Humour v Violence

Over the past few weeks I’ve been rooting for Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘Common Market Mk 2’ solution to the present impasse – that is, Britain in the single market, a bit like Norway; but only because of my natural penchant for compromise, and my anxiety about the reaction in the country if the ‘people’s will’ (so-called) is seen to be thwarted.

Of course I don’t accept May’s reading of the ‘people’s will’, either as it was in June 2016, when it was distorted by other factors (see, plus all the revelations that have appeared since then about the gross cheating that was perpetrated on the Brexit side); or in March 2019, when demographic shifts suggest that the vote then isn’t likely to have reflected opinion now. (That is, with old Brexiters dying and being replaced by young pro-Europeans.) I’m also as much repelled by the characters and backgrounds of the current batch of leading Leavers – rich, public school-bred, shady financiers and Tory journalists – as anyone who has closely studied the likes of Farage, Boris, Govey and Moggy is bound to be. Of course this doesn’t mean that these people are necessarily wrong, and as a rational person I realise the dangers of judging an argument by the clothes of the person who is delivering it. Nonetheless, this consideration doesn’t detract from my view that this whole Brexit business is a huge ‘con’, potentially disastrous to almost every aspect of British life – not only our wealth but also our morality and dignity in the eyes of the rest of the world – and really ought to be somehow stopped in its tracks, even this far along the road, with the UK returning, tail between its legs, to the more favourable relations with Europe it has now within the EU.

I’m hoping, deep down, that this might be the outcome of the stupendously popular anti-Brexit ‘People’s Vote’ demonstration that took place yesterday in London – a million strong, they say; backed by more than five million signatories to a petition demanding the same. (Farage’s rival ‘epic march’ down from Sunderland gathered only about 70.) But the problem, still, is the effect of any such reversal on pro-Brexit opinion in the country, and the risk that it might even – as some have predicted – provoke something in the nature of a ‘civil war’. Hence my backing for Jeremy’s clever strategy.

Since yesterday’s demonstration, however, and various other events over the past week or two, I’ve changed my mind. The demo stiffened my backbone. So did the dreadful threats that have been coming from the Brexit side: to prominent Remainers who are threatened with death, torture or rape if they continue, including the woman who started the 5 million-plus petition, who is now afraid to live in her home; and to most MPs since Theresa May identified them, in that quite appalling ‘address to the nation’ the other night, as the ‘enemies of the people’ – as, of course, the gutter press has been doing all along. (See After it, MPs were urged to take black cabs home from Parliament to avoid being way-laid. If that speech wasn’t a provocation to violence, I don’t know what is. And of course we’ve already had one young Labour MP, Jo Cox, murdered in the streets by a ‘Britain First’ enthusiast. For pity’s sake: what kind of person believes Brexit is worth killing  for?

So, as a result of all this, I’m now no longer deterred by the threat from the Brexit side. They don’t deserve pandering to. As do none of the other ‘populist’ movements in Europe and the Americas to which Brexit is clearly allied. It’s not an exaggeration to call them proto-fascist. And as our national experience between the wars should have taught us, it’s dangerous to try to appease even proto-fascism.

It’s the violence that has finally put me off the idea of compromise, or a ‘soft Brexit’; together with the Brexiteers’ lack of humour. People are fond of lazily excusing ‘excess’ on one side of an argument by claiming that it’s a characteristic of ‘both extremes’ – Trump did it notoriously after that riot in Charlottesville in August 2017; but it emphatically isn’t  so in this case. So far as I know no-one on the Remain side has threatened to murder or rape any Brexiter. Violence appears – in this context – to be an exclusively right-wing characteristic. (Why is this, I wonder?) The ‘people’s vote’ demonstration yesterday, huge as it was, seems to have been entirely peaceful. It was also good spirited and humorous. Just look at the placards, of which there’s a great selection here: (As a Swedophile I’m slightly offended by the IKEA one, but I thought it was funny all the same.) You don’t find that sort of thing on the Brexit side. It seems remarkably humourless. (Unless the laughable eccentricities of its clownish leaders are supposed to compensate for this.)

This is another example, I realise, of judging an argument by its clothes, or the clothes perhaps of only a minority. And of course there are other better reasons for my backing Remain. But other things being equal – which they aren’t in this case – I hope I’d always plump for humour over violence. That’s one of the contests going on here.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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8 Responses to Humour v Violence

  1. Tony says:

    To fair most of the Leavers in the Conservative Party are certainly not rich public school educated people, even in the ERG, (isn’t the estuary Essex accent of Mark Francoise genuine) and certainly not in the local associations. Most Brexit voters were broadly working class, and most remainers middle class, and the march on Saturday exemplified this, despite the organisers claim that all social background and regions were represented. The Brexit vote was a protest against the ‘liberal elite’ who run the country and was about poverty, insecurity, social and regional neglect. The distribution of wealth and income began to widen in the 1980s and has continued to do so under Tory and Labour and despite membership of the EU.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Harry Philips says:

    It’s ironic how the same group of people fighting for Brexit because they don’t want to “undermine democracy” or the “go against the will of the people” seem to show a blind eye to the legally and politically corrupt nature of the referendum. As you said, there has been multiple instances of Leave breaking electoral law — which certainly undermines democracy in my eyes. That in combination with the lies spread by the leading Leave campaigners eliminates the argument of there being any sort of legitimate mandate for leaving.

    If there is a second referendum, I wouldn’t be surprised if many Remain voters vote for to leave under the assumption that the first referendum result must be delivered to uphold our democratic principles. Shame there has been such little media coverage of Darren Grimes, Arron Banks, Cambridge Analytica, etc despite the impact they had in a referendum with just a 635,000 swing.

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  3. Phil says:

    I found that the ‘humour’ of a lot of the placards left a bad taste; in many cases the joking seemed to be an elaborate (and superficially polite) way of calling Leavers stupid and ignorant, and celebrating the marchers’ own superior intellect and education. For example, one placard read “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE 52% SENSE AND SENSIBILITY 48%”. Which is very clever; it’s also *very* hostile towards anyone who voted Leave and anyone who doesn’t get the reference – two groups which are, perhaps, implicitly assumed to be the same. (What would the man who carried that placard say if he was challenged? “You saying I must be prejudiced because I voted Leave? You saying I’m not sensible, is that it?”)

    Humour vs violence may be civilisation against thuggery – and it’s certainly the case that the far Right has always valorised violence. But it may also be a High Table sneer against an inarticulate commoner whose only remaining weapon is force.

    Liked by 1 person

    • None of the signs I’ve seen said or even implied that Brexiteers are stupid. (‘Pride and Prejudice’ I agree on; but that’s a lone example – and even there, neither pride nor prejudice needs to be a mark of ‘stupidity’.) Most of the others are very middle-class, or studenty, and so could be regarded as patronising for that reason; but they’re understandable by anyone – even the Latin one is pretty obvious; and after all it’s mainly the university-educated middle classes who write the TV comedies the working classes seem to appreciate and enjoy. They’re nearly all targeted at u-class Brexit leaders, not voters. In fact I’m surprised that not more of them are insulting to voters: it must have been a temptation. Do you mean to say we shouldn’t have CLEVER slogans in case it makes the proles feel inferior?


      • Phil says:

        Not at all. But I do think that many of the signs expressed pride in the intelligence, articulacy, erudition etc of the marchers as a group, which I find hard to read other than as a suggestion that Leavers – the people against whom they were marching – are less intelligent, less well-read and so on. It’s not like the way that jokey peace movement signs used to suggest that *everyone* supported nuclear disarmament – “librarians against the bomb”, “babies against the bomb” & so on); those signs were saying that all the nice, intelligent, reasonable people are against Brexit (and ought to be the ones to stop it).


  4. Violence appears – in this context – to be an exclusively right-wing characteristic. (Why is this, I wonder?)
    For the extreme right, there is always a group – Jews, blacks, migrants, Muslims, communists – which is recognised as an existential threat to the volk or nation. As reason is never the chosen means of dealing with this threat – rational argument is now the despised property of the left – rightists must resort to violent rhetoric, symbolic violence (a wall perhaps) or actual violence as the means of resisting the nominated enemy.
    Violence and visceral hatred are also valorised by the right as indexes of masculinity and honour; men acting alone or in bands of brothers imagine they are enhancing their ‘dignitas’ by abusing, injuring or murdering the despised others.
    Of course, the Bolsheviks and their later imitators were also wholesale purveyors of murderous brutality; however, with the eclipse of class struggle as the motor of social change, and the repudiation of insurrectionary strategies, the contemporary left in the West has been able to – or has had to – wean itself off its violent traditions.

    Liked by 1 person

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