People are idiots, any fool knows that. At least, that is what we are told by every facet of the British establishment. Listen to politicians, judges, journalists, technocrats, lawyers, academics and public officials of all stripes as they wallow in self-importance and secrete condescension. Every day they communicate implicitly and explicitly that people are idiots.
We are told so incessantly by the media – with increasing vigour lately – in a vocabulary of about 100 short words with no provision for subtlety or nuance. Accuracy is sacrificed. Exotic words are immediately defined in familiar syllables. Advanced concepts are hastily wrought simple by analogies with football and housekeeping. Strange places become terrestrial when it is revealed with which sports star or celebrity there is some natal or mortal connection. Members of an audience supposedly being educated or informed are never compelled to reach for a dictionary, encyclopaedia, or atlas; they’re not expected to. When they find themselves behind the fourth wall, the arrogant purveyors of such intellectually insipid drivel no doubt sneer – but not at their professional peers. They sneer at the academically-bereft and infantile audience which they perceive and then adjust their own output accordingly. Consequently, the cycle of dumbing down has gone for years under the unobjectionable banner of “accessibility”.
The evidence of dumbing down is ubiquitous: patronising safety warnings everywhere; patronising news readers who refer to “the President, Donald Trump” – in case we should forget; patronising shock-and-awe educational programmes in which understanding is secondary to entertainment. These things breed – cause – ignorance. But cause is not symptom and ignorance is not stupidity.
The same misapprehension – driven still, it seems, by arrogance and narcissism – is manifest in the legal system to more dangerous effect: In July of this year, exceptionable secrecy orders were granted to protect the identity of “one of the British establishment’s richest and most powerful figures,” The Times reported. Mr X stood accused of serious sexual harassment against two women who withdrew their allegations after accepting large financial settlements. With complete disregard for the principle of open justice, a senior judge said in justification of the gagging order, “the distinction between allegations and proof may not be understood [by the public].” Where the press dumb-down, the courts censor.
Politicians refer to each other as “useful idiots” but they hold the electorate in even lower regard: We’re useless morons. Those self-proclaimed humble public servants see themselves as masters of the universe. Their chosen epithet is apt; high-ranking public servants are equally hubristic and pious only unelected. Zealous government after zealous government pursues total control: “The mass-surveillance, the press-censorship, the prescription and proscription – it’s all for your own good,” they preach. Their favoured method by which to communicate such “truths”, the sound bite, is predicated on the assumption that the proles cannot cope with more than eight syllables in four words. Spin doctors are employed to write Mr. Men policy announcements. “…only four facial-recognition cameras per football pitch,” and “…you don’t leave your spare key on top of the doormat,” are more engaging than their legislative analogues, supposedly; it’s purely by coincidence they sound less sinister. The proposal that citizens of a democracy should have thorough insight of policies affecting personal freedom is rejected on the basis that such insight requires a degree in PPE from Oxford.
With freedom comes responsibility. Increasingly, we are encouraged by technocrats to defer responsibility to the state and in complying we sacrifice freedom.
Until recently, the characterisation of the majority as idiots was covert, implicit, and inadmissible. That was before the insurgent populism of the last five years; it was before the majority started voting for the unacceptable anti-establishment politics. In 2010, David Cameron said: “He is incapable of treating the British public like adults, and I think you don’t deserve to win if you treat people like fools,” after Gordon Brown famously called Gillian Duffy a bigot. David Cameron was of course right, regardless of his sincerity. However, in 2019, in the shadows of Trump and Brexit, a politician calling voters bigots and fools would hardly raise an eyebrow. Politicians with such prejudices are those most detached from the working class and overwhelmingly adhere to the ideology of a single political entity: New Labour was the establishment party of vanity, arrogance, hubris, narcissism and sleaze.
The New Labour chi is still with us. It abides within groups such as the People’s Vote campaign (headed by New Labour spin doctor, serial liar and alleged war criminal Alastair Campbell) and the parliamentary Remain Alliance (commanded by New Labour front-man, serial liar and alleged war criminal Christos Blair). Incidentally, New Labour – like every other party – promised in its 2005 manifesto a referendum on the European Constitution – a pledge it later refused to make good when that document was reincarnated as the Lisbon Treaty.
Campbell’s campaign promotes his newfound fondness of public approval and mass-marches, which is peculiar given Campbell himself “always thought it [the first referendum] was a bad idea,” and convenient given the record-large march against the invasion of Iraq has now been surpassed.
Blair’s project, meanwhile, reflects his longstanding contempt for parliamentary democracy – a concept wilfully misinterpreted by Remain Alliance members. True, there have been underhand and brazen attempts to undermine parliament by denominations on both sides of the current Brexit debate; but there is no contest in irresponsibility and social vandalism: Only sect is truly guilty of the wholesale abandonment of democracy.
Populists invariably claim to uniquely represent “the people” in opposition to a real or imagined antagonistic elite. The narrative is insultingly simplistic and to identify as a populist is to proclaim one’s self-importance and narcissism, which is why no one ever does. Beyond that characterisation, the term populism is neither well-defined nor shrewdly used. Disparate political movements variously extreme, consensus, mainstream, marginal, far left, far right, plain left, plain right and centrist, from agrarian socialism to Neo-Nazism passing pacifism and conservatism, have been described as populist. Populist, like bigot, is an overused slur. In contemporary use, populist means bigot euphemistically.
I credit New Labour for singlehandedly jump-starting twenty-first century British populism (previously Euroscepticism). The politics of the second decade of this century can be summarised as a reaction against the social irresponsibility, excessive economic generosity, political lies and political deceit of the first. Those responsible are now rocket-fueling a larger backlash. They believe that populism is the fault of an electorate unable to distinguish between the grossly oversimplified and the merely oversimplified. The immeasurable absurdity of that position is symptomatic of the inability of our political class to recognise the effects of its irresponsibility. They cannot even see the slightest irony in branding their opponents populists.