Hello, 2017. You look awfully familiar.

Hello, 2017. You look awfully familiar.

Hello, again. This blog has been dormant for six months, because after the British referendum on membership of the European Union I really couldn’t be bothered to write for no money in a medium I had always despised. During the referendum campaign it was all hands on deck and, frustrated by living in Amsterdam, well away from the thick of it, I felt I had to do my bit. But when the dust settled into parliamentary and legal wrangling the thousands of us volunteer foot-soldiers, each of whom had made a tiny but cumulative difference to the result, were needed no more. I thought about springing to the keyboard now and again, but the great hanging Why? sapped my enthusiasm. I packed it in by default.

So why do I write again now, on New Year’s Eve? The answer is quotidian and trivial. It is not because I am an indentured hack obliged to write something original about 2016 for readers who either don’t give a monkey’s or are so sad and bitter that they will use up a fraction of their copious free time in vicious trolling. I write now because my children are whiling away the dead hours before our neighbours start the street-party by watching films and playing Pokemon Go, I’ve done all the washing-up and laundry, set up all the weird gifted foreign booze we want to get rid of for random guests and prepared the fire in the hearth, and my wife is watching a documentary on her phone because I’m coming down with the flu and I’m rotten company. Later I shall be rotten company for the neighbours, but meanwhile I shall be rotten company for you.

What with one national newspaper firing everyone who was public school and Oxbridge out of chippy spite, and becoming a semi-literate laughing-stock as a result, and another changing to magazine format and thereby reducing my weekly space to resignation-inducing uselessness, I am now effectively a retired journalist, but 2016 has made me grateful. Oh, how I would have hated, in the past week, to have had to bang out, under the contractual lash, some screed of pompous tosh about What It All Means! 

And yet I feel a pang of regret. We are told that we have entered a ‘post-truth’ age, that the facts and figures and stats we read in the press can no longer be trusted. But I never had any truck with facts and figures and stats in the first place. True, it was an attitude that affected detrimentally the class of my degree, but it made me a journalist way ahead of his time. My work was always pure opinion, unsullied by contentious citation. I took an Aristotelian view, that in the absence of proof as to what might be (and ffs have certainly never been proof), we do not speculate but merely observe what is. Though I might have got that wrong. I can’t be bothered to look it up.

Anyway, here’s my take on 2016. It was the year in which people started using the lazy tag ‘virtue-signalling’, the verb ‘to channel’ in a sense whose precise meaning, if it has one, I still can’t infer, and also started beginning sentences, especially in answer to a question, with the word ‘so’, a device that simultaneously patronises the questioner and betrays insecurity in the respondent. This last is especially pernicious for being so catchy, like the moronic ‘up-talk’ to which so many fell prey through watching Australian soaps in the 1980s. That’s it.

Oh, Brexit and Trump? That great What It All Means thing? I’ll tell you what it means, my friends. It means bugger-all, that’s what it means. Sure, if you go for the line that the white working class seems to be in rebellion against its smug, anti-democratic masters you can spin some kind of comforting Marxist all-embracing analysis out of it, and you can stick with a broad sweep of history that lets you off having to look at the detail. But if you have some knowledge of political history, and some affection for the principle that elections are lost, not won, it all gets a bit messy. 

The American election result was narrow, and decided in Trump’s favour by Clinton’s popular vote being too locally concentrated for her to win through the electoral college system. This was the failure of the Democratic Party in blindly nominating its darling bully in spite of her record as Secretary of State being disastrously compromised in the eyes of the public. If she hadn’t used a private server for official business she would have won by a landslide; but if she’d just remembered to tip a waitress in New York State some years ago she would still have won narrowly. Trump won his nomination because so many electors fell for the line ‘He tells it like it is’, a line that had the best chance of flying against the haunted Clinton. And it worked, just. What follows is all about power and diplomacy, both within his administration and in the wider world, as always.

Clearly David Cameron would not have called a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU unless he thought he was going to win it for the Remain side. The trouble was that what motivated his campaign was not a belief in the virtue of EU membership (which neither he nor any of his inner circle ever truly held), but in the principle that referendums (correct English plural, by the way) are only useful when the Establishment side wins. The one we had recently on our electoral system is barely remembered, and quite right, too. But for the underdog to win triggers a whole new popular interest in democracy that forces the hierarchy to start from scratch, and who knows what might happen then? Much too dangerous.

And yet Cameron’s defeat and resignation resulted in a soggy centre-right government, worlds away from the threats of extremism so many European countries now face, or as so many of the American people fear they face. Just as in 1789, 1848, 1919, 1945 and 1968, when revolution was in the wind Britain put the popular voice centre-stage instead of trying to suppress it, and moderation prevailed. It’s not down to some kind of natural superiority, it’s just the way the accidents of our history have made us. We’re very lucky that way.

Now, look at those three glib paragraphs and tell me what connects Trump’s election with Brexit, let alone with the imminent presidency of Marine Le Pen in France, or the rise of Five Stars in Italy. It boils down to an enduring democratic principle: lose the trust of the electorate, and you lose the election. It’s not new, and it’s not rocket science. But try to go deeper than that and you might as well be trying to work out why, say,  Croatia and Germany both voted for Spain in a Eurovision Song Contest. There is no grand movement, only constant shifts of power and competence. It’s the same old game. Happy Same Year.

Don’t call me names, you spoilt, whining little brats.

Don’t call me names, you spoilt, whining little brats.

This referendum has been a revelation. Until last week I thought of myself as a pretty bright, highly educated, middle-aged, middle-class professional with an above-average grasp of European history and contemporary politics, and a devoted family man who gets on with pretty much everyone regardless of ethnic or social origin. But then I voted Leave; and it quickly became clear, from Facebook, Twitter and The Times, that I am in fact a geriatric racist moron who doesn’t care about his children. More worrying still, there seem to be nearly 17.5 million of me in the UK alone, all of us itching to make the 16 million Remainers  stop fidgetting at the table and call the police if they see a foreigner in the post office.

That’s silly, of course – they’d be lucky if they saw a post office – but I’ll come back to that caricature. Meanwhile, here’s why I voted Leave, reactionary bigot as I apparently am.

I voted Leave for the democratic and commercial salvation of Britain and Europe. The current aim of the EU project, often shamelessly but revealingly articulated by the President of the Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, is a super-nation called Europe, run by an elite from the top down with no democratic accountability. It has already failed all its first tests – in reacting with blinkered cowardice to a bloody crisis in the Balkans that had to be resolved by NATO, in forcing into existence a fraudulently confected Eurozone, some of whose members were unable to survive a global down-turn, in thereby creating unsustainable debt and unnecessary levels of youth unemployment in the poorest parts of the Community, and in regulating every industry you can name to the benefit of big corporations that can afford to abide by its needless rules in order to squash competition from small enterprise; and the levelling of competitive advantage within the EU – through the new State Aid rules – will make its rich members, like Britain and the Netherlands, poor, while keeping its already poor members on the breadline. It has also grotesquely mismanaged the Syrian refugee crisis, to the detriment of the refugees themselves, let alone its member states – but that’s what happens when you try to run a continent by committee, with a grand plan that takes no account of the unforeseen. And the people who are responsible for all this incompetence, these betrayals of the original ideals of the EC, are not an elected government, and cannot be sacked by popular vote. That is a repudiation of 2500 years of gradual European democratic civilisation that started – oh, gosh – in Athens.

But the heads of government in the EU who acquiesce in the maintenance of this “pooling of sovereignty”, this bureaucratic oligarchy, and who can be sacked by popular vote, are now facing a huge problem, and this is the main reason I voted Leave. Czarist Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire learnt the hard way what happens when you ignore the popular voice of protest. Because of the EU’s naked hatred of democracy there are now movements gaining ground all across Europe against its very existence, most of them accruing popular legitimacy for the far-right (though Five Stars in Italy are virtually hippies). And they are currently occupying the moral high ground vis-a-vis the Eurocrats by establishing their legitimacy entirely through the ballot-box. This is a huge problem, and the EU has been in denial about it for decades.

The Brexit vote was the biggest kick up the arse to European heads of government that could be effected in the current set-up. And Britain did it through main-stream politics – oh, you might think bits of Nigel Farage are too indigestible even for the leopards, but he’s no Nick Griffin (remember him?), or even Marine Le Pen, whose offers of support and coalition he wisely and nobly refused. I live in the Netherlands, and I wouldn’t breathe the same air as Geert Wilders. But Britain has always been different from the major players and destroyers of continental Europe, because its elected masters have always listened to the popular voice, at least to the extent of averting revolution, and keeping the ideal of parliamentary democracy alive. I voted Leave because I want Europe’s heads of government to wake up and smell a coffee brewed by a people with no taste for discord or extremism. I don’t want Europe to fall again into the hands of populist anarchy followed by dictatorship. I want peace and co-operation in Europe. That’s why I voted Leave.

There are many people of about my age and education, even of my long experience in politics and journalism, who looked at all the same things and arrived at a different conclusion; the EU will listen, it will adjust, revolution will be averted through the commonsense of its politicians, there’s no need to make a fuss, and meanwhile we must maintain a progressive project that has repudiated cross-border hostility.  OK. We disagree. And they know as well as I do that there were always far too many variables in this debate for any prediction about the long-term consequences of one result or the other to be anything but guess-work. We voted on educated instinct. But these are not the people who are currently indulging in infantile and hysterical abuse of those who voted Leave through social media. Neither are the people worried about their jobs, who voted Remain for their different reasons, and whose personal circumstances informed their vote, as they should, and with whose motivation one cannot honourably argue. A lot of people voted Leave through concern for their livelihood and their care for their families, as well. 

No, the abuse seems to be coming from two neighbouring quarters; those who work in the arts, and those whose social aspirations involve the unconditional support of artists. The former have grown dependent – with the cynical complicity of successive UK governments, by the way – on EU grants that are part of the loathesome system whereby the EU bribes us for our loyalty with our own money. But it’s our artists’ job to provide us with escapes from reality, or an entertaining take on it, and many of them do it outstandingly. You can’t expect them to understand real, practical politics as well. To adapt Spinal Tap, it’s not their job to be less confused than us. 

The latter and much larger group, however, have something to answer for, and here we return to the caricature outlined above. It is as though they were the child of solid, working-class parents who deferred to them in their 20s because they were the first in the family to go to a university, and thought they knew everything; but then, when a question is put, their parents chuck their weight around and outvote them, while they themselves have failed not only to inculcate their own children with a scepticism of received opinion, but also with the sense of civic responsibility that would make them vote.  I said “it is as though…” but actually that is literally true of countless thousands of them.

And that’s why they’re so angry and abusive now. Remainers who understand the constitutional process and have some knowledge of why our democracy works are now shrugging off their defeat and working with their Brexiteer friends to resolve the outcome of the referendum to the general, long-term good. It’s the skin-deep, under-educated middle class, the people who thought they’d squared the circle by voting for Blair, who just accepted the European project as progressive and never looked at the fine print, who hated the country in which they were told to stop fidgetting at the table and don’t want it back, who are now squirting poison through the childrens’ toys that are social media at anyone who might have thought beyond the liberal nostrums. The bigger the motor-cycle, the shorter the penis, and the more hateful the abuse, the less the intellectual process behind it.

But anyway, you angry Remainers who think cosmopolitan liberalism will now be on the back foot, that Mary Whitehouse and Lord Longford will rise from the grave and ban sex and foul language on TV, that membership of the Scouts and Girl Guides will be compulsory in all our schools, landladies will again be posting “No Blacks” in their windows and old-age pensioners will regularly beat gays to death with their walking-sticks in the street – because you haven’t got a clue about how British liberalism and democracy have evolved over the past fifty years – just think about whom you should blame. It’s not us, who voted to save Europe from Soviet stagnation followed by populist fascism. If you really wanted an unaccountable European superstate, here’s whom you should blame for its being stopped in its tracks:

In third place, Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. He could have swung a Remain vote in Britain, just by responding to Cameron’s last plea to let him renegotiate on the back of a substantial but minority Brexit vote. Instead Juncker ripped up Cameron’s last card by saying No.  Democracy just isn’t his bag.

Runner-up, Jeremy Corbyn, a life-long opponent of the European project, because of its aim of creating a super-power super-state that favours multi-nationals and could squash workers’ rights and have the power to start World War Three – until about six months ago, when his party’s pro – EU stance convinced him that all of that engaged only – according to him –  a quarter to a third of his barely divisible brain. 

But the top prize goes to George Osborne, for instructing his officials to produce the gloomiest forecast they could possibly confect – the first time that had happened in their careers – and then threatening an austerity budget if Britain voted Leave. Nobody believed him, and he has now done the inevitable U-turn. It was a transparent act of desperation for Project Fear, when the Chancellor of the world’s 5th largest economy should have been saying that the UK economy was strong, Brexit would take at least two years of negotiation, there would be no immediate change, so there’s no need to panic. That would have arrested the distrust of establishment politicians that is fuelling populism all over Europe. Instead he issued a self-fulfilling prophecy of market turmoil – mercifully short-lived, as it happens – that has only encouraged anti-EU sentiment and ended his career.

These are the people you spoilt, petulant Remainers should be trolling, if you must; but of course that would require a basic understanding of politics, and you’ve never had the need or the curiosity to acquire that. But clearly you also never learnt that abuse is rude, and that nice people don’t do it. I suggest you blame your parents.