There are certain phrases frequently used in media discourse which appear to indicate a desire to open up debate but, in fact, signal a wish for discussion to be stifled.
Take one of my favourites (frequently heard on BBC Question Time).
‘We need to have a debate about X’
This is almost always politics speak for “I am about to fob you off with meaningless blather and pretend that everyone can have their say.”
Always beware of politicians who call for a “debate” about an issue. What they really mean is a series of carefully orchestrated statements from key figures within the political/cultural elite. The one thing they do not want to hear about is anything from the great unwashed who live outside that bubble.
This is because the topic of the “debate” – the X part of the formula – is inevitably an issue where the views of the elite do not resonate with the opinions and instincts of ordinary folk: crime, immigration, bureaucracy, government spending, taxation and, yes, the EU.
Angelo M. Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, summed it up brilliantly in an article for the American Spectator. His premise was that most politicians in the USA, from both political parties, Democrats and Republicans, were part of a “ruling class” who increasingly believe that government is a good in itself and that more government is even better. Some Republicans (and a handful of Democrats) as well as a large cohort of people previously disengaged from politics began to feel a degree of unease with this assumption that “the government knows best”. He called these dissenters “the country class” although we would know them better as The Tea Party
“Nothing has set the country class apart, defined it, made it conscious of itself, given it whatever coherence it has, so much as the ruling class’s insistence that people other than themselves are intellectually and hence otherwise humanly inferior. Persons who were brought up to believe themselves as worthy as anyone, who manage their own lives to their own satisfaction, naturally resent politicians of both parties who say that the issues of modern life are too complex for any but themselves. Most are insulted by the ruling class’s dismissal of opposition as mere “anger and frustration” – an imputation of stupidity – while others just scoff at the claim that the ruling class’s bureaucratic language demonstrates superior intelligence. … Moreover, if the politicians are so smart, why have they made life worse?”
Putting this into a British context I would argue that UKIP is the voice of our “country class” and our party’s rise in popularity is a manifestation of rising public mistrust of our own political/cultural elite, our “ruling class”. Without our recent electoral successes and opinion poll figures does anyone seriously believe that David Cameron would be “promising” an EU referendum or that leading figures in both the Tory and Labour parties would be making noises about immigration or Islamist extremism?
I say “promising” and “making noises” because, of course, much of the establishment rhetoric on these and other issues is designed kick the can further down the road rather than actually achieve anything. It’s a sort of bread and circuses act which aims to keep us quiet until our birdlike brains lose interest and get engrossed in the next celebrity reality show.
They do genuinely believe that uncontrolled immigration is good because not only does it provide the lower orders with a rich tapestry of diversity to brighten their humdrum lives but, more importantly, an ever increasing pool of cheap immigrant labour to damp down wage levels and maintain a steady supply of servants for metropolitan middle class households in the fashionable enclaves of chattering class London.
That is why, when a Minister, MP or media pundit says “We need to have a debate about immigration (or crime, or anything else that makes them nervous)” there will always be that weaselly “but we must avoid demonising/frightening/inflaming etc”, usually with a meaningful glance towards the token “country class” person in the studio.
Until recently that was enough to kill off the debate – but no longer. It must be the number one priority of every UKIP supporter, and those who do not belong to us but express similar views, to look those hacks in the eye and spell out honestly and fearlessly (but always politely and respectfully) why we need to open up the discussion.
For we do have their attention. They don’t like it but the moment is ours and we must seize the time. Each of us must be our own John Hampden.