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.

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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.

 

Owen Jones - The left must now campaign to leave the EU - Brexit

Top Image: Madeleina Kay

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Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 10 – Less Lamentation, More Outreach Required From The Church

The fall of Babylon

If the Church wants to survive as a truly national institution rather than amplifying the already-inescapable voices of anguished middle-class Remainers, it had better come to terms with Brexit 

Displaying a complete lack of self-awareness and a fierce, proud disinterest in the lives and opinions of her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who happened to vote in good conscience for Brexit, Alison Elliot – Associate Director of the Centre for Theology at the University of Edinburgh – wails into the Church of England’s Reimagining Europe blog:

The Church has many resources that are not available to politicians. Politicians are practitioners of the art of the possible: they keep the show on the road, nudging it in varying directions; they fix things; they make promises within a limited horizon.

But the Church has permission to sing songs – songs of lament, songs of confession, songs of hope. I submit that all are necessary today. Lament that is unrecognised expresses itself in anger and accusation; lack of confession leads to mistakes being perpetuated; and hope gives direction to our decisions and our action.

Songs of lament? Oh boy.

Lament names the ache and the void we carry around with us. For me, that involves the pain of a fractured European identity, where my claim to the rich heritage of our continent is being attenuated; where our neighbours continue to shape their future, painful as that may be, and we watch from the side-lines. It involves lamenting the drabness of a world diminished by limited freedom of movement, as multi-lingual chatter disappears from our high streets, we lose the efficiency and enthusiasm of European tradesmen, and our universities struggle to keep a vibrant exchange of ideas alive. And I mourn the rejection of the great insight of the European Project whereby economic activity and social values go hand in hand.

There’s no point in refuting any of this – the fact that Elliot remains every bit as “European” as ever she was, that identity never having been contingent on Britain’s membership of a supranational political union; the risible idea that the remaining EU27, paralysed by indecision and self-interest while currency and humanitarian crises rend them asunder, are in any way proactively “shap[ing] their future”; the hysterical belief that the “world” has been “diminished by limited freedom of movement” when most of the world was excluded from the arrangement and before we know the outcome of the Brexit negotiations; the unsubstantiated notion that Britain’s world-class universities are struggling to keep the torch of knowledge alight in this new Brexit dark age; the tremulous fear that foreign voices will now disappear from our high streets in a puff of smoke as Britain drifts gently away into the mid-Atlantic.

There is no point arguing any of these points with Alison Elliot, for if she is still repeating these tropes now then she is clearly impervious to reason, her mind closed to any argument that could be made by a sane Brexiteer while the gates of her credulity remain opened wide to the most fatuous and cataclysmic of Remainer myths and assertions.

To ache and carry around a “void” because of Britain’s secession from the European Union is quite simply to misunderstand what the EU really is – unless you are a closet euro federalist, which despite her misty eyed despair at the thought of Brexit, Elliot has given no indication that she identifies as such.

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Confession follows on easily from lament. I confess that I missed opportunities to share with people at home the excitement and the depth of reflection from meetings with church partners in Europe, acquiescing too easily with the view that Britain isn’t interested in Europe. I confess to leaving it to others to support refugees and to publicise the contribution our migrant communities have made to the country. And I confess to having done too little to engage local communities in the decisions that affect them.

Yes, if only there had been more head-in-the-clouds theologians waffling on about the benefits of European ecumenism (as though the doggedly secular humanist EU played any real role in forging and facilitating such exchanges) then Stoke-on-Trent might not have voted so overwhelmingly to leave the European Union. That was the Remain campaign’s real problem.

Elliott confesses to “leaving it to others to support refugees”, which is a self-criticism applying to most of us, who do little beyond support the government’s efforts with our taxes. But she displays no such introspection about failing to support her own countrymen, particularly those who found themselves at the sharp end of globalisation (as in being made unemployed and unemployable rather than enjoying the kind of back-slapping church conferences in Barcelona and Bruges that perhaps characterised the church’s more positive experience of European integration) and whose votes ultimately helped to push the uninspiring Leave campaign over the finish line in the EU referendum.

And this is a criticism I direct not only at Alison Elliot – who seems to belong to that well-intentioned-but-dim group of academics and theologians who automatically believe everything good they hear about the EU and everything bad that the Guardian tells them about Brexiteers – but at the church in general. The church (or vast swathes of it) are in grave danger of being seen as brimming over with love, time and compassion for everybody – minorities, economic migrants, refugees – but the vast majority of ordinary Britons, particularly the working and lower middle “striving” classes.

That’s not to say that the church is wrong to devote a large proportion of its efforts to help the most vulnerable; of course they should do so. But clearly they are not spending enough time ministering to people like the Leave voters of Sunderland and Stoke, or to people like me and other principled EU opponents. Because if they were, then bishops and theologians would know more about the arguments for Brexit and the motivations of Brexiteers, rather than continuing to portray us as two-dimensional Guardian caricatures. They would recognise the cultural dislocation and economic disruption rending their own parishes, diocese and communities rather than fixing the full extent of their gaze on problems beyond our shores.

Elliot concludes:

Hope names a future that is at odds with the one we seem to be embracing. Let us hope for a future of international cooperation, where nations put their resources and fortunes at the disposal of others rather than hugging them to themselves. A future where citizens engage with politics at a deeper level than being observers to a soap opera and where they reconnect with each other to construct a rich tapestry of social relationships. A future where economic opportunism is kept in its place and the quality of life of our suppliers and their families is part of the equation. A future where we value the intrinsic worth of strangers as well as friends and recognise the part they can play in realising our dreams.

Tomorrow we will put our technocratic hats on again and plan and envision and mobilise for outcomes and scenarios, but first we need to connect with our grief and our fears. From that we will be liberated to face the challenges ahead.

When half of one’s community is celebrating and the other half mourning, a church leader or theologian worth their salt would quickly turn to asking whether there isn’t some deeper misunderstanding at play – confusion with regard to motives, for example. Most Remainers are not the self-hating, anti-patriotic drones that they are sometimes portrayed as by Brexiteers. And most Brexiteers are not the snarling, selfish, little-Englander xenophobes that they are painted by Remainers.

The trouble is, by talking about “connect[ing] with our grief”, singing songs of lament and donning the sackcloth and ashes in response to Brexit, the church (well represented on this subject by Elliot) firmly takes the side of one half of the country over the other half. Rather than seeking to find those unifying strands – acknowledging the EU’s real flaws and legitimate reasons for departure while seeking out ways to preserve and strengthen that which was good outside of the supranational union – the church becomes an introverted talking shop for Remainers who have made their contempt and dislike for Brexit Britain quite clear, and who have nothing to say to the 52 percent who voted Leave.

Put it this way: if the tide turned and you finally got to have your say in the running of the country after someone else (the pro-Europeans) had had things their way for forty years straight, and then the church planted itself firmly (by roll call of senior figures if not official policy) on the side of your opponents, weeping at the supposed injustice and ruin of your moment of triumph, would you be inclined to listen to them about anything else? Would you feel valued and respected in their eyes?

Perhaps that might not matter if the church were a business, free to choose its target demographic and focus its efforts on appealing to a lucrative niche market. But such behaviour – as we are essentially now seeing from too many church leaders – is entirely antithetical to the universal mission of the church.

There are many reasons why the church (particularly the Church of England) faces an existential threat in this country – secularisation, changing social norms and the increasing criminalisation of traditional beliefs and speech all play a part. The blame cannot be laid at the foot of any one single cause.

But deliberately scorning and misunderstanding half the country while effectively turning the church into a therapy group for devastated middle-class Remainers certainly will not help matters.

Now is not the time for garment-rending and tedious songs of lament. Now is the time for the church to put down the smelling salts, roll up its sleeves and redouble its outreach and ministry to Brexit Britain.

 

Christianity - Europe - EU - Brexit

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Remainers Have A Cunning Plan To Thwart Brexit

Baldrick - Blackadder

Brexiteers will never see it coming

As anguished “British Europeans” come to terms with the triggering of Article 50 (and, no doubt, their delicate selves) this week, Oxford University professor of European Studies Timothy Garton Ash has come up with a cunning plan to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and stop Brexit in its tracks.

Our intrepid plotter plans to cosy up to Brexiteers – no more metropolitan lefty winger-wagging from he! – in order to gain their confidence, and then craftily turn them against Brexit through gentle persuasion rather than the haughty contempt which has been the prevalent attitude of most Remainers thus far. Yes, the new plan is for Remainers to be like secret agents working deep behind enemy lines in Theresa May’s dystopian Brexitland, dodging the lynchings and summary executions (which will naturally be a daily occurence) in order to sow doubt among the population and keep alive the flame of “liberal” fidelity to the EU.

Unfortunately, by writing it all down in a column for the Guardian, Garton Ash rather gives the game away, warning everyone in advance of his plan:

This week opened Act III of a five-act drama called Brexit. The play will take at least five years, more likely 10, and only Act V will reveal whether it is a tragedy, a farce, or some very British theatre of muddling-through. The many millions of us in Britain who identify ourselves as Europeans must not give up now, as if the show were over. It’s not, and we’re not just the audience. We are actors in this play and our main task is to persuade our fellow actors.

Yeah yeah, we get it, you’re so European, I feel like I’m in Venice just reading your words.

In order to get there, we British Europeans have to work out ways of reaching some of those Brexit voters, recognising that they are in no mood to be lectured by metropolitan liberals. We need to penetrate the echo chambers of populism with plain facts and good British common sense.

Instead of going on about “stopping Brexit”, which allows us to be quite effectively pilloried as whingeing remoaners, we should state the new goal positively.

Of course I still want Britain to remain a member of the EU, just as a Brexiteer would still have wanted Britain to leave it if the referendum had gone the other way – and we should never say never. But as I wrote just after the referendum, our strategic goal should be “to keep as much as possible of our disunited kingdom as fully engaged as possible in the affairs of our continent”.

Theresa May talks of a “deep and special partnership” with the EU: let’s make that very deep and very special. And who knows what opportunities the next years might bring? We are only at the opening of Act III, and there is still much to play for.

So no more actively talking about seeking to thwart Brexit, and lots more silent manoeuvrings to thwart Brexit behind people’s backs instead? Pretending to sincerely engage with Brexiteers and speak to their concerns and aspirations after having spent years furiously denouncing them as low-information, xenophobic reactionaries who were tricked by an Evil Bus into voting against their own evident self-interest? What could possibly go wrong?

HEY! SEE THIS HOUSE? THIS ONE OVER HERE, THE ONE THAT’S CLEARLY OCCUPIED, WITH A CAR PARKED IN THE DRIVEWAY? THE ONE WITH THE OWNER STICKING HIS HEAD OUT THE WINDOW TO SEE WHO’S SHOUTING IN THE STREET? I’M GOING TO ROB HIS HOUSE IN A MINUTE! I’M GOING TO RING THE DOORBELL AND PRETEND TO BE A SALESMAN, AND WHEN I’M INSIDE I’M GOING TO ASK FOR A CUP OF TEA AND THEN STEAL ALL OF THE VALUABLES WHEN HE ISN’T LOOKING. THAT’S MY SUPER-STEALTHY CUNNING PLAN. DID YOU HEAR ME? OKAY, HERE I GO!

Ding dong.

 

Monkey Cymbals

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On Article 50 Day

United Kingdom Britain EU Secession - Article 50 Letter - Downing Street - Theresa May - Donald Tusk - European Union

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.

Theresa May signing Article 50 Letter - Downing Street - Brexit - EU

Sir Tim Barrow - Article 50 letter - Brexit- European Union - Britain

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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What European Identity? Part 2 – Classical Music Edition

European Union Youth Orchestra

How can we possibly continue to enjoy Beethoven or watch touring European orchestras perform in evil, isolationist Brexit Britain?

Today’s Peak Guardian article is an account of an interview recently given by the legendary pianist/conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy to the Observer newspaper, in which Ashkenazy urges classical musicians to “keep up British links with Europe in the face of Brexit”.

A distilled summary of the Guardian’s breathless spin: Brexit gravely threatens Britain’s continued participation in the international arts and culture scene, but if enough brave musicians come together in a spirit of cooperation then it may be possible to ride out the gravest threat to Europe since World War 2 and the Cold War.

From the piece:

Vladimir Ashkenazy, one of the most revered figures in classical music, has called on musicians to strive to keep up British links with Europe in the face of Brexit. The great Russian conductor and pianist, who made his name as a soloist in the 1960s and 70s, spoke passionately to the Observer about his continued faith in European culture.

“Music will win in the end,” he said, speaking publicly on the subject for the first time. “After all, music is not just an exercise in making sounds. It is a reflection of our joint spiritual endeavours.”

Comparing Britain’s impending split with Europe to other political schisms of the 20th century, such as the rise of fascism and the cold war, Ashkenazy, 79, said he was optimistic that those who love making music together will find a way to keep connections going across the Channel. “I am sorry about it, and I know it will be difficult to get used to a totally different situation, but for musicians many things will remain the same, simply because we will work to find a way to make agreements for the sake of music,” he said.

Many British classical musicians expect Brexit to set up new travel barriers and present fresh difficulties for orchestras receiving EU funding. The potential threat to free travel for working musicians has already prompted the European Union Baroque Orchestra to announce a move to Belgium this summer. It has been based in Oxfordshire since 1985. Meanwhile, the well-regarded European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO) is considering a move to the continent after 40 years in Britain.

Of course, this feeds nicely into the Guardian’s (and the entire British metro-Left’s) little conceit that by extricating ourselves from a dysfunctional and failing supranational political union we are also somehow hacking away at the cultural and historical ties which bind us to the continent, and so naturally they seize on the Ashkenazy interview as a perfect example of how enlightened artists can help to save Britain from the brutish and self-destructive decision made by the Evil 52%.

Now, Vladimir Ashkenazy is not particularly to blame for any of this. If you want somebody to play a Rachmaninov prelude in such a dazzling way that it makes your hair stand on end and brings a lump to your throat then Ashkenazy is your very man. If, however, you want somebody to give you a good overview of geopolitics and assess the relative failings and merits of the European Union, then you are probably better off turning to someone else. So the point is not that Ashkenazy is wrong (and even he is generous enough to admit that Brexit is slightly less evil than Soviet communism, which is very kind) – that much is entirely forgivable, given that he is operating far from his natural competencies.

No, the problem is the entirely predictable way that the Guardian picks up this narrative and unquestioningly burnishes and amplifies it without stopping even for a moment to consider the validity of the point being made. Where they could take a step back and actually seek to educate their readers about a whole bunch of issues touching on this story, instead they strut and pose and play to the gallery, feeding them the self-affirming story that they expect rather than the hard dose of reality that they might actually benefit from hearing.

The Guardian could have dwelled for a moment on exactly why cross-border co-operation in classical music is supposedly imperilled by Brexit (giving more concrete examples than the unspoken and unprovable suggestion that Britain would deliberately make it harder for talented musicians to tour or work here). But instead, they uncritically write about how musicians will bravely “find a way to keep connections going across the Channel” without stopping for a moment to consider the fact that British orchestras and ensembles tour numerous non-EU countries in the world without the protective shelter of political union, while many non-European ensembles somehow make it to the BBC Proms and give numerous other performances in Britain despite their musicians lacking EU passports.

But the ulterior motive soon becomes clear when the article bemoans the relocation of the European Union Baroque Orchestra and the European Union Youth Orchestra, two EU propaganda outlets funded by taxpayers to instil in us a sense of European identity which still stubbornly fails to materialise. In London, with so many preeminent ensembles already located here, did we ever really need these two explicitly political additions to our cultural scene? No, of course not – and the Guardian’s duplicitous attempts to upgrade these obscure ensembles to “major orchestra” status is straining the boundary of journalistic integrity. Their sole purpose was to indoctrinate the young and cause us to associate the European Union with benevolent funding of the arts rather than their tawdry, relentless attacks the nation state.

(The EU Baroque Orchestra has a slightly more successful legacy of seeding other baroque ensembles with past alumni, work which can continue in their new Belgian home.)

None of this is to deny the value of youth orchestras – I was a member of one myself for several years, and greatly enjoyed the opportunities for performance and collaboration that it afforded me – but the EU’s propaganda outlets are neither central to the British classical music scene nor an essential bridge to Europe. Take them away and nothing really changes.

Compare the EU’s musical propaganda outlets with a far more worthy exercise in cross-cultural bridge-building, Daniel Barenboim’s West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, and I know which I would rather preserve – the one which seeks to promote peace and cross-cultural understanding in the turbulent Middle East, not the one which uses European taxpayer funds to shore up a creaking, failing 1950s regional super-bloc.

The United States, by contrast, does not need to keep itself together by funnelling federal money into youth orchestras in a desperate attempt to inculcate a sense of American-ness. And while many pertinent criticisms can be made about funding of the arts in America, it must also be acknowledged that many of the finest ensembles and artistic companies in the world – the Metropolitan Opera, the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the New York City Ballet, as well as the feeder schools, companies and institutions which mould the next generation of artists – are based in the United States and do not have to suckle at the teat of taxpayer funding in order to survive.

When government does not try to do everything, private initiative and private philanthropy are often able to step in to do the job far more successfully and lavishly. They need only be given the space to do so – but the EU has no interest in getting out of the way and allowing the arts to flourish on their own, because then the results would not bear the imprimatur of Brussels and thus would have zero propaganda value.

Is the threat posed by Brexit to the European Union Youth Orchestra a good reason to scrap the whole endeavour and remain part of the EU? Of course not.

Has the European Union Youth Orchestra done anything to meaningfully shift the sense of European identity among those who are not directly involved, or the misty-eyed eurocrats who profaned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by co-opting the final movement as their anthem? No.

Does Britain’s departure from an explicitly political union necessarily or inevitably mean that artistic links between the United Kingdom and the continent must be weakened? No – or at least, the Guardian have given us no good cause to believe that there is a danger.

(Incidentally, Vladimir Ashkenazy himself lives in Switzerland, which is also famously not a member of the European Union, and yet seems to be able to maintain a fruitful international career including many concerts and residencies in Britain).

The whole Guardian article hangs together only if one is content to take the most superficial view of Brexit, skating around on the thin ice of metro-left shibboleths about how international cooperation and peace only exist thanks to the benevolent hand of Brussels. To take the threats spun from the Ashkenazy interview seriously, one must actually drink the Remainer Kool-Aid and believe that Brexit means isolationism, and in all its forms – economic, social, cultural. To be that cretinous, one must be an unapologetic bubble dweller, proud and stubborn in one’s ignorance of the opposing side.

But then that’s the Guardian for you: a newspaper tailor-made for poseurs who believe (or at least want to signal to their friends) that they already know and understand the nuances of every issue, and that the One True Way just conveniently happens to lean in the same stridently left-wing, pro-EU direction as their pre-existing beliefs.

Among Guardian journalists and readers alike there is zero intellectual appetite to actually get under the hood of any issue and talk about the meaning of democracy and self-determination, whether state funding or private philanthropy does a better job of funding the arts or any other substantial question that is ripe for debate. They just want to take a glib headline and serve it up as red meat to their metro-left, superficially culturally literate peer group (see last year’s uncritical, months-long homage to the NHS).

And so what could have been a useful jumping-off point for a real discussion about the future of the fine arts, the best way to foster cross-border co-operation and whether existing mechanisms of funding are a) effective, and b) a good use of taxpayer funds instead becomes just another wobbly-lipped ode to the Brave Artists Resisting Evil Brexit.

The only result of this “journalism” is that everyone is left slightly more attached to their pre-existing bias, while the opportunity to enrich the public discourse is squandered in favour of yet more left-wing, pro-EU virtue-signalling and alarmist Brexit catastrophisation.

Mission accomplished once again, Guardian. Great job.

 

Save EUYO - European Union Youth Orchestra - Propaganda

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