Happy New Year 2019 Brexit
Democracy

Happy Brexit Year: control the language, control the argument

“An ennui hangs over British politics and the prime minister is depending on it”, wrote Matthew Parris in the Times a few days ago. “Like a thin, wearisome fog it does not quite obscure but it blurs and greys, softening edges and dulling our reactions as we head into the new year”, he intoned, luring readers into his parlour so he could slowly sink his poisoned fangs into their plump flesh. And that he did: “Brexit? Oh, for God’s sake. Haven’t we done enough of that?”

Parris then scuttles about, imploring Parliament to “be brave and tell us we were wrong”:

..MPs are being asked to approve a huge change for our country in 2019 that they would never have dreamed of touching, were it not for a referendum in 2016. Fair enough, but be honest about it: we’re doing it because the voters asked us to. We do not, however, believe the voters reached the right decision.

Why does this era have such difficulty in saying that last sentence? Surely the whole idea of representative rather than “direct” democracy is to provide counterbalance against a sometimes faulty popular judgment.

Everybody knows that the people can sometimes reach the wrong conclusion because we know that we ourselves sometimes do so. Who doubts that popular opinion in the 1930s was wrong to favour appeasing Germany? Who doubts that in the 1950s the public were wrong to cheer on politicians towards the Suez debacle? The public, for a while, have been wrong about many great issues: slavery, hanging, flogging, the imprisonment of homosexuals. So if you believe in democracy you should believe in so much that must come with it: persuasion; a little foot-dragging; re-thinking; give and take on both sides. Politics negotiates with popular opinion: it doesn’t just take dictation.

Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines is sympathetic to this line of argument, and he liked that final sentence so much he tweeted out a link to the Parris article with the exhortation for Parliament to somehow ‘negotiate’ with the Referendum result. Former lawyer now Synod member Martin Sewell responded to the notion that politics doesn’t take dictation:

Not trying to be awkward; just pedantically trying to probe the use of two perfectly reasonable terms, and thereby deflect from the substantive point. A helpful interjection seemed necessary:

Which was swiftly greeted with:

The Bishop must have had an absolute mountain of ironing to do, for he never returned. In fact, he must still be ironing, or perhaps he simply forgot. There are, of course, far more important things for bishops to do than tweet to Synod members. Especially belligerent Brexiteer sorts – you know, those who take issue with the self-appointed great-and-good telling them they voted the wrong way and their judgment can’t be trusted. A bit like like those stupid Germans who voted for Hitler.

The altercation over Martin Sewell’s use of words was a convenient deflection, and, curiously, when the meaning was expounded, the dialogue ceased. Everyone knows (don’t they?) what is generally meant by ‘the great and the good’. And everyone understands (don’t they?) what is meant by ‘self-appointed’? When both politicians and clergy are selected by panels of appointed persons who are tasked with filtering out heretics or eccentrics to ensure adherence to the latest political or religio-sociologiocal orthodoxy, you ensure the perpetuation and circulation of like-minded elites, and the eradication of prophets. And these oligarchical elites become the self-selecting arbiters and guardians of all that is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…

Parris appears to believe that Brexit is a disaster: he doubts democracy because it is producing results he doesn’t like. The people weren’t properly informed, you see. They were patently lied to, and were stupid enough to believe those lies. Just like they did in Nazi Germany. The fabled wisdom of the crowds has been hijacked by the ‘mob’ – people like that numbskull Peter Bone MP, for whom Parris has nothing but sneering contempt. The fool longs for a ‘no-deal’ cliff-edge: he wants to wound the nation and make his constituents poorer. The Prime Minister has been taken captive by this band of right-wing zealots, who are really xenophobic racists and bigots who stole the Referendum with electoral fraud, laundered money and Russian bots in order to impose a right-wing Brexit upon the ignorant masses. But Parris has the solution:

Our present impasse offers unusual scope for negotiation with the electorate. We did instruct government to negotiate Brexit but there’s no reason why, nearly three years later, we can’t be asked to judge the result. Are so few MPs ready to square up to their voters and use the language of second-thoughts?

The language of second thoughts: soothing, reassuring, moderating, remedying. Time to reflect, meditate, repent and renew. So, a ‘People’s Vote’ will be the rational, smart, mature thing to do. Apparently, it would even be more democratic than the first referendum, according to this law graduate who has (according to his Twitter bio) appointed himself to the task of “explaining the EU to both sides” (because we’re evidently a bit thick):

Genius, eh?

He complains ad nauseam about the EU Referendum having been a “vote in the dark” because the people didn’t really know (or understand) what they were voting for. You know, we could have been voting for Hitler, or something. And now we know more about what an absolute nightmare Brexit is, we should have a “vote of the people” to reverse it. Just look at all those Retweets and Likes: this law graduate warms the world with his insight and wisdom. It was politely pointed out to him that the Withdrawal Agreement isn’t the actual deal, which is still to be negotiated. So a second referendum now would indeed be “a vote in the dark”, for the Withdrawal Agreement merely sets out the path and parameters toward a deal, which remains a known unknown. And it was also pointed out to him that a second referendum is not automatically more democratic if, for example, participation decreases or the franchise changes. He didn’t respond to either point. Perhaps he had a pile of ironing to do.

Over the coming months you will hear more and more of Brexit zealots, Brextremists and Brexit Jihadists whose very existence is a threat to the Queen’s peace and imperils civilisation itself. You will be told of the bleakest impact analyses, intractable obstacles and impossible dilemmas. You will see reports of fear and hatred stoked by ignorant hooligans like Peter Bone. And through Twitter and Facebook bishops will nudge the faithful toward a ‘People’s Vote’, pointing their blessed fingers to the light of transcendental experience which will restore order and balance. And important newspapers like the Times will tell MPs they need to think again. And if they do not, the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood.

This is how the Establishment will seek to manipulate and control the masses: they will take issue with your use of phrases like ‘self-appointed’ and ‘the great and the good’, and they’ll make you feel just a little bit smaller than you are. They’ll even tell you that they are the resistance, the radicals, the renegades and the reformers:

Just look at all those Retweets and Likes.

But a remnant shall keep the faith and discern the signs of the times, for the time is at hand.

A Happy Brexit Year to all readers and communicants. Here’s to another year of contending for truth and kicking against the pricks.