A childish stunt, yes. But this is what happens when the elite turn THEIR backs on democracy: PROFESSOR MATTHEW GOODWIN on the how the reaction to the Brexit Party’s EU protest has only further divided the UK
Something strange happens to groups of people who lose power, particularly when that loss is sudden and unexpected.
The response? To shut their eyes to the truth and resort to conspiracy theories, instead.
This was first spotted in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War by a political philosopher called Richard Hofstadter. He described how a paranoid American Establishment found it easier to blame secret Communists – ‘Reds under the beds’ – than face the truth: that their comfortable pre-war world had been swept away by social change.
So, believing that millions of ordinary Americans must have been manipulated or brainwashed, Establishment figures including Senator Joseph McCarthy started hunting for the secretive, shadowy conspirators behind it all.
The 29 politicians elected in May’s shock election result deliberately turned away as Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was played in the parliamentary building in Strasbourg
Half a century later, it is the turn of Britain’s elite to lose power – and they, too, have been driven to suspicion, exaggeration, and outright fantasy to justify their sense of loss.
Remainers influential in both media and politics have taken comfort in a series of outright fabrications as they try to protect themselves from the cold reality of the Brexit referendum, and the largest democratic majority in the history of the nation.
Indeed, the reaction last week to the childish ‘protest’ of 29 Brexit Party MEPs, who turned their backs during a performance of the EU anthem Ode to Joy in the European Parliament, is the latest example of this hysterical phenomenon.
Of course it was a silly stunt, but the reaction of otherwise intelligent people was telling.
Former Change UK candidate and one-time TV newsman Gavin Esler said the MEPs had ‘shamelessly copied the Nazi Party’, because in 1930 the Nazis turned their back on a Jewish speaker in the Reichstag.
A notable female journalist said the incident had made her cry, while a 1928 Goebbels quote about the Nazis entering the German parliament as ‘enemies’ went viral on Twitter.
We have had three years of these type of hysterical over-the-top reactions, coming from the same unthinking mindset that has seen Leavers dismissed as bigoted idiots who did not know what they voted for.
Insistent that the referendum was somehow invalid, the elite claims that voters were manipulated by Twitter ‘bots’ and Facebook adverts designed by shadowy figures in Silicon Valley and St Petersburg.
Remainers insist that the Referendum result is a misrepresentation, that the true majority now favours staying in Europe after all. And that the consequences of leaving would be catastrophic, of course.
Such voices are as loud as ever on TV and radio – even though, one by one, their conspiracy theories have been exposed for what they are.
Take, for example, the widely promoted suggestion that Leavers did not know what they were voting for. Academics have produced a number of high-quality studies drawing on interviews with tens of thousands of voters.
And the evidence is consistent: Leavers wanted decisions about their lives to be taken in their own country and they wanted to slow the pace of immigration. They knew exactly what they were voting for.
Nor were they ignorant. Cambridge University research has found that Leavers knew just as much about the EU as Remainers when they voted.
Then there is the claim that Brexit voters were somehow bigoted and that the vote has led to an eruption of racism. In fact, racial prejudice has consistently fallen since the 1980s while public concern about immigration has weakened since people voted Leave.
Sir Vince Cable insultingly described Leavers as people who longed for a world ‘where faces were white’. How does this sit with the fact that one in three of Britain’s black and ethnic minority voters swung behind Brexit?
The media coverage has shown us almost nothing of the ethnically diverse towns and cities such as Birmingham, Luton or Slough that voted Leave. Why is that, I wonder?
Remainers like to claim that, three years on, the facts have changed – that there is actually a voting majority for staying in Europe after all. But the most recent poll suggested that with 57 per cent now backing Leave, the Brexit majority has increased.
Boris Johnson is likely to become Prime Minister precisely because – for all his faults – he articulates the overwhelming wish of the British people to see Brexit enacted quickly and cleanly.
Then comes the strangest myth of all: that Facebook and Twitter influenced the vote.
Studies from the universities of California, Berkeley and Swansea say otherwise. Only a very small proportion of tweets were sent by accounts linked to Russia and most of these were posted on June 24, 2016, a day after people had voted. Indeed, some of these accounts urged people to vote Remain.
Another study at the University of Edinburgh found Kremlin-linked accounts sent around 420 tweets about Brexit and ‘mostly after the referendum had taken place’.
To put this in perspective, more than 350,000 tweets are sent every minute. When you bear in mind that a mere one per cent of people identify Twitter as the source they rely on for accurate news, the whole shoddy thesis falls apart.
Why, then, have such far-fetched claims been given such currency?
The Brexit Party topped the polls at the May 23 election, returning 29 MEPs on a dark day for the Tories and Labour, who both lost seats
The answer is that Britain’s liberal Establishment cannot accept that 17.4 million people had good reasons to shake up the status quo.
This elite rejects the idea of popular sovereignty – that the Government’s legitimacy comes from the people and that it is the people who have the final say.
So perhaps the current impasse was inevitable: the Brexit vote was the first time in Britain’s long history when a majority outside Parliament formally asked for something that the majority inside Parliament did not want to give.
We don’t yet know how the Brexit story will end but it is clear that our country is polarised and looks set to stay that way. This is not least because influential Remainers have made it clear they do not take the Leave vote seriously.
Meanwhile, the past three years have made it abundantly clear that those in power have little interest in the lives of the ordinary voters.
While many in the land of Remainia continue to hunt down the non-existent smoking gun, Brexiteers are looking at the bigger picture – and in alarm.
They see a Eurozone that is stagnating economically and EU institutions which are unaccountable.
They see populists and fascists running riot across Europe; they see EU nations bitterly divided over how to redistribute resources fairly or how to manage vast flows of refugees; they look at an increasingly unstable North Africa and wonder what this means for the future.
They wonder why Remainers do not talk about any of this.
Instead, they hear Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, attacking people who ‘are in love with their own countries’ and ask: why do elites struggle to feel pride in their nations?
It is no wonder that we face rampant populism across Europe and the real risk of a meltdown in the British political system.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party has been leading in recent polls. We could easily face a General Election this year, yet the paranoid, conspiracy-obsessed Remainers refuse to accept that they are pushing us towards catastrophe.
The Brexit vote was not about self-interest nor the pursuit of money, even if these things seem to obsess the Remainers.
People voted to Leave because they do not want to subordinate their community to distant EU institutions. They do not want to sacrifice their way of life on the altar of globalisation.
Most people want a bit more economic and cultural security. They expect big business to play by the rules but also want to slow the pace of immigration.
Yes, foreign workers must be treated fairly, but newcomers should be expected to integrate.
They welcome free trade but want greater control over the decisions that affect their lives.
If the next Tory leader respects Leavers and taps into these concerns, then they will smash Jeremy Corbyn at the ballot box.
But those who persist in blocking the democratic will of the nation should be very careful what they wish for.
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