Wednesday 1 June 2016

Why are so many Brexiters so angry?

On the 31st of May 2016 it was revealed that pub chain JD Wetherspoon had printed up 20,000 pro-Brexit beer mats. It's hardly a surprise that the company has decided to propagandise for Brexit given that the boss Tim Martin advocates Brexit as strongly as he opposes labour rights and decent wages for his employees.

Incoherently structured arguments

The problem with the JD Wetherspoon beer mats (right) is obvious. As weak as much of the EU referendum propaganda has been from both sides of the debate has been, a sustained attack on the International Monetary Fund followed by the conclusion "Vote 'Leave' - take back control" has to be one of the most incoherently structured arguments yet. 

The IMF is not part of the EU, and it will continue to push hard-right economic dogma on countries across the world whether the UK votes to leave the EU or not.

It doesn't matter what your opinions on the IMF or on the EU are (I'm not particularly fond of either of them), the argument that "the IMF stinks therefore the UK should leave the EU" is a remarkable non-sequitur. Perhaps Tim Martin is hoping that his clientele are so drunk out of their minds on cheap beer that they're rendered incapable of spotting what an utterly crap argument his beer mats make?

Inverse snobbery

A lot of the online commentary about the JD Wetherspoon Brexit beer mats focused on the fact that the vast majority of Wetherspoon staff are on exploitative Zero Hours Contracts and that the company boss Tim Martin is a staunch opponent of paying his employees enough to even live on having spoken out repeatedly against increases in the minimum wage. It's hardly surprising to see a selfish right-wing zealot backing Brexit, because an unrestrained Conservative government led by the crackpot extreme-right Tory fringe (Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel ...) would no doubt conduct a massive bonfire of labour rights in order to hand even more advantage to wealthy employers over their beleaguered and underpaid employees. 

The response from the Brexit commentariat was to completely ignore all of the comments pointing out Tim Martin's self-interest in seeing the European employment rights of his employees scrapped, and instead focused on misrepresenting all criticism of Tim Martin and JD Wetherspoon as elitist snobbery from the Remain camp. Their argument goes along the lines that "the Remain camp is full of elitist snobs filled with hatred and contempt for the good honest pro-Brexit working class types who drink in Wetherspoons pubs".

The problem with this kind of inverted snobbery is that assuming all Remain supporters are privileged snobs is just as much of a shallow generalisation as assuming that all Wetherspoon patrons are pro-Brexit working class salt of the earth types. This kind of crude generalisation based "us vs them" sneering is indicative of the kind of emotive fact-free rhetoric that has infused the Brexit campaign. Additionally such "us vs them" comments are actually far more laden with offensive generalisations than any of the Bremain comments about the Wetherspoon beer mats I came across.

The news of a pub chain printing up political beer mats was obviously ideal material for Al Murray (the pub landlord) to work with. He had a dig at both sides of the EU referendum debate by designing his own beer mats and writing an article for the Guardian.

It doesn't matter if you find Al Murray particularly funny or not, it's undeniable that the Wetherspoon beer mats were pretty much the most perfect material for a pub landlord comedy character to work with. If he hadn't have done it, it would have been a tremendous missed opportunity.

If you actually look at Al Murray's beer mats and read his article then it's quite clear that he was actually being quite even-handed in attacking the Project Fear vs Project Fear negative campaigning from both camps.

This didn't stop a shit-parade of furious Brexiters from wading in to attack Al Murray as an "elitist" from an "establishment background" and criticising his Oxford education and his aritocratic ancestry.

A crowd of bile spewing Brexiters and 'kippers slagging off Al Murray for his Oxford education and his establishment ancestry is quite some spectacle given the kinds of people leading the Brexit campaign.

Consider this:

  • Alexander James Hay Murray: Private education (Bedford), Oxford University. Decided to hang around with comedians like Stewart Lee and Harry Hill instead of follow his father into the admiralty. Lived as a struggling comedian for several years before his "pub landlord" character took off.
  • Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson: Private education (Eton), Oxford University. Wrote for Rupert Murdoch's Times and Conrad Black's Telegraph. Edited the establishment friendly Spectator magazine for years. Wormed his way into the Tory party. Professional politician since 2001.
  • Nigel Farage: Private education (Dulwich). Worked as a commodities trader in the Ciry of London since the 1980s. Activist for the Tory party until 1992. Joined UKIP in 1993. Professional politician since 1999.
  • Michael Gove: Private education (Robert Gordon's). Oxford University. Wrote for the Murdoch press and the Spectator. Professional politician since 2005.
If any of these four are guilty of being a pampered out-of-touch rich boy putting on a grotesque pint-swilling man of the people act, it's clearly Nigel Farage isn't it?

 It's remarkable to see Brexiters attacking Al Murray as some kind of establishment shill when he chose to jump off the establishment track to knock around with other dropouts like Harry Hill and Stewart Lee, while they simultaneously support a Brexit campaign led by three privately educated professional politicians.

It seems that in the Brexiter mindset having an establishment background is toxic as hell if you're not part of the Brexit campaign (even if you rejected in order to become a stand up comedian), but being still firmly rooted in the political establishment is nothing to be concerned about if you are.


There are a lot of incredibly furious Brexiters out there. People who are so riled up with anger that they're utterly incapable of forming a remotely coherent argument. Some of them are so furious that they don't seem to be able to even differentiate between the EU and other non-EU institutions (the IMF, NATO, the UN, the ECHR ...). Some of them rely on appalling displays of inverse snobbery and anti-intellectualism to form the basis of their fact-free "us vs them" arguments in favour of Brexit. Some of them are utterly humourless people who use the privileged background of a comedian (that he rejected) as personal attacks because he doesn't cheerlead for Brexit, whilst completely ignoring the fact that the main figureheads of the Brexit campaign come from similarly privileged backgrounds, and that unlike Al Murray, they're still firmly entrenched in the political establishment.

The kind of embarrassingly incoherent shit-slinging tactics detailed in this article are examples of what happens to the standard of debate when people let anger dictate their actions and decisions. Sadly both camps in the EU debate have realised that playing on people's basic emotions (anger and fear) is a good way to herd them over to their side of the argument, hence the appallingly low general standard of debate about such an important political issue.

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