Deplorable, Disgraceful, Despicable: The British Right-Wing Press

Image: Alberto Martinez
Image: Alberto Martinez

The English language scarcely contains language vitriolic enough with which to describe the utterly reprehensible behaviour of the right-wing press in recent days. The rhetoric spewed out by not just the Daily Mail and the Daily Express (pretty nasty at the best of times) but even the supposedly `respectable` Daily Telegraph is not just irresponsible, it is dangerous and should be condemned without qualification. That Theresa May and Liz Truss have dithered in doing so is indefensible.

I felt devastated by the Brexit vote on June 23rd. I believed it to be a victory of ignorance and intolerance over openness and cooperation. Yet I never lost faith in the unshakeable institutions of the oldest parliamentary democracy on the planet. Indeed, the one argument that I felt held any weight on the Brexit side was the affirmation of the supremacy of parliament in decision-making; that this did not outweigh the infinitely more tangible benefits of staying in the EU I thought to be self-evident. Apparently not.

Yet on Friday the 4th of November, after the High Court carried out its judicial duties, the headlines read `Enemies of the People`, `The Judges vs the People` and `Loaded Foreign Elite Defy Will of Brit Voters`. If this was not far enough, the Express led off with `Three Judges Yesterday Blocked Brexit, Now Your Country Really Does Need You`. Let us be clear here. This is should not be dismissed as hyperbole. `Now Your Country Really Does Need You` should be interpreted as nothing other than a threat to the very institutions that underpin the prosperity and freedom of the United Kingdom. It would scarcely be an exaggeration to describe it as a call to arms. This is language reminiscent of extremists and fascists, and if it was not for my unyielding commitment to freedom of speech I would be tempted to describe it worthy of censorship.

There is no debate regarding High Court the decision. My friend Sam Bartlett writes lucidly and candidly on the topic. He writes that this ruling is based on nothing more than “the proper rule of law and the process of parliamentary democracy”. A decision of this magnitude can only be made by parliament. Indeed, the stunning irony is that by deriding the High Court decision the Brexiteers are in equal measure abandoning the very idea around which much of their campaign (or at least the sensible part) was based: that parliament must be sovereign. With the unravelling of the myths surrounding NHS funding and Turkey’s supposedly imminent accession to the EU, the question must be asked, what is Brexit for?

Regardless of what Brexit is actually for, it will happen. There is no possibility that the wheels of Brexit will not be put in motion. But it is vital that a decision of this magnitude is not made by an unelected prime minister and her cabinet but by the elected representatives of the people. The people of Britain voted for Brexit and nothing else. They did not vote for it to be hard, soft or anything in-between. Only parliament can make that decision. The unprecedented use of the royal prerogative for a decision of this magnitude has only one logical conclusion: the eventual abandonment of parliamentary consultation for major decisions.

There is no defence to be made on behalf of the recent behaviour of the right-wing press. Nor is there any defence for those in the government with responsibility on this matter who stayed silent, or worse, actively engaged in it. Lord Patten was right, Sajid Javid should be sacked. Never before has Alexis de Tocqueville’s warnings regarding a `tyranny of the majority` been so fitting. Before bashing the United States for allowing Donald Trump to happen, we should take a long look at the current state of large segments of the British press and British politics. `Enemies of the people`, indeed.

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