Slightly different to the Brexit Catastrophisation Watch series, these Brexit Denial Watch posts will focus on public figures of power and influence who marshal Olympian levels of denial to pretend to themselves and others that the British people did not really vote for Brexit, and that the referendum result can and should be overturned
Let’s all take a moment to savour the defeat of former Conservative MP for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, in the by-election which he foolishly triggered after following through on his word to flounce out of the Conservative Party if the government finally took its boot of the neck of the aviation industry and authorised the expansion of London’s Heathrow airport.
Zac is a wishy-washy watercolour impression of a man, a Conservative In Name Only, Crown Prince of the NIMBYs, a snarling anti-aviation zealot and an utterly useless London mayoral candidate. British politics will miss his early departure like I missed my inflamed appendix after the Royal Free Hospital scooped it out. (How’s that one, Matthew Parris?)
But naturally, the Liberal Democrats’ surprising win in Richmond Park is being spun by a gleeful party as rather more than it is. One can understand the jubilation of a party reduced from being junior coalition partner to a pathetic rump of eight MPs at being able to add another warm body to their number, but they go too far when they claim that 20,000 people in leafy Richmond is such a representative sample of Britain that a by-election result (which often go against the government of the day) can be safely interpreted as the British public “changing their minds” about Brexit.
And this is exactly what the LibDems, in their arrogance, are now claiming. The Spectator reports:
Goldsmith hoped to focus on airport expansion and his decision to fulfil his promise to constituents to stand down if it was given the green light. But the Lib Dems had other ideas and made it about the EU. The Richmond borough voted heavily to remain — at 69/31 — and the Lib Dem campaign — which was also anti-Heathrow — focused on this. They highlighted Goldsmith’s support for Brexit and reached out to Remain voters — with Olney even promising to vote down Article 50 in the Commons, if elected.
In her acceptance speech, Olney said voters had ‘sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government’ while Tim Farron made the bold claim that if this were a general election the ‘Conservatives would lose dozens of seats to the Liberal Democrats – and their majority with it’. Now this is jumping the gun a bit, and as Fraser notes, a lot of the result can be put down to the Lib Dem’s effective ground game where Goldsmith just didn’t seem to have one. But it can’t be denied that the Lib Dem strategy is working. In the Witney by-election, the party increased its votes share from 7pc to 30pc. They have clearly defined themselves as the party of Remain and in constituencies that voted to stay in the EU this message is resonating.
The newly-elected MP herself was even more explicit on Sky News:
Olney told Sky News that ‘it does look now as if we can have a vote in Parliament that might override the referendum – and I will, obviously, be voting to Remain because that is always what I have believed’.
This is hilarious. Furious, tantrum-throwing Remainers have been complaining since the small hours of 24 June that the 52% of people who put their cross in the box voting to leave the European Union were in fact doing anything other than seriously voting for Brexit. It was just a cry of dissatisfaction, we were told. It’s all about immigration, or globalisation, or multiculturalism, and if only politicians say enough platitudinous things to placate public feeling on those issues then there will be no need to go ahead and trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, setting in motion the wheels of our departure.
And yet despite 17 million British voters casting their ballots to leave the European Union when the referendum question was both crystal clear and painstakingly discussed in advance (and the consequences clearly printed on the pro-Remain government propaganda sent to every household during the campaign), now we are supposed to believe that this vote was actually not a mandate or instruction to take Britain out of the European Union, while a single solitary by-election in leafy, pro-EU west London in which voters were explicitly choosing who to represent them in Parliament until the next general election, not casting a single-issue decision about Brexit is enough to cancel the whole thing.
Do these people hear just how arrogant they sound, and just how plain their attempts to game the system to their own advantage appear now that the curtain has been pulled back and the desperation of the moment has forced them to dispense with their usual subterfuge?
Besides, who knows whether the voters of Richmond Park really do want Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney as their new MP? As Brendan O’Neill put it on Facebook:
Anti-Brexit Lib Dem wins by-election in Richmond. But how can we be sure the people of Richmond really knew what they were voting for? Maybe they’re “low information”. Maybe they were made poisonously anti-Brexit by Guardian and Economist propaganda. Maybe they’re so hooked on Newsnight and Radio 4 that they can no longer think for themselves. Perhaps they were brainwashed by the demagogues Tony Blair and Richard Branson. Can we really trust such people to make big, important decisions like who should sit in parliament? We need a second vote. Give them another chance to get it right. The country must be saved from their ignorance.
Since the election, alarming new evidence has come to light – in the form of a car crash interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer on LBC radio, in which Sarah Olney jabbered like a madwoman, couldn’t answer a single question about Brexit and eventually panicked and had to be rescued by her spokesman after less than four minutes on air – which suggests that the people of Richmond Park may have unwittingly elected a complete and utter cretin to be their representative in Parliament for the next three and a half years.
Since the people of Richmond Park thought they were electing a competent human being with a basic grasp of the issues rather than a flailing dilettante who cracks under the immense psychological pressure of a casual interview on morning radio, clearly they did not have all the facts. Clearly they were misled. Clearly they need another opportunity to consider their response in the light of this new information.
Isn’t that what we keep hearing about that idiotic “£350 million for the NHS” Vote Leave NHS bus?
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Britain did not vote leave. 15,000 out of 40,000 did. But the nub for me is what has become clear only after the 23rd June. There are three crucial facts which were not obvious. I am not blaming or accusing anyone, just asking, as John Maynard Keynes famously did, for people to change their minds if the facts change.
We must REMAIN in the single market, right? In that case the EU cannot reasonably be expected to allow us to take control of our borders. The other two new facts are the Scottish and Northern Ireland remain votes. In a previous blog you wondered if there will be anger if Parliament vote against triggering Article 50..I think there will be anger when those who thought they were taking back control discover that they have done no such thing.
In passing, I suggest a way of reducing immigration in my own blog
I’ve seen one of those atmospheric maps where the orbits of thousands of known pieces of satellites and other orbital debris are tracked – seemingly countless circular and eccentric lines around the single planet below. Orbiting at varying speed, altitude and distance?
To take what I’ve seen of the Europhile debate post-June 23, the posture seems similar. Whatever you might wish to call it – sovereignty, representation, democracy, the specific act of voting, the definition of ‘electorate’ – they are all infinitely pliable terms. The debating terms of reference skewed in every which way, twisted to match the single constant at the centre of the orbits – continued EU membership.
‘Britain did not vote leave.’
Wrong. Diametrically wrong in fact. ‘Britain’ or ‘The UK’ did indeed vote to leave.
…’Our proposed EU referendum question changes were accepted by the Government and UK Parliament in the House of Commons on 7 September 2015.’…
To whit – ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’
It was the electorate of ‘The United Kingdom’ which was voting. It was not a plebiscite which qualified individual regions an individual separate identity. That was identified democratically and accountably by act of Parliament. When the Scots voted on Union two years ago, they already had two years of notice that the UK was going to be holding an EU In\Out Referendum. At no point was the Scottish electorate presented with an implied guarantee of continuity EU membership. At some point an electorate is going to have to accept the degree to which they take collective ownership of any decision at hand. The Scots accepted a risk of leaving the EU. They did so clearly and democratically on the basis of a very large historic electoral turnout. I’ll repeat one part of that – ‘At no point was the Scottish electorate presented with an implied guarantee of continuity EU membership.’ That is unarguable.
Sinn Fein have actively campaigned against every Treaty incarnation of the EU and the EC before it since the year dot. The notion that they are sudden converts to its collective tresses is touching, but frankly their artificial indignation is that of opportunism only. In a part of the UK where symbology is all, I don’t recall seeing a single Republican mural from the 1970s to the mid-90’s which so much as hinted a pro-EU\EC sentiment. From Belfast to Londonderry during my interminable patrolling there. If you want to tell me that Irish Nationalists are sudden latter-day converts to EU utopianism, then I’ve got a fairly decent bridge to sell you.
‘In that case the EU cannot reasonably be expected to allow us to take control of our borders. ‘
It already does.
I find I’m reduced to quoting Alistair Campbell from Newsnight a couple of days ago, but I do so because after nearly six months, his attitude to the official Campaigns (both of them) is practically a carbon copy of my own as it was in the immediate days and weeks subsequent to the day of the vote. Both Campaigns were appalling and dishonest in equal degree. But the only detailed debate which has existed has only done so since June 23. The Single Market option has only recently been mooted for consideration in the past couple of months whilst prior to June 23, Labour, the LibDems and project Cameron rejected it out of hand. Similarly the very first public mention of the Customs Union in these debates only surfaced some six weeks ago – while the group of Withdrawalist websites that Sam here links to have been discussing all of that and very considerably more for over five years.
The milk is spilled. The UK voted to leave in a vote, historically in extremely large proportion, on a matter that Parliament accepted was clearly worded. 75% of Parliament recorded a vote to hold the Referendum as legislated for. 100% of the qualified UK electorate were entitled to vote, and no qualified member of the electorate was actively or administratively blocked from placing a vote, with a reasonable caveat any individual neglect to register for a vote precluded the electoral intervention of those individual voters..
The other commonplace opinion I hold – elicited several times on that group of websites since June – was that ‘Remain’ lost. ‘Leave’ did not win because their Campaign was bereft of any intellectual or academic value. ‘Remain’ went into the Campaign with every advantage to hand, including the collective support of the UK and wider international establishment. They chose to throw all those advantages away in favour of the most incompetent campaign, possibly in electoral history. That’s not something ‘Leave’ needs to accept responsibility for. That accolade belongs solely to ‘Remain. They lost, and the UK voted to leave. It’s too late to cry foul.
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Blimey. What a shower.
A wee bit of maths for the bemoaner inclined:
Ms Olney secured a reported (Evening Standard) 20,510 votes to become a constituency MP for a pro-remain constituency.
In excess of 17 million votes were recorded in favour of leaving the EU.
I humbly submit that the Liberal Party’s Bremoaner spin isn’t worth a whistle in the wind.
Good blog Sam, as always.
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Well said Jim, I quite agree. This by-election was nothing more than a little focus group in one of the most pro-Remain constituencies in the region. This is hardly the “stunning setback for Brexit” claimed by much of the hysterical media.
Many thanks as always for reading, and for the kind words!