It was David Cameron’s idea. I suppose a lot of the Tories’ really bad ideas can be traced to Davie.
“I know how we can get rid of those nasty UKipper Little Englanders for good. They are dead against the EU, but we can adopt their policies and their language and replace them with good solid Tory Little Englanders who will also be dead against the EU, but, at least, they’ll be our Little Englanders and, if push comes to shove, they’ll vote for us. We’ll have a referendum on staying in the EU and, when we win, that’ll put UKIP’s gas at a peep and get rid of them as a threat for a generation”
You would have thought he could have learned a lesson from Scottish devolution. Remember when George Robertson (now Lord Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie) told us that devolution would kill nationalism stone dead. I wonder how that worked out, George.
Unfortunately for Davie, he had reckoned without a number of factors.
Firstly, he forgot the mainly right-wing media’s history of rubbishing the EU at every turn, pandering to a Little Englander agenda, spinning every EU decision in as bad a light as possible and making up stories if they couldn’t get a real one. Straight bananas anyone? Were the media likely to support remaining in the EU? No chance, and that’s how it turned out.
Secondly, he forgot the years of effort our right-wing media have put into telling us that all foreigners are awful. Foreigners who might make decisions that we Brits would have to pay attention to are awful, but foreigners who want to come to the UK because we have bombed their countries back into the Stone Age are even worse, much, much worse. The media tells us the immigrants (they’re not refugees, of course) are only coming over here to steal our jobs, occupy our houses, use up our NHS resources and take advantage of our benefit system. All just because we and our American pals have bombed their house, killed their neighbours and generally destroyed the area they used to call home. What sort of reason is that to want you and your family to move somewhere safe and liveable.
Thirdly, he forgot that the Brexiteers could invent largely illusory benefits to be gained by leaving the EU and, with the help of the media, these “benefits” would be the ones that would stick in voters’ minds. I’m sure everyone remembers the £350M/week to be spent on the NHS. Unfortunately, putting it on a bus turned out to be much easier than putting it on the NHS.
Fourthly, he forgot to have a list of benefits for staying in the EU. Always going to be a hard sell because of the first factor, it was made much worse by the Remain crew virtually completely confining their arguments to trying to rubbish the Brexiteers’ claims.
And lastly, he forgot the attraction to many of returning control and decision-making to the UK Parliament and the UK courts. With years of rubbishing the EU behind them, people have been conditioned to believe that the EU isn’t democratic because we don’t always get our own way, that we pay a fortune into the EU and get almost nothing back and that every EU decision is stupid and anti-British. Mind you, this makes what happened shortly after the referendum even less understandable. But more of that later.
So, much to everyone’s surprise, the outcome was a win for Brexit, something no one in Government wanted, not even the Brexiteers, who, it turned out, were only trying to engineer a sufficiently close result to give the UK a bit more leverage in subsequent negotiations with the EU. To complicate matters further, of the four countries in the UK, only two, England and Wales voted to leave, while the other two, Scotland and Northern Ireland, voted to stay, as did Gibraltar. The differing and often conflicting expectations of each country are creating real problems for Theresa May, who replaced Davie as PM after he decided there were better (and more lucrative) things he could do now that the referendum wasn’t going to plan.
What wasn’t planned (I don’t think) was that the language used by the Brexiteers, anti-EU, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee would effectively give permission for the public to speak, and sometimes act, in the same way. The weeks after the referendum saw a substantial increase in hate crimes, mainly in England it appears, with foreign UK residents and even visitors being harassed, abused and even physically attacked.
So where are we now? Brexit means Brexit; a phrase that’s been on almost everyone’s lips over the last few months. So said Theresa May when asked for a full explanation of the UK Government’s strategy for negotiation with the EU. The Government refused to tell anyone what their negotiation strategy would be on the basis that they wouldn’t reveal their hand in advance of the negotiations themselves. However, many unkind people suggested it more likely that they were keeping it a secret because to reveal their strategy would have shown that Brexit means Brexit was all of it. For a government of a party that prides itself in its organisation, it is almost unbelievable that they could have been so complacent, so sure of victory, that they didn’t even bother to think what they would do if the vote went against them.
Not only did the UK Government refuse to tell the public what their strategy was, but they initially refused to allow Parliament to debate the terms. It was their intention to use the Royal Prerogative decide on the timing and strategy, without involving parliament until after the decision had been taken. Many were unhappy about this and, as a result, a small group decided to go to court to force the Government to seek parliamentary approval for both timing and strategy before triggering article 50.
When the court’s decision came down, that approval of parliament is a requirement, there was an astonishing outpouring of bile from politicians, the public, and, in particular, from the media, especially the right wing press. They had insisted during the EU referendum campaign that they wanted to bring decision-making back to the UK to prevent the nasty foreigners in the EU Parliament and the European Court making decisions for us. Now we had an example of English judges in an English court applying English law and deciding that the UK parliament (you could even say the English parliament) should have the final decision on the Brexit terms. Wasn’t that what the referendum was all about? Wasn’t that what 17m people voted for? But no, many were distinctly unhappy, even incandescent with rage. How dare these unelected judges try to overturn the will of the people they said, apparently unaware (or not caring) that the judges had only decided that Article 50 couldn’t be triggered without a vote in Parliament.
But their disagreement with the verdict was not the most worrying aspect of the coverage. What was most worrying was not he fact that the media were annoyed, but it was the tone of the way they covered the verdict.
First we had the Daily Mail printing photographs of the judges and calling them “Enemies of the People”, describing one as a Europhile (how awful), one as someone who has made a lot of money through an association with Tony Blair (now that is awful) and a third as an openly gay ex-fencer (what can be said about such a comment in 2016). The Daily Mail weren’t the only ones to print photographs of the judges as the Telegraph did as well (a so called quality paper). Short of printing the judges’ home addresses and explicitly calling for members of the public to sort them out, what more could they have done to stir up trouble.
Well, what they could have done what the Sun did, describe the group of people who took the action as rich foreigners (a bit ironic when printed alongside a photo of a woman married into one of the richest families in the UK, or is it only British women that are allowed to be rolling in the stuff) and printed a photograph of one of the group specially darkened down to make her look really, really foreign.
Compare the photo from the Sun on the left with the (nearly) identical one in the Times on the right. I suppose it’s not really surprising for the Sun to do this as another article in the paper described how the proportion of white people living in some English towns has allegedly reduced over the last 20 or so years. When did the Sun become the house magazine for the Ku Klux Klan?
Cheered on by politicians and the media lying about the court case, pretending that the intention was to overturn the result of the referendum, the situation got really out of hand. Death threats and other abusive remarks were scattered around like confetti, aimed at anyone perceived to be on the “other side”, because anyone on the “other side” was an “enemy of the people”. ( It must be true, I read it in the Daily Mail). People were said to be in hiding for fear of attack. Politicians (mainly UKippers to be honest) called for the judges to be sacked for applying the law and for judges in future to be chosen by the government. Bang goes the impartial judiciary then. Who needs it? It was perhaps indicative of the way things are going that the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, when finally forced to make a statement, refused to condemn the attacks on the judges. I thought that the Lord Chancellor was supposed to be on the side of the judges, not the lunatic fringe of the press. Perhaps she’s on the side of the judges in the same way Fluffy Mundell is on Scotland’s side.
What confuses me is the real objective of the media. It certainly appears that they are trying to stir up trouble, even encourage violence, but to what end? What would they hope to gain from such a situation? Should there be violence, would they sell more copies, or is there some other advantage? Or is this nothing to do with the media, but more to do with the owners of the media. Do the mega-rich types who own most of the media in this country have a plan to turn the situation to their advantage? Will civil unrest allow them to make changes which will benefit them and, by implication, disadvantage the rest of us.
It’s difficult to see how this will all turn out, but it’s hard to imagine that Brexit is going to benefit the UK economy, the relationships with our neighbours or the UK culture. If only someone could think of some way that we in Scotland could avoid all the problems the UK will be facing over the coming years. Any ideas?