Henry Bolton And The Death Of UKIP

Henry Bolton - UKIP leadership - vote of no confidence

As party leader Henry Bolton gives a majestic display of the power of denial and refuses to resign, UKIP seems determined to go out not with a bang but a whimper

What an ignominious end for a political party which only a couple of years ago seemed to be dictating the rhythm of British politics and the headlines of our newspapers. But after a slew of leadership changes, cringeworthy scandals and bizarre disciplinary issues it seems pretty clear that there is nothing now left worth salvaging.

Several of the party’s remaining senior figures (none really warrant the title “big beast”) have resigned from the party following leader Henry Bolton’s refusal to immediately stand down after a unanimous vote of no confidence in his leadership, and everyone else may as well just follow suit and cut up their membership cards because there is no positive outcome to be had. Either Bolton tries to cling on until UKIP becomes a party of one, or he goes and makes room for another nonentity aboard the party leadership carousel.

Political parties drift when they lack any kind of unifying purpose or positive vision (though sometimes a strongly negative, reactionary position will do just as well in a pinch). We saw this with Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party when the centrist “moderates” were found to believe in nothing and stand for nothing, and we see it now in the Tory Party as Theresa May’s government fiddles while the few forward-thinking people in the party are shooting off in a million directions with their own uncoordinated plans for conservative reform.

UKIP have less of an excuse for their current predicament, though. It was always known that they would face an existential moment of reckoning in the event that an EU referendum was secured and won, and they did far too little – probably nothing – to prepare for that moment. And for a single-issue party (or at least a party viewed by many to be single-issue) this was an unforgivable strategic error.

I covered and live-blogged the UKIP annual conference in Doncaster back in September 2015, when the referendum had been secured but the official campaigns had not yet officially kicked into gear. I wrote going into the event that this was a “make or break conference”, not because of the referendum but because this was the last, best opportunity to solidify exactly what it was that the party stood for besides secession from the European Union before the referendum and its aftermath would signal the closing of that window.

As I wrote back then:

When we look back on 2015, this could be seen as the conference which makes or breaks UKIP. Not in the sense that any careers are on the line today, or that terrible consequences await any missteps made over the next few days. But decisions taken at this conference – and more importantly, the general tone and sense of direction given by the party leadership – could be vital in determining whether UKIP is strongly positioned to survive the turmoil of the next five years in British politics, or if the party is destined to go the way of New Labour.

As long as the target of the 2016/2017 Brexit referendum looms ever larger in our sights, the unlikely coalition that makes up UKIP’s support base are likely to continue cohabiting without any real problem. But what happens when the European question is settled?

UKIP is a vastly more established political party than it was this time last year, and is almost unrecognisable from the party it was at the time of the last election, back in 2010. And this has been an unquestionably good thing for our stale, consensual politics.

However, interested observers will be watching closely for any signs indicating the type of party UKIP is likely to become by 2020. And a lot could ride on the answer.

And unsurprisingly, UKIP totally ducked the challenge at their conference. Everybody who wasn’t indulging in the traditional UKIP pastime of shooting themselves in the foot with unnecessary squabbles and gaffes was drunk on referendum fever and in no mood to contemplate any event past June 2016, be that their preferred method of Brexit (a failure which has already come back to bite) or the preferred shape of their party when banging the eurosceptic drum no longer attracts votes.

Nigel Farage himself offered only a vague non-answer:

 

Over the course of the conference I spoke to a number of senior UKIP figures in addition to Nigel Farage, including Mark Reckless, Douglas Carswell and a number of lesser-known but deeply involved activists, and of those people only Douglas Carswell had a vaguely plausible vision for what UKIP could become – a vision that was so at odds with Nigel Farage’s own that Carswell jumped/was pushed out only eighteen months later.

 

Thus the tension between the various different UKIPs was never resolved. The party continued to be a fractious circus tent encompassing a dwindling cohort of libertarian types, a rump of ex-Conservative eurosceptics and an influx of new, more economically left-wing voters and activists.

Immediately after the 2015 conference, I wrote:

The United Kingdom Independence Party currently draws its support from a number of quite distinct support bases. There are the social conservatives and traditionalists, mostly ex-Tory voters. Then you have the “lost Labour” voters, those who are repelled by the modern Labour Party’s superficial virtue signalling, unquestioning embrace of uncontrolled immigration and perceived lack of patriotism.

There is also a significant body of support from the so-called economically “left behind” voters from Britain’s faded coastal resort towns, where pro-UKIP sentiment is very strong. And finally, there are the young (and old) libertarian types – for so long the backbone of the party, until relatively recently.

All of these disparate groups are currently joined under the UKIP banner in an uneasy alliance because they share the common goal of a Britain independent of the EU. But what happens when the EU referendum is won (or lost)? What, if anything, will keep these separate groups together in the post-election landscape?

That’s the conversation which should have started taking place at this conference. But it is a conversation which has been assiduously avoided by nearly everyone, including the party leader.

There was very much a self-sacrificial tone at that 2015 party conference. Nigel Farage seemed to have little concern that the party might burn up in the wake of the EU referendum, no doubt presuming that his own personal prospects would be fine in any event. But nobody else in the party had any excuse for so much complacency. And the personal squabbles and increasingly ludicrous crises to rock the party are partially a result of that failure to plan for the future.

As I write, Henry Bolton is giving a statement to the press in Folkestone affirming that he has no intention to resign, and instead proposing a new party constitution – in the hubristic manner of all banana republic dictators in history. Others know the detailed history of UKIP, with all of its personality clashes and policy squabbles, far better than I. But I can’t help feeling a little sad that the most consequential insurgent political party in decades seems so determined to end not with a bang but a whimper.

 

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Sorry, President-Elect Trump, But You Don’t Get To Choose Britain’s Ambassador To The United States

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It was wrong when President Obama sought to interfere in Britain’s EU referendum debate earlier this year, and it is wrong now when President-elect Trump tries to undermine the UK government and install his pal Nigel Farage as a replacement British ambassador

When Barack Obama saw fit to fly to London, stand next to David Cameron at a joint press conference and lecture/threaten the British people that voting to leave the EU would incur not only his personal wrath but also America’s cold shoulder, his behaviour was rightly denounced as an act of arrogant bullying and coercion.

This blog wasted no time in taking President Obama to task for his ignorance and presumption in daring to interfere with our domestic affairs. And UKIP leader and referendum-maker Nigel Farage was also quick to criticise Obama, noting “last time we followed foreign policy advice from a US President was when we went to war in Iraq. We should be wary“, and negatively comparing the American president to Vladimir Putin.

Unfortunately, Nigel Farage does not seem to be consistent when it comes to the principle of staying out of the internal affairs of other countries. Because now his good friend and campaign trail buddy, US president-elect Donald Trump, has made the highly irregular move of suggesting that Farage should become the UK’s ambassador to the United States – even though we currently have an ambassador in place (albeit not a very good one):

The Guardian reports:

The US president-elect, Donald Trump, has suggested that the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, should be the UK’s ambassador to the US.

“Many people would like to see [@Nigel_Farage] represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States,” Trump tweeted on Monday evening. “He would do a great job!”

In a brief call with BBC Breakfast, Farage said he had been awake since 2am UK time when the tweet was first posted.

The Ukip leader said he was flattered by the tweet, calling it “a bolt from the blue” and said he did not see himself as a typical diplomatic figure “but this is not the normal course of events”.

But a Downing Street spokesman said: “There is no vacancy. We already have an excellent ambassador to the US.”

Now Donald Trump is known to tweet strange and provocative things as and when they drift into his head, but the probability of him having penned this particular tweet without having first at least run it past Nigel Farage (and more likely Trump was acting on a specific request as a favour to Farage) is close to zero. So there goes Farage’s principled opposition to meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation – he likely encouraged the president-elect of the United States to do what he criticised Barack Obama for back in April.

The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon also spots the hypocrisy:

When Barack Obama said he hoped Britain would stay in the EU, Nigel Farage was appalled. An American president, he said, had no right to meddle in British affairs. Britain was quite capable of making her own decisions, thank you very much. The president, in short, should “butt out”.

Today, however, Mr Farage appears rather more relaxed about political interference from across the pond. When Donald Trump told Britain she should make the on-off Ukip leader her ambassador to the US – even though she already has one – Mr Farage was not appalled. He did not say Mr Trump had “behaved disgracefully”, he did not order him to “butt out”, he did not remind him that the British don’t take kindly to being told “what we should do” by foreign powers.

On the contrary, he welcomed Mr Trump’s intervention. “I would do anything,” he said nobly, “to help our national interest.”

Taking back control from Brussels. And then handing it to Washington.

This episode also shows seriously bad judgement on the part of Donald Trump, though this of course is much less surprising. If offending the UK foreign office by airily suggesting on Twitter that the British ambassador should be replaced is the biggest diplomatic howler committed by the incoming Trump administration then we will be able to count ourselves extraordinarily lucky. Even assuming that Trump assembles a moderately experienced team around him by the end of the transition, the incoming president’s penchant for going off-script and acting unilaterally at 2AM is likely to lead to all manner of gaffes and calamities. But still – offending the government of your closest ally by publicly scorning their present ambassador is arrogant and foolish.

Adam Barnett at Left Foot Forward also has a crack at explaining why Nigel Farage becoming Britain’s ambassador to the United States would be a terrible idea:

Nigel Farage would make a great British ambassador to the US, according to Donald Trump, who will make a terrible President of the United States.

As Downing Street helpfully points out, the position is already filled, though they should have added it’s not Trump’s job to appoint foreign diplomats.

Unfortunately, not one of the reasons that Barnett then goes on to list has anything remotely to do with Nigel Farage’s competence or potential suitability for the role of ambassador. Rather, each is a finger-wagging, morally censorious (and often inaccurate) judgement and demand for Farage’s excommunication from any role in public life, the kind of thoughtless attack sadly now typical fare from the authoritarian, illiberal left.

The Spectator’s James Forsyth does a better job of explaining why Nigel Farage should be nobody’s choice for the role of ambassador, and suggests a better way for the British government to leverage Farage’s close relationship with Trump:

Now, obviously, Farage shouldn’t be the UK’s man in Washington. As Farage has admitted, he’s not a natural diplomat and it is hard to imagine Theresa May trusting him in that role. But it would be foolish of the Foreign Office not to pump Farage for information on Trump and his circle. Whatever information Farage has about who actually has influence with the president-elect would be useful for Britain.

The sensible thing to do would be to have Boris Johnson invite Farage down to Chevening for the weekend and over dinner try and talk out of the Ukip leader everything he knows about Trump world. I suspect that Farage would be both sufficiently flattered by the invitation and keen enough to help, that he would happily reveal all he knows about Trump and the people around him.

This sounds a lot more sensible. Nigel Farage should not become our ambassador, not least because he has no discernable diplomatic skills, nor any specific interest in that role (besides a desire to remain in the limelight and close to power). But the British government would be foolish to squander the relationship he has built with the new president-elect altogether.

After all, who is best placed to nurture that relationship? A bunch of effete, elitist UK civil servants and career diplomats like our current ambassador Sir Kim Darroch, who were all doubtless super-confident “Never Trump” people (as indeed I was) and therefore failed to build any meaningful relationships with the Trump team, or somebody whom the new president considers to be an ideological and perhaps even temperamental soulmate?

In other words, why reinvent the wheel? Why pour time and effort into leveraging a new relationship from scratch when Trump and Farage are clearly already friends and allies? Britain should not waste time emulating this relationship – we should appropriate it and use it for our own ends. Love him or loathe him, Nigel Farage happens to speak Trumpian with a natural accent at a time when we have few other native linguists. That isn’t an advantage you throw away just to express general disapproval of the man.

Now, of course Nigel Frage is a flawed individual – and one can argue about the precise way in which the government puts him to use. Rather than making him ambassador, I would forge a new role, perhaps investigating the possibility of formally seconding Farage to the Trump administration as a gesture of trust and goodwill. Not only would this give Britain valuable eyes and ears in Washington DC, it could greatly aid the future negotiation of a future US-UK free trade agreement.

The details can be worked out later, but one thing is crystal clear for now – Donald Trump has no business interfering in the diplomatic staffing decisions of the British government. The ambassadors we send to Washington D.C. should be chosen by the British government alone, not foisted upon us by an inexperienced not-quite-president.

Donald Trump claims to have great affection for Britain, which is good. But he needs to learn that the best way to display that affection is to respect British sovereignty. If the president-elect insists on appointing his kids as White House advisers and can find his way around the federal anti-nepotism rules, that’s one thing. But we can pick our own ambassadors, thank you, Mr. President-elect.

 

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Brexit, Public Protest And The Judiciary

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No, criticising legal rulings is not fascism

Right now the internet is bubbling with a lot of nonsense about the role of the British judiciary as relates to Brexit, and though I have my head full of US election news ahead of tomorrow night’s Semi-Partisan live blog, there are a couple of pieces of egregious stupidity which need slapping down.

Today, of course, Nigel Farage made headlines by announcing his intention to lead a march of 100,000 people on the Supreme Court in an effort to demonstrate the public’s supposed strength of feeling about ramming Brexit through without any Parliamentary scrutiny.

From the Telegraph:

Nigel Farage is planning to lead a 100,000-strong march to the Supreme Court to coincide with the start of the Government’s attempt to stop peers and MPs delaying Brexit.

The march, organised by the anti-European Union campaign Leave.EU, will end with a rally in Parliament Square within sight of the court building where judges will be hearing the appeal.

The campaign group is planning to “crowd fund” £100,000 from its supporters to pay for barristers to represent Leave supporters in the court action.

This will mean that the anti-EU supporters will have their own barristers in the legal action, who can challenge claims made by Remain supporters and even the Government.

[..] A spokesman for the organisers said that Mr Farage and Leave.EU millionaire backers Arron Banks and Richard Tice had “secured support from thousands of Leave voters” for the march and legal action.

The march will most likely take place on December 5, which is expected to be the first day of the hearing. The Supreme Court has cleared four days for the hearing which will be streamed live on the internet.

As this blog recently laid out, I am fairly relaxed about the High Court case and the coming appeal to the Supreme Court. If David Cameron’s utterly useless government had a) planned the referendum properly, and b) considered the possibility of Leave winning then all of this might have been spelled out clearly at the time of the referendum, as it should have been.

That being said, MPs are aware of the hellfire which would rightly rain down on them if they seriously attempted to subvert the referendum result; if they now want to give their cosmetic blessing to a high-level instruction to the government to invoke Article 50 then they are welcome to go ahead.

Of course, some people inevitably then take it too far. UKIP leadership candidate Suzanne Evans quickly took to the airwaves making incoherent comments about the need to exercise “democratic controls” (whatever that means) over the judiciary.

From the BBC:

Ms Evans told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there were likely to be “protests and demonstrations”, but added that these would be peaceful.

She added: “I have a concern that Article 50 is not intended to facilitate nation states leaving the European Union. I think it’s there to frustrate them.”

Ms Evans said she thought the legal process could “water down Brexit”.

She added: “I think it’s amusing that the very same people who say it’s all about parliamentary sovereignty have, for the last 48 years, been trying to undermine parliamentary sovereignty”.

Ms Evans said: “I think there’s a debate to be had about whether or not judges are subject to some kind of democratic control.”

She did not want to undermine “their judicial independence”, but added: “I suppose that in this case, we have had a situation where we have judges committed to stay in the European Union…

“I’m questioning the legitimacy of this particular case. We know that the legal profession threw a collective hissy fit when we voted to leave.”

This is just incoherent garbage. “Democratic controls” could mean anything from moving towards a system where many judges are elected (as in many American states) toward some kind of constitutional fix to prevent judges from ruling to delay or impede the government from carrying out the instructions from this or any future referenda.

At no point does Suzanne Evans articulate what kind of controls she has in mind, which naturally plays into the hands of tremulous Remainers who are lightning-quick to portray any intemperate or ill-considered language from Brexiteers as a sign of the oncoming fascist apocalypse wrought by Brexit.

From the Huffington Post:

Her comments were branded “irresponsible”. by Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer. “Some of us have worked in countries where judges do as governments tell them and we know that is highly corrosive of the rule of law and democracy,” he told Today.

Starmer said the High Court had simply “upheld the rule of law” by deciding the prime minister did not have the power to trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. “It’s a slippery slope,” he said of Evans’ comments. “Principle is really important here. The rule of law really matters. It underpins this country.”

However Evans said she had not been talking about judges being subject to elections, but instead “pre-appointment and confirmation hearings” and “scrutiny by select committees”.

Typically, hysterical and bitter Remoaners like Coke Zero Conservative Anna Soubry led the way with her cries of “fascism!”:

However, many pro-EU commentators, in their sudden high-minded support for the independence of the judiciary, seem to be suggesting that any form of protest directed at judges or the courts is absolutely unacceptable and fascistic, whatever the reason.

LBC’s notoriously and stridently europhile presenter James O’Brien ripped into the protest, essentially declaring that it is wrong to protest legal decisions and rulings:

Today James gave his reaction to the march and it’s safe to say he wasn’t impressed: “We’re post-truth now…what’s Mr Farage doing? Having a little march to the Supreme Court to complain about British judges enacting British laws in British courts.

“Truly we are down the rabbit hole!”

James continued: “He says to remind people what they voted for. I appreciate your core support is a little bit flaky pal, but I don’t think anyone’s forgotten what they voted for.

“It’s quite incredible. Yet we’re all still standing alongside, going: ‘Oh, I wonder why this is happening.’

“I’m not wondering why this is happening. I know why this is happening. Same reason it’s happened throughout history. You take angry people who feel like they’re not getting a fair deal, give them a false target for their fury and just sit back and watch the whole place burn down.”

Presumably O’Brien feels similarly sickened when crowds of people assemble in front of the United States Supreme Court to protest in favour of socially progressive outcomes, like striking down the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA). Except we all know that O’Brien would have no problem with such protests. Demonstrating about legal cases is abhorrent and intimidating when Nasty Brexiteers do it, with their thuggish and populist ways, but absolutely fine when the people march under a rainbow flag or advocate for a progressive cause.

But some of the most thin-skinned people of all are those within the legal profession, who apparently feel under assault by Brexiteers and parts of the media in the wake of the High Court decision.

From the Guardian:

The justice secretary, Liz Truss, is embroiled in an extraordinary row with the country’s barristers, after she was accused by the Bar Council of not fulfilling her role as “the conscience of the government”.

Truss has failed to condemn vitriolic attacks on the three judges who last week ruled that parliament must be given a vote before Britain triggers article 50, launching the Brexit process.

Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, the chairman of the Bar, the representative body for barristers in England and Wales, told the Observer that the cabinet minister had a duty to uphold the rule of law. “[Her job] is sometimes called the conscience of the government and one would expect her to speak out on something like this,” she said.

The high court ruling on Thursday, which the government has said it will appeal, unleashed a torrent of personal abuse directed at the judiciary, with one prominent cabinet member claiming the judges’ decision was “unacceptable”.

Under huge pressure to defend the independence of Britain’s judges, Truss – who is also lord chancellor – issued a terse statement on Saturday, observing: “The independence of the judiciary is the foundation upon which our rule of law is built and our judiciary is rightly respected the world over for its independence and impartiality.”

What more do these wobbly-lipped victims want? The High Court made a decision, and various citizens together with certain press outlets exercised their free speech rights to criticise that decision in loud and forceful terms. Did anybody attempt to physically or mentally coerce the judges who made the ruling? No. Has anybody hatched a plan to neuter the judiciary’s ability to rule in future such cases? No. So what, exactly, does the Bar Council want? Apparently they want to be exempt from criticism. And to elevate the judiciary into such an exalted position would be truly frightening and totalitarian.

If the Bar Council, assorted other members of the judiciary and a coterie of Remainers expect Liz Truss to stop the Big Bad Scary Media from uttering opinions about the validity of legal decisions or the motivations of the people who make them then they really have taken leave of their senses, as well as any conception of the role of a free press in a democracy.

All in all, many Remainers seem to be taking leave of their senses. Those people who never gave the judiciary a second thought but who are now lionising it simply because they delivered a verdict which seems to frustrate some Brexiteers need to realise that the judiciary is not always high-minded and impartial.

The BBC reports that Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice, opined that the Supreme Court should not overturn the High Court’s ruling because to do so might be *perceived* as a victory for the demonstrators:

The justice system could be undermined if a ruling that only Parliament can trigger Brexit is overturned, a former lord chief justice has said.

Lord Judge said it would be seen as a victory for pro-Brexit demonstrators should the Supreme Court reverse last week’s controversial High Court ruling.

[..] Lord Judge, who was the most senior judge in England and Wales between 2008 and 2013 and who is now a crossbench peer, told BBC Newsnight that people were entitled to protest but he was concerned about the impact the case might have on the legal system.

“People can march as much as they like,” he said.

“I don’t think it makes any difference to the judicial decision but it does make a difference to public order.

“Let’s say for the sake of argument the Supreme Court decides the High Court was wrong, it will undoubtedly be conveyed as a victory for the demonstrators.

“It won’t be but that’s what will be conveyed. And if that is conveyed, you’ve undermined the administration of justice.”

In other words, the head of the judiciary from 2008 to 2013 thinks that the Supreme Court should make a decision not based on the law, but rather on a desire to signal to unruly Brexiteers that judges cannot be pushed around. Even if there are found to be legal grounds for overturning the lower court’s decision, Lord Judge believes that the Supreme Court should allow error to go uncorrected in order to put the people in their proper place.

And yet criticising these people or displaying the slightest scepticism about their motivations and objectivity is apparently tantamount to fascism.

Give me a break.

 

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The Economist Endorses Remain, In A Display Of Bad Journalism And Worse Citizenship

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How to suck at modern citizenship, by The Economist

The Economist has, inevitably, now thrown its support behind the campaign to keep Britain in the European Union.

Their endorsement of the EU is full of the usual denial about the EU’s trajectory and bromides about cooperation and not weakening Europe at a time of global uncertainty, but more astonishing is their condemnation of the very campaign in which the Economist – like all other major media outlets – played a major role.

In a separate piece published concurrently with their endorsement of Remain, the Economist declares:

Such has been Britain’s EU referendum. David Cameron first promised the vote in 2013, spooked by UKIP’s success in local elections and importuned by UKIP-inclined MPs on his Conservative benches. The result has been an unedifying campaign that has both bolstered Mr Farage and carried his imprint. It has been divisive, misleading, unburdened by facts and prone to personality politics and gimmicks. What might have been a hard-nosed debate about Britain’s future, about the pros and cons of EU membership, has turned into a poisonous row about the merits of what is ultimately Mr Farage’s vision of England: a hazy confabulation of content without modernity; of warm beer, bowler hats, faces blackened by coal dust; of bread-and-dripping, fish-and-chips, hope-and-glory.

The outcome has been a contest with the logical architecture of an Escher drawing: Remain and (in particular) Leave issuing assertions that double back on themselves, Möbius-strip arguments that lead everywhere and nowhere. Knowledge has been scorned (“I think people in this country have had enough of experts,” huffs Michael Gove, the pro-Leave justice secretary). Basic facts have fallen by the wayside: Mr Cameron claims Brexit would help Islamic State; Leave implies Turkey, with its 77m Muslims, is about to join the EU. The complicated reality of an evolving union and Britain’s relationship with it has been ignored.

[..] To some extent the referendum has revealed things that were already present: the growing void between cosmopolitan and nativist parts of the country, the diminishing faith in politics, the rise of populism, the inadequacy of the left-right partisan spectrum in an age when open-closed is a more salient divide. Yet it is hard not to conclude that the campaign has exacerbated all of these trends. Polls suggest that trust in senior politicians of all stripes has fallen. And that is just the start. If Remain wins on June 23rd, Brexiteers will tell voters they were conned. If Leave wins, Mr Cameron will go and his successor will negotiate a Brexit that does not remotely resemble the promises of the Leave campaign, which trades on the lie that Britain can have full access to the European single market without being bound by its regulations and free-movement rules.

Either way, politics is coarsened. Voters will believe their leaders less. Short of a total reconfiguration of the party-political landscape (possible but unlikely), the existing Westminster outfits will look increasingly at odds with political reality. The currency of facts will be debased, that of stunts inflated, that of conviction sidelined. It will be de rigueur to question an opponent’s motives before his arguments, to sneer at experts, prefer volume to accuracy and disparage concession, compromise and moderation. Mr Farage’s style of politics has defined this referendum. It will live on in the muscle memory of the nation.

It is frankly astonishing that the Economist can survey the dismal scene of this referendum campaign and choose to be dismayed not by the behaviour of our prime minister – a man who has boldly and shamelessly lied, bullied, deceived, threatened and intimidated the country into voting his way – but rather by the now typical antics of an increasingly sidelined Nigel Farage.

The Economist is quite right to point out that politics has been coarsened throughout this debate. This is partly inevitable – we are debating serious, existential issues in a once-in-a-generation plebiscite. And human nature being what it is, distortions will be made and tempers will flare. But it is thoroughly depressing to see the Economist seemingly hold the people in charge of the country on the Remain side to a lower standard of behaviour than those outsiders, typically with less experience of top level politics, who are advocating Brexit. Apparently we should all be aghast at the fact that there are some Little Englanders and conspiracy theorists on the margins of the Brexit movement, but simply accept that the prime minister of the United Kingdom has become a serial liar who happily threatens his own people.

If a certain style of politics is to “live on in the muscle memory of the nation”, as the Economist frets, it will be the style of politics practised by those on the Remain side who have abused their offices of state, their bully pulpits and any sense of common decency to wage a narrow campaign of fear based almost entirely on economic scaremongering. It will be the Tyranny of the Experts, in which the politically motivated verdicts of Highly Credentialed People are shouted louder and louder to drown out dissent – as though a consensus of “experts” has never been wrong about anything before (and as though democracy can be measured in an economic model).

But since the Economist is so willing to overlook the scandalous behaviour of our own prime minister and concentrate all of its fire on Nigel Farage’s personality, it is worth calling into question the Economist’s own role in this referendum campaign. Have they helped to shed light, to inform, to raise the level of debate? No. They have peddled in exactly the same glibly superficial, personality-based lazy journalism as nearly every other major outlet.

All this time, out of sight of the shining ones at the Economist, there was a rich, informative and inspiring debate taking place online which the rest of the legacy media entirely missed because they were so busy quoting each other and hanging on the every last word of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

The bloggers of The Leave Alliance in particular have exposed the fascinating world of international trade and regulation, and the slowly emerging global single market – comprised of the real global “top tables” – of which Britain could be a part, if only we had the national confidence to stop hiding behind the euro-parochialism of Brussels. This is really interesting stuff, when you dive into it – the kind of topic which might make an excellent Economist Special Report, come to think of it, though it is apparently too obscure for their journalists to take the time to learn.

What the Economist (and many other publications) fails to realise is that Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson do not speak for the entirety of the Brexit movement, least of all the liberal Leavers whom the Economist scandalously misrepresents in their sloppy wet kiss to the EU. A few quick Google searches and some basic human curiosity (combined with a willingness to look outside the Westminster bubble for original thinking and writing) on the part of journalists could have completely changed the nature of this EU referendum. Opened it up. Taken it to a higher level, where we actually debated the importance of global regulation and how Britain can best wield our influence in the global bodies which actually hand regulations down to the EU. We could have spent this time debating the meaning of democracy and sovereignty in the 21st century, and how Brexit could just be part of a process of democratic renewal in Britain.

In short, the Economist has no right to scorn the very referendum campaign in which they were themselves utterly complicit. They could have sought out other, more informed voices and given them a platform and a sceptical but fair hearing. But all they wanted to hear from the Brexit side was the ranting of Nigel Farage, so that is all they did hear. The Economist wanted to see the Brexit campaign as a Little Englander movement spurred by nostalgia, insularity and xenophobia and they made sure to pay attention only to those facts and those voices which reinforced that viewpoint.

And in so doing, the Economist gave its readers exactly what most of them wanted to read – people in that prized demographic too busy being captains of industry with glittering international careers (and buying the Patek Philippe wristwatches advertised on the back cover) to really care much about democracy or how we exercise control over our leaders. Why would they care? They are generally doing very well, thank you very much. Most of them don’t see any need for things to change, or for people to be held to account for bad decisions in government which only ever affected “other people”, very different to themselves.

You can call that what you will. The Economist are certainly very proud of themselves. But to my mind it is shoddy journalism, and a truly rotten form of citizenship.

 

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Top Image: Miles Cole, The Economist

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The Significance Of That Bizarre Eddie Izzard Appearance On Question Time

Eddie Izzard, Brexit Ambassador

While it was infuriating to watch at the time – I actually had to put down my iPad at times to stop myself tweeting things which I might later regret – Eddie Izzard’s tour de force of ignorance and condescension on BBC Question Time last night will have been a great boon to all Brexiteers.

Here, in one man, is embodied the distilled nature of the entire Remain campaign argument – a child’s level of understanding of the European Union’s history, what it does and how it actually works coupled with an unjustified level of arrogance and assumed intellectual and moral superiority which somehow makes them come off as smug, arrogant, condescending, pitying and self-aggrandising all at the same time.

Eddie Izzard’s strategy for the programme was clearly “Take Down Nigel Farage In A Blaze Of Glory”, and the comedian went at the UKIP leader from the outset. He would have been far better to focus his fire on the others. Nigel Farage is a man who has easily dispatched stageloads of Britain’s leading politicians in a single debate and twice bested Nick Clegg in one-on-one encounters. Coming at him with a paper thin case and the debating style of an over-excited sixth former is never going to work. It certainly didn’t last night.

The shriller Eddie Izzard became, the more he cut across Nigel Farage and make his grandstanding appeals to the audience, the more Farage looked like the adult in the room. As Izzard’s plea for more ice cream became ever more desperate, Farage leaned back in his chair with a look of bemused resignation. Considering that one of the Remain campaign’s key aims is to demonise Farage and then inextricably tie him to the Leave campaign, this was a huge unforced error.

But more than that, it showed the vacuity at the heart of the Remain campaign. Sure, there are a few honourable die hard euro federalists out there – my friend Paddy Briggs is one – but you will scarcely hear from them in this campaign. The only people with a coherent and honourable case for Britain remaining in the EU (and indeed deepening our participation) are shoved in the closet, the Remain campaign’s dirty little secret as they pretend to the rest of us that We Are All Eurosceptics Too.

The rest of the campaign is built on ignorance and fear. Yes of course large swathes of the Leave campaign are little better. But once Remain have dispatched with their meaningless pleasantries about “staying in Europe to reform it” and the importance of “cooperation” (which in europhile land can only take place between countries when facilitated by a supranational political union, for some reason), all they have left are their Armageddon stories about how Brexit would bring us all to economic ruin, or how the supposedly benign and friendly EU would behave like an abusive spouse to a departing Britain.

Pete North agrees:

We’ve heard all the europhile fluff. All the sanctimonious cliches about “not walking away from the table” and “getting in there to make it work better” and “respecting the rules of the club” and when you’re dealing with someone of great charisma it’s hard not to want to buy into that.

These are all positive and constructive sentiments reinforced with words like “cooperation” and “unity”. But sentiment is all it is. Contrivances. And if you hold only a superficial notion of what the EU is, how it works and the actual consequences of it, then that leap of faith is easier to make.

And this perhaps explains the gulf between age groups and voting intentions. Those who have wised up to the EU want out. The youthful ideologues lack the maturity and historical context to see through the veneer of shallow and meaningless rhetoric. This is what the remain camp is banking on.

And this is why I can muster a venomous contempt of Eddie Izzard. Think what you will of him and his politics but he is not a stupid man. Fatuous maybe, but not stupid. He has always been a true believer. He is a europhile to the core. And while they are capable of an extraordinary self-deception one thing europhiles do without exception is lie through their teeth. Up becomes down, black becomes white, dog becomes cat. No lie is too big and any lie will do.

Being a comedian and habitually attuned to audiences accepting a flawed premise in order to relate to the material, Izzard is able to lie with no self-awareness at all. It’s what permits him to lie as often as he does to an extent that even professional politicians would hesitate.

And this is what has characterised the European Union debate for as long as we’ve been having this debate. The attempt by europhiles to frame this as though it were a generational stand off between young progressives and old reactionaries. For one to be against the EU, in the mind of the europhile, one must naturally be a xenophobic, little Englander who could only possibly have selfish motives. This is the deceit that they wish to impress upon those new to the debate.

And this is actually what drives the blood curdling hostility between the two camps. We have a broadly europhile media class. A set of self-regarding luvvies largely culturally and financially insulated from the consequences of EU membership, believing themselves to be the living embodiment of virtue.

People wonder how the country will knit back together after this referendum. I’m not sure that it will. Pete North is certainly convinced that it will not. One thing is certain – there will be no magnanimity from the Remain side if they win.

Sure, a smiling David Cameron might come out of 10 Downing Street and make a little speech about his “renegotiation” just being the start, and how he will continue to fight for change in Europe. I can write the speech in my head already. But it will mean nothing, just as every single one of David Cameron’s convictions is built on sand. The Remain camp will take their gruesome little victory lap and crow about having defeated the forces of “xenophobia and isolationism”, and that will be that. A reconciliation reshuffle? That means nothing.

But the intellectual case for Brexit and the moral case for democracy will not have been defeated. What’s more, those of us who are custodians of these high ideals will not easily forget what has been said about us by sneering, grandstanding, virtue-signalling oiks in the Remain campaign, and their spokesperson Eddie Izzard.

Call someone wrong and they may be angry for a time. Call them morally deficient in some way (as Remainers do with their claims of boomer selfishness etc.) and it will wound a lot more. But call someone stupid and publicly mock them to their face, and you will nurture a resentment and antipathy which are almost impossible to undo. Over the course of this referendum campaign, the Remain camp have done all three.

Fortunately for Brexiteers, the glibness and shallowness of the Remain case become more exposed with every passing day. There is no new layer of complexity once one overturns their false assertion that Brexit means leaving the single market, or that all of the cooperation and partnership they seek can be accomplished just as easily outside of our current political union. The Remainers can hardly wheel out the hardcore euro federalist brigade to make their impassioned case – they would alienate far more people than they could possibly attract with their creepy, dystopian vision.

By contrast, a greater depth to the Brexit case is finally starting to emerge, as more and more influencers in the media pick up on the interim EFTA/EEA (Norway) option as an attractive first step in the Brexit process. Though it has taken an age (and may in fact still have come too late) at least the only thorough, comprehensive and safe plan for achieving Brexit is now finally starting to get a public hearing and an opportunity to allay the concerns of undecided voters.

I still feel that the odds of victory very much favour Remain, no matter what the opinion polls may say two weeks out from Referendum Day. But it is also undeniable that the broader Leave campaign has finally gained some traction – despite, rather than because of Vote Leave.

And if the Remain campaign continues to respond to these turns of events by wheeling out people like Eddie Izzard – who I think probably created a thousand new Brexiteers for every minute he had the floor on last night’s Question Time – then this might be a much more closely run thing after all.

 

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Bottom Image: Huffington Post

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