By MARCUS STEAD
THE ONGOING sulk-a-thon by a small but vocal minority of Remain supporters who refuse to accept the result of a referendum that took place 15 months ago shows no sign of abating.
Last Saturday, ‘The People’s March for Europe’ consisting of between 10,000-15,000 Remoaners took a route through central London before a rally in Parliament Square.
Organisers claimed that as the march progressed, numbers swelled to 50,000, though police have not verified these figures, and it does strike me as rather odd that passers-by would abandon their shopping or sightseeing to follow a march that ended with speeches by such nonentities as Lib Dem leader ‘Sir’ Vince Cable (who could easily be mistaken for the late comedy actor Ken Campbell) and his almost-entirely forgotten colleague ‘Sir’ Ed Davey.
Going by the pictures, the marchers appeared to consist of the usual suspects – ageing university lecturer types in corduroy jackets and white beards, and the middle class, brainwashed, precious students who attend their lectures. Both these demographics are all too often guilty of a ‘we know what’s best for you’ attitude.
More significantly, later that day, the Last Night of the Proms took place at the Royal Albert Hall. An organisation named ‘EU Flags Proms Team’ spent £4,000 to hand out twice as many EU flags as it did at the same event last year.
A spokesman for the group told The Telegraph: “During the Age of Enlightenment Mozart, Handel and Bach all lived and worked for part of their lives in London.
“Presumably under the Brexit dark ages, they would not be welcome. What an appalling backward step for our country.”
This is a grossly stupid statement and stinks of the sort of cheap opportunism we have become all too accustomed to from the Remoaners. Of course talented musicians from EU countries will be welcome in London post-Brexit. Equally, we will continue to welcome musicians from non-EU countries to the Proms such as Switzerland and Norway.
These anti-Brexit campaigners know full well that the EU and Europe are not the same thing, but it suits their agenda nicely to parody those who wish to leave the EU to be anti-foreigner. One of their main demagogues, James O’Brien, uses his daily three-hour radio show on LBC to routinely and relentlessly smear Leave supporters as racists and xenophobes rather than rational people with legitimate concerns about the lack of democratic accountability in the EU, immigration controls and a wish to form trade deals with growing markets around the world.
The ‘EU Flags Proms Team’ was at least partly successful in turning the Royal Albert Hall into a sea of blue and yellow, on the night of the year when two months of niche Prom concerts barely noticed by the vast majority of the population concludes with half an hour of patriotic singing on prime time BBC One.
There’s no scientific way of telling what the demographic make-up of the Royal Albert Hall was on Saturday evening, but there were a few clues. Firstly, and most obviously, the only non-white faces I spotted all night were those of the performers. The audience, both seated and standing, was overwhelmingly white. Remember, the Royal Albert Hall is located in the heart of what is probably the most racially-diverse city in the world.
Secondly, that hideous high-pitched laugh of the theatre-going intellectual could clearly be heard when the conductor made twee jokes. I can’t prove that there weren’t many bricklayers, bin men, cleaners or market traders in the audience, but it’s a fairly safe bet that most of those present were from the metropolitan professional classes, with a heavy bias towards the public sector, especially the universities sector.
A short walk away at Hyde Park, where the concert was simulcast on big screens, there were few, if any EU flags to be seen among the assembled thousands who had gathered on a chilly September evening to participate in a patriotic sing-song free of charge.
Shortly before the traditional fare of ‘Rule Brittania’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ came a rendition of ‘Surbaya Johnny’ from Kurt Weill’s unsuccessful, short-lived play ‘Happy End’.
The lyrics to ‘Surabaya Johnny’ were written by the Marxist poet, playwright and theatre director Bertolt Brecht. One of his works was the poem, ‘Die Lösung‘ (The Uprising) about the uprising of 1953 in East Germany. It was written in mid-1953, but it criticised of the government and wasn’t published until 1959 in the West German newspaper, ‘Die Welt‘. It goes:
After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
I’ve heard it said that Marxist training never goes to waste, and the sentiments of Brecht’s poem certainly appeared to mirror the attitude of quite a few Labour MPs.
In the months after the referendum, David Lammy would frequently go off on Twitter rants saying that ‘we’ (by which he meant ‘Parliament’) can block this ‘madness’ (by which he meant the democratically-expressed will of 17.4 million people, a larger number than had voted for any government in any of our lifetimes).
A similar attitude appeared to exist among the EU flag wavers in the Royal Albert Hall with their, ‘never mind democracy, we know what’s best for you’ attitude. While watching the concert, my mind was cast back exactly 363 days to one of the strangest experiences I have had in two decades of political campaigning.
My local MP, Stephen Doughty (Labour), invited me to a discussion titled, ‘Brexit Implications for Cardiff South and Penarth’. For those of you who do not know the constituency, it is the seat of former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, and consists former dockland areas housing some of the oldest black and Muslim communities in the UK, pockets of both working and middle class districts, and the town of Penarth, which is broadly considered to be rather well-off and affluent.
I had no idea what format the meeting would take. It was held in a Greek Cypriot community facility in the old docklands, right in the heart of the poorest part of the constituency. Yet of the 12 people present, I was the only one not from Penarth, there were no non-white people present, and I’m fairly certain I was the only one not to be a card-carrying Labour member.
What became abundantly clear early on was that this meeting was going to be 11 against one. Despite there being only two per cent in the referendum vote, and despite the meeting taking place in possibly the most ethnically-diverse community in the UK, I was the only Brexit supporter present. I suspect Doughty was careful with whom he invited to the meeting.
Doughty opened proceedings by saying that the purpose of this meeting was to gauge local opinion so that he could be guided as to how to act in the vote on triggering Article 50, which was still some months away.
The meeting began with about half an hour of general points, after which we were split into two groups for smaller-scale discussions. The ‘other’ group was chaired by Doughty himself, while the group I was a part of was chaired by his researcher, Tom Hoyles.
The overall tone of the entire meeting was, frankly, dreadful. I am not saying that everyone who hails from Penarth is a snob with an unjustified sense of superiority, but there’s certainly a strong element who are. Most of those present fitted into that category. They were generally older, and had strong connections to the universities sector, either as lecturers, researchers or fellow travellers in some way.
I can recall a few specific remarks. One woman talked about how it was ‘vital’ that the UK stayed in the Single Market. I calmly asked her to tell us what the Single Market actually was. She could not do so.
I helped her out by stating that the ‘Single Market’ actually has no specific legal meaning. It really means “single regulatory regime”. Membership of the Single Market doesn’t mean the right to buy and sell in the EU (pretty much the entire world can do that); it means accepting EU jurisdiction over your domestic technical standards.
She responded by looking down her nose at me and asking, “And how do you know?” (For what it’s worth, I have a 2:1 degree in Politics and Communication Studies from the University of Liverpool, I am a professional journalist and, aged 33, I have two decades of political campaigning behind me).
This was followed by people expressing concerns that their son Tarquin won’t get his research grant into the impact of climate change on soil in West Rutland (or something like that). I responded by pointing out that the UK is a net contributor to the EU, no matter which set of figures you choose to believe, so the UK government could continue to fund all these projects and still have money left over.
Whether funding all these grants is a worthwhile use of public money is another question, and I think fear of a democratically-elected UK government concluding that the money could be used for more worthwhile purposes was what really motivated their concerns.
They then moved on to how Tarquin might struggle to go travelling in his ‘gap yah’ due to visa restrictions.
I reminded them that in reality, visa requirements to many European countries were lifted decades before the UK joined the EEC in 1973. Visa restrictions for travel to France, Sweden Belgium and the Netherlands were lifted in 1947, for Italy, 1948, and Austria followed suit in 1955.
Today, UK passport holders can travel to a vast array of countries both inside and outside the EU without a visa, from Argentina to Singapore to South Africa. It is utterly absurd to say that British people will require a visa to visit European countries beyond 2019, though I completely respect the rights of European nations to put restrictions on middle class British youngsters on ‘gap yahs’ from treating their countries like playgrounds and helping themselves to jobs that should really be the preserve of the country’s own young people.
They then tried playing the ‘it was only an advisory referendum’ card. I responded by reminding them that a few weeks before the referendum, the government sent a lengthy booklet to every household in the country that included the statement, “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
I also made it clear that the 17.4 million people who voted ‘Leave’ were not giving their MPs some friendly advice, they were giving them a firm instruction. Failure to follow this instruction would undermine democracy itself and would risk serious civil unrest. These 17.4 million people were not going to crawl away quietly, nor were the millions of Remain supporters who graciously accepted the result.
Then they tried playing the ‘people didn’t know what they were voting for’ card, but quoting that ‘£300 million per week for the NHS’ figure that the official Leave campaign quoted. The obvious response to that was that the Leave campaign was not a government, or even a political party, they were merely making the point that the money was theoretically available (the true figure is closer to £220 million, but the basic point still stands).
Furthermore, I do not really believe that the ‘£300 million’ quote really changed many minds. I also pointed out the Remain campaign’s absurd ‘Project Fear’, spearheaded by George Osborne, Mark Carney, and their big hero, the all-singing, all-dancing, all-smirking ‘cool dude’, President Barack Obama, who made that menacing ‘back of the queue’ threat to what is supposedly the USA’s biggest ally.
Which brought us on to their next argument that post-Brexit, ‘no-one will trade with us and no-one will be our friend’. Obama’s threat was brought up again. I calmly pointed out that whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump won the upcoming election, Barack Obama would not be in the White House either when Article 50 was triggered, or when Brexit negotiations took place.
I am not a fan of Donald Trump and would not have voted for him, but, unlike his predecessor, President Trump respects the democratic will of the British people and is ready and willing to enter into trade talks.
On top of that, I reminded our friends from Penarth that the EU sells more to us than we sell to them, and it would be absurd to pretend that it wouldn’t be in their interests to trade with us on favourable terms.
One woman remarked that Parliament had ‘far more important things to do’ than to ‘waste time’ on Brexit. To me, that just showed the contempt she had for the clearly-expressed concerns of her fellow voters, especially those who feel that the EU, and globalism, isn’t working for them. Not that I expect she invites any such people to her dinner parties, so this meeting was a chance for her to hear, from me, views she is seldom exposed to in real life.
Throughout the meeting, I was patronised in various ways. They spouted the clichés about how I was ‘destroying my own future’ and I was repeatedly addressed as ‘young man’.
What did not get discussed much were the real reasons people voted for Brexit – a desire for a return to proper Parliamentary democracy, the ability to elect and remove those who make decisions that affect our lives, the supremacy of UK courts over foreign ones, a desire for sensible controls on immigration, the ability to form trade deals with the wider world, with countries with growing economies and expanding populations, and the ability to have a genuinely independent foreign policy, free from the clutches of Mr Juncker’s proposed EU army and unnecessary hostility towards Russia and Iran.
In summary, I believe that those present were mainly members of the higher education sector who wanted to protect their own interests, even at the expense of democracy, along with a few easily-manipulated types who had bought in to ‘Project Fear’.
I would give myself an eight out of ten for the way I handled that meeting. It concluded with me making a few remarks about the importance of avoiding extreme language and personal insults, as there had been an utterly poisonous atmosphere in the country for some months, and I was also aware that Doughty was close to the murdered MP, Jo Cox. But I do not believe for one second that Doughty was remotely interested in our opinions.
Doughty is one of those types who followed the ‘classic’ route into politics for a modern-day career politician. He did the politicians’ degree of ‘Philosophy, Politics and Economics’ at Oxford, after which he became an advisor to Labour MP Douglas Alexander.
He tried to get the Labour nomination for the safe seat of Pontypridd in 2010, but lost out to Owen Smith, and had to wait until 2012 for his chance to become an MP, when Alun Michael stood down as member for Cardiff South and Penarth. Mr Michael had known Doughty ‘since he was a baby’, and worked behind the scenes to help his nomination. At 32, Doughty was an MP.
Doughty has all the personal characteristics of a young, career politician. I’ve mixed in these circles on occasion, and, regardless of party, young men like this have certain traits in common. With very little life or ‘real world’ experience, they nearly always have older, male mentors, and have a false sincerity about them that leads to little old ladies saying, “Isn’t he a nice young man?”
By scratching the surface, we soon see that Doughty is not as ‘nice’ as he first seems. His voting record on unwise use of military force is particularly shoddy, in that he supported action to aid the militant Islamist Al-Nusra Front against President Assad’s regime in Syria, and has voted against investigations into the Iraq War of 2003.
Doughty was at his most dirty and underhand, when, in January 2016, he made his intentions to resign from Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench team known to the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, who in turn arranged for him to resign live on air on the Daily Politics programme, rather than by the usual means of sending a letter to the party leader.
Prior to the House of Commons vote on triggering Article 50 in March this year, I tweeted Doughty to say that I would consider standing against him at the next election if he betrayed the expressed will of the people by voting against it. Doughty replied by accusing me of ‘threatening’ him, clearly not understanding how ‘democracy’ works. The election came far sooner than anyone anticipated at the time, and I ended up supporting the Conservative candidate, Bill Rees, who I thought had the best chance of defeating Doughty in a fairly safe Labour seat.
In the run-up to the election, I asked Doughty on THREE separate occasions on Twitter whether he would take the Corbyn whip and be loyal to his leader if Labour won enough seats to form the next government. After the third occasion, Doughty blocked me.
We have only had one further interaction in the months since. On 9 July, a debate was taking place on the Facebook page of the Cardiff Coal Exchange, a spectacular, beautiful building that had been allowed fall into a dangerous, derelict state over the last ten years, before being spectacularly revived into a hotel and conference centre by the Liverpool entrepreneur Lawrence Kenwright, beginning in late 2016. The building has now been restored to its former glory and is being run in a commercially sustainable way.
Doughty was opposed to the redevelopment for unfathomable reasons. He seemed to want to put bureaucratic obstacles in Mr Kenwright’s way. I have included screenshots from the interaction that followed. It looks to me as though Doughty was throwing one of his characteristic hissy fits.
Of course, Doughty is far from the only Labour MP who thinks he has the right to override the expressed will of the people because ‘he knows best’. Earlier this week, Doughty, his friend Chris Bryant and David Lammy were among many Labour MPs who feigned concern for workers’ rights as a pretext for trying to block the European Union Withdrawal Bill, while knowing full well that the so-called ‘Henry VIII Powers’ will only be used for very specific purposes, which I outlined on this website last week. Doughty and co’s real agenda was to at best frustrate and at worst block the Brexit process, something they know full well.
How long will it be before voters in Labour heartlands wake up and smell the coffee? With a handful of notable exceptions, the vast majority of Labour MPs think the decision taken to leave the EU by millions of working class people is something to be patronised, ignored, watered down and preferably reversed in the long term.
The sentiments expressed in Brecht’s poem were probably intended as an early attempt at satire, but they seem to reflect the mentality of most Labour MPs, who think their own opinions are superior to those of their constituents. When will voters in the Labour heartlands realise that the party to which they give their unwavering loyalty treats them with utter contempt?