Brexit Denial Watch, Part 1 – Sarah Olney, The Liberal Democrats’ Special Secret Weapon

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?

 

Kumbaya - South Park - Brexit - European Union - EU Referendum

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We Do Not Suspend Our Democracy As A Gesture Or Tribute; The Batley And Spen By-Election Should Be Contested

Airey Neave Assassination - INLA

Suspending democracy is no way to pay tribute to a murdered MP

I’m strongly inclined to agree with Archbishop Cranmer’s take on the decision by the major political parties not to contest the Batley and Spen by-election brought about by the despicable murder of Jo Cox, essentially giving Labour a free run at a seat they were almost certain to hold regardless.

Metro reports:

The Lib Dems and Ukip have joined the Conservative Party to announce they will not contest the by-election in Batley and Spen resulting from the death of Jo Cox.

Mrs Cox, 41, died yesterday after she was stabbed and shot outside a library in Birstall.

The Labour MP had held her seat in West Yorkshire since the General Election last year, which she won with a majority of 6,057.

No date has yet been set to elect a new representative.

To which Cranmer writes in response:

Whoever Labour chooses to be their candidate will be gifted a seat in Parliament. We honour a murdered democrat by suspending democracy. Our political leaders respect her values service, community, tolerance – by treating her former constituency as heritable property. There can be no disjunctive voice, no division and no dissent: Jo Cox’s values, her political philosophy and her apprehension of the world order must be perpetuated “as a mark of respect to a much-loved and respected politician”. The Batley and Spen by-election thereby becomes a memorial, and her successor a living monument.

[..] The thing is, there is something odd in not contesting a seat after a sitting MP has been murdered:

1990 Murder of Ian Gow by PIRA – By-election contested – LD gain
1984 Murder of Sir Anthony Berry by PIRA – By-election contested – CON hold
1981 Murder of The Rev Robert Bradford by PIRA – By-election contested – UUP hold
1979 Murder of Airey Neave by INLA – No by-election, but GE seat contested – CON hold
1922 Murder of Sir Henry Wilson by IRA – By-election uncontested.

So the last uncontested by-election in this tragic circumstance was in 1922 for North Down (which had occasional uncontested elections into the 1950s).

Perhaps things have moved on since the murder of Ian Gow: 26 years is an eternity in politics. Or is it that only murdered Protestants and Tories have to be challenged in the hope of driving their particular brand of hatred, division and intolerance from public life? Whatever, the decision not to contest Batley and Spen permits the Labour Party to put into Parliament anyone they want. Although it is extremely unlikely that the seat would have changed hands, it is an offence against democracy to respond to attack upon democracy with a rigged political appointment. Far better for all the main political parties to put up a full slate of candidates, and then for  those candidates to selflessly exhort the people of Batley and Spen to vote Labour as a mark of respect to a much-loved and respected politician. At least then the people would have been free to honour Jo Cox’s values of service, community and tolerance as they would wish to do, instead of being coerced into a contrived expression of political unity, or hectored into a mellow manifestation of Anglican generosity and integrity.

“A contrived expression of political unity”. And isn’t that all that this would be – like the symbolism of MPs mixing it up in parliament and sitting next to members from opposing parties on one day before calling each other’s motives and morals into question again the next? If so, it hardly seems like a good enough reason for the suspension of democracy in one constituency.

And let’s not pretend that this will not happen. The Labour Party in particular have tremendous form in suggesting that those with conservative leanings are morally defective or singularly lacking in compassion. Is this all to cease now, because of the awful murder of Jo Cox? Will Labour MPs finally accept that it is possible to care about the poor and the vulnerable while believing that conservative policies are best for them and the country? I wouldn’t bet on it.

In fact, while there is an undeniable and odious far right element in British politics at the fringes, in terms of the voices currently heard in parliament and in the mainstream media, I would argue that it is the supposedly morally virtuous Labour Party which is guilty of most of the intemperate and divisive rhetoric heard today. And if we are to be political about it, if one party’s behaviour has been least deserving of being given a free run in a by-election, one could make a strong case that it is the Labour Party.

And yet how things seem to have changed. As Archbishop Cranmer points out, after the brutal assassination of several other MPs during the twentieth century, the idea of suspending competitive by-elections was never even considered. Of course the affected constituents should pick themselves up and avail themselves of their democratic right, was the prevailing thinking. And yet in 2016, in order to show solidarity or respect (or in actual fact, I’m almost hesitant to say, to signal virtue) it is apparently necessary to suspend democracy. To make a nice gesture.

As a society, we are getting very good at making nice, sentimental gestures in the face of tragedy. In the West, we have become particularly adept at lighting up our national landmarks to mourn terrorist attacks in one country or another. And there is obviously an important place for vigils, and grieving, and ritualised mourning. But it rather seems that this is now all that we can do. We can make the public gesture but not change the behaviours which makes the gesture necessary in the first place.

Just as one can predict with fearful certainty that the London Eye, Eiffel Tower and Brandenburg Gate will soon be lit up in the national colours of the next country to face a major terror attack while our politicians remain unable even to properly articulate the nature of the Islamist terror threat which we face, so it seem we are now about to celebrate democracy by effectively suspending it. In a twisted homage to Jo Cox, we are about to allow the Labour Party, through whatever opaque selection process they choose, to parachute a new MP into parliament without giving the people a real choice.

There are many appropriate ways to pay tribute to the late Jo Cox, a universally liked MP and the cruel victim of presumed far-right terrorism (for we should call it what it is). But the spectacle of an uncontested by-election, or a by-election fought only by a handful of ugly fringe candidates, is not one of them.

And for once, it would be gratifying if our commitment to democracy could trump the desire to make ourselves feel good with showy but ultimately counterproductive demonstrations of virtue.

 

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Oldham, UKIP And The Soft Bigotry Of The Guardian

Jim McMahon - John Bickley - Labour Party - UKIP - Oldham by election

In their smugness at the Oldham by-election result, the Left are in danger of learning the wrong lessons from UKIP’s failure to gain traction

It goes without saying that the by-election result in Oldham is of great reassurance to Jeremy Corbyn and a bad, bad outcome for UKIP.

Much is already being written about how the result provides breathing space for Corbyn after a difficult week marked by the Syria vote. But one piece of commentary caught my attention, specifically this throwaway line at the bottom of the Guardian’s analysis:

 

Ukip can take no joy from failing to win in a racially charged area.

 

In this short, throwaway sentence lies all of the sneering anti-UKIP bigotry which has come to typify the new middle-class left-wing clerisy and their house journal, The Guardian.

Why would UKIP “take joy” from winning in a racially charged area? The Guardian clearly accepts this idea as gospel, but why would any decent human being be actively thrilled to profit from racial unrest and community tension?

That’s not to say that UKIP do not benefit from these conditions when they occur. But as newspapers like the Guardian usually love to point out, UKIP actually tend to do best in areas where there are fewest immigrants but where local deprivation is high. If anything, the ideal target constituency for UKIP is not somewhere awash with hardworking Polish immigrants, but a run-down, faded and economically dying coastal or northern town with few job prospects and even fewer immigrants.

No decent person would arrive in a constituency marred by racial tension, rub their hands in glee and look forward to collecting the electoral dividend. But this is precisely what the Guardian accuse UKIP of doing. Because they don’t believe it is possible to be decent and a Ukipper. First they continually equate UKIP’s opposition to unlimited EU immigration with racism, which it categorically is not, whatever the other rights and wrongs of their position. And then they write about UKIP taking joy from exploiting racial tension as though they were the BNP in tweed.

Last week while campaigning in Oldham, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell stood in front of a crowd of supporters and called UKIP (and, by extension, the party’s supporters and sympathisers) “evil”. That was an incredibly insulting, ignorant and offensive thing to say, as well as being factually inaccurate. But at least we all know where John McDonnell stands and exactly what he thinks of people who believe in democracy, quiet patriotism and the nation state.

The Guardian would never be so gauche as to explicitly say that UKIP are evil. But they don’t need to. Their typical reader assumes it to be true, and so will nod along unthinkingly at a line about UKIP being supposedly disappointed not to have successfully exploited racial division.

Unfortunately, this is just further evidence of the Left assuming a very two-dimensional, cartoon caricature image of people who disagree with them. Conservatives can never disagree with socialism due to honest differences in outlook, they must be selfish Tory Scum. And Ukippers cannot have legitimate concerns over democracy and immigration, they must simply be racist.

We saw this same inability to empathise, to think from the perspective of the other person, when Channel 4 aired their ridiculous mockumentary “UKIP: The First 100 Days”, where Ukippers were portrayed by London-dwelling middle class film makers as two-dimensional, foul-mouthed, racist simpletons with working class accents.

There’s no doubt that the Oldham by-election was a very bad result for UKIP. Either UKIP have reached a natural ceiling in their support, their current electoral strategy is wildly misfiring, or the party’s reported financial troubles are so severe that they prevented the deployment of any serious ground game and voter mobilisation effort. The reality is likely to be some combination of all three.

But sneering that UKIP lost because they failed to exploit racial tensions – as though that goal is what motivates the party, and as though Nigel Farage were just another Nick Griffin – is wrong and ultimately counterproductive to the Left’s attempt to defeat the UKIP challenge.

Lasting victory can only ever come via a thorough understanding of one’s opponent. And the Guardian’s response to Labour’s by-election victory in Oldham proves that the Left are still a long, long way from understanding UKIP.

Labour Launch their Oldham West and Royton By-election Campaign

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