Here is the piece I have written for the Independent to help launch the ‘Put it to the People’ march on March 23. It takes apart the idea that Brexiteers like Johnson, Farage and Rees-Mogg are fighting for the people against the elite. They are the elite. Taking the people for a ride.
Please spread the word about the ‘Put it to the People’ march, and be there on March 23. To sign up go here
— Of the many con tricks that have propelled Brexit from being the fantasy of a few to the reality for the many, the myth that it is a battle won for the people against the elite is right up there with the big fat lie on the big red bus.
It was a project which began on the right wing extremes of the Tory Party; then helped by those too right wing even for that, such as multi-millionaire Jimmy Goldsmith, whose Referendum Party would eventually morph into UKIP, for which Dulwich College-educated City trader Nigel Farage would deploy a beer-swilling, fag-chomping faux man of the people shtick to broaden the appeal, sufficient with Tory rebels to spook Old Etonian David Cameron into calling a referendum; this would provide a platform for Old Etonian Boris Johnson, with the help of the Old Etonian head of crooked Cambridge Analytica, to destroy his old mate from the Bullingdon Club, and amid the fallout pave the way for Old Etonian Jacob Rees-Mogg to become more powerful inside the Tory Party than virtually every Cabinet minister.
There are very few good things to have emerged from Brexit, but I heard of one recently, an Eton’s fund-raiser (charitable status not enough, you know) complaining his job was getting tougher ‘because of the damage to our reputation from Cameron, Johnson and Rees-Mogg.’
With Cameron off the battlefield, Johnson and Rees-Mogg continue in positions of leadership for the Common Man taking on the posh, the rich, the landed gentry, the aristos apparently resisting their efforts. In their St James’s dining clubs and on their weekend shooting retreats, they delve deep into the history they learned at School, and delight in comparing themselves to the central figures of the French Revolution. ‘Let them have cake and eat it,’ as Marie-Antoinette might have said.
The sheer chutzpah of this gilded few pretending to be on the side of what they condescendingly call ‘ordinary people’ underlines the central requirement of the conman … the ability to strike an authentic note whilst appearing to be the opposite of what you actually are. Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Farage, they have all scored well at times on this question of authenticity. Donald Trump, their inspiration, is another who has successfully persuaded some working class people, despite the evidence of previous confidence tricks in business, and the elitist, entitled life that comes from vast inherited wealth, that he is there to help the ordinary Joe.
Unless I read them all very badly, I do not believe any of the above have ‘ordinary working people’ foremost in their minds when they are looking in the shaving mirror of a morning. Trump, a genuine world leader in narcissism, thinks mainly of himself. Johnson thinks of his own political ambitions and personal interests. Rees-Mogg thinks of the next move in the game to deliver the hardest Brexit of all. Farage thinks about how best to drive the betrayal narrative which will keep him centre stage.
That this collection of wealthy, well-connected eccentrics even dare to project themselves as men of the people is only possible because of the support they generate in the media debate. Brexit’s greatest friends have included right-wing billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, non dom Viscount Rothermere, who chairs Mail newspapers, the Barclay Brothers who run the Telegraph from the tax-free delights of Monaco and the Channel Islands, and the Express newspapers and Daily Star.
Editorial writers do not need to be asked what their proprietors may be thinking before happily spewing out the line that Brexit means Brexit, the people voted for it, and the politicians must deliver it come what may, whatever those pesky fantasy elites may say.
In the, frankly, insane debate that this anti-elitist elite has helped to create, business leaders who seek to re-inject sanity are given the full ‘traitor’ treatment, while Digby Jones (not one of Gordon Brown’s better appointments) and Wetherspoons’ Tim Martin can literally spout unintelligible, fact-void nonsense and be hailed by fellow Brextremists as heroes of the working man. Brexit’s one tame economist, Patrick Minford, can admit that it might lead to the death of manufacturing industry and be celebrated for his foresight, and used by the media to balance up the several thousand economists who think Brexit is an act of national suicide. Yet the companies literally making real his warning, by taking their jobs and money elsewhere, are either not patriotic enough, not believing in Brexit hard enough, or fully paid up subscribers to Project Fear. Only James Dyson can escape their wrath because, despite the hypocrisy of a move to Singapore, he still sings the Brexit tune.
Another symptom of the insanity is the attempt to portray the Civil Service as some kind of fifth column. Many civil servants do indeed think Brexit is a disaster. Many who work for the Prime Minister think she is a strange person pursuing a potentially disastrous strategy. But the surprise in recent times has not been Civil Service resistance to Brexit, but the lack of it. The Civil Service is doing its job, advising, but ultimately following the instructions of ministers.
Of course there are MPs, former Prime Ministers, wealthy business people, columnists, academics, celebrities, all of whom can be wrapped up in a ‘metropolitan elite’ insult, who are passionately anti-Brexit and pro a People’s Vote to give people the final say on May’s or any other deal. But, having been involved in the Brexit Resistance pretty much full on since the early hours of June 24, 2016, when I sat in a TV studio alongside a terrified-looking Liam Fox, as it dawned on him they had won and they might have to deliver on their fantasy, it is ‘real people’ not the elite who have most struck me in their determination.
Indeed, if I had a pound for every wealthy businessman I had asked, on hearing their opposition to Brexit, to buy adspace in the New European or donate to the People’s Vote campaign, but who said no, I would have enough to buy the adverts myself. To hear extremely wealthy anti-Brexiteers, possibly in the billionaire status, say no on the grounds that ‘the press might come after me’ or ‘some of my customers might not like it’ prompted the question ‘how rich do you have to be before you stop being scared of bullies or confident enough in your own beliefs?’ At least Tim Martin and James Dyson don’t mind risking the boycott of people like me, and yes, if it’s a Dyson hand dryer in the gents’, the back of the jeans get it. There are exceptions on the Remain side too. Superdry founder Julian Dunkerton will deserve a Resistance medal for the head-above-parapet seven-figure sum he gave to help the People’s Vote campaign with polling. Stoke City owner Peter Coates may come from what has become known as the ‘Brexit capital’ but knows and cares enough about the city to do what he can to stop the place being damaged further.
But the real heroes for me have been the ones who don’t have much, but who are just determined to do what they can. The local groups up and down the country setting up their street stalls and their Brexitometers and just doing what they can to keep hope alive or the @Remainernow team welcoming former Leavers to our side of the debate. The Led By Donkeys team adding gaiety to the nation by putting up posters reminding Brexiteers of their tweeted false claims, hypocrisies and broken promises.The youth groups that have sprung up, like FFS, For Our Future’s Sake and OFOC, Our Future Our Choice, especially its branch in Northern Ireland, the first generation to grow up in conditions of peace, terrified that short memories and dreadful politicians will drag them back. Self-styled EU supergirl Madeleina Kay singing against Brexit; Steve Bray, the man with the big blue top hat outside Parliament day after day, yelling Stop Brexit, at all who pass; both continuing even as a bunch of fascists tried to scare them off. Respect also to groups from the left like Another Europe is Possible who have realised Brexit was, is and will be a project of the right, by the right, for the right.”
The ones that really get to me are the people who just stop me in the street, or write to ask ‘what can I do?’, and of course the answer is not easy, when our political leaders seem hellbent on Brexit happening whatever the costs or the chaos. I always end up urging them to do whatever they can, but it sounds pathetic, and in many ways it is. Write to your MP? Well yes, but what if your MP is John Redwood or Jeremy Corbyn? Join a local group? Ok. Subscribe to the New European? Sign the Independent’s Final Say petition? Yeah, fine. What else?
This is why marches matter. Some of the key moments in the story of the People’s Vote have been the marches. Last June something like 100,000 people turned out and for the first time, I sensed the media taking the calls for a fresh referendum seriously. Marches at the Party conferences helped shape the agenda and, possibly, shift the debate. Then last October, several hundreds of thousands turned out in London, and MPs started to take it seriously too, as did EU leaders. From that day, our centrality to the debate was inarguable.
Since then, not least because Mrs May and Mr Corbyn have been so hostile, also because of the way votes in Parliament have gone, and because ministers have talked the talk on resignation, but with a few exceptions not walked the walk, we have lost altitude.
The new Put It To The People march being announced today can help us get it back. It can show EU leaders, hugely impressed by the October march, that the demand for a People’s Vote remains as strong as ever. It can show MPs there is a massive price to be paid if they knowingly facilitate something so opposed by people, and so likely to damage lives and livelihoods. To all those people asking ‘what can I do?’ it gives them part of the answer. Be there. Bring friends. Bring family. Spread the word.
Campaigning is a mindset. Be a bit mad about it. Don’t take no for an answer. Above all be inspired by the words of the winner of perhaps the greatest campaign of my lifetime, ‘everything is impossible … until we make it happen.’ Nelson Mandela.
March 23. Be there. Let’s put it to the people. What is there to lose, apart from everything you believe in, and everything you thought that Britain stood for?