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MPs Allege Foreign Hacking Of The EU Referendum, Provide No Evidence

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Cynical, calculating and alarmist MPs are undermining faith in democracy with their conspiratorial anti-Brexit shenanigans

“A voter registration site that crashed in the run-up to last year’s EU referendum could have been targeted by a foreign cyber attack, MPs say”, screeches the BBC.

The Guardian, spurred by its anti-Brexit bias to step even further over the line of journalistic responsibility, declares “MPs are concerned about allegations governments including Russia and China may have interfered with EU referendum website”.

Wow. One might think that there would be some solid evidence, a “smoking gun” or at least an accumulation of circumstantial evidence for MPs to use their public prominence and access to media platforms to make such an accusation.

But we live in an age when the political establishment, spurned by the electorate and destabilised by defeats such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, have found solace in the kind of comforting conspiracy theories which they once decried. And so today we woke up to the insinuation that Russia (or some other foreign power, but really Russia) had covertly intervened in last year’s EU referendum and swung the result in favour of Brexit.

From the Guardian’s alarmist article:

Foreign governments such as Russia and China may have been involved in the collapse of a voter registration website in the run-up to the EU referendum, a committee of MPs has claimed.

A report by the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC) said MPs were deeply concerned about the allegations of foreign interference in last year’s Brexit vote.

The committee does not identify who may have been responsible, but has noted that both Russia and China use an approach to cyber-attacks based on an understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals.

The findings follow repeated claims that Russia has been involved in trying to influence the US and French presidential elections.

My emphasis in bold. In other words, MPs of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee went on the record to insinuate that a foreign power attempted to manipulate the EU referendum result while supplying zero evidence in support of their claim. Apparently their “concerns” were deemed worthy of inclusion in a lessons learned report on the EU referendum, even though none of the MPs on the committee could provide a single justification other than base paranoia.

The relevant section of the report states the following:

The Register to Vote website crashed on the evening of 7 June 2016. The Government has stated that this was due to an exceptional surge in demand, partly due to confusion as to whether individuals needed to register to vote. The Government should develop an online service to enable people to check whether they are already correctly registered. However, the Government clearly failed to undertake the necessary level of testing and precautions required to mitigate against any such surge in applications. The Association of Electoral Administrators criticised the government and the Electoral Commission for a clear lack of contingency planning.

We do not rule out the possibility that there was foreign interference in the EU referendum caused by a DDOS (distributed denial of service attack) using botnets, though we do not believe that any such interference had any material effect on the outcome of the EU referendum. Lessons in respect of the protection and resilience against possible foreign interference in IT systems that are critical for the functioning of the democratic process must extend beyond the technical. The US and UK understanding of ‘cyber’ is predominantly technical and computer-network based, while Russia and China use a cognitive approach based on understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals. We commend the Government for promoting cyber security as a major issue for the UK. We recommend permanent machinery for monitoring cyber activity in respect of elections and referendums be established, for promoting cyber security and resilience from potential attacks, and to put plans and machinery in place to respond to and to contain such attacks if they occur.

But rather than providing corroborative detail in the body of the report, the committee merely restate the unfounded allegations:

102. Although the Committee has no direct evidence, it considers that it is important to be aware of the potential for foreign interference in elections or referendums. The report on lessons learned from the website crash described it as “technical in nature, gaps in technical ownership and risk management contributed to the problem, and prevented it from being mitigated in advance”.138 However the crash had indications of being a DDOS (distributed denial of service) ‘attack’. We understand that this is very common and easy to do with botnets. There can be many reasons why people initiate a DDOS: commercial (e.g. one company bringing down a competitor’s website to disrupt sales); legal (e.g. a law enforcement agency wanting to disturb criminal activity on Darknet); political; etc. The key indicants are timing and relative volume rate.

103. PACAC does not rule out the possibility that the crash may have been caused by a DDOS (distributed denial of service attack) using botnets. Lessons in respect of the protection and resilience against possible foreign interference in IT systems that are critical for the functioning of the democratic process must extend beyond the technical. The US and UK understanding of ‘cyber’ is predominantly technical and computer-network based. For example, Russia and China use a cognitive approach based on understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals. The implications of this different understanding of cyber-attack, as purely technical or as reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion, for the interference in elections and referendums are clear. PACAC is deeply concerned about these allegations about foreign interference.

Now this is just plain self-contradictory. The committee state correctly that rival powers such as Russia and China use a “cognitive approach” to their cyber warfare efforts, seeking to influence the minds of electors through dissemination of fake news and targeted releases of stolen information to undermine public confidence in one or other side of a political debate. This formed much of the controversy over the allegations of Russian hacking of the US presidential election, with some people arguing that Russia deliberately hacked and then leaked damaging information about the Clinton campaign to Wikileaks while withholding any damaging information about the Trump campaign.

However, the type of hacking described (or imagined) by the MPs in their report is a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack, which is a technical, web-based attack designed to target computer systems and websites, not human minds. The MPs already conceded that the temporary unavailability of the voter registration website had no material impact on the outcome of the referendum; therefore, for Russian or Chinese cyber activity to have had any effect on the Brexit vote would have required them to have engaged in cognitive hacking – and the committee provides zero evidence, not even a suggestion, that this took place.

And besides, Russia had no need to wage the kind of “cognitive” cyber warfare that they are accused of deploying against the United States. Vladimir Putin didn’t need to hack David Cameron’s emails and leak the contents to Wikileaks for us to find out that he, and the rest of Britain’s political elite, considered eurosceptics to be “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” – the kind of damaging private remark that rightfully helped to erode trust in Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. No, David Cameron was bold enough to let the country know exactly what he thought of the 52% who ended up voting for Brexit, back in 2006 on a live radio show.

And interestingly, in 87 pages of findings, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee – so concerned about the influence of foreign powers on our sacred democratic process – could not spare a sentence, let alone a paragraph, to censure David Cameron for inviting President Barack Obama to a Downing Street press conference for the sole purpose of browbeating the British public and threatening us with being sent to the “back of the queue” in terms of a future trade agreement with the United States. In a supposedly comprehensive review of how the EU referendum was planned and executed, was this not worth a mention?

And what about David Cameron’s flagrant breach of purdah rules by making a speech from the steps of Downing Street during the prohibited period? Again, this egregious violation of the letter and spirit of the referendum rules is apparently not worth analysis or mention by the committee, who seem only too happy to ignore elected officials and civil servants deceiving and influencing voters in real life while getting worked up about unfounded allegations of foreign interference.

PACAC has every right – indeed a responsibility – to be concerned about foreign interference in British democracy, and to apply pressure to the government to do more to guard against such interference where appropriate. But in their “Lessons Learned from the EU Referendum” report, all the committee have done is foment unfounded suspicions of foreign interference – an attempt to hack the Brexit vote which does not even match the profile of the type of cyber warfare favoured by Russia and China – knowing that it will be picked up and repeated by a credulous media who care more about a dramatic headline than the mundane reality.

Everyone will read the headlines declaring “MPs suspect Russian and Chinese intervention in the EU referendum”. Far fewer people will read down a few paragraphs into the various articles and realise that the paranoid, grandstanding MPs offered zero evidence to support their incendiary claims, and in fact destroyed their credibility through contradictory allegations. Fewer still will make it to the bottom of the 87-page report and realise that the alarmist claim is supported by just two meagre footnotes, neither of which provide a link to additional sources.

MPs are savvy people, and they know how the media works. By including this unfounded allegation on page 5 of their report, in the executive summary, they knew that it would be picked up by the media, especially those credulous and anti-Brexit parts of the media who might seek to spin this “news” in as defamatory way as possible to undermine public confidence in the referendum and in Brexit as a desirable outcome. That the PACAC chairman, Bernard Jenkin, was a founding director of Vote Leave only makes the appearance of such unsubstantiated, manipulative remarks in the published report even more perplexing.

As a tactic employed by losers fighting a desperate rearguard battle against Brexit, throwing mud at the legitimacy of the EU referendum in the hope that some of it might stick is an understandable, if still reprehensible ploy. But persisting with this behaviour will have grave and wide-reaching consequences.

Brendan O’Neill gets it right:

MPs say foreign states may have tampered with the EU referendum registration website and helped to bring about Brexit. The big ridiculous babies. It’s David Icke meets Veruca Salt, half conspiracy theory, half tinny tantrum over the fact that for the first time in their pampered political lives they didn’t get what they wanted. Grow up. It wasn’t sinister foreign agents who crushed your political dreams — it was us!

Absolutely.

Faith in the British political and media class is already at a nadir. Any further transparent attempts to manipulate public opinion with unfounded accusations and cynical attempts to delegitimise the referendum outcome – a continuance of Project Fear from beyond the grave – will only create an even greater crisis of legitimacy.

 

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Owen Jones’ Pointless, Self-Deceiving Journey Around Brexitland

Brexitland

Owen Jones’ pilgrimage to Brexitland tell us nothing new about Leave voters, but gives us another depressing insight into the sanctimonious mindset of an establishment Remainer

I have no great love or respect for Owen Jones. The Guardian’s sanctimonious boy wonder once tried to insult me by sneeringly describing me as a “self-described journalist” and a “patently dishonest man” for reporting fairly and accurately on an article which he himself had written (my, he gets upset when his left wing sanctimony and arrogance is pointed out to him), and his recent flouncing away from social media in response to receiving negative feedback after criticising Jeremy Corbyn is only the latest proof that when it comes to insults and ad hominem attacks, Owen Jones can dish it out but just can’t take it.

Therefore I now usually spend most of my time ignoring Owen Jones, but his current series of articles in the Guardian – under the banner of “Brexitland”, whereby the author trudges around the United Kingdom desperately trying to understand why people didn’t believe the Remain campaign’s lies, exaggerations and catastrophisations of Brexit and vote to remain in the EU – is too good to avoid at least passing comment.

The latest instalment takes Owen Jones to Fareham in Hampshire, which as Owen Jones solemnly informs us, somehow voted Leave despite being a wealthy town with a high proportion of homeowners. This, Jones suggests, is some kind of devastating rebuttal to the idea that only poor, disenfranchised working class people voted for Brexit – which nobody serious has ever claimed, other than with the proviso that it is a general trend and not a cast-iron rule.

Under the illusion that he is contributing something original and worth hearing to the discussion, Jones crows:

As elsewhere, the result defied any predefined class dynamic and confounded the stereotypes. While Fareham is cast as part of an anti-establishment vanguard, Tower Hamlets – which has prevalent child poverty and two-thirds of whose residents voted for remain – is subsumed into the caricature of a pampered liberal elite. Most working-class Britons under 35 opted for remain, while most middle-class people over 65 voted for leave. Most working-class people who are white went for leave, most working-class people from ethnic minorities went for remain. Consider that the next time the Brexit press imposes its simplistic narrative on a complicated reality. Applying their logic, black supermarket workers and young apprentices form part of the privileged remoaner elite.

Of course, the only thing this really proves is that Owen Jones failed to define the establishment properly (ironic, given the title of his second book), and constructed a straw man which would be most easily knocked down. Nobody is suggesting that supermarket workers or young apprentices form part of the pro-EU elite.

While the push to get the Leave vote over 50 percent was driven significantly by working class dissatisfaction with their economic and social circumstances – and with the political status quo – many working class people still voted Remain. They have free will, after all, and were every bit as vulnerable to the Remain campaign’s apocalyptic warnings and false assurances about the EU as any other voter. Owen Jones hasn’t somehow confounded the standard narratives around Brexit by finding a pocket of relatively wealthy people in Fareham who voted Leave, just as he has not achieved the impossible by identifying some working class people who voted Remain. The entire exercise is simply a cynical vehicle for Jones to trot out the standard self-exculpatory lines Remainers use when trying to rationalise their defeat (The Brexit bus! What about £350 million for Our NHS!)

The only thing that Owen Jones’ tour of Brexitland is really good for is getting another insight into the workings of the Remainer mind. This anecdote is particularly telling:

The divisions here mirror those in other affluent communities. Sometimes disagreement is amicable, often not. Henry Palk, 79, was polishing windows that were once plastered with remain posters. He took me into his extraordinary wood-beamed 14-room house, which dates back to 1294. “Hitler would feel quite comfortable here with a lot of the residents,” he said irascibly. Palk says he has fallen out with some of his neighbours, not to mention a leave-supporting relative. His cousin telephoned each week, but when they spoke the Sunday after the referendum, that arrangement came to an end. Palk told him: “I’m sick of you, and I never want to hear from you again.” Then he hung up.

How many times has that scene played out in the months leading up to, and following, the EU referendum? And how many times has the person severing contact been a Brexiteer? I would venture that the answer is “rarely, if ever”.  As a general rule, Brexiteers (by virtue of having to live with a status quo they despised, often for years) are more tolerant of opposing viewpoints and capable of hearing dissenting opinions about Britain’s place in the EU. A higher proportion of Remainers, by contrast, have almost zero ability to handle dissent or see the goodness in a person with a legitimate disagreement.

As a result of my campaigning during the referendum, I have personally been de-friended and told to do various X-rated things to myself by a number of people online, while at one particularly memorable dinner party the female guest seated to my right physically picked up her chair and moved it a couple of inches further away from me when she found out that I voted for Brexit (despite knowing nothing else about me or my motivations).

And so it is natural that Owen Jones finds someone on his travels who feels justified and morally superior for severing contact with a former acquaintance (a family member, in this case) because they disagreed over Brexit – apparently the country is brimming with such people on the Remain side.

Palk’s words, “I’m sick of you, and I never want to hear from you again”, basically sum up the feelings of “liberal”, metro-leftist, pro-EU, establishment Britain towards those dared to defy their better judgment. As pampered members of the Edwardian aristocracy treated their domestic servants, Remainers often looked with a kind and indulgent eye on their fellow citizens so long as they kept their mouths shut and didn’t rock the boat, but became full of horror and revulsion when they dared to speak for themselves. Now Brexiteers are viewed as being every bit as “deplorable” as those Americans whose dissatisfaction with the status quo led them to vote for Donald Trump (a highly unfair comparison), despite the self-interested attempts to discern their motivations by people like Owen Jones.

More:

The likes of Fareham seen through a media lens offer certainty, but in truth the lines blur here as elsewhere. It suits the media barons to portray Britain’s divide as being between a patronisingly depicted working class and a privileged layer of snobs. But that hardly facilitates the intelligent discussion we now need. Of course the referendum result must be respected. But attempts to shut down any scrutiny, let alone dissent about a hard Tory Brexit, have to be resisted.

The “intelligent discussion we now need”? Like perpetrating the insulting myth that we are only leaving the EU because the most gullible amongst us were tricked into voting against our own interests by a patently false promise scrawled on the side of a bus, while the honest and upstanding Remain campaign high-handedly dealt only in truth and never once descended to the gutter?

Even Jones’ own forays into Brexitland reveal the comforting tale Remainers tell themselves about Evil Brexiteers and their Bus of Lies to be a – well, a lie:

Ian Page, 72, is another lifetime Tory voter, save for a brief dalliance with New Labour. He worked in the computer and electronics industry before retirement and voted leave. “Distrust of Brussels,” he says. “I had no problem with immigration, it didn’t bother me at all.” Indeed, he resented the “very negative” immigration policies offered by the leavers. But he did it and he is upbeat. “I don’t have any fears about not getting a deal,” he tells me. “I think Europe needs us more than we need them.”

They were lied to like the rest of us. Never forget the sheer deceit of a leave campaign that promised £350m a week extra for the NHS. But I encounter few complaints of betrayal. Tony Coves, a 76-year-old former chartered loss adjuster at Lloyd’s, recalls the ads on the side of the leave bus: “That was a load of nonsense, we knew that. We still voted for it.”

The only ones who took the NHS-worshipping Vote Leave battle bus seriously are the Remainers who seem to think that it constitutes smoking gun evidence that the EU referendum was somehow unfair and stacked against them rather than hideously weighted in their own favour, as it was in reality. Well, I take the moronic Brexit bus and raise the Remain campaign a lying prime minister who abused his office and leveraged the full might of the state in an effort to get his way. And if you think that a deceptive bus slogan promoted by a team of obvious charlatans is somehow worse than our head of government debasing himself and his office then we really can’t have a fruitful discussion, because you are not engaged in a legitimate cognitive process.

And why this continual belief that scrutiny and dissent about Brexit are being shut down? Is Hilary Benn not given free reign to indulge in any partisan whim he pleases as chair of the parliamentary Exiting the EU Committee? Are the establishment not still overwhelmingly personally in favour of remaining in the EU, even if those who are elected politicians have made peace with the result as a matter of political survival? Are the arts and creative industries, which do so much to influence our culture, almost lockstep in support of the European Union? Are tremulous, wobbly-lipped Remainers not given every opportunity to sweat their insecurities about looming fascism on every news bulletin and every edition of BBC Question Time? Show me where dissent is being suppressed, Owen, and I shall be very grateful.

Ultimately, Owen Jones can trudge from Lands End to John O’Groats trying to understand Brexit, but he would do far better to stand still and examine his own heart. At one time, his more sincere left-wing principles led Jones in the same direction as the late Tony Benn – opposed to the EU either for principled democratic reasons, or perhaps more likely out of self-interested fear that EU membership would thwart the imposition of Utopian left-wing policies in Britain. The tiresome phrase “Tory Brexit” originated from the perceptive idea (shared by Owen Jones and his onetime idol Jeremy Corbyn) that Brexit is not a bad thing in itself, and that the only thing bad for the British Left would be Brexit purely on perceived Tory terms.

What happened to the Owen Jones who looked at the European Union with a critical eye, saw it for what it really was and came close to supporting Brexit? What happened to the Owen Jones who saw the EU’s treatment of Greece during the euro crisis and realised how terminally unreformable and intransigent an organisation the EU really is, and how lethal to healthy nation state democracy? The answer is as clear as it is damning – that eurosceptic version of Owen Jones realised which side of his bread is buttered, and meekly got in line with the pro-EU establishment’s amen chorus, suppressing any doubts about the EU and cheering for a Remain vote which would have put the interests of the political class over Labour’s supposed working class base.

A pilgrimage through Brexitland will tell you nothing new about working and middle class attitudes toward Brexit and the EU. But it will tell you everything about the public’s attitude toward people from the political elite – politicians, journalists and commentators alike – who profess to respect and serve them only to second-guess their judgment on key issues like Britain’s place in the EU.

And surprisingly, it doesn’t matter whether you are a working class denizen of Tower Hamlets or a wealthy homeowner in Hampshire – having Owen Jones turn up on your doorstep to study you and write about your vote in the EU referendum as though it were a symptom of some pathological disease is pointless, insulting and utterly redundant.

Talking about “Brexitland” makes it sound as though those enclaves of the United Kingdom which dared to vote for secession from the European Union are somehow foreign and alien, and that their inhabitants require analysis and interpretation to be understandable to the majority. This is still very much the attitude of the pro-EU, pseudo-liberal media. But they, and Owen Jones, would do well to reflect on the fact that 52 is greater than 48. They are the minority. Their worldview was repudiated, quite forcefully, by many of the people they claim should benefit from it the most. Perhaps it might be worth reflecting on why that was, and on the failures and errors in their own thinking.

Because if anything, journalists should be making enquiring voyages deep into the heart of “euroland” to understand what could possibly motivate such a large minority of Britons to vote to remain in such a deeply unattractive union when 52 percent of their countrymen knew better.

 

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On Article 50 Day

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A genuine opportunity for democratic renewal – if we can keep it

Many believed – either through arrogance or hopelessness – that this day would never come.

Article 50 Day: the day that the British government triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and formally signalled to the European Union our decision to secede from that dysfunctional, anachronistic and profoundly anti-democratic political union, conceived more than a century ago and constructed in a post-war age now almost completely alien to us.

Of the many pictures which may come to represent “Brexit Day” in historical memory, the two images which struck me are the photograph of Theresa May signing the Article 50 notification letter in Downing Street last night, and the television footage of the British official (Ambassador Sir Tim Barrow) in Brussels, striding into the European Council building to deliver the note to president Donald Tusk.

Why? Because these images more than any other represent the astonishing triumph of democracy over the near-unanimous will of the political establishment.

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Theresa May did not want to sign the Article 50 letter. During the referendum she campaigned, albeit half-heartedly and often nearly invisibly, for Britain to remain in the European Union before accepting the inevitable and promising to implement Brexit as she manoeuvred for the Tory leadership.

And the British civil service, foreign office and diplomatic corps, represented here by Tim Barrow, our Permanent Representative to the EU, certainly did not want to deliver the letter, so accustomed are they to thinking and operating only within the narrow tramlines of those competencies not surrendered to Brussels..

The generations of politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats who currently run Britain were raised on a narrative of national decline and inevitable dependence on the Brussels political union as the only means of amplifying our fading voice in world affairs. Their formative years were spent during the Winter of Discontent and marked by one post-war national humiliation after another. The tremendous post-1970s (Thatcherite) revival has failed to disabuse them of the utterly false, poisonous notion that Britain is a small and insignificant country, no longer capable of governing herself in the manner of other independent countries such as Canada or Australia, let alone as the fifth largest economy and major cultural, commercial, diplomatic and military power that we truly are.

By huge margins, these people were deeply wedded to Britain’s inevitable future as a European Union member state, and consider Brexit a huge mistake bordering on a tragic act of national self-harm. And yet Theresa May signed the letter, Tim Barrow delivered it, Article 50 was duly triggered and the process of Britain’s secession from the European Union was put into motion.

Why is this something to be celebrated? Because at a time when there is every reason for cynicism and doubt, it shows that at a fundamental level, the British people are indeed still in charge of their own destiny.

Theresa May did not want to sign the letter and Tim Barrow did not want to deliver it, but they did so because they retain a sufficient fear of (if not respect for) the public that they dared not abuse their power by overriding the results of a public referendum. Note that there is no such reticence about subverting democracy in the diminished union we are now leaving – unfavourable referendum results in member states (relating to EU treaties or the ill-fated constitution) have consistently been treated as unfortunate but minor setbacks and then sidestepped by the Brussels machinery, its leaders safe in the knowledge that they are so insulated from democratic accountability that they will suffer no consequences for their actions.

In Britain, however, there remained just enough fear of the people for our leaders to be forced to do the right thing, against their will. That’s not to say that they will get Brexit right, not by a long stretch – right up until Referendum Day, many Brexiteers were too busy hating the EU to identify the future relationship they wanted to have with it, while bitter Remainers did much to poison public and media opinion against the kind of transitional EEA deal which would have caused the least economic disruption. But given a mandate to take Britain out of the European Union our leaders are now doing so, however clumsily and against their will. This is as it should be.

Brendan O’Neill also gets it:

What we’re witnessing in Britain today, with Theresa May triggering Article 50, is something radical: the political class is going against its own judgement under the duress of the demos. The polite, peaceful duress of the demos, it should be pointed out.

We know that 73 per cent of MPs want to stay in the EU. We know many in the House of Lords are horrified by Brexit and were keen to hold it up. We know 70 per cent of business leaders wanted Britain to remain, and that some of them launched costly legal battles to try to stymie the Brexit momentum. And yet in the end, all of them, every one, has had to roll over and give in to the masses: to the builders, nurses, teachers, mums, old blokes, unemployed people and others who effectively said to the political class: ‘You’re wrong. We should leave’. To the people surprised that such a state of affairs can exist, that the political set can be made to do something it doesn’t want to by the mass of society, including even uneducated people: what did you think democracy meant? This is what it means.

Yes, this is what democracy means. To do anything else – to override or subvert the referendum decision for Brexit – would mean the triumph of technocracy  and well-meaning dictatorship over democracy.

We tend to forget, because it has not been this way within living memory for many citizens, but in a democracy the leaders are supposed to fear and respect the people and their judgment, not the other way around. As government relentlessly expanded and the bureaucratic state encroached ever more on our lives, we have unfortunately come to fear the government far more than government leaders fear the public – but not so with Brexit. Government ministers know that to defy the Brexit vote and seek to remain in the EU against the wishes of the people would visit such anarchy and destruction upon the country that they daren’t seriously even consider it (save inconsequential politicians such as Tim Farron). And so no matter how much they dislike it, today they implement our instructions.

Of course, Brexit is just one issue. In many other arenas of public life, officials have absolutely no qualms about defying public opinion and treating voters as polling units to be managed or placated rather than autonomous, thinking and engaged citizens to be feared and respected. We must take care not to merely repatriate powers from Brussels back into the arms of a power-hungry, over-centralised Westminster government that will fail to act in the interest of the UK’s diverse home nations and regions, and which carelessly surrendered its own powers to Brussels without democratic consent in the first place. Now, more than ever, we must hold our politicians and civil servants to account.

Brexit is the start of an opportunity for real democratic and constitutional reform, not an outcome in itself. Secession from the European Union makes the rejuvenation of our democracy possible, but by no means inevitable.

When queried by a stranger as to the outcome of the constitutional convention he was leaving, American founding father Benjamin Franklin famously replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it”.

Today, as Theresa May’s government (for all its many flaws) triggers Article 50 and serves notice on the European Union, we seek to reclaim our national self-determination and renew our democracy – if we can keep it. If we can rise to the occasion and collectively seize the great opportunity which now stands before us.

 

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The Daily Mash’s Unhealthy, Obsessive Brexit Complex

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The Daily Mash should spend less time going for cheap laughs about supposedly racist, nostalgic Brexiteers and more time using satire to hold real power and privilege to account

Along with countless other non-racist, non-xenophobic Brexiteers who enjoy a good bit of political comedy and satire, I have been waiting patiently for the current virulent outbreak of Brexit fever to abate over at The Daily Mash, a satirical news website which at one time could be relied upon to provoke laughs no matter which party or ideology was in the cross-hairs.

Sadly, judging by today’s latest effort, there is still no sign of remission:

EVERY country in the former British Empire has demanded Britain resume full political control now it has proven it is great again.

Australia, India, Canada, Egypt and South Africa, among a host of others, have all dissolved their governments in a show of awestruck admiration for the British lion’s newfound mighty roar.

Kenya’s president Uluru Kenyatta said: “We never wanted Britain to stop ruling us in the first place – why ever would we? – but you just needed to grab hold of your mojo again.

“Don’t worry about giving us voting rights or any of that nonsense. Now you are once again a proud, resurgent nation unafraid of political correctness, we have absolute trust you will act in our best interest. And the world’s.

“I step down this afternoon. Oh man, I hope we get Michael Gove as governor. That guy is the best.”

The UK now commands a fifth of the world’s population and one-quarter of its total habitable land, which is as it should be.

Retired headmistress Margaret Gerving, from Guildford, said: “I don’t know why America is insisting on being independent. I’m sure they’ll stop being silly eventually.”

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Since a clear majority of Britons voted to leave the European in the June 2016 referendum, the Mash has covered the topic of Brexit and our changing relationship with the European Union with the spittle-flecked fury and haughty, casual moral superiority of an earnest but ill-informed sixth-former.

Thus we have been treated to headlines such as these:

Uniting behind Brexit a bit hard if you think it’s shit – which includes quotes such as “I’ve always believed that Europeans are our friends with whom we no longer want to have wars. So it’s hard to change to seeing them as potentially hostile weirdos whose food is poisonous”. Because of course voting to leave a supranational political union could be motivated by nothing else.

All man wants for Christmas is Brexit – which tells the story of Roy Hobbs, who “d[oes] not care about presents underneath the Christmas tree, and he just wants Britain to stand alone, stronger than it had ever known”.

Relieved Britain no longer biggest f*ck-up of 2016 – in which a character declares: “For months we’ve been the world’s dumbest dickheads, and now we’re actually if anything a useful marker on the road to the total collapse of liberal democracy”.

May confirms Brexit is now a religious cult – in which the Mash’s version of Theresa May declares: “We will form small, inward-looking communities where anyone who criticises Brexit will be subjected to weeks of brainwashing or human sacrifice. I am the one true prophet of Brexit, which means everything I say is a fact, such as ‘Liam Fox is good at whatever it is he is supposed to be doing’. I call it ‘going the full David Koresh’.” That last line is a snide reference to the Waco siege, in which four federal agents and 76 cultists died.

Brexit optimism highest among people who love setting fire to things – in which one demonic Brexiteer exclaims: “All I want from life is to instill fear while cackling like a maniac, so I’m delighted that the government is finally listening to people like me”.

These are but a few examples, chosen more or less at random.

Does Brexit deserve to be made fun of? Absolutely – nothing should be off the table when it comes to political humour. But the Mash’s lazy bias does its satire-loving readers a disservice by nearly completely exempting the Remain side – who, after all, make up most of the establishment that satirical publications normally exist to mock – from any scrutiny of their own.

Imagine the EU referendum result had gone the other way, and Britain had narrowly voted to remain. We Brexiteers (myself included) would not have taken the result well, would be making our displeasure widely known and probably vowing to hold another referendum as soon as possible. But rather than skewering the victorious Remain side for their wide-eyed europhilia and naive trust in the Magical EU Reform Unicorn (or “punching up”, as we apparently now call the intersection between humour and power dynamics) the Mash would instead be quick to laugh at the angry, disappointed Leavers. No matter which way the result went, the Mash would be laughing at Brexiteers right now. And that is both biased and lazy.

Of course, many Brexiteers are vaguely ridiculous and lend themselves to humour, just as many Remainers are glib, shallow, sanctimonious and uninformed. But good satire would poke fun at the real faults of Brexiteers – our sometimes room-emptying obsession with matters of sovereignty, democracy and regulatory matters, for example. There’s lots of comic material in there, even if extracting it takes slightly more effort. Going for the “oh, they’re just hankering for the days of empire” gag (as per the article quoted at the top of this post) is a cheap laugh, and a lazy one.

What’s more, it is wrong. If you actually take the time to talk to Brexiteers, even much of the UKIP brigade, you won’t hear a hankering for empire or a desire to “turn the clock back”. These are rationalisations dreamed up by London-dwelling media types who never socialise with anyone who lives north of Watford and so cannot imagine what might really motivate a person to vote for Brexit.

What you will hear if you do talk to Brexiteers in any number is a strong distrust of political institutions, a sense of personal insecurity or economic precariousness and a sense that time, technology and political machinations have wrought huge changes on Britain with almost no proper discussion or debate. A sense that while we must keep moving forward, government for once needs to prioritise the interests of those who can’t or who don’t want to be citizens of the world rather than those who are able to use the world as their playground.

And if that seems difficult or unwise to mock, then perhaps it is worth questioning whether the Mash and the London-centric elite are spending too much time “punching down” at people they consider inferior rather than holding power (and what they might call “privilege”) to proper account.

Consider this old Daily Mash article from the dying days of the last Labour government, skewering prime minister Gordon Brown’s assertion that a cut in National Insurance tax would somehow be “taking money out of the economy”:

GORDON Brown will once again focus Labour’s election campaign on national insurance after being deafened by the collapse of his own argument.

Mr Brown’s advisers had urged him not to return to the issue, but the prime minister just nodded and smiled and said their voices had gone all dull and fuzzy.

The argument has been collapsing in stages since last week with the final section crashing to the ground in a massive cloud of dust and bits during the Today programme, just after eight o’clock this morning.

Radio Four listener Tom Logan said: “I was spooning some mephedrone into my tea and listening to John Humphrys being a shit, when all of sudden there was this huge, violent noise.

“It was so loud I thought it must be coming from outside, but then I realised it was the last part of the prime minister’s argument on national insurance smashing into the ground like it had been kicked over by a giant toddler.

“I do hope no-one was hurt apart from John Humphrys.”

Within minutes of the argument toppling over, Guardian editor Peter Mandelson was seen scrabbling over the smoking rubble and attempting to rebuild it while mumbling, ’employers know nothing about employing people’ over and over again.

Now, this is funny because it pokes fun at an actual trait of New Labour politicians – that rather paternalistic view that government really does know more about employing people than the employers themselves.

By contrast, the worn-out old stereotype of Brexiteers as scarlet-faced, tweed-bedecked retired colonels hankering after a bygone age is self-evidently false. It fails the common sense test – more than half of voters opted for Brexit, and there just aren’t enough retired colonels out there to deliver that kind of result.

But rather than actually take the time to understand Brexiteers and work out what makes them tick so as to better lampoon them (humour, after all, is always better when it is closely observational), publications like The Daily Mash sit back smugly and fall back on the familiar narrative of grumpy old men hankering for empire.

And that, of course, is their right. Nobody has to read The Daily Mash, and despite Britain’s increasingly tenuous commitment to free speech they can mock and lampoon whoever they like, as should be the case.

But how much better would their comedy be – how much wryer and punchier their humour – if the Mash writers actually took the time to really get to know a few more Brexiteers (so as to at least make fun of them for the right reasons), or even (heaven forfend) turn that caustic wit back on their own side once in a while?

 

Brexit Jokes

Top image: Alba White Wolf

Bottom image: catchnews.com

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There’s Nothing Virtuous About Being a Rootless ‘Citizen Of The World’

citizen-of-the-world-roula-khalaf

Someone give that woman a medal

Most self-described citizens of the world are actually no such thing. They might enjoy the company of very similar people in increasingly similar global cities, but they probably couldn’t think of a single thing to say to somebody of different socio-economic status from a smaller town twenty miles down the road

Pete North explains perhaps better than anyone exactly why those people who style themselves as liberal “citizens of the world” are often no such thing – neither tremendously liberal, nor engaged citizens of anywhere, in any meaningful respect.

North writes:

In the end there is nothing especially virtuous about people who are well travelled and outward looking. A society needs all stripes to function. We need people to work the routine jobs and then we need a fluid workforce not tied down with responsibilities. Moreover, having dealt with more well pampered HR people than a person ever should, one thing I have noticed is that travel does not necessarily broaden the mind.

If you take an incurious person and lavish travel upon them you are wasting your money. Some of the most shallow, snobby and fatuous people I know would consider themselves liberal citizens of the world. Such people have no concept of what it is to be building or maintaining something with a long term plan. They latch on to the fashionable and socially convenient worldview that the EU is the manifestation of liberal values but it little more than virtue signalling.

And develops his argument:

What I find is that the broader your horizons, the harder it is to fit in wherever you go, and so there remains a polarisation between the settled and the travelled. It is then no surprise that there is an obvious demographic divide and opinion is split between the ages.

In this, the remain side of the Brexit debate seem keen to pour over these demographic studies to pathologise the leave vote, and consequently delegitimise it, as though you need to be of a particular set for your opinion to hold any worth. Democracy is lost on such people. The whole point of democracy is one person; one vote, where we take a sample of opinion and move together on the basis of compromise.

In something as binary as EU membership though there is only winner takes all. There is no third option on the ballot so we move with the majoritarian view which is to leave. For whatever reasons they voted for, they did so in accordance with their own views based on their own choices. Their worldviews are formed by what they see and hear in the media, but also in the street and in the workplace. They are the best judges of what is important to them. To suggest that choosing a more conservative lifestyle means you are not qualified to make such an estimation is to invite the very sentiment behind the leave vote.

What these people know better than anyone is that the frivolous and rootless people telling them how to vote are no better than anybody. I imagine the working classes would like nothing more than to live a more adventurous life but they don’t because they can’t afford it. It’s then a bit rich to tell them that the EU brings them freedom of movement and prosperity.

Earlier this year Theresa May said “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means”. I smiled when I heard that. Nothing quite so succinctly demolishes the flimsy worldview that believing in the borderless homogenised EU, along with all the pompous garb that goes with it, is somehow enlightenment. May recognises that being a citizen is more than holding outwardly liberal views. It means making a contribution – to be part of something.

It takes no particular talent to drift through life going place to place – and in so doing all you’re likely to meet is others who have made the same choices or enjoy an extraordinary privilege. Far from broadening the mind it merely reinforces a particular mindset which is never exposed to the values of the settled community. It’s why self-styled “citizens of the world” have no self-awareness and do not for a moment appreciate just how naff they sound to everybody else.

In my experience, self-described citizens of the world have tended to describe their outlook in terms of what they get from the bargain rather than what they contribute to the equation. They call themselves citizens if the world because being so affords them opportunities and privileges – the chance to travel, network and do business. Very few people speak of being citizens of the world because of what they give back in terms of charity, cultural richness or human knowledge, yet all of the people that I would consider to be true citizens of the world – people like Leonard Bernstein or Ernest Hemingway – fall into this latter, rarer category.

What does it really mean to be a modern day “citizen of the world”, anyway, besides having a determinedly self-regarding outlook? Most of those who claim the title – either members of the ruling class or young hipsters whining that their futures and European identities have been somehow ripped away from them – are from the big cities, London most prominently. But to a large extent, many world cities are so alike in culture that one can negotiate and skip between them fairly easily,  even with a language barrier.

London has Starbucks, museums, galleries, bars and hipsters. So do Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Rome, Warsaw, Manchester, and everywhere else in Europe. In our interconnected world, large global cities are if not interchangeable then at least often share a common culture and vibe.

So you can successfully get smashed in Lisbon, Dublin, Stockholm and Munich? Congratulations, Mr. Citizen of the World. What do you want, a medal? Now go try to strike up a conversation with someone from your own country but from a different social class or region. Try going for a night out in Harlow or Wolverhampton or Preston. Your non-prescription hipster spectacles and quirky denim dungarees might buy you immediate entry to the trendy coffee shops of Amsterdam or the bars of Barcelona, but they’ll get you nowhere in Stoke-on-Trent.

And increasingly this is what it comes down to. We have a broad class of people with access to (and the desire to be part of) this emerging global tribe based in the top cities, and a class of people either cut off from this world or with little desire to participate in it. Now, we should certainly use economic policy to lift those who want to live more global lives into a position where they can do so, and avoid the urge to persecute or condescend to those who do not. But in general, we could all do with a bit less smugness and sanctimony from the Citizen of Starbucks Brigade.

For a start, the vast, vast majority of these people are such poor citizens of their own countries that they would feel adrift and culture-shocked, as though in a foreign land, if you lifted them from their home city and moved them to a smaller town thirty miles down the road. This is not some elite band of super-enlightened, non-judgmental, globally-minded, culturally-aware aesthetes, eager to experience new things. This is a pampered, cosseted tribe of relatively well-off millennials, many of whom are in thrall to the divisive Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, who barely understand their own compatriots yet arrogantly believe they are ready to be unleashed upon the world.

There is nothing particularly noble or praiseworthy about overcoming a language barrier to work and make friends with other people just like you who happen to live in other countries – which describes the vast majority of those people now tearfully painting the EU flag on their cheeks at anti-Brexit demonstrations and angrily declaring themselves “citizens of the world”.

Want to do something more challenging and actually worthy of praise? Try earning a reputation as somebody with friendships that span ages, social classes and other demographic indicators. Try living up to the ideal set by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch

And if you do so, you might not necessarily become a Man, my son. But at least you won’t be just another insufferable, identikit, cookie-cutter individual who conspicuously supports the European Union – despite barely comprehending what it really is – purely as a means of signalling your virtue to your insufferable, identikit, cookie-cutter fellow citizens of the world.

citizen-of-the-world-alba-white-wolf

Bottom Image: albawhitewolf

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