Theresa will tame the trolls

Theresa will tame the trolls

Two and a half rather news-packed weeks after the British referendum, those innocent, educated middle-class souls who posted their considered decision to vote Leave on Facebook, thinking that this would elicit only friendly banter that was just a bit more interesting than usual, are still getting hysterical, loathing-loaded tirades from their so-called friends who voted Remain. This teaches us something about social media, those cynical exploitations of social alienation in a global society, that let people pretend they are still “in touch” with college friends who have made their lives on different continents. That works as long as they only exchange trivia; but, as soon as something as big as Brexit comes up, they realise they have grown apart, and that there will never be a substitute for a long Faceface session over the booze. Late night chats cement friendships; friendships that are kept alive only by a novel toy are doomed to shatter under stress. Some people still hand-write letters to people they care about, but a personal email will do. If the friend isn’t worth even that, they are effectively discarded and lost – at least until the next face-to-face meeting.

Obvious as this should always have been, it doesn’t account for the sheer abusive heat of the correspondence – if you can call it that – from angry Remainers still attempting to grab the lion’s share of an infinite space. For that we have to dig much deeper. And it doesn’t surprise me in the least, because I’ve seen it before.

In 1979 the default liberal middle-class position was broadly that James Callaghan’s government was a disaster, but that we needed a new Harold Wilson to redress the balance of power between Parliament and the unions in order to restore British civil society while we managed the country’s inevitable post-imperial collapse into insignificance. It was simply a matter of which songs we should sing while we waited for the fire to go out. To elect a Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher – Monetarism! Water-cannon! – was just vile and unthinkable. She believed in a can-do self-reliance, in a devil-take-the-hindmost push for resurgent prosperity and pride and power, that directly threatened the smug and intellectually lazy who were doing just fine in the midst of spiraling debt and inflation. The point was that they considered themselves the enlightened voice of their generation, sneering comfortably at the thrifty jingoism of their parents. And when Thatcher won the election they felt that the national mood had turned against them, against their progressive, soft internationalist stance, against the future itself.

But, of course, they didn’t turn their anger on the working-class voters who had mostly effected this revolution, for it was then an article of faith that these were merely the misguided salt of the earth, let down and alienated by their union bosses (whereas now the working class, hurt by the undercutting of EU labourers, can be vilified as racist scum – how progressive!); instead they abused their middle-class peers who had finally swung it. There was no Facebook, indeed no internet in those days, so it was all in the pub, across the garden fence, and, then as now, in the Guardian. But it was the same rage, of the comfortably ignorant progressives unable to justify in defeat a stance they’d never had to think about, that we are seeing now.

In the years following the 1979 election there was a great deal of pain before Britain boomed again, and a lot of “I told you so” from the apostles of genteel decline. But there can surely be nobody now, unless keeping the company of flat-earthers, who argues that we would all have been better off if Thatcher had lost that election (or either of the subsequent two). The truth is that the alternative, of continued Labour government and recession turning to depression, would have been far, far worse. 

And so it is now. The pain is already looking like it will be very short-lived – so the trolls might have to eat their words rather sooner – but the alternative was a Britain locked into a unifying European project intent on making rich nations poorer in order to keep poor nations poor but within the holy Eurozone, while weakening national parliaments and thereby blindly encouraging extremism. When we look at Europe 35 years from now, it will be either at a collection of prosperous sovereign nations that heeded our warning, or at an economic wasteland recovering from multiple revolutions. We are right to leave the EU, just as we were right to vote for Thatcher in 1979.

But, although Theresa May has long been braced for cheap and easy comparisons from the press were she to become PM, she is no Thatcher, and by that I certainly do not mean that she lacks Thatcher’s steel or command of purpose. Those she has in spades. But this is not 1979; she benefits from Thatcher’s legacy in that the meat-head Left, who have taken over the Labour leadership with still enduring support from major unions, are nowhere near a resurgence to their position of 40 years ago. Most Labour MPs are desperately looking for ways to save their party and their jobs, while the half a million – tops- who actually support the stance of the bumbling idiot they currently have as Labour leader will shortly disappear into fragmented little agit-prop cells, ignored by all, just as they did through the late ‘8Os. 

No, Theresa’s task is not to confront and divide and win, but to unify her party and her country and effect a civilised and beneficial withdrawal from the EU. She is no enthusiast for that institution, or for Britain’s involvement in it. As Home Secretary she was hampered a-plenty by the creeping effect of the primacy of EU over UK law, and will rejoice in its reversal. She was a “reluctant Remainer” because her office demanded support of a fragile government that needed continuity, especially in security, in difficult times; and if there was an element of calculation in that, of positioning herself as the unifying successor to David Cameron, I applaud her for it. We need a clever, experienced politician to get us out of the EU in good order and keep Labour stumbling on its back foot. And now that the party of government is breathing a sigh of relief at an end to its vicious divisions, and unifying behind her, perhaps all those Facebook grand-standers can shut up as well.

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.