The very best impressionists do not simply mimic the mannerisms, speech patterns and facial expressions of their targets — they also cleverly satirise the beliefs, character and political dispositions of those targets. Most of us would not remember Mike Yarwood with great fondness because he was quite unable to do any of that. It was enough for Mike simply to raise his shoulders and laugh when evoking Ted Heath; there was no depth to the performance, nothing which gnawed away at Heath’s petulance and obstinacy and insecurity.
So we should be grateful for Rory Bremner, who has pulled off a superb impression of a smug, simpering, Remainer London luvvie. With great acuity, he ticked all the boxes. In professing his support for the ‘People’s Vote’ — the campaign for a second referendum — the comedian wrote in this magazine last week that: ‘People may object this is a betrayal of democracy. I believe it would be an affirmation of informed democracy. There can be no doubt that we are better informed and more aware of the issues than we were in 2016.’
This is brilliant because they voted Remain. They knew everything, and still do. The luvvies believe it is the Leavers who were ill-informed — thick, stupid, pig-ignorant northerners, tattooed untermenschen. Come on, you morons! Off to the ballot box again, and this time get it right. In that short paragraph Bremner neatly sent up the whole basis of the People’s Vote. (I half-wonder what Rory really thinks, but it is sometimes better for impressionists to conceal their own political beliefs and thus avoid tiresome accusations of bias from the viewers.)
The People’s Vote and its sister campaigns are a convocation of those luvvies Bremner lampooned, plus some of the country’s most serially useless and reviled politicians. There’s that bloke from Star Trek and Bald-rick — there’s always Baldrick — and the political colossus Gary Lineker, along with loveable old Richard Branson, who’s donated cash and office space to a bunch of Blairite hangovers intent on stopping Brexit in its tracks. Then there’s Paddy Ashdown, who said shortly before the referendum result came through: ‘I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken. Whether it is a majority of 1 per cent or 20 per cent, when the British people have spoken, you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t.’
He’s changed his mind now. As has Anna Soubry. ‘We are trusting the British people. We will go to the people, and let the people decide whether or not to stay within the EU.’ That was in 2015. Now listen to her: she backed the referendum ‘only because I thought we would win. Obviously, I wouldn’t have if I thought we would lose.’ Aaah, OK, Anna, got you. Democracy is a bugger, isn’t it?
And John Major. You remember John. Bloody marvellous prime minister — introduced the motorway cones hotline and a back-to-basics campaign while doing Edwina Currie. Yes, I thought you’d like to be reminded of that. What did John have to say about the referendum at the time? ‘There will not be another referendum on Europe. This is it.’All of them now agree, then, that we should have a second vote solely — solely — because they did not like the result of the first one.
Then there’s the old New Labour contingent. Tony Blair, a prime minister who visited upon the UK the most injurious foreign policy misadventure (the illegal invasion of Iraq) and injurious domestic policy misadventure (the doors opened to unlimited immigration) this country has seen. This is the man who achieved the unheard of — uniting Jews and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis, in total accord in the belief that he was the most useless Middle East envoy yet visited upon them. A man whose opinion is revered only by grotesque tyrants in the ’stans and the Arab despot states, who cheerfully bung him and his grasping Scouse missus sacks of wonga every so often. Oh, and Mandelson, a Labour politician, twice disgraced as a minister and loathed by more people in the Labour party than Margaret Thatcher. And the busted flush Chuka Umunna.
Their platform is essentially the same as it was in July 2016. The people who voted Leave are all thick and didn’t know what they were voting for. They were lied to, and being oiks, believed it all. It was truly an appalling campaign, I would concur. We were lied to, from both sides of the debate. I have to say this did not come as a great shock to me.
The People’s Vote monkeys now buttress their demands for another referendum by citing polls which suggest that opinion has shifted. Hell, they call us gullible. The infallibility of opinion polls! The polls on the eve of the referendum showed a clear majority in favour of Remain, which was one of the things which made the outcome even more delicious. But these dupes still believe it all. How thick are they?
The referendum showed a very clear majority in favour of leaving the European Union, a majority of more than a million. Every single region in England voted clearly for Brexit except for London, that slough of despond. As Major and Ashdown averred, the result was beyond doubt and beyond dispute. But that hasn’t stopped them all from reneging on their previously held beliefs and trying, at every juncture, to scupper the democratic will of the people. At first by a fatuous legal action, launched by Gina Miller, and now by a convenient volte face: um, actually, that result should be ignored and we should do it all again.
It is undoubtedly true that an awful lot of people are bored and wearied beyond endurance by the limping progress made towards an exit from this fundamentally undemocratic and increasingly despotic and insecure supranational bureaucracy. But this is not a consequence of Brexit itself, but of a government not fit for purpose. We are led by a prime minister who was for Remain: that does not make sense. Further, her cabinet is divided down the middle on the issue. Theresa May weakened, perhaps fatally, her position with the catastrophic decision to call an election last year, having been credulous enough to believe the opinion polls.
Her majority is precarious and depends for survival on a bunch of politicians who represent a region of the UK that voted strongly Remain. These are the reasons for the limping progress, not Brexit itself. Oh, and of course the hubris and incompetence of the leading Conservative members of the Brexit campaign, especially Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, during that weird flurry of knives in the back two years ago. It is bad governance, not the clearly expressed will of the people, which is responsible for the mess in which we now find ourselves. A government with even a slightly stronger majority (e.g., the one the Conservatives enjoyed before June last year) could have proceeded with a lot more confidence. And even, hell, chutzpah. But now May hobbles from crisis to crisis — much to the delight of Michel Barnier et al.
The malevolent and spiteful approach of the EU to the Brexit negotiations should convince still more people that we were absolutely right to leave this organisation. So, too, should the EU’s bullying of Poland, Hungary, Austria and the new Italian government. Its connivance in the imprisonment of Catalonian nationalists. Its reflexive brutality in stamping out dissent in the growing number of countries which loathe its overweening hegemony and are appalled by its attitudes towards unlimited immigration. Those were the reasons I and more than 17 million others voted Out. In that People’s Vote we had, two years ago.
James McGrory and Tom Slater on the People’s Vote.