Brendan O’Neill

Don’t be fooled by the twee placards at the People’s Vote march

Don't be fooled by the twee placards at the People's Vote march
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I’ve had a lot of flak for describing Saturday’s march for a ‘People’s Vote’ as ‘disturbing’. Angry emailers inform me it was actually a super-polite demo at which children and even pets joined hundreds of thousands of adults in a good-natured traipse through central London calling for Brexit to be rethought. It’s true the marchers were polite. And it’s true there were pets. I saw a dog with a ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ sticker attached to its head. But the politeness bordering on tweeness of Saturday’s mass march cannot disguise its true and, yes, disturbing aim — to overthrow a great act of democracy.

I never thought I would see the day when so many of my fellow citizens would take to the streets to call for the disenfranchisement of those they disagree with. For the disenfranchisement of the millions of women who voted for Brexit, and the millions of working-class people who voted for it. My goodness, women and the working classes have only had the vote for 101 years — women under 30 for 90 years — and already you want to neuter one of the most important and impactful votes these sections of society have ever made. I saw a placard that said ‘Revoke this shit’. ‘This shit’ — they mean the voices of millions of people. ‘Shit’ — that’s us they’re talking about; we’re shit to them.

Some marchers tried to hide their reactionary agenda — to revoke the largest democratic act in British democracy — under twee sloganeering. Many placards said things like, ‘Let’s do this the British way and just call it off and then have a nice cup of tea’ — as if the Radio 4-style wit of mentioning tea might distract from what is being demanded here: the revocation of a democratic vote. 

Other marchers boasted of their intellectual superiority to the ignorant masses who voted for Brexit. One had a placard saying ‘We ARE European’, followed up by ‘Trust me, I have a degree in geography’. Shame he doesn't also have a degree in politics or history, because then he might have twigged that Brexit is about leaving the EU, an institution that has only existed since 1993, not Europe, a continent that has existed for donkey’s years. I saw a placard that said: ‘Ooh Look! Grammatically correct, properly spelt placards!’ Oof. Translation: we can spell, unlike those idiots who love Brexit. Other placards said ‘Think about the halloumi prices’ and ‘No Deal means Gucci will be even more expensive’. The lack of self-awareness — it’s breathtaking. 

One really nauseating placard compared the people who voted for Brexit to the people who voted for Hitler. And here we really got down to the true message: that people cannot be trusted to make political decisions. Well, some people can’t. Those people who don’t have geography degrees, don’t wear Gucci, and probably think halloumi is a brand of car. They’re thick, can’t spell, can’t think for themselves, and were most likely hoodwinked into voting for Brexit by the ad on a side of a bus or by all-powerful toffs like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Whichever way you slice it, ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ means bollocks to the electorate, bollocks to northerners, bollocks to working-class Welsh people, and bollocks to those millions of women who voted for Brexit.

And then there’s the petition. Five-and-a-half million people have signed it. That’s a record number for a parliamentary petition but I will not be celebrating. It chills me that so many of my fellow citizens could sign a petition that explicitly mocks the people’s will and calls on the government to refuse to enact a democratic vote. If that isn’t disturbing, I don’t know what is. In fact, ‘disturbing’ is putting it mildly. There are far stronger words to describe this terrifying spectacle of a minority of citizens agitating for the silencing of the largest majority of citizens in the history of British politics. I find it terrifying and I am in the lucky position of having other means than the vote of expressing myself in public. Imagine how those people who only have the vote must feel as they watch the well-educated and the witty calling for their disenfranchisement.