Brexit, they say, has emboldened the hateful. It has given people permission to spout their prejudices, to pollute public life with their weird, rash dislike of anyone who is different to them. And it’s true, Brexit has done this. Only not in the way they think. The most visible hatred in the three months since the EU referendum has been of the Remain variety. It has been demosphobia, a borderline Victorian agitation with the pig-ignorant pleb who is madly trusted with making big political decisions about things like the EU. The hate that’s really been emboldened by Brexit is that old, historic disdain for ordinary people and their allegedly irrational antics.
Since Brexit they’ve been coming out of the woodwork, these emboldened elitists. Consider Bob Geldof. Brexit hasn’t so much caused his halo to slip as to explode into a million pieces. In his latest rant against the dim-witted, Geldof says Brexit voters were cogs in the ‘armies of stupidity’ currently conquering the Western world.
In his keynote speech at the One Young World Summit in Ottawa yesterday, he described Donald Trump as ‘a liar, a fool and a racist [who] vomits his bile on to the disinherited of the United States’, and listed Brexiteers as being among ‘the post-truth politicians, those reality-television actors’ who are corrupting the little people’s minds. They are ‘commanders in the armies of stupidity’, he said, and too many of us — not him, of course, but us — ‘succumb to these fools’. The ‘impatient electorate or distracted populace is loath to accept or acknowledge’ basic political truths, he said, and ‘thus they leave us with fools like Trump or [Boris] Johnson in the UK’.
You can almost smell the snobbery. Don’t be fooled by Sir Bob’s seemingly radical posturing against The Donald or Boris, for it’s the public he really has in his sights: the ‘disinherited’ of the US who allow Trump to ‘vomit his bile’ on to them, and the ‘distracted populace’ of Britain — presumably distracted by TV, tabloids and other shiny things — who have allowed their ‘stupidity’ to be marshalled by the Leave campaign. It’s striking how much Geldof’s language echoes that of the early 20th-century misanthropes John Carey wrote about in The Intellectuals and the Masses. Nietzsche said mass newspapers ‘vomit their bile’ on to the rabble. TS Eliot said the populace was continually distracted by mass entertainment and the popular press, confirming them as a ‘complacent, prejudiced and unthinking mass’. Now Geldof speaks of vomit and bile in relation to the distracted throng, and replaces Eliot’s ‘unthinking mass’ with the even more pejorative term ‘army of stupidity’.
In a sense, though, we should be grateful to Bob. For he has only expressed more openly the prejudices fuelling the Brexitphobia of the political and media class. From Richard Dawkins railing against ‘ignoramuses’ who should not be trusted to vote on ‘highly complex economic and social issues’ to Laurie Penny’s superbly sneering description of Leave voters as being part of a mass ‘frightened, parochial lizard-brain’; from Diane Abbot’s insinuation that the masses behind Brexit harbour dark, ugly views to Forbes’ branding of Brexiteers as ‘low-information voters’ (a PC word for stupid) — everywhere one looks there is hatred, and it’s coming from the supposedly right-on.
The extent to which Brexit emboldened elitist prejudice is clear from Shami Chakrabarti’s plea to Labour members this week not to leave the party. ‘Don’t leave me in a room with Essex Man’, she said. Essex Man, of course, is code for white, working-class, not brilliantly educated, the kind of people Labourites are embarrassed to win support from. Old snobberies, hidden or coded for years, have become explicit since Brexit. Yes, backwardness has been emboldened by Brexit — their backwardness.
The great irony, of course, is that all this emboldened elitism, this post-Brexit ridiculing of anyone who thinks differently to the good, decent Remainer, is precisely why people voted Leave in the first place. A political and cultural establishment thinks of us as an army of stupidity and ignoramuses and lizard-like thinkers, and dreads nothing more than being left in a room with us, and then they wonder why we rejected them and their worldview.