Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 5 – Britain Stronger In Europe Tacitly Admit They Were Lying The Whole Time

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While advocating a “soft Brexit” as their fallback position, Remainers contradict themselves and expose the tawdry lies they told during the EU referendum

Even Open Britain, the shrivelled husk of Will Straw’s failed Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe, has now effectively admitted that leaving the European Union need not be intrinsically economically harmful – thus undermining the central pillar of their case for staying in the EU.

The harsh light which Remainers are now knowingly shining on their prior scaremongering and lies is quite hilarious. By drawing a distinction between “hard” and “soft” Brexit and campaigning fervently for continued membership of the EEA, campaigners are effectively admitting that their many economic apocalypse warnings applied only to leaving the single market, and not the EU’s political union.

From an Open Britain campaign email sent to supporters yesterday:

Open Britain is campaigning for Britain to stay in the Single Market, which brings increased investment, trade, jobs and growth.

It seems the public agree. A new poll we commissioned has found that 59% of voters want the UK to stay in the Single Market, so there is no mandate for a destructive Brexit.

Now, MPs from Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are calling for a debate in Parliament. They are urging the Government to publish its plan for the forthcoming EU negotiations and to allow Parliament to approve it. A huge majority – 73% of people – support this.

Our future partnership with the EU should be not decided in secret but determined by democratic debate.

There is “no mandate for a destructive Brexit,” we are told. Well, that’s funny. Because not long ago, every Remainer in town – most certainly including Britain Stronger in Europe – was screeching about the automatic ruin which would befall Britain if we voted to leave the EU, regardless of how the Brexit process played out or whatever our eventual new trading and political relationship with the EU happened to be. For months we were told by sanctimonious Remainers that “destructive Brexit” was the only kind of Brexit available – yet now they acknowledge a benign version of Brexit and encourage us to adopt it.

Fast-forward four months and suddenly the story changes. Now, apparently, we need to fight tooth and nail to preserve our membership of and unimpeded access to the single market, because this is the lynchpin on which Britain’s economy rests. In other words, their entire economic scaremongering case was a giant lie.

Oh sure, they’ll come back and claim that most Brexiteers supposedly want a “hard Brexit” and that the major Leave campaigns envisioned Britain leaving the single market, which is why they felt justified in equating the European Union with the single market in their own campaign rhetoric. But this is the mealy-mouthed defence of someone who has been caught in a blatant lie. Remainers were desperate to bury the awkward fact that the EU and single market are not one and the same thing, and the fact that they did all they could to fudge the distinction (heck, they suggested that leaving the EU meant severing ourselves from the continent of Europe) shows that they were more obsessed with economic scaremongering than truth. It is Remainers, not Brexiteers, who dwell in a land of post-factual politics.

As this blog recently commented:

Funny. It’s almost as though [Remainers] are suggesting that leaving the EU needn’t necessarily mean “plung[ing] the UK into a period of recession and international decline”, and that Britain’s economic and diplomatic health is actually contingent on the kind of choices that Britain makes once we are free of the supranational political union.

Claiming that a mismanaged, uncontrolled or “hard” Brexit might cause serious economic harm is a perfectly respectable position. More than that, it is basic common sense. But that isn’t the argument that Remainers were making during the EU referendum campaign. No, they were claiming that any form of Brexit would be disastrous, that Britain leaving the European Union would be economically calamitous in and of itself, regardless of how Brexit unfolded or the model of our future trading relationship with the EU.

As it happens, this blog agrees with Open Britain’s revised position. Certainly as an interim measure Britain should remain in the EEA while working toward a longer-term solution which hopefully replaces the single market with a new framework which is more democratic and not part of a protectionist, beady-eyed, euro-federalist master plan. Given that the most skilled trade negotiators in the world (in which Britain is singularly lacking, despite generous help from our Commonwealth friends) take a decade or more to thrash out comprehensive bilateral agreements it is the height of idiocy to assume that a Brexit-inspired sense of urgency and the concerns of “German car makers” will get the job done in the initial two short years set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

But why couldn’t the Remainers just be honest from the beginning, level with the British people and tell them that it is Britain’s uninterrupted EEA access, not our membership of the supranational political union, on which our economic stability depends?

The answer, of course, is that for top Remainers the EU referendum was never about economics. It was about their craven desire to live in an amorphous internationalist blob where the nation state is fatally undermined and the strongest level of government and identity reforms at the European level. That’s what they wanted but couldn’t say in public. And so instead they falsely equated the EU with the single market in an attempt to scare low information voters and assorted unthinking lefties that voting for Brexit inherently meant economic doom.

Now that the decision to leave the EU has been made, these disingenuous people are having to regroup and come up with a new argument – that it is our future relationship with the single market, not the EU, which will have the greatest potential impact on our economy and future prosperity. And just as even a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day, this time they happen to be correct.

Unfortunately, changing arguments mid-stream also reveals that nearly everything that the Remain campaign said prior to the EU referendum was a deliberate, filthy lie.

 

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Remainers Are Trying To Rewrite History, Claiming Media Coverage Favoured The Leave Campaign

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Yes, the BBC let the public down with their spineless, uninquisitive EU referendum coverage. But this only benefited the Remain campaign, not the Brexiteers, and to suggest otherwise is absurd

Disappointed Remain activist Hugo Dixon takes to the pages of InFacts with with a sullen litany of the many ways in which the (ahem) notoriously eurosceptic television news media supposedly hindered the pro-EU camp’s chances and aided the fact-free Brexiteers at every turn.

Dixon writes:

The BBC has rightly been criticised for its weak referendum coverage. If the broadcaster had done a better job of challenging interviewees, informing the public and making room for a variety of viewpoints, voters would have had a better chance of sifting fact from fiction. The BBC, after all, dominates our news coverage: 77% of the public use it as a news source, according to Ofcom.

The most common criticism aired against the BBC is one of phoney balance – namely that it gave equal airtime to experts and their opponents’ unsubstantiated bluster. But this is probably not the most serious charge. After all, it would not have been fair to deny the two sides of the referendum equal airtime or to keep off the air campaigners who were telling fibs or spinning fantasy.

However, what the BBC could and should have done was grill its guests more vigorously – and make more space for coverage that didn’t fit into the tired Punch-and-Judy style battle between spokespeople put up by the two official campaigns.

There is a kernel of a sensible point in here. This blog has written numerous times that sensationalist or craven news coverage which merely allows two opposing talking heads to scream at each other without any effort to arbitrate or discern truth is a pox on our journalism – whether it is infecting the US presidential election or the EU referendum in Britain.

Dixon is also admirably on-point when he criticises the media’s reliance on the sanitised, focus-group approved  media grids of the two opposing lead campaign groups, effectively suggesting to their viewers that these incompetents and nepotism beneficiaries represented the full spectrum of eurosceptic and pro-European thought:

This wasn’t the BBC’s only failing. It also allowed too much of its coverage to become a Punch-and-Judy style battle between the official campaigns. The broadcaster, of course, had to give a lot of airtime to Vote Leave and Stronger In. But it allowed its coverage to be virtually dictated by their agendas.

I know the Remain side of the story better. Stronger In had a “grid”, on which it set out what stories it wanted to push on particular days and which people it wanted to push those messages. It coordinated this grid closely with Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s director of communications. Indeed, Stronger In was effectively in Number 10’s pocket. It rarely put forward people who weren’t on message with its Project Fear strategy.

The BBC should not have allowed itself to be manipulated in this way, particularly since it was aware of the potential problem. Its guidelines said: “Where there is a range of views or perspectives, that should be reflected appropriately during the campaign.” They went on to say: “The designated Campaign Groups – whilst offering spokespeople to programme-makers and other content producers – cannot dictate who should or who should not appear on BBC output.”

But the broadcaster didn’t do enough to resist the pressure. As a result, Downing Street and its puppets dominated the Remain camp’s share of airtime, and people who wanted to make a positive case for Britain’s involvement were edged out. Even Gordon Brown – who was trying to argue that we should lead Europe, not leave Europe – found it hard to be heard.

While Hugo Dixon’s heart wells over with sympathy for Gordon Brown’s inability to claim his fair share of the limelight, this blog would point to the many independent and non-aligned voices on the Brexit side who struggled to get a hearing of any kind, despite (in some cases) holding media events in the heart of Westminster under the very nose of the establishment.

So on both of these complaints, Dixon is on solid ground. But to go on and suggest that intellectually lazy journalism which impacted the Leave side every bit as much as the Remain campaign somehow decisively swung the outcome of the referendum is to venture into the realm of fantasy.

Dixon concludes:

For every such example, the BBC could presumably come up with a counter-example. But when its senior figures search their souls, do they really think they fulfilled their mission of informing and educating the public well during the referendum? And, if not, what are they going to do about it? How about an independent, public audit of how the BBC fared during the referendum backed up by recommendations on how to do better in future?

The world is not getting any simpler. Hard, honest thinking about how to cover often very complicated questions could stand the BBC in good stead. Audiences and license fee payers definitely deserve it.

The underlying assertion, carefully left unsaid, is that these various journalistic failures added up to a succession of “microbiases” which somehow cumulatively tipped the referendum result, and that if only BBC and other television news presenters had challenged guests and demanded more “facts” then the British people would have come to their senses and realised just how star-spangled awesome the European Union really is.

And maybe in an alternative universe that was the case – that there simply weren’t enough highly credentialed experts, both hysterical and sober, using abundant media platforms to lecture the British people that seeking freedom from the EU would be an unmitigated disaster.

Why oh why were these noble voices, these latter-day Cassandras so cruelly shut out of the national debate, swamped by a relentlessly pro-Brexit television media amplifying the Leave campaign’s monopoly on falsehoods and scaremongering?

But that’s not how I remember the EU referendum campaign.

Hugo Dixon inhabits an interesting parallel universe, and no doubt a comforting one for disappointed Remain campaigners so deeply invested in their failed euro-federalist dream. But it bears no resemblance to the real world, where the plucky, haphazard, incoherent and almost terminally disorganised Leave campaign triumphed against the arrayed forces of the establishment and a television news media which only amplified rather than diminished their influence in support of the status quo.

 

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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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Bring It, Benedict

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In their barely literate open letter praising the European Union, Benedict Cumberbatch and his cohort of EU apologist luvvies not only fail to understand what the EU is or how it works, they also shamefully pass off their own financial self interest as high-minded concern for the future of Britain

If assorted celebrities are going to sign their names to a public letter calling for the British people to vote a certain way in a referendum of existential importance, it would be decent of them to be honest about why they really want people to make that choice.

This is hardly rocket science, but apparently it was too much for the cognitively tepid minds who signed their names to a letter calling for Britons to reject Brexit for the supposed good of the arts.

The signatories are exactly the kind of people you would expect to see flaunting their right-on, progressive virtue to their fans and peers. Tracey Emin. Anish Kapoor. Vivienne Westwood. Jo Brand. Patrick Stewart. Keira Knightley. Jude Law. John Hurt. The ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch.

So to what exactly did they put their gilded names? Here is the full text of the letter:

The EU referendum marks the biggest democratic decision of our time, and the outcome will have lasting and far-reaching consequences for the future of this country for generations to come.

The referendum forces us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves: what kind of nation do we want to be? Are we outward-looking and open to working with others to achieve more? Or do we close ourselves off from our friends and neighbours at a time of increasing global uncertainty?

Because choosing to step out of a steadily integrating political union with an overarching supra-national government obviously means “closing ourselves off”. There are only two models of engaging with the world – the path to euro federalism or North Korea. Absolutely no other options in there at all. Sure.

From the smallest gallery to the biggest blockbuster, many of us have worked on projects that would never have happened without vital EU funding or by collaborating across borders. Britain is not just stronger in Europe, it is more imaginative and more creative, and our global creative success would be severely weakened by walking away.

And where exactly do you think that “vital EU funding” actually comes from, Benedict? Did you fall for that old chestnut about the secret magic money volcano deep beneath the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, regularly belching out €500 notes and showering them down upon grateful starving artists?

Of course there is no “EU money”. There is only British taxpayer money, the majority of which contributes toward general EU spending with only a small proportion being disbursed to various organisations in Britain, to be spent strictly as agreed by whichever organ of Brussels loftily granted it in the first place.

So is your argument actually that if Britain no longer contributed to EU cultural initiatives, the government would be inclined to use the money for other purposes? And if that is your legitimate fear, why don’t you take it up with your fellow citizens, whom you apparently believe do not value the arts highly enough? Why are you content for higher levels of taxpayer funding of the arts to take place in Britain than you think the British people themselves would allow? Doesn’t that make you the textbook definition of an enemy of democracy?

And what is all this bilge about “collaborating across borders”? Nearly all of the high profile signatories to the letter have worked on various international projects – many of them involving the United States of America, with whom of course we share no political union. Does the lack of a parliament overseeing both Britain and America mean that artists in each country can no longer collaborate on projects? Hardly.

The letter continues:

And what would ‘Out’ really mean? Leaving Europe would be a leap into the unknown for millions of people across the UK who work in the creative industries, and for the millions more at home and abroad who benefit from the growth and vibrancy of Britain’s cultural sector.

Remember when art was bold and visionary? No, neither do I. I was born in 1982, so I do not recall a time when the artistic establishment was not firmly in the orbit of government, keeping the politicos sweet in order to keep a hand in the Treasury.

But despite never having known a time when (unlike the United States of America) our greatest artistic institutions were privately funded and supported by great philanthropists, I still get the nagging feeling that any artist worth their salt – unless of the Soviet variety – should instinctively chafe at the idea of stale political union and remote continental governance, rather than rejoice in it and argue for its continuance.

Leaps into the unknown seem to me to be the whole purpose of art – to boldly go in new directions, try new things and above all seek the maximum freedom possible (the EU hardly being synonymous with freedom). And yet here assembled are the great and the good of Britain’s acting crop, telling us that the best we can now hope for is continued membership of an anachronistic 1950s model of governance dreamed up by old men scarred from the 20th century’s wars. The utter lack of vision and ambition from people supposedly paid to be bold visionaries is as shocking as it is profoundly depressing.

More:

From the Bard to Bowie, British creativity inspires and influences the rest of the world. We believe that being part of the EU bolsters Britain’s leading role on the world stage.

Let’s not become an outsider shouting from the wings.

“We believe”. Well, good for you. I believe in unicorns. But just stating a belief does not make it so. Where is the proof that being a member state of the European Union increases the demand for art, films, television programmes, sculptures, compositions, songs, albums, plays, skits, musicals or operas conceived, designed or produced in the UK? They provide no evidence because there is no evidence. If and when Britain exits the European Union and moves to an interim EFTA/EEA relationship to maintain single market access, the only thing we lose is the supra-national government. Is Cumberbatch seriously suggesting that the political institutions of the EU are his muse of fire?

It hardly needs pointing out that the two British icons cited by the signatories themselves – William Shakespeare and David Bowie – both took the world by storm before Britain joined the European Economic Community, in Shakespeare’s case by quite a few years. The beauty of art is that good or bad, high or low, it has ways of crossing political and cultural boundaries. That’s how a future North Korean defector came to watch a smuggled copy of Titanic in silent wonder, shocked and captivated by the idea of dying for a love other than love of the Dear Leader. That’s how the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony became a symbol of British resistance when all around us was pulverised to rubble during the Blitz. So don’t stand there and fatuously tell me that political union is required in order for art to thrive and spread, Mr. Cumberbatch. You should know that this much is a filthy lie.

Ultimately, one simply cannot take this letter seriously. And neither can one take the signatories seriously. It is certainly much harder to respect someone in public life when they knowingly use their public position to help propagate a series of lies, half-truths and obfuscations in service to an anti-democratic, embryonic government of Europe; an unrequested, unwanted and unloved supra-national government which buys the unconditional praise of scientists, university leaders, politicians and artists with your taxes and mine.

If Benedict Cumberbatch and his right-on friends want to virtue-signal their trendy, progressive opinions then good for them. Have at it. But when they seek to use their fame to influence others in the referendum debate, they should expect to be attacked for casually parachuting into the middle of the fray for the sole purpose of spreading lies, half-truths and a childishly naive view of the European Union which makes one wonder when they last watched the news (if ever).

This risible letter is nothing but a childish hymn of praise to the EU written by people convinced of their own righteousness despite being among the least educated on the topic, and who think they can trick the public by constantly conflating Europe with the power-hungry political entity which wishes to control it. In other words, the letter’s signatories are pawns, and not very bright ones at that, to allow themselves to be used in such a way. I give the whole sorry performance one star out of five, and I’m probably being too generous.

Don’t like what I’m saying? Then bring it, Benedict. I’m available to debate morning, noon or night, any time between now and the referendum. You’re an actor. I have been a lifelong supporter of the arts, and in my 20s was the London Symphony Orchestra’s youngest ever patron. You pick the time and the place, and we’ll talk a bit about the role of the arts in British and European life, and just how intertwined – or not – they are with the political construct known as the European Union.

But do your homework first – and I don’t mean learning canned lines from Britain Stronger in Europe. I mean actually trying to learn something about the subject before you start grandly soliloquising and attempting to sway other people.

Maybe the kind of unrehearsed extemporising revealed in this letter works when you try it on hordes of screaming fans at the rope line after one of your performances. But when you try and pull the same stunt in front of the British electorate you and your chums in the art world look stupid. Very stupid.

And until you either issue a retraction or double down with a proper grown-up argument, I will continue to say so.

 

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