19 December 2019
By Lynda Goetz
So, to the huge relief of some and the frustration and sadness of others, Boris made it; not just scraped in, but made it with a substantial majority. For those of us who wanted and believed in Brexit, this is as exciting as the time in June 2016 when Leave voters exceeded Remain voters and there was a majority vote to Leave.
Since that time we have been faced with endless prevarications, obstacles, gloomy prognostications and downright obstruction from those in the other camp; not only those whingeing and carping members of the public who wanted a second Referendum, rather weirdly called a ‘People’s Vote (as if the people hadn’t already voted), and who insisted on sharing that fact on Facebook and elsewhere, but those in public office, or who used to be in public office, who patronisingly felt that the wrong choice had been made and that it was their duty to put us all right and make us fearful of the consequences of our choice. Parties and MPs who had initially agreed to support the outcome of the Referendum and voted to pass Article 50, then put everything they could think of in the way of us leaving the EU (not Europe, by the way, that is different, we happily remain part of that). As a result of last Thursday’s outcome, we can now look forward to the next few years in a positive spirit and in the fervent hope that it will be nothing like the last few.
The twenty teens will almost certainly go down in history as a difficult time in all sorts of ways, not only for this country but for the world. Following the Global Financial Crisis the government of this country decided that what was needed to bring us all back from the brink, economically at least, was ‘austerity’. With the aim of balancing the books and reducing debt, levels of investment in infrastructure and public services were cut back, leading to cases of hardship and widespread disillusion in some quarters, with many blaming it all on ‘Tory cuts’. It is a tribute to Boris Johnson (and his team) that in spite of this, swathes of traditional Labour areas of the country voted to put his Conservative party back in power – properly, in a way which means they can get things done and not just Brexit. As both politicians and pundits have recognised, this puts an onus on this new Tory government to repay the voters, particularly those in the North, for their victory.
However, the bitterness and divisions which have arisen as a result of both austerity and the referendum may not be easily healed. In spite of Boris Johnson’s words on the steps of Downing Street, healing and reconciliation maybe harder to achieve than some hope. The spirit of the age appears to be against it. Jeremy Corbyn has refused to take any blame for his part in the Labour party’s defeat in the election, in spite of the evidence from the doorstep. Perhaps this is right. After all, he stood up for beliefs he has held all his political life. As a letter-writer to The Telegraph pointed out, the people who should be apologising are ‘the Labour Party members who voted him in knowing his Marxist views, which the people of this country could never swallow’. Boris’s pleas for healing certainly seem to be falling on deaf ears in this case; Corbyn has already told Labour MPs to vote against the PM’s Withdrawal Bill.
Likewise, it appears that hard line Remainers are already trying to mobilise supporters to campaign for Britain to rejoin the EU. According to an article in Saturday’s Telegraph, ‘dozens of Facebook and Twitter groups are being set up around the country to galvanise a grass roots Rejoin movement’. It is really rather sad that these people are already assuming that leaving will be a disaster and that they should start long-term planning to rejoin. Why on earth do they not put their obvious energies into helping to make Brexit work? Mike Galsworthy, who set up Scientists 4EU wrote on Twitter: “The majority of people will have voted for pro-People’s Vote parties. Brexit may have a parliamentary majority now, but it has a popular minority. Poll after poll shows a popular preference for Remain. That’s a huge community to work with. We must focus on building up our communities all over the UK. First thing to do is just know we have huge community of local pro-EU groups on social media.”
The support which he was given following this post illustrates the echo chamber nature of social media, not to mention the unpleasantness and intolerant thinking which seems to be so prevalent on Twitter. Does he really believe that Brexit ‘has a popular minority’? What evidence is ever going to persuade people like him that their argument does not have majority favour? This sort of delusional thinking bears remarkable similarities to the current general intolerance of minority groups towards those who do not share their views, whether these be about trans children, gay marriage, obesity, Islamophobia or indeed many other subjects.
Yesterday (Wednesday) it was reported in the media that an academic, who has been studying the impact of bullying on high IQ individuals, warned that words such as ‘nerd’, ‘geek’, brain-box’ and ‘egg-head’ should be categorised in the same way as homophobic, racial and religious slurs under UK hate speech legislation. Apart from the fact that the criminalisation of speech in a country which supposedly values free speech is already highly questionable, any expansion of this almost entirely subjective legislation should be robustly contested.
It is, thank goodness, hard to imagine that a PM like Boris Johnson (who only a year ago argued in his column in The Daily Telegraph that “We need to fight, gently, for free speech. We need a campaign for the right to make jokes and the right, within the law, to be satirical to the point of causing mild offence; because it is when you endlessly shush people up, and stifle debate, that extremism flourishes”) would be persuaded to extend hate speech legislation. Let us hope that his tolerant, liberal views (not, please note, his ‘extreme right-wing views’ as those on the left insist on categorising them) will become more prevalent in the decade on which we are about to embark, because it really is time that we left behind the very intolerant views, which, in the name of tolerance, have characterised the last decade (or more).