Occasionally I read or hear or see something online which doesn’t fully sink in until a day or two later. I had this experience yesterday, after listening to a YouTube discussion of Brexit by a panel of assorted pundits. And this morning I found myself hunting through my recent history to find it and listen to it again, because the opinions expressed in it seemed to be in most part completely mad.
The panel consisted of a Scottish economist with an Italian name, a European banker with a Russian name, Hoover Institute author Niall Ferguson, the chairman of Open Britain Roland Rudd, German Green(?) MEP Marieluise Beck, and the Danish anchor Louisa Bojesen.
Apart from Niall Ferguson, I hadn’t heard of any of them. But all concerned were Remainers opposed to Brexit – which Rudd described as a “catastrophe.”
In fact, Niall Ferguson turned out to be a Brexiter (7:12 minutes in). He said he’d been wrong. He’d argued for remain, but without any real belief. He still thought that Brexit was going to be like a divorce from 27 ex-wives. Monetary union had been a disaster for southern Europe. Migration into Europe was a disaster. He wished he’d spent more time in pubs in provincial England, where people had been telling him it had nothing to do with GDP, but with loss of control of borders. He felt he had to listen more to non-elite voters.
When it was Marieluise Beck’s turn to speak (15:35 minutes), she declared that the European far right – Le Pen, UKIP, etc – were “anti-democratic, backward-turned (-looking?), anti-establishment, anti-modern, anti-globalist, and anti-western.” And so was Donald Trump. She put this down to people being frightened of change, and seeking certainty and security. It was, she said, a very big, very deep problem.
And then it was on to Roland Rudd (19:51 mins), who said, “The great lesson of the referendum is that you have to be mad to hold one.” He said that if Americans had a referendum on whether Trump was a good president, he was sure they’d say No he wasn’t. He said that Lord North used to be regarded as the worst British Prime Minister, because he lost us the American colonies, but David Cameron was even worse. We now had to try to stop becoming poorer, and worse still, meaner, as a result of Brexit.
The banker and the economist talked about, well, banking and economics, and then it was back to Marieluise Beck (28:21 mins). I’d already thought that much of what she’d said about the European far right being anti-modern, anti-western, and anti-democratic was a bit daft. But now she really got into her stride. She said that you couldn’t talk about Europe without talking about Kremlin politics: “Kremlin have their fingers in it.” The anti-modern elements within the EU were linked to the Kremlin. They were getting money from the Kremlin. And they were adopting ideas that Putin was offering, which was something authoritarian rather than parliamentary “because parliaments talk too much”. The Kremlin was offering stability and security in the old way, and no change at all.
Roland Rudd (30:16) then proceeded to agree with Beck, saying that although far right leaders admired him, he found Putin “frightening” because he’d “invaded Ukraine.” It was Putin, he declared, who wanted to push hordes of migrants into Europe.
Niall Ferguson (33:12) then said that branding critics of the EU as anti-modern tools of the Kremlin was “fantastical”, as well as condescending and patronising. But Marieluise Beck (38:35) was quickly back to say that Kremlin propaganda and money and social media were empowering European insecurities. The Kremlin was behind Brexit. To which Ferguson responded that next she’d be telling us that the Kremlin came up with the idea of EU monetary union.
For me it was a glimpse into a mindset that I don’t share: Everything is the work of Putin and the Kremlin and the Russians (including of course the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s emails and the election of Donald Trump). I think it’s completely mad, but quite clearly many people in the European (and US) political elite believe it. They have no other explanation for the shock and surprise of Brexit and Trump. It must have all been organised by someone! And that someone had to be Vladimir Putin and his army of hackers and propagandists that had invaded the new social media.
Anyway, Roland Rudd (45:14) topped it all off with a short lecture about civilisation:
“Civilisation is a system that actually doesn’t allow people with really extreme offensive views to air them. And one of the concerns you’ve seen post-Brexit in Britain – you’ve had this through social media – is people suddenly come up with some really nasty, bordering on racist, comments and they suddenly feel that they’re liberated and they can say these, and it’s ‘against political correctness’. Well, you know what: it’s not. And we have to be able to ensure that we say to people: these comments are not acceptable, because we don’t want to become a meaner, brittle society. We must remain an open, welcoming society.”
Particularly for smokers, of course. Smokers know all about our open, welcoming society, don’t they just.
Anyway, clearly Rudd doesn’t like much of what he reads on (Kremlin-controlled) social media, and civilisation is all about shutting up people who say things that are ‘unacceptable’, so that we can remain an open, welcoming society in which you can say whatever you like as long as we don’t find it offensive.
The entire discussion left me with an impression of a society in meltdown, with people talking to themselves and convincing themselves of one mad idea or other. Everyone had lost the plot, and were wandering around in circles, muttering to themselves.
But, I hear you ask, what about “the raisin at the end of the sausage”? That was a remark by Louisa Bojesen (19:41), as she introduced Roland Rudd. It left me with the thought that at one end of every Danish sausage there was a hidden, embedded raisin. I couldn’t decide whether the raisin was there in order to relieve the ordeal of eating a Danish sausage with a final touch of sweetness, or whether it was there to provide a nasty surprise – a sort of memento mori – at the end of an otherwise delightful experience. Either way, should I ever be offered a Danish sausage, I think I will eat only the middle, and leave both ends with their raisin(s) intact.