Storylines In Review

[2018 Blog Posts cont'd]
The Evolving 'Brexit' Storyline
-An evolving real-world political ‘storyline’ is being dramatised in various ways.

History, they say, is not so much made as written. That is, events happen and then they are worked into a narrative. And this should be a themed interpretation; the distinguished historian Sir Arnold Toynbee once complained too much written history was ‘just one damn thing after another.’ Recently, news commentators have been remarking after some development such as a surprise electoral outcome, “Well, it’s history in the making.”
'Brexit', Britain’s move to exit the EU, has caused more comment of this type than any political event in recent memory. In politics, the name of the game of winning elections is to establish a dominant narrative; in this case, the narrative being fought over is in regard to the Britain’s June 2016 EU Referendum, which went 52/48 ‘Leave.’

The contrary forces, dubbed Remainers or Remoaners want a 2nd Referendum they believe will overturn the first one, which they regard as a political aberration caused by malign forces. But who or what caused this ‘aberration’? And who were these malign forces? Therein lie our evolving storylines…. In terms of our standard film storylines, both sides obviously see themselves as popular champions, with the other side's cause a dangerous conspiracy based on a 'faustian pact'.
(If you don’t recognise the title format we’re using for our 4 conspiracy-theory scenarios below, it’s based on a famous headline claim by The Sun newspaper that it ‘won’ the 1992 Election for the Tories: “It's The Sun Wot Won It", which is now a standard format for other unprovable attempts to take electoral credit.
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The main parties relied on phone and internet surveys to profile types of voter, which provided comforting headlines during the campaign, but ultimately with self-defeating results.


Background: Anyone reading this not familiar with the British voting system should understand that a regular General Election changes little: at most the two main parties just swap roles for a while; the defeated gov’t party continues to be paid, now as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and the civil service carries on as before. The former Opposition now in Government rarely overturns their predecessor’s legislation by tacit gentleman’s agreement. In recent years, neither main party has been able to achieve a working majority, and so relies on referenda or plebiscites to ‘decide’ contentious issues which might divide their party and their majority further. They announce ‘The people must decide’ and then openly campaign to defeat any change, saying it would be a bad idea.
The last Parliament set up 3 referenda: one on changing the voting system to proportional representation [held May 2011], one on Scottish independence [held Sep 2014] and one on leaving the EU [held June 2016]. In no case did the Government and their allies in the banking system etc want any actual change, and they dominated each campaign debate. The first 2 votes went their way, and they evidently assumed the status quo would be comfortably upheld in the 3rd … with the result the entire British Establishment went into shock the next day, from which they have not yet recovered. The PM promptly resigned and the Conservatives had to find a new leader, as did the Opposition Labour Party.
Both successors, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, further shocked their own parties by saying the will of the people must be respected. The EU Referendum Bill had come with a Briefing Paper saying nothing would change either way, as it was merely ‘advisory’, and it had passed in June 2015 with no amendments. None of the claims now being made that the vote was unconstitutional, illegal etc were raised at the time.
It was an instance of, as Sherlock Holmes would say, the Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night. The parliamentary watchdogs, the Opposition and the House of Lords, did not bark any more than the fictional one did. In the Sherlock Holmes story, the watchdog did not bark as it knew the people leading the prize racehorse away to be nobbled to fix the upcoming race. In this case, the contest was also meant to be fixed, but as in the Holmes story, this was bungled.
An EU Referendum was originally announced by arch-Remainer Tony Blair as PM in 2006, who abandoned the idea when a couple of other member states [France and Holland] held referenda which backed secession. It was then campaigned for by another arch-Remainer, the LibDem leader Sir Nick Clegg [author of the manual How To Stop Brexit], in 2008. Both leaders wanted to pave the way for the UK abandoning its currency in favour of the Euro. David Cameron’s Conservative government was split on the issue, and he announced the referendum would be held after the next Election – which pollsters had told him he would lose. But the pollsters were wrong and Labour lost by such a margin that their leader, Ed Miliband, quit, left the country and grew a beard to avoid recognition.
Cameron had said that in the event of a Leave vote he would activate Article 50 immediately, and now was left with no options. A referendum can be set aside if there is insufficient turnout, as was done in the 1978 referendum on a Scottish Parliament, which carried but did not meet the 40% turnout specified. This one could have been defeated if a 'supermajority' figure of say 65% had been specified as to vote share [not just 52%], or a similar figure of 75% had been specified re turnout, this being ‘only’ 72.2% in the event. The fine print could also have specified a framework, created by an amendment to the Bill, which would have made ‘Brexit’ in practice impossible to achieve. But there was no such amendment, though the civil service are past masters at this sort of obfuscation – as the BBC’s 80s political sitcom Yes Minister and its sequel Yes Prime Minister showed. (And little seems to have changed since then. I have the collected scripts by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, in paperback.)
The official EU leaving instrument, Article 50 of the EU constitution act, could have specified no member could leave without completing negotiations re practical arrangements (as in a regular divorce). Drafting it was given to another arch-Remainer, a Scottish peer who claims we need EU workers as Brits are so useless, who added no such clause: now any member leaves the EU automatically 2 years after filing an Article 50 notice, unless both sides want to continue. (The peer in question says in his defence - typical of Remainer overconfidence - he never expected it to be actually used.)
It became obvious that to Establishment figures any result but Remain was, to quote the catchline of the fatally overconfident court advisor in The Princess Bride, "Inconceivable!" I suspect Laurel & Hardy's catchphrase "Another fine mess you've gotten us into" is now in use behind the scenes.)

Scenario #1 – It Was UKIP Wot Won It

Nigel Farage, onetime UK Independence Party leader and now an MEP [Member Of The European Parliament], has repeatedly tried to take credit for the referendum outcome. This is arguable as [a] the Party is so unpopular it has no elected MPs and [b] he was kept out of the official Vote.Leave campaign on grounds of ‘the Farage paradox’ – ‘that when Ukip rose in the polls, support for leaving the EU did the opposite.’ Instead he and his backer the millionaire Arron Banks, who regards the EU as a "closed shop for bankrupt countries", with membership "like having a first class ticket on the Titanic", set up a rival campaign called Leave.EU. Their various shenanigans, documented in Banks’s own book The Bad Boys Of Brexit; Tales Of Mischief, Mayhem And Guerrilla Warfare In The EU Referendum Campaign, are to be the basis of a six-part tv drama serial, told from the viewpoint of their US advisor, pollster Gerry Gunster. Gunster will be the “respected US expert being employed to control these British lunatics in the referendum. It naturally descends into farce - but they win against all odds“. The publisher says screenwriters have been hired to script The Bad Boys Of Brexit, with £60m from an unnamed Hollywood studio.  
However the Aug 2017 announcement Kevin Spacey would play the lead role of the US advisor seems unlikely now. Benedict Cumberbatch’s name has also been mentioned, though this was probably to play Farage, though Farage announced he wanted to play himself. He became known in the US for his attempts to cosy up to Donald Trump, presenting himself as a sort of British ‘ambassador’ on a US-UK trade deal. The British government was having none of it, Farage being persona non grata in Whitehall terms. He’s also accused of inciting racial hatred and having ‘blood on his hands’ over violent xenophobic incidents. Though there has never been any evidence to charge him, he has been physically attacked and says he can no longer walk safely down the street. Those who helped finance UKIP or Brexit have also had death threats from a group calling itself The Real 48%. Any idea that The Bad Boys Of Brexit could be a comedy seems misplaced.   

   
 
Scenario #2 – It Was Nasty OAPs Wot Won It
In 2010, the LibDem party gained power in a coalition with the Conservatives, but in 2011 there were student riots over their turnaround in backing university fees, and in the 2015 election they dwindled from 57 MPs down to 8. Since then, the LibDems have been trying to restore their cred with young voters by campaigning against older voters as selfish class traitors, proposing their universal entitlement to bus passes and winter heating allowances be taken away from them. When the shock referendum result was announced, older voters were quickly blamed in the press, some columnists even suggesting 'grandma' had done it deliberately to spite their children’s future. The new LibDem leader Sir Vince Cable, calls OAPs ‘Brexit jihadis’ ie terrorists, whose only interest is destroying Britain’s future out of fanaticism. This blaming old age pensioners as a scapegoat group quickly caught on as a meme on social media, cf image right, from the day after the referendum.

In a secret ballot framework, there is of course no way to determine who voted which way, but the youngest demographic slice of the electorate has a notoriously low rate of voter registration. Since household registrations ended in favour of individual ones, millions have been living ‘off the grid’ by still using their parental home address, thus avoiding council tax, tv-license tax, etc. If the ‘age’ theory is correct, the Remain side could have lost up to 4.8 million votes this way. This would mean Remain had, and has, no hope of winning. Former LibDem leader Sir Nick Clegg however has announced his own version of what we might call the final solution here: hold another referendum in a couple of years, and by then so many OAPs will have died of old age that Remain will easily win. He says it’s ‘a small matter’ of 650,000 dying. (He seems to have split the difference between the Leave and Remain votes, ie 17.4M v 16.1M = 1.3M/2 = 650,000.) Leaving aside the dubious maths, the oldest demographic group, those about to die this year or next, are less likely to have voted at all in 2016, due to medical conditions such as dementia and lack of physical mobility. Clegg has also argued that votes by younger voters should be counted twice, to give them more say.
There is also a ‘voter age cap’ movement to stop older people who do survive (called ‘coffin dodgers’ on social media) voting in future, on the grounds they are selfish and ‘have no stake in the future’ (grandchildren?). Britain’s most famous broadcaster has argued voting rights should simply be cut off at age 55 along with future pension benefits [see screengrab above right]. The argument is that the ‘Sixties Generation’ of baby boomers had it easy and didn’t lift a finger in protest at austerity (introduced as a policy in 2010), and now need to suffer by having the vote taken away from them along with their benefits. As those age 55 would not have even been adults in the Sixties [55 in 2018 = born 1963-], the Remain agenda lurking behind this ‘laying a guilt trip’ [to use the 60s phrase] is evident. Remainers are claiming their human rights have been violated because they were ‘citizens of 28 EU countries’, and are being robbed of this status. (The EU’s ‘freedom of movement’ is conditional and does not equate even to citizenship eligibility, as a few wannabe ‘Brexiles’ have already discovered the hard way when they tried to take out e.g. Belgian citizenship to remain in the EU.)
No film or tv dramas have been announced using this scenario, which is not surprising. The ‘generational guilt’ concept could backfire on the young. The reality is the 52% pro-Brexit vote happened because not enough Remain supporters – who claim to be the electoral majority - actually turned out to vote. And failure to register at your current address makes you legally a tax dodger. As to future film dramas, I doubt even Ken Loach would tackle this issue.
(Loach has just been sacked as director of Labour's party political broadcast films, after saying any Labour MPs joining in an antisemitism protest should be deselected.)
Scenario #3 – It Was Thickos Wot Won It

This popular Establishment scenario postulates that everyone who voted the ‘wrong’ way ie for Brexit is by definition a type who should not be allowed to dictate public policy. They are described as thugs, fascists, neanderthals, swivel-eyed loons, etc. It’s assumed that every thug ranting at others on a bus must be a typical Brexit voter, though there’s no evidence these people vote at all.
Accompanying this is the claim that the Brexit vote led to a spike in hate crimes, as the outcome emboldened racist thugs. The murder of MP Jo Cox by a Scots neonazi with mental health problems is often cited here, though in fact it happened before the vote. The ‘spike’ is true in the sense that the police and gov’t only began recording these crimes recently, using a website where anyone could file a complaint on any grounds. The actual biggest rise in such crime related to politics is probably the attempts to incite hatred against OAPs, but this is not officially classed as a hate crime. The antisemitism in the ranks of Labour activists which currently threatens to split the party is longstanding and can scarcely be attributed to Brexit. The counter-thrust idea that any anti-EU sentiment is ‘racism’ implies Europeans are a different race, and the EU (a bureaucracy) is consistently treated as identical to Europe (a geographical area). For example, Sir David Attenborough says the referendum was an 'abrogation of democracy' as the public isn’t ‘wise’ enough to be given a vote on such matters, and as a result we’ve ‘spat in Europe’s face,’ (He’s also suggested Trump be assassinated – some Remainers regard both his election and Brexit as dangerous populism which must be stopped by any means necessary.)

The underlying argument is that the people who voted Leave must have been fooled by politicians’ lies as they are so vacuous, so empty headed they are completely gullible, and need to be treated like children as they are not responsible adults. (“Boris puts a lie on the side of a bus and millions of course just flock to that.”) Referring to every political argument they don’t like as ‘lies’, Remain supporters claim the referendum is invalid because it was ‘all based on lies.’ This is a meme pushed over and over; there is of course no evidence any so-called lies made any difference to the outcome. Remainer arguments are not similarly treated, such as Obama’s claim that Brexit Britain would be ‘at the back of the queue’ for any trade deals. (The day after the referendum, he sent his envoy Sen Kerry over to urge Britain to make an immediate trade agreement with the US.)
The companion argument is that they are morally as well as mentally unfit to decide. Brexit voters are also compared on protest placards and social media to “the 17 million who voted for Hitler.” (The idea the Nazis were democratically elected is of course a travesty of history, but it’s a meme pushed for years by the American Nazi party when they attempt to gain recognition as a ‘legitimate’ party, and now uncritically adopted by Remainers.)

One tv series in the works following the ‘Brexit voters are thick’ scenario is a yet-untitled BBC series starring Steve Coogan playing his signature character, the thick-headed DJ Alan Partridge (who is famously wrong about everything). He is now reinvented as a supporter of not just Brexit but ‘hard Brexit.’ Coogan: “He’s a Brexiteer because the Daily Mail told him to be." (The Mail came out for Brexit 2 days before the referendum. Coogan himself is a leading activist for state press controls.) This is the underlying assumption, that anyone who votes the wrong way [a] cannot think for themselves, and hence must [b] have been told how to vote by 'wrong uns'. (Some remainers have said they have been driven almost mad by the vote, and are suffering from what they call Brexit Derangement Syndrome or BDS.)
While the Partridge spinoff series clearly cannot envision it, there is certainly a rich vein of dramatic irony here for a set of characters belonging to the political elite, who claim to be clever enough to be able to read the minds of the stupid voters and thus know their voting motives, and to have the power to predict the future (ie Brexit = disaster) but didn’t see the referendum outcome - the biggest vote in British history - coming.
Scenario #4 – It Was Dirty Tech Tricks Wot Won It

This is the latest scenario, and the one getting the most media coverage in the MSM, as it piggybacks on the Facebook data harvesting scandal which is not only in the headlines but is the subject of a parliamentary Select Committee hearing into the possible misuse of data and ‘fake news’ in political campaigning.

However desperate [see left], this has excited anti-Brexit legal campaigners who over the past year or so have brought action after action in the courts to halt the Brexit process. The premise of the current, ongoing action is that Leave campaign groups somehow colluded using the now notorious firm Cambridge Analytica for data harvesting, and thereby obtained ‘informational dominance’ over govt-backed Remain. The same argument is being made in the US where CA claims it handled Trump’s digital campaign. The ‘whistleblower’ sources are a Vote.Leave volunteer who expected to be given £700K of a last-minute £1M donation for the youth-wing BeLeave movement and got nothing, and an ex Cambridge Analytica tech whose pitch was turned down by VL. (Its head regarded CA’s claims of being able to swing elections as ‘snake oil.’) Both are now saying that the work they wanted to be paid for is in fact unethical and this invalidates the referendum.

The Electoral Commission investigated the Vote.Leave/BeLeave link at least twice and found no financing infractions. (This was perhaps not surprising as it had refused to investigate the fact the govt-backed Remain groups were openly doing the same, on a larger scale, as documented by several behind-the-scenes books on the campaign.) However Remainers crowd-sourced a Judicial Review proceeding of the EC decision in the hope the referendum would be declared invalid due to ‘cheating.’ The only result legally was that two High Court judges have said the EC tried to mislead them – the EC had in fact authorised the coordinating of campaign activities and the disbursements as VL were the official umbrella Leave campaign. An official complaint has also been made against the EC heads who have shown themselves to be partisan, having made anti-Brexit statements. Cambridge Analytica however continues to be treated as a criminal mastermind of the sort suited to a high-tech thriller, manipulating voters by subconscious means.


Left: the 'Remainstream' media have been carrying on a relentless campaign to discredit the referendum result, a continuation of their so-called Project Fear. The 70s Monty Python 'Spanish Inquisition' sketch could now be rewritten - "Our chief weapon is Project Fear, and surprise that we have an almost fanatical devotion to the European Commission.'

British television has a tradition of docudramas, a recent example being C4’s 2015 Coalition. This was written by James Graham, the playwright who wrote This House, a hit National Theatre stage play about the Labour crisis leading up to Thatcher’s takeover in 1979, whose live performances were electronically broadcast around the country. (A spinoff tv series was mooted but nothing more has been heard of this.) He also wrote the 2014 play Privacy on gov’t electronic snooping, inspired by the Edward Snowden revelations. These issues have now culminated in the Facebook hearings, where the CEO has had to appear before the US Senate and has been asked to do so before a British parliamentary committee. This aspect of course is not in fact new. For example, Obama also used a Facebook app in his 2012 re-election campaign, which Facebook approved, despite its being nominally against their T&Cs as it also harvested others’ contact details. Indeed, the Guardian newspaper, which is spearheading the ‘Vote.Leave cheating = Referendum invalid’ meme along with its sister Sunday paper The Observer, has a similar Facebook app downloading friends’ contact details. (As the saying goes, you just couldn’t make this stuff up.)
Graham has already written a one-act farce about Brexit for The Guardian, in 2016, set around the first post-referendum Whitehall staff meeting, called A Strong Exit [play text online here]. Since 2016, he has been working on "a TV drama about the referendum campaign....I think [Brexit] is going to be the main occupying idea in all writers' heads for the next five or 10 years." He now [April 2018] says they have the necessary backing lined up and will shoot it this summer. The tv drama, work-titled simply Brexit, is set behind the scenes of both the Leave and the Remain campaign offices, and is based on books by journalist Tim Shipman [see All Out War cover above] and Craig Oliver [David Cameron's communications director], both of whom are acting as consultants to the drama. It will star Benedict Cumberbatch as VoteLeave director Dominic Cummings, and be shown on Channel 4 before the official Brexit deadline of 29 March 2019. The announcement has already aroused the fury of the Guardian. Political columnist Nick Cohen has denounced Dominic Cummings as "the true cowardly face of the Brexiters", and their film-tv reviewer says it will not be 'sexy' and has predicted: "Nobody wants to watch a docudrama about Brexit now. They want to watch it 50 years from now, in the comfort of the caves they have had to dig out of mud to escape the irradiated poison cloud that will cover most of the country as a direct result of us leaving the European Union."

Envoi

In Citizen Kane, when Kane runs for office, we see his newspaper has printed two different front pages: one says 'Kane Elected' and the other, 'Fraud At Polls!' [scene here]. This seems to be almost what we have come to in terms of mainstream press coverage.

The court actions claiming that Leavers 'cheated' by spying on the public, aim at an electoral coup whereby an election result is overturned along with the regime that supports it. One tv title that comes to mind here is A Very British Coup, based on the novel by Chris Mullin MP and dramatised by C4 in 1988. There, an attempt is made by Establishment forces to usurp a surprise election victory and fell a Labour government, by manufacturing a financial scandal involving a secret slush fund, which Establishment media play up. The new PM finally goes on tv to ask ‘Who runs this country?’ It’s a question still worth asking.

Perhaps one day, a film or tv drama will be made based on the premise the entire referendum itself was a lie, a publicity stunt to manufacture the appearance of electoral consent. Its establishment backers had no intention of letting the people decide unless they voted to support the status quo ... but they bungled it. They were so recklessly overconfident the voters would heed their scare stories, the so-called Project Fear campaign, that in their hubris they failed to build any safety net into the gamble. And in their desperate casting around to find a scapegoat group to blame for the resulting fiasco, the establishment revealed itself to be contemptuous of democracy itself, giving the game away by attacking the mass of voters as gullible fools not fit to vote, and proposing limiting universal suffrage in future to those who would vote the 'right' way.
... But I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime.

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[c] Storylines In Review 2018