February 26, 2019

Let’s start with Luciana Berger. Ms Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, has been driven from the Labour Party because of the anti-Jewish hatred to which she has been subjected. No other recent event really matches it in  importance.

Her former Party shames itself, so Ms Berger has taken back control of her political future. At least she has that. She could stand as a TIGger, an Eyore or even, one day, a Labour candidate again – don’t ever forget the moral force with which she delivered her exit speech. She has control.

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Control matters; without it, little else does. At work, the other day, in a Skype meeting – you know, you’re all in different places but you’re working together in a virtual ‘meeting room’ on your computer – William (on the other side of the world) said, “Can I just add [some text] on this page?”. As he clicked his cursor onto the menu, the message “Do you want William to take back control?” flashed up on mine. I said: “My favourite phrase!” and everyone laughed.

I say “everyone” and “laughed” but it would be more correct to note that the responses divided us neatly in two. The Leavers (I guess) laughed heartily. Others – Remainers? – were more nervous. More a polite cough, as though I’d said something controversial, like “Women are adult females”. Take Back Control was a genius brand for Leave, and Continuity Remain, or TIG, as it’s styled itself, has noticed.

Control of the narrative: that’s what TIG is about, and it’s why I feel sorry for Luciana Berger. Because her important message to the planet – look what Labour has become, and shudder, in horror – has been lost in the TIG’s principal narrative choice: that we must stay within the EU, and that it is reasonable and open-minded to do so, regardless of the referendum. That’s why Chuka, and not Luciana, is TIG’s de facto leader: as shiny a pro-EU Blairite as you could hope to find. 

I’d always reckoned that a Blairite, pro-EU, pro-“human rights”, pro-Identity Politics grouping would be electorally toxic beyond a few metropolitan enclaves: those relatively small geographies whose denizens are rich enough to be protected from the consequence of their voting behaviour. I’ll admit to having daydreamed about watching Gina Miller taking her case to the voters of Sunderland, or Harlow (for example) with something approaching glee.

Wrong again, Graeme! Who needs elections? They cause trouble, foment division. I forgot that, however unpopular, pro-EU Blairites need appeal to a single constituency – basically, the BBC – to assert their power over the narrative. That’s why Anna Soubry was all over the airwaves last week, insinuating that the PM has “a problem with immigration” (who’s dog-whistling now?). This is a claim about the PM that lacks credibility, to put it politely.

Never mind: make it anyway. It’ll stick. That’s what matters, isn’t it? To be virtuous and to prove it, by smearing.

Since the referendum, the cries of pain from a section of the losing side have been loud. That pain is getting louder (search #FBPE on Twitter, if you don’t believe me). The only way I can understand this dynamic – everyone’s side loses elections from time to time, everyone is sometimes in the minority – is that the initial shock of losing control has atrophied into a solid, determined attempt to take it back.

The worldview of the TIGgers, and most of the media – a globalist, open-borders, fashionable identity politics worldview – has been dominant for decades. At first it must have felt like a bereavement, to see Utopia rejected by a majority of the people who constitute your audience and your electorate. Weren’t the deplorables listening?

Since electorally the game is up, power must be reclaimed by other means. So rapidly and smoothly has this happened, that if you blink you’ll miss the latest example. Here’s an editor at Sky News casually asserting that being a Tory who supports Brexit makes you “far Right”. Here is the endless sequence of articles, instructing you to accept Begum’s return to the UK (it’s easy to support her return to Bethnal Green, if you rarely step outside Hampstead). Here’s David Lammy, claiming that “beyond all reasonable doubt” Mrs May is “a little England suburban xenophobe”.

“Problems with immigrants”, “far Right”, “suburban” (Lammy is channeling Jonathan Miller and his hatred of Thatcher’s “odious suburban gentility”) – it’s not hard to discern the picture the ultra-Remainers are painting. The campaign is to make “I usually vote Conservative, because I believe in fiscal sanity, and I’d like to respect the result of the Referendum” cognate with having a swastika tattooed on your forehead and hanging a “No dogs no Irish etc” sign in your net-curtained window. All from a continuity ‘centre’ which is so adept at leadership that it let its own movement be taken over by Jeremy Corbyn.

They might get away with it. The values I worship – be neighbourly but not nosy, don’t spit on the street or throw litter, don’t make bus journeys intolerable for others through naked, brutal selfishness, don’t socialise customs which glamorise violence – are irredeemably bourgeois, irredeemably suburban, irredeemably unfashionable. I’d hazard a guess that the suburbs are also, mostly but not uniformly, opposed to having ISIS supporters in the country and in favour of leaving the EU (or at least of respecting the result of the 2016 vote).

The virtual meeting room of our politics is underway, pulling us together from our various locations. There’s an empty page on the screen, the cursor is blinking, and it’s time to write a vision for the country’s future. Starting with a blank page is always frightening, but usually worthwhile – and there is space here for voices who aren’t normally permitted to be the author, to be in control of the pen.

Or…. What’s this? We could just reload the version we junked yesterday? Someone – Chuka, Anna, David – wants to reprint their just-deleted version onto the page. And the system is asking: “Do you want them to take back control?”

Please: click “No”, before they shut you out of the room forever.