I’ve read these three words, many, many times since the Brexiteers won the referendum vote in 2016 and I find them more troubling every time I hear them. So now I’m blogging about them.
I read them first on the morning after the result, when a young man, whom I knew about because he was a Trustee of the Blake Society and followed because I assumed he would be a man of principle, wrote a twitter message about the election. He was in a triumphalist mood, claiming it was the biggest electoral victory this country had ever seen and bragging that they’d overturned the establishment and that nothing could stop them. I wrote back to point out that there had been other victories even larger and with more resounding majorities, and quoted the election in 1945, stressing that it too had led to massive changes, among them the foundation of the NHS and the Welfare State.
It was a mistake because it made him angry. He wrote back to dazzle me with statistics to prove that he was right and I was wrong and ended by saying, ‘We’ve won and you’ve lost. GET OVER IT!’ It was unmistakably triumphalist and so full of hatred it reminded me of Oswald Moseley’s Blackshirts. So I blocked him. But not long after that, those of us who had dared to vote remain were being mocked as ‘remoaners’ and ‘Get over it!’ had become a signal of the Brexiteers’ power.
Now, two days ago, I read a tweet from a kindly woman who doesn’t think it’s right for anyone to criticise the government’s handling of the present crisis and wants us all to support them. I didn’t argue with her, partly because I haven’t got the energy and partly because I knew she wouldn’t listen, but my heart sank. Have we really become a nation of subservient yes-men? And if we have, does it matter?
Now I know that the written word can be misinterpreted. We don’t see the speaker nor hear the voice so we can’t be entirely sure how the words are being used. These particular words could be gentle advice not to let a difficulty overwhelm us, or they could even be a joke, but when they are used alongside an injunction that we should all ‘pull together and support the government and not criticise what they are doing’ they become a threat to our freedom of speech. We’re not robots. We don’t all think the same. We still live in a democracy – just about – and we are entitled to have different opinions and to speak truth to power. Or are we?
The millions who voted leave took Johnson’s words, emblazoned on his now famous red bus, in exactly the way he intended them to. Without thought. But they were skilfully chosen and were propaganda of a most potent kind. Johnson is a skilled operator. We were all supposed to think that the £350 million we sent to the EU every week was money thrown away. Whereas the truth, had anyone been around to explain it, is that the fund is used to support necessary industries, like farming and fishing, in all the EU countries, as and when it’s needed, and that in some weeks we would get slightly less than the full 350 back in grants while in other weeks we would get slightly – or even considerably – more. And the statement hinted at by the words ‘let’s fund our NHS’ is a complete and utter lie, which is becoming more and more obvious as the reasons for the tragic loss of life caused by this terrifying virus is revealed week by week and more and more people are beginning to understand that our NHS has been deliberately run down for years so that it can be declared not fit for purpose and sold off to the big private health companies in America. The vote leave millions of the electorate were brain washed into that vote and now we are supposed to keep quiet, say nothing and let this corrupt government do whatever it wants. And that would be death to our democracy and an open gate to Fascism.
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil,’ as Edmund Burke famously said, ‘is for good men to do nothing.’ We simply can’t stand by and do nothing. It’s too dangerous.