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.

More:

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.

 

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Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 9 – Another Song For Europe

The long-awaited follow-up single is finally here…

Madeleina Kay, an almost Vera Lynn-like character among disappointed Remainers, has released another classic ode to the EU, following up on her first hit, “All I Want For Christmas Is EU“.

This one is an adaptation of the Elvis Presley classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, re-engineered as a tearful plea from a contrite Britain for the European Union to take us back.

The immortal lyrics:

Wise men say
Only fools Vote Leave
‘Cause I can’t help falling in love with EU
Shall we stay
Would it be a sin
If we can’t help falling in love with EU?

Every Remainer knows
It’s a catastrophe
But Brexit rest assured
It’s not meant to be

Take my hand
Accept this apology
‘Cause I can’t help falling in love with EU

As the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has been co-opted to serve as the European Union’s anthem, let this effort – sung here with the sweet innocence of a child – become the EU equivalent of Parry’s “Jerusalem”, etched into the hearts of every European citizen and fondly sung on all those many euro-patriotic occasions which we have in common across the continent, and which are so important to us all.

Deep breath.

Think about the European Union for a moment. Think about what the EU actually is, how it was founded, how it deliberately grew by stealth, its deliberate corrosion of member state democracy and the impact that the outsourcing of government to a supra-national level has had on political engagement across an entire continent.

Think about the harm that the EU’s protectionist trade policies have wrought on developing nations without and on economic competitiveness within.

Think about the way that this hulking relic from the post-war era, totally lacking in popular legitimacy and unable to meet the challenges of the 21st century without inevitably making them immeasurably worse, grinds ever-onward towards its pre-ordained federalist destination, deaf to all opposition.

Then imagine writing not one, but two love songs to that organisation.

Just think about it for a moment.

The more I see of Kay’s output, the more I am starting to suspect that she may actually be a cunning Brexiteer, trolling the pro-EU Brexit-deniers from deep behind enemy lines.

If so, then she is doing an absolutely masterful job.

 

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Owen Smith Yearns To Defy The British People And Thwart Brexit. Let Him Try.

Owen Smith’s desperate, EU-loving Labour leadership candidacy is a giant F-U to the very people the Labour Party needs to be courting if it ever wants to regain power

Fresh from announcing his plans to host a jolly afternoon tea party for Islamic State in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, contemptible Labour Party nobody Owen Smith has continued to set about alienating Labour’s already furious working class base by pitching himself as a champion of the metro-left’s childish demand that democracy be overturned and the EU referendum result disregarded.

From the Guardian:

Owen Smith has accused Jeremy Corbyn of having never believed in the European project and is seeking to turn the issue of the EU referendum into the key dividing line in the battle for the Labour leadership.

The Labour leader hit back by telling his challenger that he had to respect the result of June’s referendum and accept that Brexit was on the table.

In his strongest attack yet, Smith – whose team are planning to place debate over the EU at the heart of their campaign – said:

“I think Jeremy can’t bring himself to say he would argue for a second referendum or put into a Labour manifesto that we would stay within the European Union because he fundamentally never believed in the European union.

“That is why he steadfastly refuses [to promise a second referendum], even though he acknowledges a likely Tory Brexit will diminish workers’ rights; damage social protections; damage our ability to deal with tax avoidance. Even though he thinks that is likely to happen, he thinks it more important that we stay outside the EU – I think that is a deep deep mistake.”

Smith, who is trailing well behind in the polls, hopes that a pledge for Labour to take Britain back into the EU will appeal to pro-European Labour members and boost his chances.

“We should be fighting harder, why can’t you say you would fight to stay in?” he shouted.

Why won’t he FIGHT, mummy? Why won’t the Bad Man fight for us to stay in our pwecious European Union? Why won’t he stand up to the Evil Tor-eees and make the wefewendum wesult go away? It’s not fair mummy, it’s not fair!

Pathetic. Utterly pathetic. If by some complete miracle (probably involving the abduction of Jeremy Corbyn by aliens) Owen Smith does become leader of the Labour Party, what little is left of Labour’s depleted working class base will march off into the sunset forever. Labour will be able to add northern England to Scotland on the growing list of UK regions where anyone wearing a red campaign rosette is no longer welcome.

You know what? Good luck to him. I hope Owen Smith actually wins the Labour leadership contest and joins up with other antidemocratic snakes like Hampstead & Kilburn’s Tulip Siddiq in trying to derail Brexit in Parliament. If Smith thinks that things are bad now, I look forward to observing the expression on his face when the entire fabric of the Labour Party comes apart in his well-manicured, pampered, ex-lobbyist’s hands as he loses his faltering grip on constituency after Brexit-supporting constituency.

I look forward to future generations of politics students learning about the daring exploits of Owen Smith, the man who stuck two metropolitan fingers up at Labour’s own working class voter base and led his party to true, permanent electoral Armageddon.

So bring it on, Owen. Hug the European Union even tighter, tell all the Brexit-supporting people whose votes your party needs to go to hell again, and bring. it. on.

 

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There Is Nothing Noble Or Virtuous About Defending The EU

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The EU’s defenders in the middle class and political/cultural elite love to believe that they are supporting a grand and noble project, but close their eyes to the economic and democratic damage wrought by this failing supranational union

An opinion piece in the New York Times provides a welcome antidote to that newspaper’s fatuous, instinctive pro-Europeanism.

Tim Parks writes:

Had I had the right to vote, which I have lost after 30 years living in Italy, I would have voted to remain in the European Union. But I do not think it a scandal that others think differently. If it was a scandal that people voted to leave, then surely it was a scandal to have held a referendum at all. And if it is a scandal to hold a referendum on an issue central to the destiny of a nation and about which its people feel deeply, then I have misunderstood the meaning of freedom and democracy in the West.

So why the extraordinary incredulity and indignation? Why the sense of betrayal? Why do so many people find this result unacceptable? It seems that over the last 30 or 40 years the idea has taken hold that there can be no peaceful or productive future for Europe without the European Union. As a result, anyone who voted to be outside it must be discredited as pernicious or ignorant, perpetrator or victim of some sinister populism. In the United States, this unhelpful reaction has taken the form of likening the leaders of the Leave campaign to Donald J. Trump. But Britain is not America and this was not a presidential election. Immigration played a role, but no one in the Leave campaign was suggesting Muslims be banned from Britain. On the contrary, some Muslims supported the Brexit vote. To see the debates of other countries in terms of one’s own internal politics is always a failure of imagination.

All this shock, horror and kneejerk denigration might be understandable if the European Union were notching up important successes and resolving its member states’ many problems, or if, at the very least, it had a figurehead with whom European citizens could identify, someone of whom one might say, “However badly things are going, I have faith in so and so, I believe he or she really does have the interests of my nation at heart, really is concerned about unemployment in my town,” be it Newcastle or Naples.

Obviously the EU has no such figureheads. Its vaunted “founding fathers” are unknown and unloved by all but the most starry-eyed euro federalists, its parliament a fraud, its stolen anthem a joke and its leaders held in widespread contempt. It cannot appeal to any sense of collective destiny because the loyalty of the vast majority of EU citizens lies first and foremost with their own nation state.

And Parks is quite right to note that the EU is failing across most of the metrics by which one might reasonably judge success. Economic growth, employment and social cohesion have all been thrown under the bus in the name of European political union, while the countries most let down by the EU project remain within the union only because they suffer from a national form of Stockholm Syndrome.

Parks points out:

But the Union’s greatest failing is that after decades of regulations of every possible kind it has not brought the nations of the Continent closer together. Day by day Italians are told whether their government’s economic policy has been accepted or rejected by Berlin, but about the Germans they know little or nothing. In each country, we follow our own national news media and are locked into the agendas of our own political systems. We are separate nations but not sovereign nations. We obey the dictates of Brussels and read Jonathan Franzen and “Harry Potter.” We watch American films and follow the American elections far more closely than those of any other country in the European Union. Is this a community?

But best of all is when Parks turns his gaze on the middle class and political elites who remain the EU’s strongest defenders:

The middle classes, the cultured elite, love the idea that they are taking part in a historic project that will bring peace and prosperity to the Continent, put an end to war, take steps to defend the environment, protect Europeans from superpower ambitions and multinational depredations, etc., etc. I love this idea, too. Like so many others, I take comfort in this noble enterprise.

But when the project does not bring prosperity, when it does not do enough to protect the environment, when its protectionist trading policies systematically damage the economies of the third world, I, like everyone else, don’t want to think about it; we prefer to close our eyes. This is not the narrative we like to believe we live in.

[..] With Brexit this decades-old spell is set to break. And how does the liberal elite on both sides of the Atlantic react to this deafening alarm? They scream foul and blame the dumb British working classes for spoiling the party. It might be wiser to examine our own attachment to a narrative that is going nowhere.

But the defiant liberal elite will not let go of their false narrative, preferring to nurture a sense of grievance and display to the world a shameful contempt for democracy.

Just this weekend, grieving metropolitan Remainers held a “Picnic against Brexit” in Green Park, in what was billed as an opportunity for people to “heal” and “comfort” one another. Disappointed Remainers are literally treating their defeat in the EU referendum as a kind of emotional trauma, an unendurable shock to the system for a group of people who have had their way since 1973, came to rely on the EU’s comfort blanket and who simply cannot conceive of life as a citizen of an independent country.

An emotional reaction of this strength is only possible when one genuinely believes that one is fighting on the side of righteousness and possesses a monopoly on the virtues of wisdom, compassion and truth. It is much like the arrogance of tearful Labour supporters who simply could not understand why the country rejected Ed Miliband and re-elected the Evil Tories in the 2015 general election. The strong overlap between these two groups of people is no coincidence.

For people who make up a supposed intellectual and moral elite, the Remainers-in-denial are extraordinarily unperceptive. Even now, they can not accept that the 52% of their fellow citizens – including many working class voters – who voted to leave the EU might have a point, that their beloved European Union might not be the wonderful and benevolent force for good that they insist it is. On the contrary, they stubbornly continue to insist that those who voted for Brexit did so  either out of ignorance or malice, and work to prevent Brexit from happening.

This will not end well. Sneering contempt for the political opinions and values of ordinary people has not done the elites any good this electoral cycle, in Britain or America. If the elites are at all interested in bridging the divide and repairing their relationship with the rest of the country then they must start displaying the kind of introspection and empathy demonstrated by Tim Parks in his NYT article – and far fewer disdainful middle class picnics against democracy.

 

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The Remain Campaign’s Last Stand

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The Remain campaign is so used to loudly claiming the moral high ground and dismissing Brexiteers as backward, nasty reactionaries that even their “positive” closing message is unintentionally insulting toward half the country

Well, that calmer, politer politics didn’t last very long, did it?

On the first day of real campaigning following the murder of Jo Cox MP, the Remain campaign has hit the airwaves with this new meme, now being widely shared on social media.

Displaying a heart shape in the colours of the Union Flag, Britain Stronger in Europe exhort us to:

Remain kind

Remain open

Remain inclusive

Remain tolerant

Remain together

All pleasing words, you might think. But what does it say about those Britons – nearly half the country, according to opinion polls – who think that Britain should leave the European Union. Are they unkind people? Are they closed-minded and closed-hearted? Do they all seek to exclude people? Are they all racist? Apparently the official Remain campaign thinks so.

The image is accompanied on social media by the following message:

This referendum is about the type of country we want to live in.

SHARE this if you believe Britain is at our best when we’re outward-looking, inclusive and we stand together.

Just hammering the point home.

From a purely strategic and tactical viewpoint one can understand why Britain Stronger in Europe went for this approach. After all, almost none of their argument for staying in the EU has been based on the positives of the European Union (beyond woolly platitudes about “cooperation” and “working together”, which a ten year old can work out does not require the intermediation of Brussels). Rather, their argument has been a relentlessly fear-based approach, threatening and even bullying voters to vote Remain on pain of supposed economic disaster compounded by George Osborne’s vindictive “punishment budget”.

But to get Remainers to the polling station on Thursday, the campaign needs to give them something positive to think about, too. Even if it later turns out to be a pile of nonsense, their supporters must be made to think that they are doing something noble in choosing to fearfully stick with the status quo. And in this day and age, even better if they can then broadcast this positive message to others in order to signal their own virtue.

This social media post accomplishes the Remain campaign’s objectives brilliantly. It doesn’t get bogged down in the details of why the European is so great (it isn’t) or necessary (it really isn’t), or even why leaving would be so calamitous (it wouldn’t be). On the contrary, the Union Jack coloured heart and childish font keep things very superficial. It declares to the world that the person liking or sharing the message is a Good, Enlightened and Virtuous Person, unlike those knuckle-dragging, murderous subhumans who dare to believe in Brexit.

Another similar meme is also being shared widely on Facebook, as a play on Nigel Farage’s tired old “I want my country back” theme:

I want my country back, too. The country which celebrated Mo Farah winning at the Olympics, the same one who is proud to call Tom Daly or Mark Foster part of the British Olympic team, the country who cheers for Tanni Grey-Thompson. That, that’s my country. The same country which took Malala Yousafzai to its heart. My country is better for the diverse country it is, from the food available in the supermarket to St Paul’s Carnival & drinking Kenyan coffee with a Jewish bagel to cure a hangover from French wine. My Britain is not filled with hate or extremism. My Britain is not perfect but it isn’t better alone. My Britain is open, inclusive, progressive and an inspiring place to live.

Because of course a post-Brexit Britain would rejoice in none of these things, all of which are only made possible thanks to our membership of the European Union. Quite why Britain’s departure from a supranational political union would mean that Britain would become a country which starts booing its own black athletes, burning down bagel shops or pouring French wine into the sea at Dover harbour is of course never explained. But the Remain campaign don’t need to explain it. This is their own form of “dog-whistle” campaigning. They just have to suggest these these links, and immediately everyone who is preconditioned to equate euroscepticism with xenophobia or racism immediately pricks up their ears and awaits orders.

This is insulting beyond words to half the country who currently favour Brexit, particularly considering the hurried vow everybody took in the wake of the Jo Cox murder to immediately (and rather implausibly) be nice to one another. But one must admire the way that the Remain campaign stuck to the letter (if not the spirit) of their pledge – they managed to grievously insult half the country without using a single negative word, instead simply suggesting that Brexiteers represent the opposite of all these positive values.

Though as one commenter put it on the Britain Stronger in Europe Facebook page:

This idea that only those voting for Remain uphold those values is disgusting. None of us have a monopoly on those things. Remain shouting the loudest about being decent – total and utter hypocrisy #Brexit

But this is literally all they have. The Remain campaign kept the focus relentlessly and myopically on the economic question, wheeling out all of the same experts who told us two decades ago that Britain would wither and perish outside the euro. And the message has not gained sufficient traction to leave Remain confident of victory. So all they have left is to demonise the other side.

They cannot speak too passionately and warmly about the European Union, because the organisation is distrusted or hated – quite rightly – by anybody who remotely cares about democracy or the continued importance of the nation state. They cannot openly commit Britain to the EU’s clearly stated end goal – a common European state – because it would alienate too many people.

So all that is left for Remain is to demonise the other side, either explicitly (as they did before the murder of Jo Cox) or implicitly (as they are doing now, by suggesting that Leave voters are the antithesis of the wonderful, warm qualities listed in the Facebook meme).

And in terms of winning the referendum, it may just work. The relentless fearmongering, the demonising of Brexiteers, the desire of many people to virtue-signal the fact that they hold “open” and “progressive” views and the usual tendency for people to gravitate back towards the perceived status quo at the closing stages of a referendum campaign may push Remain over the line. Possibly quite convincingly.

But it has made the job of stitching the nation back together again almost impossible. And each time sanctimonious, preachy little graphics concocted by Britain Stronger in Europe are created and shared, it makes the task that much harder. Because whatever misanthropes, racists and bigots may support Leave, the vast majority of Brexiteers are good, honest decent people. They are patriots who genuinely (and in this blog’s view, quite rightly) believe that they are doing the right thing. And you can’t spend three months loudly questioning half the country’s intelligence, tolerance and moral code and then expect everybody to hold hands like one big happy family.

Given the way that this referendum has been fought by pro-EU forces, a vote to Remain will therefore resolve absolutely nothing. And prissy, sanctimonious little declarations of virtue like Stronger In’s “Remain Together” campaign message are the reason why.

 

Postscript: Mark Wallace also takes exception to Stronger In’s latest advert, in a piece for Conservative Home:

The implication is clear – if you’re someone who is voting Leave, you are supposedly declaring yourself to be unkind, closed, not inclusive, intolerant and in favour of division.

Not only is that entirely in conflict with the weekend’s warm words about a more reasonable and less unpleasant tone in the final days of the referendum campaign, but it is an extraordinary attack on the millions upon millions of voters who are – rightly, in this site’s view – planning to Vote Leave.

It isn’t the first time we’ve heard such dismissive criticisms of those who dare to disagree. Only yesterday, the Prime Minister declared that there is not “a single credible voice” arguing we will gain by leaving the EU, implicitly suggesting several members of his own Cabinet lack credibility. But the content of this particular advert makes it the broadest insult to voters, Party members, MPs and Ministers so far, and the timing makes a mockery of recent promises to raise the tone.

If Stronger In’s management intend to stand by this scurrilous line, will their overseers, Cameron and Osborne, continue to do so as well?

 

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