Brendan O’Neill

Brexit was a revolt against snobs like Tony Blair

Brexit was a revolt against snobs like Tony Blair
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The brass neck of Tony Blair. The Brexit vote was ‘based on imperfect knowledge’, says the man who unleashed barbarism across the Middle East on the basis of a student dissertation he printed off the internet. Who marched thousands into unimaginable horror on the basis of myth and spin. That NHS claim on the side of the Leave bus is small fry, infinitesimally small fry, in comparison with the guff this bloke came out with. It didn’t cause anyone to die, for one. For Blair to lecture the British people about truth is an affront to memory and decency and reason. No self-respecting citizen should put up with it.

Blair made his comments about our ‘imperfect knowledge’ — dimwits that we are — in a speech for Open Britain, a cross-party pro-EU group, in London this morning. The speech sums up the elitism and arrogance and contempt for democracy of those Remainers who just cannot accept that they lost. ‘The people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit’, Blair haughtily declared. Rubbish. We all knew what it meant to tick the box saying ‘Leave the European Union’ — it meant leaving the European Union. It meant what it said — and we meant what we said.

Blair and the connected, moneyed weepers for the EU who make up Open Britain can’t get their heads around this. They think we didn’t know what we were doing. And so they’ve come to enlighten us and make us think again. Remainers must ‘rise up’, says Blair, and turn the throng’s ‘imperfect knowledge’ into ‘informed knowledge’ by giving us ‘easy to understand’ information about how Brexit will ‘cause real damage to the country’. Risen, brave, ‘informed’ Remainers must hold back the ‘rush over the cliff’s edge’, he said.

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Do voters have buyers' remorse over Brexit? This YouGov poll suggests voters have consistently said the outcome of the referendum vote was correct[/caption]

The whole thing stinks to the heavens of paternalism. Blair is positioning himself and his switched-on mates as the possessors of information that we the imperfect plebs lack. Like lemmings we’re leaping off the cliff, and this good man must save us. He must impart to us his wisdom — in ‘easy to understand’ ways, of course, because we can’t handle anything too complex — and in the process fulfil the duty of the political leader to ‘give answers’ rather than ‘ride the anger’ of the public. He depicts Open Britain as cool and knowledgable, and Leavers as uninformed and angry. It’s positively aristocratic, with Open Britain fancying itself as the small but beautiful font of wisdom in a land of madness.

And of course he thinks we’re prejudiced too. They all do. ‘Virtually the only practical arguments still advanced under the general rubric of “taking back control” are immigration and the European Court of Justice,' he said. But really, it’s all about immigration. ‘Immigration is the issue’, he declared. Not true. Immigration is an issue for some Leavers, but it isn’t the only issue. As Lord Ashcroft’s poll found, 33 percent of Leave voters said the main reason they rejected the EU was to ‘regain control over immigration’, but 49 percent said their main reason was ‘the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK’. They were voting for democracy. It is ‘imperfect knowledge’ — scrap that, it’s just a poisonous slur — to say immigration is the only issue and that all Leavers are darkly obsessed with it.

Blair spoke in the language of revolution. Remainers must ‘rise up’. He talked about the need for a ‘revolt’, by ‘force of argument’, against the Leave vote. Excitable media outlets have gone even further, describing his speech as a call ‘for people to “rise up” against Brexit’, a plea that ‘Britain must rise up against Brexit’. This is embarrassing. No amount of radical-sounding lingo or blather about uprisings can disguise the entirely elitist nature of Blair’s campaign to defame the Leave vote and ultimately get it overturned. If this is a revolt, it’s a revolt of the elites against the public, against the majority, against the largest democratic cry in the history of this nation.

Where is this ‘Britain’ that’s expected to rise up against Brexit? A majority in Britain wants Brexit, still, even following months and months of ceaseless fearmongering and accusations of prejudice by a political and media class that thinks Brexit is insane and its supporters dumb. Polls show that buyers’ remorse is a myth: Leavers still want to leave. A recent poll found that 62 percent of those surveyed think Theresa May’s recently outlined policy to Brexit — that basically we’re leaving and that’s it — is the right and respectful way forward. Blair is raging against the May approach, the approach the public backs. Polls also show that significant numbers of Remain voters are ‘coming to terms with the result’. Blair talks of rising up but he’s leading a reactionary movement — an ugly, condescending, minority reaction against what huge numbers of people want.

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Blair’s speech was packed with with the politics of ‘we know better’, with that same elitist conviction that motored so many of his policies and pronouncements when he was PM. Back then his government vastly expanded the nanny state, invented the Orwellian ‘politics of behaviour’, droned on about Broken Britain and how Blair was the man to fix it, to fix us, to make us better parents, healthier, less fat, less stupid, less likely to get drunk or smoke. And now he’s back with the same moralistic zeal — the returned saviour of a people witlessly ‘rushing over the cliff’s edge’.

What he doesn’t realise is that Brexit was a vote against this politics of ‘we know better’. Against this new paternalism. Against the Third Way outlook of Brussels and Blairism with its elevation of technocracy over democracy. Against the new oligarchies that have insulated themselves and their decision-making from popular opinion. Against the notion that politics should be done by experts rather than by the masses, by clever people in Brussels or Open Britain rather than by Welsh factory workers or northern housewives or Essex Man. The people of Britain have already risen up, Mr Blair, and it was against everything you stand for.