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The infantilisation of the Brexit debate

This morning I was listening to a radio debate around British membership of the European Union when one of the participants dropped a bombshell. We’d all heard the big news that, during the week, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s negotiations with his fellow European leaders had dragged on so long that breakfast was postponed, then lunch, then dinner. But now came the revelation that in the absence of formal dining what had ‘fuelled’ Cameron and his team during the tortuous process  was Haribo Fangtastics.

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For the uninitiated, Fangtastics are a chewy jelly snack manufactured by a German (yes, German) confectionery giant. A playground favourite, they take your tongue on a sensory journey from extreme sweetness to extreme sourness. And they pack a fizz, too. Perfect sugar hit to get you through Double Maths or, if you’re Mr Cameron, high powered political negotiations.

Fangtastics-gate illustrates the fact that, thus far, the debate around whether the United Kingdom will leave the European Union has been characterised by infantilised rhetoric.

By now, we’re used to this when it comes to politics. ‘It’s just too boring’ fret television and radio producers. As a solution you get programmes like BBC’s Daily Politics, all cheap graphics and smiles to break up the serious stuff. The Daily Politics duly delivered today: Cameron’s cabinet were crudely depicted as rival sets of football fans, with bobble hats and scarfs bearing either the words ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ depending on their stance. Chortle.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage – leading figure in the ‘out’ campaign – has in the last couple of weeks delivered rejoinders to Cameron of which a school bully would be proud. He first called him ‘a chicken’ over his trifling reforms to Britain’s conditions of EU membership. He then went further in deploying schoolboy taunts: Mr Cameron, Farage informed us, had secured but ‘tinsy winsy’ reforms.

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Over on Sky News, anchor Dermot Murnaghan was busy reducing the debate to a matter of personalities. Boris Johnson versus David Cameron, Murnaghan told viewers, would be like ‘a superhero movie’, ‘like King Kong fighting Godzilla’. Sounds light? Well, this was actually taking the debate up a notch. The previous segment of the show had featured ‘in’ campaigner June Sarpong (she formerly noted for presenting shows about pop music on Channel 4 which brought with it tough interviews with the likes of Britney Spiers over what she eats for breakfast). June’s argument for staying in the EU seemed to be largely based on an image of ‘out’ campaigners Nigel Farage and George Galloway linking arms. She goaded the Tory ‘out’ campaigner sitting beside her in the Sky Newsroom with that classic argument that goes something like this: ‘Euuhhhhh! Look at the state of your friends’. Or, to directly quote Sarpong, ‘look at who you hang out with!’

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What does all this suggest about the state of political rhetoric?

It speaks to the fact that the British negotiations over questions such as migrant benefits, sovereignty, movement of labour, law-making etc actualy turned out – unsurprisingly – to be slow and boring. Very boring.

Now, The News doesn’t like this. So even the most high-brow news magazine shows stooped to the tabloid. Thus on Thursday BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning politics show ‘Today’ wheeled out an excitable American commentator to spice things up. Suddenly a boring set of negotiations sounded like Superbowl showdown. ‘Cameron’s going in there on the offense’ he enthused ‘and how is Denmark going to respond?’ Pass the popcorn!

More worryingly, it shows that some of the profound consequences that will follow the British people’s decision on European have been reduced to the sound-bite and dumbed down to an alarming degree.

I would argue that this is part of a broader infantilisation at work in society. Young-ish people are penalised and neutered by house prices, age-geared benefit restrictions, the early debt burden of study, and austerity politics. They become infantilised, some living with mum and dad well into their thirties and forties (and beyond?) because there is little other option for them. They’re also spoon-fed a diet of computer games and superhero movies so that infantilisation has become masked beneath the new respectability of the 40 year old nerd.

Does the infantilisation of the debate around Brexit, with cartoonish and pop-friendly rhetoric, reflect this? I would discuss this further, but the X Factor has just come on the telly. Sorry. Have to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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Anthemgate and all that

corbyn

“It’s a disgrace for Jeremy Corbyn not to sing the national anthem”

“Corbyn was a disgrace! Not just for not singing but for turning up so shabbily dressed”

“Shame on you Corbyn for not honouring our Queen. Disgrace.”

DISGRACE  (no, not the book by J.M. Coetzee)

Yes, that professional disgrace Jeremy Corbyn has done it again! The Labour leader’s decision not to sing God Save the Queen at a remembrance service has elicited ire from some quarters. The selection of tweets above, reacting to Corbyn’s decision to remain true to his republican principles, illustrate how standing in respectful silence can really get up some people’s noses.

ABSOLUTE DISGRACEY DISGRACEFULNESS

For those offended, the argument goes a little like this: “How dare Jeremy Corbyn refuse to sing a song about a deity he doesn’t believe in bestowing favours on an unelected head of state he wants to get rid of?”

But who are these people for whom a MASSIVE issue like this justifiably overshadows other less worthy crumbs of news such as the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War?

Well, believe it or not, the majority of Corbyn’s detractors over ‘Anthemgate’ are not Tory politicians or right wing press figures. Neither are the majority of his detractors disgruntled members of his own party. And neither are they white van men, members of the armed forces, football hooligans, gong-chasing celebs, or even high profile members of what might loosely be termed ‘the establishment’.

No, a cursory trawl through social media will demonstrate that those who Corbyn really offended were people whose hobbies are likely to include cross-stitch and flower arranging. Think Hyacinth Bouquet from the old sitcom ‘Keeping Up Appearances’. That’s it, you’ve got it, suburban snobs or – as I’ll call them from hereon in – church fete fascists.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE SPECIES

The Church Fete Fascist (CFF) is a curious breed of nimby. Part of several other subfamilies, the CFF has been around a long time in these isles and is widely distributed. Its feeding habits ensure that the CFF will exploit a variety of sources of discontent likely to make the front page of right-wing daily newspapers.

A domesticated creature, a CFF will largely confine itself to its natural habitat but (reminiscent of the legend that King Arthur will resurrect and come to England’s rescue in her hour of need) they are also predatory and ready and waiting to emerge to help if a national scandal of the gravity of Anthemgate arises.

The Church Fete Fascist is so named so because of its intolerance for non-conformism. Not singing a song which contains verses lauding an unelected leader and bashing Scots is one such example which is HIGHLY DISTRESSING to the CFF and can cause erratic behaviour to develop.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

The interesting thing about Anthemgate is that it has revealed how Church Fete Fascism really is in undergoing a resurgence at the moment. This is all to do with the attendant emergence of Brand Britain.

Brand Britain is about cakes and ale, roast beef and cricket on the green. It is all about waving the butcher’s apron around gaily and taking ‘pride’ in the country. Nothing wrong with this in and of itself, of course, but the phenomenon has intensified a lot in recent years.

The electoral defeat of Labour party in 2011 and a succession of national events soon meant that various celebrities soon flocked to Brand Britain, bending the knee and doffing the cap at each and every opportunity: the Jubilee for example. The London Olympics of 2012 intensified the phenomenon. ‘Pride in Britishness’ underwent something of an explosion as the Olympics came to these shores and the country’s athletes performed well.

National coming-together helped dampen those nagging anxieties about the Celtic fringes. Squalid little interruptions to this forward march may have sporadically occurred in the form of independence referendums but these distractions were swiftly papered over by footage of Kate Middleton opening a child’s play area.

A state broadcaster wearied and wounded by threats to abolish the licence fee and competition from online platforms and other channels soon joined in enthusiastically, shedding its tradition left-of-centrism for a craven attitude to royalty. Because Brand Britain, naturally, also conflates the two things. Because, as any schoolkid studying the revised history curriculum or immigrant taking the ‘Britishness’ test knows, Britain and the Windsor family are exactly the same thing. Always have been an always will be. Long to reign over us. Happy and Glorious.

NOT THEIR FAULT

In short, it’s all about the rise of a disturbingly conformist culture attached to national identity.

However, to be fair, it is not the Church Fete Fascists’ fault. There was a time when DEMANDING conformity on things like singing the anthem would have been dismissed by a greater section of British opinion as intolerant and illiberal. A time when the CFF might have looked, well, a little silly.

There was a time, now dimly-remembered, when more people would have pointed out that freedom of expression was what the sacrifice of the Second World War – the occasion which Corbyn, amongst others, was assembling to remember – was supposedly all about.

But that was a time before the media’s obsession with Brand Britain enabled the inexorable ascent of the Church Fete Fascist.

A time before television presenter Kirsty Allsop hit our screens alongside wall-to-wall shows about bunting and baking…

A time before Jeremy Clarkson …

A time before newsreader Fiona Bruce’s face would contort with schoolgirl glee before breaking the good news about the Queen cutting the ribbon at a new garden centre in Rutland …

A time when a studio guest on BBC’s flagship current affairs show Newsnight would have been laughed out of Television Centre for suggesting that Corbyn’s disgrace would have been mitigated had he hummed along and moved his lips occasionally …

But that was before Jeremy Corbyn came along and got himself elected leader of the Labour party. In doing so, he has done his bit to rescue Brand Britain which, despite the media’s efforts, was beginning to look a little frayed around the edges. For those anxieties about the deficit, housing, devolution etc etc can now be funnelled into anti-Corbynism.

As the furore of Anthemgate shows, to quote Dwight D Eisenhower, “the search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions”.

The CFFs bagged their quarry alright – an anxious Labour Party hastily announced that Corbyn will now sing God Save the Queen in future.

Natural order of things restored.

Phew. Thank Goodness for that.

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