Middle Class Saviours Against Brexit: The Arrogant #FBPE Movement

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Middle class #FBPE-ers of Britain unite! Talk to your Brexity, working class butchers, builders, plumbers, electricians and gardeners and educate them out of their superstitious dislike of the European Union

There are few things more irritating than being called ignorant and closed-minded by a group of people who are themselves at that very moment being monumentally ignorant and closed-minded.

Sadly, this is the daily fate of eurosceptics and Brexit voters as they endure a daily barrage of insult, invective and condescension from a segment of British society who seem to believe that their naive, childlike faith in (and often equally childlike understanding of) the European Union makes them both intellectually and morally superior.

This manifests in numerous ways, from the political machinations of establishment fossils such as Lord Andrew Adonis or philosopher/conspiracy-theorists such as AC Grayling to the patronising tone in which much of the prestige media covers Brexit, both at home and abroad. But it is perhaps most visible on social media, where attitudes toward Leave voters ranging from smug condescension to bigoted hatred gather under the banner of #FBPE – Follow Back, Pro-European.

While a number of decent, thinking people still use the #FBPE identifier in their Twitter or online biographies, it is increasingly associated with age, race and class hatred-tinged attacks on “gammons” – white, working class, middle aged men who dare to express an opinion supportive of Brexit, particularly if they do not have academic letters following their name. Intentionally or not, #FBPE is becoming a redoubt of middle class, establishment resistance to the supposed horrors of Brexit – a cabal of people who believe that their moral and intellectual superiority entitles them to look down on others (at best) or even thwart their political aspirations by underhand means.

A new Twitter thread today shows the extent of the sanctimony and assumed intellectual superiority at work. Helen Holdsworth, who goes by the handle “Bakehouse Cottage” on Twitter and whose bio indicates that they are an “EU citizen” and “political theorist”, relates what she clearly believes to be an inspiring and respectful anecdote about her recent interaction with a Leave voter:

Helen Holdsworth FBPE Brexit 1

Here we see the Educated Upper Middle Class Saviour phenomenon in full action as Helen Holdsworth proudly boasts about her ability to “rescue” a benighted, intellectually limited tradesman from the clutches of his Brexity superstition.

This modern day Cicero later goes on to claim that “every one of the repair people & tradesmen has come here a Brexiteer and left a Remainer“, thus deftly stereotyping Leave voters and boasting about her immense powers of persuasion at the same time. Naturally this tale was retweeted numerous times by the approving #FBPE army, thus amplifying the dubious tale of an ignorant working class soul saved among the Continuity Remain echo chamber.

We then see this delightful exchange between Holdsworth and David Woodhouse, one of her #FBPE followers:

Helen Holdsworth FBPE Brexit 2 - David Woodhouse

Take a second to appreciate the rank bigotry in Woodhouse’s tweet, and the unconcealable condescension toward Leave voters evident in Holdsworth’s response.

David Woodhouse is publicly proclaiming that he is in the habit of making fleeting impressions of people and then denying them employment if, on some arbitrary criteria, they fit the mould of what he believes a Brexiteer looks or sounds like. He proudly states that he engages in such discrimination, which while not illegal (and rightly so – the last thing this country needs is more protected classes) is certainly to be condemned.

But worse than this is Holdsworth’s reply, which truly reveals the dark heart of the #FBPE movement. While at face value Holdsworth seems to be conciliatory, she is effectively stating that tradesmen and people who work with their hands possess such a different and inferior skill set that they cannot possibly be expected to “understand the EU” or render an informed, reasoned judgment on whether or not Britain should remain in supranational political union. Furthermore, Holdsworth believes that only when such intellectually limited people have the EU explained to them “with examples” – and quite possibly sock puppets and colourful diagrams to aid their comprehension – can they be trusted to make informed decisions.

At this point, Mr. Woodhouse veers from the bigoted toward the profane:

Helen Holdsworth FBPE Brexit 2 - David Woodhouse profanity

In other words, it is just about acceptable to not hold the same unquestioningly worshipful opinion of Britain’s European Union membership as David Woodhouse, but acting on one’s scepticism by voting to leave the EU is akin to killing a child while drunk driving.

I would like to be able to say that these attitudes are rare, and that they do not represent the wider #FBPE community or the broader Continuity Remain campaign in either tone or sentiment – but I cannot do so, because these tweets are remarkable only inasmuch as they are particularly frank and unguarded expressions of a very widely-held attitude toward Leave voters. Similar exchanges can be found on social media every day, and similarly arrogant attitudes toward Brexiteers heard from members of the general public to elected politicians or esteemed academics.

Only this week, David Colquhoun – a prominent academic from University College London – after realising that I supported Brexit and failing to defeat me in open debate, decided instead to mine my blog for “opposition research”, lie about my political beliefs to his thousands of Twitter followers and then slander me by falsely accusing me of belonging to the far right:

David Colquhoun - UCL - slander of Samuel Hooper - Brexit - Far Right

What power do I have, with my relatively meagre social media following, to push back against the false narrative peddled by public figures who are taken seriously and unquestioningly quoted in the media? Fortunately in this case, public ridicule and the vast overreach of his argument was sufficient to protect me from any reputational harm, but it could quite easily have been otherwise, had Colquhoun been more tenacious and less sensationalist in his attack.

While Brexiteers have their fair share of trolls, unpleasant and untruthful characters – some of them in government – the Remain camp purport to hold themselves to a higher standard. Their entire self image is one of well-intentioned, educated experts seeking to hold back an uninformed, dangerous populist tide. The entire rationale for casting doubt on the EU referendum result and agitating for a retake is predicated upon a conception of Remainers as sober-minded rationalists making benevolent decisions based on an evidentiary assessment of all pertinent facts. Yet in their rage at being defied by the electorate, many of the #FBPE crowd are taking to ad hominem attacks and conspiracy theories even more enthusiastically than the most unhinged of Brexiteers.

All of this might yet be understandable (if not justifiable) if only the #FBPE, Continuity Remain crowd truly were intellectually superior and possessed of a deeper, fuller understanding of the European Union and the necessity of supranational political union. But again, this is simply not the case, as aptly demonstrated once again by Helen Holdsworth:

Helen Holdsworth FBPE Brexit 3 - EU collaboration

Here we see that the intellectual and rhetorical wonder who claims to have convinced a whole army of humble Brexit-votin’ tradesmen of the error of their ways has still not moved on from childlike, simplistic tropes about “collaboration” and the need to “work together”, as though such international cooperation were only possible through the European Union.

Remainers have had nearly two years to engage in some introspection, to revisit their old campaign talking points and ask themselves what worked and what failed, and yet the #FBPE collective are still muttering exactly the same basic talking points as ever before. One of their bedrock arguments remains the facile claim that the European Union is the only significant means of international partnership and collaboration. Still they have not produced an effective response to the quite reasonable rebuttal that other countries cooperate deeply on a whole range of issues – and even manage to avoid going to war with one another – despite not dissolving themselves into continental political union.

Remainers have had every opportunity to realise that they lost the referendum because the values and facts on which they built their case were not the values and facts which mattered most to Leave voters; because their hysterically exaggerated warnings of economic catastrophe had tipped over into the realm of absurdist bullying; because one cannot win an argument about democracy and national identity by shrieking about reduced GDP growth or wailing about the supposed lost opportunities of a privileged and increasingly divergent segment of British society. And yet they have not moved on one inch from the “holding hands beneath a rainbow” crayon portrait of European political union which led them to abject and deserved defeat in June 2016. And these are the people to whose intelligence and expertise we are meant to defer?

Is it clear to you yet that Brexit has become part of a much larger, deepening culture war, with the #FBPE crowd viewing themselves as part of the Tolerant, Open and Educated group (whilst ironically behaving in a most intolerant, illiberal manner toward those in the out-group) facing off against what they consider to be the benighted savages of Brexitland? Because the dripping contempt evident in the typical #FBPE Twitter threads shown above should make it abundantly plain.

If you voted to leave the European Union (and increasingly if you deign to hold any political or cultural position not in full accordance with current progressive identity politics dogma) then the #FBPE, Continuity Remain community do not see you as a fellow citizen with differing political views. They see you as a stupid, backward and dangerous force for evil, someone who might potentially be worth educating out of your reactionary views if you seem like a sufficiently reformable soul but otherwise as someone to be ridiculed, sidelined, excommunicated from polite society and quarantined from the political decision-making process by any means necessary.

They consider you stupid, gullible and prone to influence by shadowy villains. They tell one another behind your back that you are borderline evil, and strongly imply the same to your face. They publicly shake their heads in resignation at your lack of education and intellect, whilst having repeatedly failed to deploy their vaunted intellect to address the genuine issues which prompted the Leave vote, or even admit the legitimacy of those issues. They comport themselves as though they are the magnificent, enlightened, moral centre of the universe, basking in their avowed tolerance while shrieking “gammon!” at anybody who disagrees.

Remainers who eschew the #FBPE moniker, attempting genuine dialogue with Brexiteers – and there are many such people, though regrettably they tend to enjoy a far lower profile than their extremist culture warrior brethren – should be given a respectful audience and deserve full respect as fellow citizens diligently acting according to their conscience.

But the #FBPE collective – they whose delusions of moral and intellectual superiority are belied by their rank bigotry, illiberalism and dogmatic regurgitation of basic pro-EU propaganda – fully deserve the crushing defeat they endured in 2016, and which they now beg to relive.

FBPE - Follow Back Pro EU

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Journalists Buying Fake Twitter Followers, Another Symptom Of Institutional Decay

Journalists buying fake Twitter followers - fraud

Some journalists and political pundits choose to buy artificial Twitter followers because being good at their job matters (and is incentivised) less than appearing like the Next Hot Thing.

I’ll admit it – in earlier years, in my weaker moments as a struggling political writer, I have idly thought about purchasing Twitter followers. But I have not and never will do so, and deplore those in journalism and politics who choose to sell out in this way.

The New York Times recently reported that a company called Devumi was offering dummy Twitter followers (either fabricated individuals or the fruits of identity theft) to those seeking to boost their social media stature for mere cents per follower. A whole swathe of celebrities were implicated (most of whom promptly rolled over and blamed their managers or PR people) but so too were a number of journalists at supposedly respectable outlets of the legacy media.

From the New York Times:

Genuine fame often translates into genuine social media influence, as fans follow and like their favorite movie stars, celebrity chefs and models. But shortcuts are also available: On sites like Social Envy and DIYLikes.com, it takes little more than a credit-card number to buy a huge following on almost any social media platform. Most of these sites offer what they describe as “active” or “organic” followers, never quite stating whether real people are behind them. Once purchased, the followers can be a powerful tool.

“You see a higher follower count, or a higher retweet count, and you assume this person is important, or this tweet was well received,” said Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz, a company that makes search engine optimization software. “As a result, you might be more likely to amplify it, to share it or to follow that person.”

Twitter and Facebook can be similarly influenced. “Social platforms are trying to recommend stuff — and they say, ‘Is the stuff we are recommending popular?’” said Julian Tempelsman, the co-founder of Smyte, a security firm that helps companies combat online abuse, bots and fraud. “Follower counts are one of the factors social media platforms use.”

In some ways, this temptation is just one of many ways that using social media can warp our behaviours and motivations, as Jacob Brogan writes for Slate:

Twitter is a machine designed to generate ugly feelings. Here everything is subject to quantification: the number of people who like the things you tweet, the number who share your words with their own followers, and, perhaps most of all, the number who follow you. If you spend too much time on the platform, those numbers quickly become an index of your own self-worth, and no matter how high they get, they will always be too small.

Purchasing fake followers is thus rather grubby and slightly pathetic, but perhaps still fair game if you are a TV star looking to make a bit more money sending promotional tweets for haemorrhoid cream. But what if the person deceiving the public is somebody whose job it is to inform, educate and tell the truth? Surely then it becomes quite unambiguously wrong?

Well, lots of political journalists clearly don’t think so, according to NBC News:

Big media outlets have embraced Twitter as a distribution platform but still struggle with how reporters and editors use the social media service, particularly when they appear to be breaching journalism ethics.

This sizable gray area came into clearer focus this week, after a New York Times exposé revealed that more than a dozen news media figures had paid to artificially pump up the number of followers they have on Twitter.

Journalists and commentators, who presumably joined the platform to enhance their stature, instead found themselves grasping to explain why they had paid for counterfeit supporters. When contacted by NBC News, the journalists identified by The Times as having bought Twitter followers had a range of responses: Many ducked requests for comment, others blamed associates, while just one sounded chastened.

This practice doesn’t bother me so much when it takes place in other fields; if you’re a mediocre provincial stand-up comedian who wants to pretend you have an audience of half a million eager people hanging on your every word, so be it. Good luck to you. Same if you’re a B-list actress, a celebrity chef, an unremarkable footballer or a giver of lousy TED-style talks about personal development. I expect no realism from such people, and personalities from these fields who choose to over-inflate their popularity do no real harm.

Not so with journalists and political commentators, both those who parade around beneath the banner of the blue-tick Twitter verified logo and those scrambling for the Ultimate Recognition. Political Twitter is a nasty swamp of obnoxiousness at the best of times, but those of us who choose to lurk within it do so in the vague hope of coming across useful information or commentary once in awhile. And since nobody has time to vet every account that crosses one’s timeline to determine whether they deserve a follow or a clickthrough, a quick glance to see whether they have a decent (or at least a baseline) level of followers is a useful first line of due diligence.

Is this person for real? Well, their profile picture is the default egg icon and they have eleven followers. Hmm, probably not going to click that link or believe their sensational “report” about Theresa and Philip May using a ouija board in the Downing Street basement to seek inspiration and advice from Britain’s failed prime ministers of the past (plausible though that one actually sounds).

Buying Twitter followers makes a mockery of what the rest of us are trying to do, and undermines one of the few metrics left for gauging success (financial reward having long since ceased to be either a possibility or a useful indicator). I have a mere 2,500 followers on Twitter. However, unlike the cheaters, I earned my entire following by providing consistently useful or entertaining (intentionally or otherwise) content to my audience. Whether it is links to my blog, links to bloggers in my circle, flagging news articles of interest, engaging in feuds with trolls or writing in-depth threads on a particular topic, around two thousand people care enough about what I have to say to stay tuned on an ongoing basis (I imagine that many of the remaining 500 are either businesses or largely dormant accounts).

A study from 2016 suggested that of those people who had tweeted once within a six month period, their average number of followers was 707. This figure seems a little high to me, as I routinely interact with people whose following/follower figures are only in the double figures – but this may be a function of swimming almost exclusively in the political niche rather than venturing out into the deeper oceans of celebrity Twitter. Anyhow, the study would suggest that anything over 707 is then a pretty good sign, and in lieu of an affirmative action-gifted writing gig for The Spectator I am proud of my 2,500 followers as a sign that my hours in front of the keyboard are not entirely wasted.

Ultimately, all this predictable scandal tells us is what a fraud so much of journalism and political commentary has become. Portentously spewing words into the void of Twitter knowing that most of your audience is actually imaginary can’t bring positive feelings of journalistic pride, since one would be aware of the fraud. All that those followers can do is burnish one’s reputation and make one seem like an important person to get drinks with or be seen talking to at one of the many insufferable events that take place every day in Westminster or Washington, D.C.

And the problem is that for those journalists who buy Twitter followers, that’s just fine. They don’t want to organically build an engaged audience of followers who find what they say to be genuinely insightful. They may not object were it to happen, but actual professional accomplishment is clearly no longer the prize to these people. What they want is the aura of success, to be seen as uniquely knowledgeable, titillating or controversial without putting in the labour to do it themselves.

We see the same thing with many of our politicians. Twenty months on from the EU referendum and the number of MPs who have even a basic grasp of the technical issues relating to trade arising from Brexit can probably be counted on two hands. An even smaller number have paid much thought to the constitutional ramifications and the opportunities and threats to our future governance, if any at all. The most significant political development to happen in Britain in decades, and only a handful of our parliamentarians have bothered to stop spouting slogans from the referendum campaign to actually master the issues at hand.

Why is this? Because sitting down with books and consulting advisers in a spirit of humility and willingness to learn is boring and unsexy. The personal payoff just isn’t there, particularly when one can do so much more for one’s career by bleating an angsty speech about the Evil Tor-ees in the Commons chamber or going viral on social media with a well-timed quip on Question Time. And the only reason that our star journalists – the ones who pull in the big bucks and now get terribly worked up at the thought that their celebrity pay packets might not be “equal” – have not rumbled the politicians and revealed the extent of their ignorance is because much of the legacy media is in an equally benighted state.

The whole reason our politics are currently so dysfunctional is that being good at your actual job is no longer adequately incentivised. Looking good and frantically maintaining all the appropriate outward signs of success and positive momentum are what matters most, not solid work diligently performed in the spirit of self-improvement. That’s why people cut corners and do things like participate in Twitter follower-purchasing frauds – because they believe, often correctly, that the rewards which flow from mastering an issue or having an original idea are far less than those which flow from being on some insufferable “Westminster’s 100 people to watch in 2018” list.

You can write for months or years before establishment journalists (as I did) that the Tories were going on an ideology-free jaunt into political oblivion, or that Jeremy Corbyn ought to be taken seriously because the public responds to conviction and consistency, but it doesn’t matter. You won’t get the slightest credit, because nothing has officially been thought or written until it has come from certain approved sources within the Westminster Bubble. And even within the bubble exists a hierarchy, with all of the attendant temptations to level-up by artificially boosting one’s standing.

And that’s why I never have and never will buy Twitter followers. It represents everything that is rotten, sleazy and stupid about modern politics, and the alarming frequency with which people who shouldn’t be within ten promotions from the top of their respective fields end up prancing around at the pinnacle, lording it over the rest of us (be that the prime minister, whole swathes of Parliament, the editors of several newspapers, numerous television news personalities and various assorted celebrity columnists).

We will never live in a perfect meritocracy, and it is stupid to set unrealistic goals which ignore human nature. But one thing you ought to be able to trust in this day and age is that the Very Serious Journalist with the blue “verified” tick next to their Twitter account name is not perpetrating a fundamental fraud every time they broadcast their news, analysis and opinions.

I earned my Twitter audience, and my follower count rises and falls according to the value I deliver. Anything short of this basic standard of behaviour is akin to selling a used car having first tampered with the odometer. And while social media juicing may not be illegal, we should look upon those who engage in it with the same scorn and distrust one might reserve for a convicted fraudster.

 

Twitter for journalists

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German Politicians, Drunk On Power, Prepare A Fresh Assault On Free Speech

volker-kauder-free-speech-social-media-censorship

German social media users test their leaders’ patience by exercising awkward, unruly free speech at their own peril

German politicians, ever anxious to squash strident criticism of their unilateral and, uh, somewhat controversial decision to expand the population by nearly a million migrants and refugees in the space of a year, are rounding on social media companies to strike another blow on already-constrained freedom of speech in Europe.

From Deutsche Welle:

Volker Kauder, a member of German Chancellor Merkel’s CDU, has said Facebook should pay for failing to remove online hate comments. There has been a surge in xenophobic posts as refugees have arrived over the last year.

Speaking to German magazine “Der Spiegel,” Kauder said: “The time for roundtables is over. I’ve run out of patience.” He said if companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter failed to remove offensive comments within a week of them being posted, they should be penalized with a 50,000 euro ($54,490) fine.

Social media websites needed to rethink their strategy, he said. “Otherwise, I have another suggestion. Cigarette packs always carry a warning that smoking can be dangerous. Why don’t we ask these [social network] providers to carry a warning on their websites, saying: ‘Anyone who communicates here must expect insulting remarks,'” Kauder said.

Kauder also insisted that the justice ministry should demand that the companies submit the IP addresses of people who posted hate messages on social networks.

Because heaven forfend that politicians should have to explain their decisions and win support for their actions (or better yet, follow the will of the people in the first place once in awhile). Far better to simply make it increasingly difficult for people to register their boisterous dissent.

Note the language. Kauder has “run out of patience”, suggesting that free speech in Germany is something granted to citizens at the sufferance of their thin-skinned leaders rather than an inalienable right. And of course that is exactly how it is in Germany, and most of Europe (including Britain). If some jumped-up politician decides that the civil discourse has become too un-civil – or, let’s be realistic too critical of them – then it is perfectly legitimate for them to turn the screws on private companies to shut it down.

Note too the ludicrous “public health” defence creeping into politicians’ language. One interpretation of Kauder’s threat to slap a mandatory trigger warning on the home pages of social networks is that he thinks so little of the German people’s intelligence that he genuinely believes they might currently be unaware that websites where political issues are discussed may contain opinions with which they disagree. That is one interpretation. But the other one (and the correct one in my view) is that it is simply a way of trying to hurt private enterprise for not bending the knee and doing government’s bidding.

Stephen Fuchs of the German-American culture blog German Pulse shares the same suspicions:

Do I think Germany is out of line to expect a level of cooperation to remove highly offensive posts once reported? No, not entirely. Where I begin to disagree though comes when any government starts policing excessively to the point where our outlets for expression become restricted by a set of rules that make any level of opinion a bannable offense.

How long until Germany pushes Facebook to delete any negative comments or opinions about a certain political party or candidate?

Negative remarks about refugees are deemed hate speech in Germany, but what about the negative remarks about Merkel’s refugee policies? Should we expect Facebook or Twitter to delete those immediately as well?

Maybe the government would be better off addressing the real issues that lead to the divisiveness, instead of playing the “you hurt my feelings” game online.

This is why free speech needs to be an absolute and indivisible right. It is a fragile freedom, with the slightest infringement causing a crack which easily grows and fractures our entire right to self expression. And while some (like Fuchs) may find it distasteful, the battle for freedom of speech must be fought at the unpalatable margins. Only by defending the rights of the racist to spew their bile about Syrian refugees can we be confident of preserving the upstanding citizen’s right to criticise German immigration policy without fear or expectation of censorship.

And as German Pulse rightly points out, no one step, no new draconian crackdown on freedom of expression is ever enough – just as one new health warning on cigarettes sugary food is never enough for the public health police. Individuals and companies cede more of their rights and autonomy, and it only ever emboldens the state to demand yet more.

Demanding that social media companies submit the IP addresses of users who post “hateful messages”to the justice ministry suggests that the German government (or at least significant factions within the ruling Christian Democratic Union) aims to become much more proactive in their persecution of thought and speechcrime. Why dream of building a massive database of social media users who type unacceptable keywords or are reported for causing “offence” by their thin-skinned peers unless you plan on unleashing some kind of retribution on them in response?

This is yet another dark day for free speech in Europe, but perhaps there is an upside – Theresa May will be able to find so much common cause with Angela Merkel over their mutual contempt for basic civil liberties that their shared authoritarianism could yet grease the wheels of the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

 

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Top Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Police Should Spend Less Time Persecuting Citizens For Free Speech Offences And More Time Serving Communities

Rome Police - Old Age Loneliness - Questura di Roma

Our police forces should be knitting communities together and keeping them safe, not prancing around in military gear and threatening citizens who dare to express themselves on social media

A heartbreaking (or heartwarming, depending on your perspective) story from Rome forces us to ask stark questions of our own society, the way we treat our elderly compatriots and the proper community role of the police.

From the Evening Standard:

Kindly police officers came to the aid of an elderly Italian couple after neighbours called emergency services when they were heard crying in their apartment – because they were so lonely.

Officers rushed to the flat in the Appio area of Rome after nearby residents heard shouting and crying coming from inside, and found and 84-year-old Jole, and her 94-year-old husband Michele.

The couple said they had not been victims of crime, but were overcome by emotion after watching sad stories on the news.

The pair, who have been married for 70 years, said they had not had visitors for a long time and were very lonely.

While they waiting for an ambulance to arrive to check the couple over, the officers prepared a hot meal.

They then sat down to have a chat while the elderly couple ate the spaghetti with butter and parmesan they had prepared.

More:

The police force said on its Facebook page: “Especially when the city empties and the neighbors are away on holiday, sometimes loneliness dissolves into tears.

“It can happen, as this time, that someone screams so loud from despair that eventually, someone calls the State Police.

“There is not a crime. Jole and Michele are not victims of scams and no thief entered the house – there is no one to save.

“This time, for the boys, there is a more daunting task – two lonely souls who need reassuring.”

Meanwhile, what do our police spend their time doing?

Well, no day is complete without threatening members of the public. Greater Glasgow Police in particular love to ostentatiously warn people that they are lurking on Twitter and Facebook 24/7, ready to pounce the moment anybody posts something deemed the least bit capable of causing offence.

And London’s own wonderful Metropolitan Police also love nothing more than turning up on the doorstep of people who dare to tweet the “wrong” opinions and sentiments, hauling them away to the police station and delivering them to the hands of the criminal justice system.

But never let it be said that the Met Police never leave their comfortable office desks. A new batch of them have recently acquired dystopian-looking, military grade combat uniforms and strutted their stuff before Britain’s news cameras in some kind of perverse authoritarian fashion parade. Ostensibly this new armed response unit is intended to keep us safer from Islamist terror attacks mentally ill people, though doubtless we will soon see the same militarised response to other, less violent incidents too. As is so often when it comes to the militarisation of the police, where America leads, Britain duly follows.

Counter Terrorist Armed Police - London

Meanwhile, communities go unpatrolled and some become no-go areas. Local police, either swamped with paperwork or too busy hounding innocent citizens for daring to exercise their right to free speech online, refuse to show up to cases of reported vandalism or burglary (though they mysteriously appear within minutes if a speech or thoughtcrime is reported by some beady-eyed public collaborator).

And to add insult to injury, we now live in a country where the idea of the police carting you away for something you write on Facebook seems perfectly normal, while the idea of the police coming to cook a meal for a lonely elderly couple is so rare that it makes the news headlines when it happens in another country.

Local Police and Crime Commissioners do not seem to have had much of an effect, though at this early stage it is difficult to be sure whether this is due to a lack of powers, regulatory capture by the police forces they are supposed to control or garden variety incompetence. And so here we are.

Is this the police force that we really want?

Is this the policing strategy that actually knits communities together, making them happier and safer?

Absolutely not. It would be very interesting to see a force-by-force breakdown of the number of police officers, civilian staff and other resources devoted to monitoring and curtailing the free speech rights and other civil liberties of Britons. And then immediately shutting down those statist, authoritarian programmes and diverting all of the freed resources to more worthy causes, like helping to tackle old age loneliness.

We’re not talking about police officers cooking roast dinners instead of catching criminals, but surely it should not be beyond the wit of man for police to act as an intermediary, perhaps connecting isolated elderly couples they come across in their work to suitable neighbours who could check in with them once in a while, or provide much needed regular social visits. The police already work with AgeUK to tackle scam criminals and improve home security. There is no reason why this collaboration could not be greatly extended.

At present, we have a police force of two extremes – small numbers of highly militarised officers, armed to the teeth with every counter-assault weapon one can possibly imagine, and a much larger force who seem unable to respond to garden variety crime in an acceptable way, and who are all too rarely visible on the streets.

If local, county and national government is serious about improving police-community relations, they could do far worse than by immediately ordering a halt to the nasty, frivolous and often arbitrary persecution of individuals on free speech and “hate crime” grounds and diverting those funds and resources to a much more worthy cause – helping to tackle the growing problem of old age loneliness in our society.

 

Postscript: You can donate to Age UK here.

 

Greater Glasgow Police - THINK - Social Media - Police State - Free Speech

Middle Image: BT

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I Will Not Be Intimidated Into Silence By A Mob Capitalising On Tragedy. Sorry.

Ed Rooksby - Twitter Mob - Jo Cox

A quick word before normal business resumes

Anyone wanting to see the dark, ugly side of humanity had only to look at the comments coursing on Twitter last night, following the tragic and senseless murder of the Labour MP for the constituency of Batley and Spen, Jo Cox.

Apparently we are now a country of people who cannot wait six hours without seeking to twist a tragedy into our political advantage; a country where even as the body of the deceased is still warm, some despicable people find a way to make the tragedy about themselves, and to fashion it into a weapon with which to bludgeon their political opponents.

I’m not an idealist, I had a general sense of how things would play out as soon as the awful news was confirmed at the police press conference. But I thought that people might wait at least a day, out of respect, before seeking to capitalise on human tragedy and suffering. I’m not just talking about anonymous people on Twitter. Some of the nation’s leading political commentators piled in on the act – Polly Toynbee and Alex Massie (whom I previously respected) should be utterly ashamed of themselves. I’m sure there are others.

Seeking to use the senseless murder of an MP, of anyone, to smear half the country – young and old, rich and poor, from all social classes and professions, united only by their stance on the EU referendum question – as being somehow vicariously responsible for the act (or for the “mood” of the country, as more slippery columnists put it) is absolutely appalling. I’ve seen some acts of abject intellectual and moral cowardice and assorted low skulduggery during this campaign, but even I was shocked by just how low some people were prepared to go last night.

One of these snarling little Moral Policemen tried to come for me, too. A nasty little oik who had been following me for several weeks on Twitter decided to retweet one of my articles, quote from it very selectively and misleadingly to make it seem as though I had been encouraging violence. Anybody who knows me, or who reads this blog, knows this to be an impossibility. My Twitter accuser certainly knew the truth. But no matter – this “fortunate” murder had given him exactly the opportunity he wanted to slander Brexiteers and make us all collectively, vicariously guilty for the act of a madman.

And for about thirty seconds, this Twitter zealot achieved his goal – he aroused fear. Fear that the mob (and anyone who was on Twitter last night will testify as to the mob mentality present at the time) might pick up on this retweet and run with it. It could have happened. My accuser had over a thousand followers, enough to cause a ripple if seen by the right people. And he had just launched an article of mine, disingenuously and maliciously quoted, into the Twittersphere, where reputations can be ruined in 140 characters but no meaningful defence can be conjured within the same constraints.

I’m a part time blogger, with a day job. In my writing about free speech issues I have seen how peoples’ lives and reputations can be ruined by the mob, usually for no good reason at all – see Justine Sacco. And as I saw my accuser’s tweet sitting out there on the internet for all to see, I did wonder if the mob might come for me. And I thought about the potential consequences of being turned on by the mob. They didn’t – his tweet was lost in an ocean of other, more outrageous tweets, as it turned out. But for a good minute, it gave me pause and grounds for concern about my reputation, even my livelihood.

And this is exactly what certain debased elements of the media, commentariat and the general public wanted to happen. Not just to me, but to everyone who is guilty of the “crime” of believing that Britain would be better off outside the European Union, and who dares to say so in public. The mob wanted to point to the murder of Jo Cox and then at us, drawing a connection where patently none existed, and cow us into silence by accusing us of creating the “mood” which made the attack possible – despite nobody possessing the full facts of the case so soon after the attack.

This wasn’t just antisocial losers on Twitter. Their actions had the cover of “prestige” journalists with platforms in The Guardian and The Spectator. The intelligentsia – members of the supposedly civilised dinner party set – are complicit in trying to stoke up a mob and turn it on people who disagree with them about the forthcoming EU referendum.

Well, I’m sorry, but this blog will not be silenced. Nor will I be told by Twitter trolls or champagne socialists in the Guardian that I am in any way responsible for the toxic “mood” which has come to rest on this country. That mood is entirely the fault of the self-serving elites and their media cheerleaders, who have ignored or belittled those with differing opinions for so long that it has indeed provoked a rage – but a nonviolent one; not the rage which killed Jo Cox.

Nor will I be given moral lectures by people who, in the immediate hours following the tragedy, rushed to their keyboards to make political capital out of a young woman’s death. While Alex Massie and Polly Toynbee were rending their garments and wailing into Twitter about how awful we Brexiteers are, I had an evening of calm reflection and reading – after having lit candles for Jo Cox and her family, and for our country, at my local church. But sure, I’m the bad guy because I write passionately about the EU referendum and Brexit.

These snivelling, sanctimonious Moral Police will do anything to silence dissent. They will erect safe spaces or no platform people they dislike. They will make being “offensive” a criminal charge and imprison people. They will harass, bully and attempt to shame people on social media if they do not at all times say the “correct” thing or espouse the proper opinions. And now, when faced with the death of an MP, young woman and mother, they will wait not even a day before seeking to capitalise on the tragedy and use it to silence their dissenters.

This intimidation will not work on me, and I am determined that it will not work on this country. So bring on the slights, the attempted Twitter shamings and the rest of it, you faceless trolls and important members of the commentariat. Your despicable, tawdry tactics shall not succeed.

 

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