I don’t think the EU is perfect, but then, what political model is? The European Court of Human Rights is something to be admired, and we may well lose some of our workers’ rights by leaving. Of course, the right wing press has whinged on for years about Brussels red-tape, but it’s always easy to find fault. I certainly don’t share the UKIP leader’s disgust for the EU passport; in fact, I’m fairly sure I share none of Nigel Farage’s Little-England views. I find it extraordinary that this man, the product of a private education at Dulwich College, an ex commodities dealer, and proclaimed worshipper at the shrine of Margaret Thatcher, has somehow promoted himself as the crusading hero at the forefront of an anti-elitist battle to reassert the rights of the ordinary man (sorry, I should have inserted the word ‘decent’ - ‘ordinary, decent, man’ - which in the lexicon of the right wing seems to mean ‘xenophobic reactionary’). Farage is a man who has regularly demonstrated his utter contempt for the intellectual lightweightedness of his fellow UKIPers, so I am incredulous that he can actually embrace ‘ordinary people’ - at arms length perhaps, whilst wearing latex gloves and a nose-peg. But Farage didn’t pull off Brexit alone, although he’d like us to think he did; let’s give credit where credit is due, Boris Johnson was actually the campaign’s figurehead with Michael Gove at his right hand. When I consider this opportunistic pair, I can’t help thinking of Jabba the Hutt and his sidekick Salacious Crumb from Return of the Jedi. This unattractive twosome, so deserving of each other (as demonstrated by Gove’s subsequent stabbing of the Johnson back), once guaranteed their loyalty to David Cameron, now a former tenant of 10 Downing Street as a result of trusting them. They seemed prepared to sink to any level of vulgar populism during the debacle that was the referendum debate.
Shortly before standing down as Prime Minister, David Cameron claimed that he didn't regret holding the referendum because he was so completely committed to democracy. He blamed EU rules on immigration as the reason he lost - nothing whatever to do with any of his domestic policies, like his party’s failure to build enough decent homes for our people or the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. Apparently, he’d once joked at a meeting with EU leaders, when some had voiced caution about holding a referendum in the first place, “Don't worry, I'm a winner”. So, this pain we're all suffering could be seen as stemming from one man's arrogance. I daresay the Murdoch press or one or other of the big publishing houses will see him alright with a million or two as an advance on his memoirs. I now hear that our failed Prime Minister is being tipped for the top job at NATO. Mmmmm ...
2016 was a very odd year indeed. Does anyone recall the public vote In March called by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to suggest names for their new research ship? Overwhelming numbers voted for ‘Boaty McBoatface’ - 124,000 votes with its nearest rival polling just 34,000. However, it seems that ‘the will of the British people’ a phrase so often quoted at us by our politicians post-Brexit, could in this particular case be waived in favour of upholding our national dignity - the ship was subsequently named RRS David Attenborough (phew!). Yet, when it came to the most important referendum there has ever been (whose remit was always stated as advisory), less than 38% of the eligible voting population was enough to stand for the overwhelming will of the British people.
The thing that upset me most about Brexit was the lack of intelligent debate during the campaign, especially, if not solely, from its victors. However, the Leave camp did plumb depths which I personally have never witnessed before in a British electoral campaign. The Leave politicians all seem to have recently distanced themselves from their much-paraded claim “We send the EU 350 million a week - Let’s fund the NHS instead - Let’s take back control”. And no politician with any decency could have stood before that poster, as Farage did, of (brownish-skinned) migrants streaming across the Slovenian(?) border with the caption “Breaking Point - The EU has failed us all - we must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders.” Or what about Michael Gove’s derogatory remarks about the considered opinions of experts on the bad effects of leaving the EU?
It’s hard to gauge the Brexit referendum’s impact on that other big election of 2016, the US Presidential election of Donald Trump in November (or, is that the Precedential Election, Donald?); it was a double-whammy for Remain voters like myself. The victorious campaigns had many similarities: they were shockingly light on fact-based argument, didn’t shy away from making outlandish statements, were quick to berate the press as biased whenever it criticised them, and both campaigns were remarkably swift to identify, claim and draw to their hearts the large numbers of disenchanted voters on both sides of the pond who found themselves hurting and seeking someone to blame for their ills. What came to light shortly after the US election was the influence that the (presumably self-named) Alt-Right Breitbart News organisation exercised over both events. I had never even heard of Breitbart or of its executive chairman Stephen Bannon before; he’s the man now destined to become Donald Trump’s Chief Strategist at the White House. Yikes!
We are being told on both sides of the Atlantic that our real enemy is a global liberal elite. Across the water, Donald Trump’s cunning plan to ‘drain the swamp’ of Washington insiders is to backslide on a number of promises he made to his electors during his campaign and fill his White House team with lobbyists and insiders of the very worst kind. What strikes me as particularly scary is Trump and the Alt-Right’s lack of respect for democracy. One of the greatest vulnerabilities in democracy is a requirement on the part of those who partake in elections to conduct themselves with a certain level of decorum, honesty and fair-mindedness. Do you think Vladimir Putin (who may, or may not, have authorised a few computers to be hacked in order to help Donald win) really admires him, or does he think he’s a moron, like the three million majority of Americans who voted against him?
The first book I completed in 2017, which I sincerely hope doesn’t demonstrate any kind of prescience on my part, was The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J Evans. It charts the forces at work in Germany from the end of the Bismarck era, through the Wilhelmine period which led up to the end of WWI, then on through the years of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazis from fringe group to power. I always believed Hitler was elected Reich Chancellor by popular vote. This wasn’t the case; he was installed as Chancellor through a deal with some right-wing politicians who were under the woeful misapprehension that they would easily be able to control him. They couldn’t have been more mistaken. The Nazis, who possessed no respect for democracy whatever, never won an election by fair means, and once they’d achieved power, they quickly suppressed (often by killing) any opposition. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the way they seized and held onto power is the speed with which they managed to silence any opposition - within just weeks of assuming power they had established the notorious Dachau concentration camp along with several others to detain their political opponents. This is the first book in a trilogy by Evans about the Third Reich which was clearly written with the layman in mind. It is beautifully accessible in its writing and Evans’ scholarship gives a superb overview of this terrible period in European history.
In light of our Brexit referendum and the US elections, the banal rhetoric, the racist slurs, blatant lies, these words seemed even more chilling words whilst reading The Coming of the Third Reich:
"All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be ... The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but the power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan."
Adolf Hitler, My Struggle (Mein Kampf)
Can’t allow Hitler the final word on my blog.
I wish all lovers of freedom and democracy, however they may have chosen to vote, a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017!