Tuesday, 19 May 2015

What I learned when I became the Katie Hopkins of the liberal pro-EU left (for a day)

I wrote a short comment piece for the Telegraph on the question of franchise in the forthcoming EU referendum. So far so yawn, right? Except that, I soon discovered, nothing angers Telegraph readers and assorted UKIP trolls more than seeing a slightly unconventional opinion pertaining to something EU-related conveyed by someone with a foreign byline. 

You want to dismiss food banks as a lifestyle choice? Go ahead, be their guest. Offers to machine-gun refugees back to Libya? It's a bit of a laugh, innit?  But try and explain the sense of unfairness felt by many long term UK residents from the EU in being denied a vote in the In/Out poll, which would have a pretty enormous impact on their future, and you'll soon unleash a (misspelled, ungrammatical) zombie apocalypse, my friend. 

The negative reactions fell roughly into three categories: the really dim trolls spluttering with incoherent indignation, the 'aggressive victimhood' outers ("How dare, HOW DARE you scaremonger about EU citizens being deported?"  Er...I didn't. "How dare, HOW DARE you try to subvert democracy with your DEMANDS??" Er..what?), and the righteous whiners ("Well, if you want to vote so much/like this country so much  why don't you become a British citizen, eh? Ehh??" Er...that's what I, like, tried to explain in the piece?). 

So far, so fun and games. No threats or violent language or anything. A light day at the office, really, for any aspiring Katie Hopkins of the liberal, pro-EU left. But on a more serious note, here are some interesting considerations that seem to me to emerge from the strength of the reaction and the nature of the criticism.

First of all the 'aggressive victimhood' outers are spoiling for reasons to cry foul at whatever decision is taken about the running of this Referendum, as a dress rehearsal, one imagines, for the gigantic cry of IT'S NOT FAIR AND IT SHOULDN'T COUNT which would follow a majority vote in favour of staying in. The question, the franchise, the date, these will all be battlegrounds on which they will fight to the death to make sure the vote is skewed as much as possible in favour of a NO answer or they WON'T PLAY ANYMORE and WILL TELL THEIR MUMMIES.

Secondly, most outers of all flavours are absolutely incensed by and terrified at the prospect of non-Brits skewing the result of the vote. I find that fascinating.

Let us assume that by non -Brits they mean just EU citizens (none of my critics had a convincing answer as to why Irish & Commonwealth citizens should be allowed to vote on the Referendum, which, as things stand, they are). Of non Irish EU citizens, only 1.3 to 1.5 million are on the electoral register for the local and European Elections and only a fairly predictable proportion of them would bother to use their vote.  

Even assuming those would then vote en masse in favour of staying would it really be enough to skew the Referendum result? Really? Wouldn't that indicate that, instead of the 'groundswell' of public opinion which is meant to have justified, indeed demanded that the country sets off on this Referendum adventure, support for leaving the EU is in fact a wafer-thin construct, a vocal minority view fanned by a majority of the print media? 

That in turns would mean that Britain will have spent an inward-looking decade tearing itself apart over nothing, whilst all the while haemorrhaging influence in Brussels and clout and visibility in the wider world.(Ooopsie!)

A final observation is that the pro-EU side should perhaps abandon its higher principles, its reliance on reasoned arguments and verifiable facts and stats in favour of a little emotional terrorism and scaremongering of its own. No one else is going to play nice here. 

The pro-EU side could, for instance, mount an emotional case for preventing anyone old enough to have voted in the 1975 Referendum from voting again now, unless 16 and 17 year olds are also given a vote. After all the oldies' own future will not be affected by the result of the vote whilst it will impact disproportionately on 16 and 17 year olds, for better or for worse, for many decades to come. 

At the very least an army of self-involved, whiney teen-agers should be recruited for a loud and proud IT'S NOT FAIR franchise campaign. 

It doesn't hurt ( AND IT'S NOT MY FAULT, ALL RIGHT?) that they tend to also be more pro-European.  Let's show the 'aggressive victimhood' outers that two can play this game. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Gone – and back – in 60 seconds: time to show Farage the door once and for all

Pleased with myself? Moi? 
These are some of the things Nigel Farage, the yeah-but-no-but former/future/actual leader of Ukip (oh do keep up!) likes:

Nigel likes a good piss-up, media attention (not media scrutiny, mind), bantering with sympathetic TV hostesses on Loose Women (‘Oh Nigel, you are terrible!’), rabble-rousing on Question Time, finger-waving his way through simplistic arguments while glossing over what he can’t explain (‘Yes, Nigel, but in what way would we be better off actually losing access to a market of 450 million people?’) .
He likes bashing ‘Brussels’ and ‘Europe’ as it they were evil real people, not monikers for a set of institutions Britain has helped develop and contributes to.
He likes blaming others, EU citizens working and paying tax in the UK for one thing, for almost everything he can think of, including – rather parodically even for him – for making him late to his own fundraiser .
He positively loves banter, a chance to harangue, joke and provoke – it’s all theatre to him, whether it’s claiming that 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians are heading over here or that the NHS is buckling under the cost of caring for foreign HIV patients. Like a sixth-form debater, he doesn’t seem to think real people are affected by what he says, as if not even Nigel could take Nigel completely seriously.
This is what Nigel does not like: turning up for work at the European parliament, sitting through committee meetings, writing reports and voting, despite being having been paid a handsome salary by EU taxpayers for the past 16 years.
He’s also famously pretty averse to justifying how he spends the expenses and allowances the EU gives him, as if EU taxpayers were an inferior subspecies of taxpayers and didn’t in fact very much include, you know, the British taxpayers of South Thanet.
As for professionalising his party – which, with four million votes at the last election represents a not inconsiderable slice of British society – Nigel will have a go, for a bit, if there’s nothing more pressing to do, but he cannot be expected to be on top of every racist, xenophobic or homophobic thing any of his lot says or does as there are only seven non-drinking hours in a day after all. Heck, he can’t even be bothered to think through his own resignation, making Ukip’s most senior female member – and this is a party not famous for hugging women close, at least for non-mating purposes – a laughing stock into the bargain.
But the real joke, as ever, is on the rest of us, the great unwashed, the simple sods who turn up to do the jobs we are paid to do, who don’t spend our working day parodying our very colleagues on YouTube, and who have to keep a very close tab on our stationery receipts lest Pam from accounts gets cross.
A grown-up nation, served by the most sophisticated media in the world, has let this comedic mix of pub bore and Vicky Pollard dictate the terms of reference in the Europe debate. This must stop now, elastic-band resignation notwithstanding.
Britain deserves a grown-up debate about the advantages and drawbacks of its EU membership, conducted in an atmosphere of dialogue and truth-seeking, not bullying, trolling, scapegoating and intimidation.
The coming referendum must be fought with facts and well-researched, calmly relayed arguments, not with name-calling and fisticuffs like a Friday-night pub brawl.
One thing I’ll say for Nigel Farage: it must be exhausting acting like the nation’s sneering Id all of the time. Yes, he does deserve a holiday. I’d drive him to the airport myself but I don’t have a car – any volunteers?
This post was originally published on ProgressOnline