For many Remain supporters, it is not enough to vote to keep Britain in the EU. Some are driven to ostentatious acts of self-promotion, to make everyone else aware of just how progressive and tolerant they are
And here is a prime example: Guardian (of course) feature writer Laura Barton, consumed with that gnawing fear known to all young leftists that perhaps not enough people know just how progressive and tolerant they are, has concocted a lame little stunt to better promote herself within her like-minded social circle.
Barton proudly tells us:
I had been contemplating taking action for some while. Flyers? I wondered. A demonstration? For a time I thought I might post kippers through their letterbox, though my friends soon pointed out that this would be a waste of good fish.
I live, you see, not very far from the Ukip office in Thanet, an area of the country considered the party’s heartland, and where Nigel Farage stood but failed to get elected in the 2015 election. As a staunch supporter of the remain campaign, in the weeks leading up to the EU referendum the office’s proximity has proved a source of temptation.
Yesterday evening, a little lit up by the crescendo of the debate, I set to work: I procured two sheets of A3 paper, two red felt-tip pens, and set about colouring in a sign that read “IN”. And when it was done, I set my alarm for 6:30am and went to bed happy.
The Thanet Ukip offices lie behind an insalubrious looking shop-front, painted purple and yellow, with a “VOTE LEAVE” placard sitting prominently in the window and a metal grille protecting the glass. It has the air of a 1970s newsagent, where everything is faintly sticky and slightly out of date.
King Street was quiet at that hour – a couple of cars, a Loop bus, a truck rumbling at the lights as I sellotaped my sign to the grille. I crossed the street to photograph my handiwork and noticed a couple of women standing in a doorway, but they only looked at me quizzically and did not pass comment. I posted my photograph on social media, then headed home for breakfast.
Because what is the point of doing anything in this day and age if we do not immediately upload footage to social media in the hope that it goes viral?
As stunts go, this is hardly very impressive. Colouring in two sheets of paper with felt-tip pen and sellotaping them to the window of an opposing political party? That’s the kind of thing an eight year old child might win praise for. But then, perhaps paper and felt-tip pens were the only tools Laura Barton had to hand in the super progressive safe space where she shelters from all of those awful Ukippers in Thanet.
Barton then goes on to admit (my emphasis in bold):
As direct action goes, it was hardly as magnificent as this week’s raising of multiple Mexican flags on the border of Donald Trump’s golf course in Aberdeen, but I was pleased with it nonetheless. I felt I’d made my point firmly but politely: I’d coloured inside the lines, and I knew that the sign could easily be removed. There was no spray paint, no smashing up of things, no expletives.
Yet taking a visible stand seemed a vitally important thing to me – as I think it has to many of us in recent days. I’ve seen friends proudly tacking posters in their windows, attending marches, wearing stickers, and felt heartened by the swell of passion and involvement. And my friendship group and social media feed are naturally, satisfyingly full of remain rhetoric – with links to stirring op-eds and rants against Farage, Gove and Boris, with Cats Against Brexit, Wolfgang Tillmans’ posters, and pleas for love and compassion, for peace and harmony – and togetherness.
Love and compassion, peace and harmony all being proprietary virtues of remainers and EU supporters, of course. And naturally Laura Barton’s entire friendship circle is comprised of people with similarly childish, two-dimensional views, as she herself confesses. Heaven forfend that she might actually socially mix with one of the many UKIP voters in Thanet. Such people are to be pitied, grievously pitied, to be sure – nostalogic, economically left-behind losers that they are. But they are by no means to be befriended. One is judged by the company one keeps, after all.
To be sure, there are social media echo chambers on both sides of this debate. As a political blogger attuned to the debate I have witnessed them forming and expanding. But it is certainly the case that the greater impulse for conspicuous virtue-signalling is on the Remain side. An ardent Brexiteer will often fill their Twitter feed and Facebook wall with Vote Leave campaign messages and supportive news articles, just as an ardent Remainer would do the same with Britain Stronger in Europe materials. But the Remainer is much more likely to want to protest or act out in some other way in order to draw attention to themselves. They are not convinced with thinking that they are in the right – others must know about it, too.
We then get the tiniest glimmer of self-awareness:
But the politics of this place are so often at odds with my own world view. I see more leave posters than remain, I hear heated anti-Europe discussions as I walk through the town centre. And in some regards they have my sympathy. I’m aware of how much European legislation has affected the local fishing community, how that must breed frustration and exasperation; how it is easier to point to the damage done than look for the benefits EU membership has brought.
Still, in the last few days of this campaign, I felt it important to take some sort of action here – to raise a voice for the other side. It felt better than waiting, than doing nothing. Because this matters so colossally. Because this is a vote with repercussions that will last forever. Because the leave campaign has been so polluted by lies and misinformation, so run through with hate and with cowardice.
I always say that the most important things in life are to be kind and be brave. Sellotaping a homemade poster to the window of a Ukip office isn’t really either, but I hope it might at least encourage someone else to vote kindly and bravely.
We will leave aside Barton’s wailing about the behaviour of the official Leave campaign and utter silence about the Project Fear waged by her own Remain team.
Barton is at least aware that she lives in an area where many people do not share her views. She even states that she hears those views being loudly, forcefully and repeatedly expressed as she walks through town. But does it occur to her for even a minute that some of these people might be right – that their antipathy toward the European Union is not the result of having been brainwashed by Rupert Murdoch or Boris Johnson, but rather a considered position as to what is best for Britain? Of course not. These people suffer “frustration and exasperation”, but this is only because they do not realise how wonderful and beneficent the European Union really is. It’s okay though, Barton doesn’t blame them. How could they know any better? Most of them are working class. They don’t read the Guardian. They don’t really know what is going on, or what is best for them.
Doesn’t this just perfectly sum up the sneering, metro-left case for Remain? In truth, it is more a campaign against the thick, racist working classes and of virtuous self-promotion by the middle class clerisy than anything to do with the European Union. Most of those eagerly cheering for Britain to “stay in Europe” probably couldn’t tell you the first thing about how the EU operates, its history or its likely future trajectory. But they do know one crucial thing – vocally supporting the EU is the progressive, liberal, trendy thing to do.
Supporting the European Union sends all of the right signals – that one is cosmopolitan, internationalist, easy-going about immigration and multiculturalism. And those traits are an essential prerequisite for admittance into Laura Barton’s social circle, while rank ignorance or indifference about democracy do not matter in the slightest.
The good news: at the general election, the virtue-signallers were caught short. So cocooned were they in an ideological bubble of their own making that they failed to realise that the great mass of the country were not behind them. Now, Ed Miliband sits on the back benches and David Cameron is prime minister.
Fast-forward thirteen months and here we are again. The Laura Bartons of this world are furiously sharing infographics and videos about how the European Union fosters peace, friendship, cooperation, puppies and kittens while never stopping to actually question or verify the premise of their argument. Meanwhile, the great mass of the country is ambivalent about the EU at best, and will only grudgingly vote to Remain if David Cameron’s tawdry campaign of fear resonates strongly enough.
God willing, the British public will disappoint the virtue signallers tomorrow, just as they dashed their hopes of Prime Minister Ed Miliband at last year’s general election. And perhaps, if we are able to regain our democracy, Laura Barton (after a period of reflection) can take her felt tip pen and A3 paper and write a thank-you letter to all those nasty, working class Ukippers in Thanet whose wisdom and courage made it possible.
Top Image: Guardian / Laura Barton
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