Why is everyone so chilled out about the threats to Brexit? Why isn’t there more public fury over the plotting of lords and academics and experts to stymie Brexit and thwart the will of 17.4m people? In all the years I’ve been writing about politics, I cannot remember a time when democracy has been treated with as much disgust, with as much naked, Victorian-era elitism, as it is being today. And yet we’re all bizarrely mellow. We’re going about our business as if everything is normal, as if the elites aren’t right now, this very minute, in revolt against the people. We need to wake up.
Every day brings fresh news of the revolt of the elite, of the march of the neo-reactionaries against the mandate of the masses. At the weekend it was revealed that Brexit might not happen until 2019, because David Davis and Liam Fox can’t get their departments in order, the amateurs. The lovers of the EU and loathers of the blob could barely contain their glee. March for Europe, a celeb-backed, media-cheered chattering-class outfit agitated by the throng and the dumb decision it made on 23 June, spied an opportunity to do over Brexit entirely. ‘[W]e can help delay Brexit further and ultimately defeat it altogether,’ it said yesterday. ‘We can win this.’
‘We can win this.’ The ‘we’ they’re talking about is a minority view, backed by the likes of Bob Geldof, Owen Jones and Jarvis Cocker, yes, but by only 10,000 people on Facebook. And the thing they think they can win is the overthrow of the largest democratic mandate in British history. Can we ditch the euphemisms, please? Can we stop referring to these pro-EU groups and sad-eyed marchers for Brussels as progressives simply trying to keep Britain open and cosmo? Because in reality this is a nasty, elitist political strain, driven by an urge to silence the ignorant people.
At the same time, a gang of peers is plotting to hold up Brexit. Led by Patience Wheatcroft (if you do titles, which I don’t, she is Baroness Wheatcroft of Blackheath, though of course not one soul in Blackheath ever voted for her), these ‘several dozen’ peers want to delay the enactment of Brexit, or what some of us call the people’s will, in the hope of bringing about a second referendum. A chance for us ignorant plebs to redeem ourselves and give the right answer. One of these peers, former Labour MP Oona King, now Baroness King of Bow (‘What?’, asks everyone in Bow), says she wants to ‘scrutinise’ the decision made by ‘the British people’ and ‘bring more facts to their attention’. Turns out the neo-aristocrats are a lot like the old aristocrats, fancying themselves as better placed than the little people to decide the fate of the nation.
Professors are joining the revolt of the elite, too. AC Grayling, the bouffanted atheist, has called on MPs not to support triggering Article 50 because Brexit was a ‘decision by crowd acclamation’ and ‘rule by crowd acclamation is a very poor method of government’. Dumb crowds. Other academics are threatening to quit Britain if something isn’t done about Brexit / the people. As one report puts it, ‘A rising tide of xenophobia [where?] and anti-intellectualism [ie. we’re stupid] following the Brexit vote is making academics think of leaving the country and discouraging others from applying for jobs here.’ What a temper tantrum. The people voted for something we don’t like, so we’re off! And they accuse the electorate of behaving like children.
Then there’s the business class. Sections of it are pumping money into the revolt of the elite. Richard Branson wants a second referendum. The law firm Mishcon de Reya is representing various ‘business interests’ — ie. very rich people — who want to prevent the triggering of Article 50. One of those business interests — Gina Miller, an investment manager — says the people ‘have been fooled’ and now we need ‘better-informed debate’ and another vote. Normally the left would be up in arms at the sight of wealthy folks using their clout to slow down democratic sentiment. Not this time, though, because most of what now passes for the left — from the Guardian to the supposedly liberal expert set — is totally on board with the revolt of the elite, with this polite putsch, with this open war on what the people want.
Among the political class, both Tim Farron and Owen Smith – leader and aspiring leader of oppositional parties – say they will prevent Brexit or call a second referendum. Seeking electoral support by promising to stifle the electorate’s loud, democratic cry of just two months ago? It’s an interesting approach, I’ll give them that. It’s also deeply, irritatingly anti-democratic.
It has to stop. We’re witnessing an explicit use of power and influence to overthrow, or at least water down, the say of the people. It is an outrage. And it’s being made worse by the uselessness of Theresa May’s cabinet, whose constant pushing back of triggering Article 50 gives the impression that it’s a scary, difficult thing to do (which it isn’t) and in the process inflames the anti-democratic ambitions of the new elites. We need to get real, and fast. Not only is Brexit at stake — so is democracy itself. Earlier generations took to the streets to roar against less ugly elitist campaigns than the one we’re currently living through. So why aren’t we on the streets protesting? I’m serious. They might have money and titles and newspaper columns, but we have the masses on our side. Let’s remind them of that.