At one point in James Cameron’s masterly 1986 movie Aliens, an exasperated Sigourney Weaver demands, “Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?” As someone who’s been out of the United Kingdom for a while, I often find myself asking the same question.
I’ve asked it during the last four-and-a-half months especially. That’s since June 23rd, when a narrow majority of the UK electorate voted for Brexit, i.e. leaving the European Union.
It’s well-documented that many Brexit supporters came from areas and social classes that feel most disfranchised in modern-day Britain and feel most distant from the country’s centres of political, economic and cultural power (which are invariably in London). So they followed the advice of the likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson and used the Brexit referendum as a means to raise a middle finger at the establishment.
Of course, there’s no way that Farage, Gove or Johnson could be described as members of the British establishment. Oh no. Not Nigel Farage, who was educated at Dulwich College and once worked as a commodity trader in the City of London; not Michael Gove, who was educated at Oxford University and served as a president of the Oxford Union and worked as a journalist with the Times and Spectator; and certainly not Boris Johnson, who was educated at Eton College and Oxford University and worked as a journalist with the Times, Spectator and Daily Telegraph. Wot, establishment? Not us, guvnor.
Often, the areas most strongly in favour of Brexit were the ones most economically dependent on the EU. According to the Financial Times, East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire sends a bigger proportion of its exports to the EU than anywhere else in Britain, yet in June 65% of its voters told the EU to go and get stuffed. Similarly, many Brexit voters came from the poorer end of society, where food security is a constant worry. With Britain having to import 40% of its food these days, and the pound weakening post-Brexit, and the likelihood of post-EU tariffs being added to many imports, the prices of things on the supermarket shelves can only rocket upwards. So with Brexit likely to f**k up your local economy and f**k up your household budget, voting for it was probably, you know, stupid.
Still, I’m sure that such anti-establishment rebels as Nigel Farage (who’s worth about three million pounds according to www.the-net-worth.com) and Boris Johnson (who’s earned twice as much as the prime minister in the last two years according to the Daily Mail) will be sharing the pain with you.
In another example of Brexit stupidity, Boris Johnson enthused at this year’s Conservative Party conference about Britain being a world leader in ‘soft’ power, i.e. diplomatic, cultural, economic and educational influence. He spoke of “the vast and subtle and persuasive extension of British influence around the world that goes with having a language that was invented and perfected in this country, and now has more speakers than any other language on earth.” He described the ‘gentle, kindly gunboats of British soft power’ going ‘up the creeks and inlets of every continent on earth’ captained by such British cultural icons as ‘Jeremy Clarkson’, ‘J.K. Rowling’ and ‘the BBC’.
Johnson got it wrong about English having the most speakers of any language – in 2015, 962 million people spoke English compared to the 1090 million who spoke Mandarin Chinese – but Britain has topped tables of countries ranked by their estimated soft power. In July 2015, an article in the Economist cited as possible reasons for this Britain’s ‘chart-topping music albums’, the ‘foreign following of its football teams’, its universities ‘attracting vast numbers of foreign students’ and the country generally having a good ‘engagement’ with the world.
That was in 2015, mind you, a year before Brexit. Now is it not just really, really, really stupid for Johnson to brag about Britain’s soft-power capacity when he’s championed the cause that’s f***ed that capacity up its arse? The vote and the toxic shenanigans that followed – racists suddenly feeling entitled to verbally and physically assault foreigners on the streets, the obnoxious anti-European, anti-foreigner rhetoric displayed at the Tory Party conference – must have snookered Britain’s soft-power status. No wonder that a fortnight ago it was reported that the number of European students applying to British universities has dropped by 9%.
Having soft power depends on people around the world liking and respecting you. Brexit and its legacy have changed that for Britain, and not just in terms of how the rest of Europe views it – I can see attitudes changing too in southern Asia, where I live now. Until very recently, Britain was regarded as being a bit starchy and old-fashioned, but cool – sort of like Colin Firth in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Now Britain is regarded as an international village idiot, gibbering and self-harming in its hovel somewhere beyond the outskirts of Europe.
Of course, just now, anyone daring to question the wisdom of Brexit is labelled a traitor by Brexit-crazy British politicians and Brexit-crazy British newspapers (shit-sheets like the Daily Mail, Daily Express, Sun and the increasingly crass Daily Telegraph). Doubters, prevaricators and sceptics are accused of unpatriotically talking the country down. Concerned economists are dismissed as untrustworthy ‘experts’ – as Michael Gove said memorably, the British “have had enough of experts.” Fie on you, traitorous experts, for having the temerity to know stuff!
Meanwhile, any critic of Brexit with cultural leanings is damned as a ‘left-wing luvvie’. This label has even been attached to the former England football-team captain Gary Lineker, who recently tweeted his discomfort at post-Brexit Britain and the hostility of attitudes towards children from the ‘Calais Jungle’ migrant camp in France.
Generally, being slightly less-than-enthusiastic about Brexit marks you out as a member of the ‘liberal metropolitan elite’ who voted to remain in the EU – a sneering minority accounting for a mere 48% of the votes cast. That’s the derisive term used by Britain’s gloriously Brexiting Prime Minister Theresa May, who back in June had supported Britain remaining in the EU.
It feels like a new virus that turns people into morons is on the loose. And it feels like Britain has succumbed to an epidemic of this new moronism.
Alas, it seems that the same infection has taken hold in the United States too. For today is when American voters go to the polls to elect the 45th president of the USA. The choice ought to be simple. They must decide between Hillary Clinton, an uninspiring, uncharismatic technocrat who carries too much political baggage for comfort, but who has plenty of government experience and who at least isn’t mad; and one Donald John Trump.
That’s the billionaire Donald Trump who’s suffered six bankruptcies (so far) in his hotel and casino businesses; who believes Mexicans to be rapists; who wants to ban Muslims from the USA; who’s endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan; who likes to grab women by the pussy; who dismisses climate change as a hoax; who’s flattened the environmentally-precious Balmedie Beach in Aberdeenshire in order to build a golf course that he promised would employ 6000 people (but by 2016 had employed only 200); who established an alleged educational institution that violated New York State law by calling itself a ‘university’; who managed to wangle his way out of paying taxes by claiming a loss of 916 million dollars in 1995; who’s hinted that gun-owners ought to shoot Clinton; who’s promised to lock Clinton up if he wins; who’s refused to accept the result if he loses; who has a man-crush on Vladimir Putin; who’s wondered aloud what the point is of having nuclear weapons if you can’t use them.
Donald Trump is a garrulous gob-shite, a bigoted bell-end, a maggoty skidmark on the boxer shorts of American politics. Oh, and his suntan looks like radioactive slurry. And his hairdo’s so hideous it may as well be the pubes of Satan.
Clinton or Trump? It should be a no-brainer. However, Trump is in with a shout of winning the presidency – a 35% probability according to polling supremo Nate Silver – which suggests that an awful lot of Americans have developed ‘no-brain syndrome’.
Will the new moronism that’s afflicted Britain strike again? I guess this time tomorrow we’ll know.
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