Political debate, as we are forever being told, has become coarser in recent years. But there is a bigger change of which rather less is said. Debate seems to focus less and less on actual arguments and more and more on seeking to deny the legitimacy of those who are speaking. Never mind what they are saying – what right do they have to be granted this forum?
This phenomenon is never more prevalent than when Nigel Farage pops up on the television, and Twitter is instantly filled with people demanding to know: “who does he represent?”. “Never elected to UK parliament on the seven occasions he tried and with no sitting MPs hasn't been off my tele for YEARS” one angry Tweeter wants us to know.
“Nigel Farage, one of the most frequent guests on BBC Question Time. How many Brexit MPs are there?” complains another.
One might think that ardent Remainers might respect the rather large numbers of MEPs which Farage has – but in this context the European Parliament seems to count for nothing. There is also the small matter that Farage’s Brexit party has been polling at up to a quarter of the vote in opinion polls for general election voting intention.
A different standard seems to apply to Anna Soubry, whose party – which I think is still called Change UK, though I am not entirely sure – is polling zero per cent and whose five MPs were all elected under other banners. That didn’t stop her being granted a long interview on the BBC News Channel this morning – with little protest over who she could claim to represent.
But it isn’t just Brexit. You can see it everywhere – principally, although not exclusively, from the Left. Anyone remotely sceptical about some aspect of climate science, for example, is now a rare sight on the BBC on the grounds they are a ‘denier’ – thanks to a long campaign by professional complainers to have sceptics driven from the airwaves. Yet a different standard seems to apply to climate change exaggeration. There is nothing to preclude a 16-year-old girl making the bizarre claim that the Earth is ‘on fire’ – on which she is not even challenged.
It is the same with drugs, prisons, migrants or anything else – the first reaction from the Left towards anyone commentating on the subject is: don’t address the case, just ask what right does this person have to speak? Or if you can’t question someone’s credentials, you attack the very terms of the debate, by asking: why are we still discussing this in 2019?
The sad thing is that this tactic seems to work. When did you last hear a debate on the BBC about, say, whether the gender pay gap really matters? That is just not the sort of debate we are supposed to have any more – and an army of left-wing activists endlessly lobby the corporation to make sure we don’t.
Don’t be surprised if the same ends up happening to the Brexit debate – with certain people and arguments being put beyond the pale.