recently. The book’s title is “Future Shock.”
In exhaustive but readable fashion, Toffler (with his co-writer wife Heidi) tabulated the degree to which our culture, our surrounding world, our pace and manner of life, were being transformed and speeded up, due to the discoveries of our race, so that change can become overwhelming. He asked “can one live in a Society that is out of control ?” He warned that, if the level and rate of change goes past a manageable point, man’s coping mechanism breaks down and the result is destruction and irrationality in the individual and in society. Literally, we live our lives and face our world in a perpetual state of shock. He wrote : “We must search out totally new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots – religion, nation, community, family, or profession – are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust.”
That was written nearly half a century ago. Even then, in 1970, the “accelerative thrust,” the “hurricane impact” were fit descriptions of life at that time. In 2017, they are even truer and the hurricane is blowing very much harder, than in 1970.
Toffler’s book should have transformed politics in liberal democracies across the world. The main aim of all their politics henceforward should surely have been to look for and agree and establish those new “anchorages,” to avoid breakdown everywhere. Toffler became an iconic figure and Future Shock an iconic concept. But did anyone actually take real note of what he was saying, the explosive implications of his observations and his warnings ? In the years that have followed the publication of that book, have our leaders devoted themselves to coordinating a search for new routes to healthy human anchorage, sound footing, sure basis, true community ? Or have they merely adopted the features and symptoms of the hurricane itself ?
Brexit is a pathological symptom of being lost in a hurricane. Shall we start looking for anchorages together, now ? Let’s take back control.
Links to Possible Further Reading
“Sayings” – see the fourth link above – is a poem of mine. It is a collection of different and often contradictory sayings, including some quotes. They all say how powerful words can be, like steel, like gold, like a magic spell. But they explore two very different ways in which we use words : as a road to each other and to the Word, an illumination ; as a way to mask me and win you to my will, a cloak.