An evening at the asylum
I went with at least a partially open mind when I attended the premier of “Brexit: The Movie” with friends last night. Whilst believing that a vote to remain in the EU is probably best for the UK’s future, I’m nonetheless familiar enough with arguments about a democratic deficit and trade strangulation to be swayable on the crucial issue of our continuing membership of that flawed body. So I was attending the IEA sponsored movie in the hope of hearing some of the rational arguments that appeared to have been missing from the campaign trail so far.
Alas, such optimism was terribly mis-placed. First of all, it was apparent that what we were attending was less a general audience viewing of a carefully established case, and more a sort of rally for the committed Brexiteers. There they all were, bow-tied up to the nines, greedily clutching champagne glasses on entry, double chins wagging away in righteous sympathy with each other at the Odeon Leicester Square. I hadn’t come across such a very distinctive gathering since my days in the Young Conservative movement, or that time I went to the South African embassy to hear why apartheid was really quite a pragmatic idea back in the 80s.
But each to their own. So what if the audience was a caricature of the metropolitan Brexit supporter, wanting not so much to leave the EU as leave the twenty first century. They were perfectly entitled to gain solace by watching a film that helped articulate their wildest dreams and ambitions.
So we settled back in the cheap seats and waited for our intellectual Brexit fare to materialise on screen. After all, the side that so regularly scolded the Remainers for their emotive “Project Fear” would hardly play the same trick themselves. Would they?
Turned out they would, and more. As the film began, there was little effort to drop us into the argument gently. The first minutes were occupied with a selection of outraged middle-class tones competing with each other to screech out the worst offences of the EU. After this political ice-plunge, the film’s presenter, Martin Durkin, took us on the sort of guided tour of the Bad EU that you might find in animated educational films for children. His tone remained relentlessly patronising and light-weight throughout, as if we were somehow too stupid to be given any serious evidential meat.
Durkin’s potted history of the downfall of Europe included a paean of praise to post-war Germany, condemnation of over-regulated 1970s Britain, and some hilarious racial stereotypes, like Italian factory workers downing tools to snog a curvaceous woman, or eager-beaver Asian lab assistants exhibiting their maths skills. In between the cheap animations and terrible sketch-show attempts we kept cutting to some talking heads. Although the film’s case appeared to be that Brexit was on the side of the entrepreneur and the small businessman, all of the talking heads appeared to belong to rather inconsequential and definitely unproductive journalists and think tank authors. It’s not that I don’t think Janet Daley or James Delingpole have a right to be heard. It’s just that I don’t think penning “Why oh Why” columns for the Telegraph, or selling “My not very interesting memories of Dave Cameron at uni” to the highest bidder qualifies them as particularly good spokespeople for the plucky industrial spirit the film seemed to want to identify itself with.
The most egregious talking head, though, was Kelvin Mackenzie. You’d have thought by now that Kelvin would be willing to spare the world his carefully manufactured down to earth “say it as I see it” salty wisdom. Not a bit of it. There’s still plenty of unfathomable rage waiting to find its inarticulate way out of Mackenzie. What’s worse is the sheer hypocrisy of the man. There he was, praising the “little man” and piously harping on about the awful abuse of power without a moment’s reflection that one of the worst abuses of power conducted in the modern age was by one K. Mackenzie. No-one has ever managed to shit so relentlessly on an already ground down mass of people than Mackenzie as editor of the Sun, when he savaged the reputations of the dead and the friends of the dead Liverpool fans at Hillsborough, following as he did the dictates of one of the most corrupt police forces to have operated in the UK. Abuse of power? Lack of accountability? Never were both more in evidence than in that wretched man’s tenure at the top of Murdoch’s calamitous empire.
By contrast, Simon Heffer’s faintly ludicrous comment in the film that if his whole family had to eat stewed grass as a result of leaving the EU it would still be worth it was merely barking rather than mendacious.
Heffer’s comment was loudly applauded by the audience of Brexit true-believers, but they applauded a lot. Whenever Farage, or Dan Hannan, or Douglas Carswell appeared on screen to give us their well-cut middle-class faux outrage about the EU, the applause rippled around the auditorium. There was some irony in these champagne quaffing, bow-tie clad Brexiteers clapping the regular mentions of the mythical “little man”, but then the evening seemed to be about fantasy for the most part in any case. A cinema was an entirely appropriate venue. And we had the bad guys to boo at too. Edward Heath of course, although that other election-winning Tory, David Cameron, just about made it through unscathed, even if the tension when he appeared on screen was palpable. Oh, if he would just leave office and let Boris or Michael take over, then all would be well with the world.
There was some meat buried in the film. There were some genuinely strong points to be made about the collapse of the British fishing industry, or the struggles faced by Tate and Lyle. It’s just that they seemed smuggled in amongst the more satisfying polemic, or the lengthy section on the wonders of Switzerland.