In my lifetime, I cannot remember any thing or idea or person getting as bad a press as Brexit has. It’s relentless. It’s not daily — it’s hourly, minutely, by the second. Open a newspaper, switch on the radio, browse the web, and there it is: more Brexit-fear, more predictions of economic calamity and national decline if we continue down this course dumbly mapped out for us by the electorate. It’s exhausting to read; heaven knows what it must be like to write it! I fear for the sanity of the Brexit Doom hack.
No doubt reporters and columnists will say they’re doing their job and reporting uncomfortable facts. But to me — and, I imagine, to many people outside of the media bubble — it smacks of the politics of fear. It has the whiff of that almost malarial instinct in the modern media for whipping up panic about social trends or groups of people. Dread is the currency of our age. Whether they’re warning of ‘weather of mass destruction’ or fretting over some animal-derived flu pandemic or losing the plot over chavs, football hooligans or paedos, the 21st-century media love playing the fear card. The Great Brexit Panic follows in that fashion, with knobs on.
Worse, this minute-by-minute handwringing over Brexit exposes the gaping chasm that now separates media opinion from public opinion. I say this with a heavy heart. I would like the British media to be in tune with public sentiment; to know and understand public concerns, to engage and connect with the people of the land. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Or it happens less and less. Never has this once noble profession of observing and commenting on the world felt so insulated from — and so disdainful of — the passions and beliefs of the populace.
So while Brexit-fear becomes a staple of the 24-hour news roll, the engine to a thousand think-pieces, out there, beyond the bubble, people still want Brexit. They believe in Brexit. Polls continually show that the vast majority of Leave voters would vote Leave again. Last week, the National Centre for Social Research found that Leavers are feeling more pessimistic about Britain getting a good deal — not surprisingly — but it also said there is no ‘consistent evidence’ that opinion has ‘shifted towards a softer Brexit’. Two months ago, YouGov found 52 per cent of people think Brexit should go ahead, and only 14 per cent think it should be abandoned. And this morning, a new YouGov/Times poll reports that a majority think there should be no second referendum.
The disparity of opinion between much of the media and ordinary people is simply enormous. On one side we have a near constant panic over Brexit, and on the other we have people saying: ‘Brexit is good. Please give us this break from Brussels we voted for 18 months ago.’
Times columnist Caitlin Moran unwittingly spoke to this spectacular rift when she said last week: ‘Is there a separate media bubble which is all good news about Brexit? Because I’m definitely in the one where it looks like a total fucking shambles.’ This is a serious problem: much of the media is now so ensconced in a Brexitshambles bubble, in which Brexit is treated singularly and often narrowly as a Bad Thing, that they risk losing the ability to countenance other ways of thinking. Or to allow for the possibility that they might be wrong. And when you no longer allow for the possibility that you might be wrong, you lose all incentive to critical thought. Why engage with others or doubt yourself if you just know you are right and if everyone in your self-described bubble tells you you are right? It is so dangerous; it marks the potential death of the very things that make the media important — engagement, debate, reflection.
I am with those people outside the bubble, that majority of Britons that voted for Brexit and still want Brexit. I don’t think Remainers are bad people: some of my best friends are Remainers! And I don’t think Brexit will be a smooth ride — how could it be when so many aspects of British political, legal and economic life are entangled with the Brussels bureaucracy? Of course this split will be difficult. No, I’m still behind Brexit, I still love Brexit, because I think it represents probably the greatest democratic blow against technocracy and for popular sovereignty of the past 50 years. It is in keeping with the cry of every democratic movement in British history: that people must have the right to consent to those institutions that make the laws they live by. It was rebellious, independent-minded, and living proof that people are happy to defy the establishment when they think it is wrong. It was a reassertion of public belief in political alternatives, in change, in taking a risk.
This is the good news about Brexit. And it is really, really good news! Why do we not hear it more often?