Leave? Remain? The Decision Was Never Yours To Make
Last month, I sat down to watch Brexit: The Uncivil War nursing a sense of eager anticipation laced with abject dread. I was about to watch the dramatized version of my country royally fucking itself, and yet – in spite of my own personal beliefs on the matter – I was thoroughly looking forward to it. And when I say ‘looking forward to’, I mean that I anticipated it filling me with a fiery rage that would totally boil my piss.
And it did.
Everything about it was primed to appeal to me: from the spot-on casting to the witty writing to the subject matter itself, and - of course - it was brilliant. I found myself so engaged that I had to remind myself to breathe again during advert breaks; I actually yelled at the blonde woman in the focus group when she accused another focus group member of calling her racist, “That’s because you ARE racist, bitch!”… which was possibly not the reaction intended – we were supposed to empathise with this woman who felt left behind, who wasn’t being heard, who felt that she couldn’t say anything for fear of being called out or ‘cancelled’. But I would argue that we have a really big problem with insidious structural racism in the UK that few are prepared to admit to or combat, so maybe – just maybe – if someone is calling you out for being racist then maaaaaaybe it’s because you’re being racist. The fact that you have personally suffered doesn’t mean that you cannot also be an arsehole.
I cannot comment on the veracity of the storytelling (some moments were obviously pure theatre), and it’s important to note that many have already levelled criticisms at writer James Graham for his portrayal of the events. One major criticism being that the show depicts its protagonist, Dominic Cummings, as an anti-establishment rebel – a man with a daring vision who was intelligent enough to cut through the bullshit, and possessing of enough strategic nowse to lead the ‘underdogs’ to victory. He even had a WIFE! Who was PREGNANT! See? He can’t really be a monster! Man = instantly humanised by child-bearing ladypartner!
But why is this a problem? Well, it skims rather neatly over the fact that what he did by working with AggregateIQ, a Canadian firm, was criminal (British law forbids foreign contributions to its political campaigns), and it allows people to lionise him as some ‘independence day’-style hero, rather than to condemn him as the cynical, sociopathic elitist/eugenicist actually he is.
But I’m not here to talk about the portrayal of Dominic Cummings. I’m here to talk about the suggestion made in Brexit: The Uncivil War that Brexit (and, subsequently, the election of Trump) came about in no small part due to the involvement of one man – Robert Mercer.
The link between Mercer and the campaign for Britain to leave the EU has been well established in the real world thanks to excellent investigative journalism from Open Democracy, The Observer, and The New Yorker, amongst others. The connection – in plain terms – is as follows:
Both Vote Leave and Leave.EU used data firms to help them super-charge their campaigns by targeting potential voters with personalised social media ads designed to play to their fears and get them to vote ‘leave’: Vote Leave used the aforementioned AggregateIQ, while Leave.EU used Cambridge Analytica;
These firms are not publically connected, but a leaked intellectual property licence reveals that both are legally bound to SCL Elections Ltd., which is owned by (you guessed it) Robert Mercer;
So: we have two apparently separate leave campaigns being serviced by two apparently separate data firms, which were, in fact, owned by one (American) man, who actively contributed to the leave campaign both directly and in services;
British electoral law not only forbids foreign contributions to political campaigns, but it also demands a level playing field where different campaigns cannot work together unless they declare their expenditure jointly – needless to say, the two campaigns did not declare their expenditure jointly;
The cooperation between Vote Leave and Leave.EU via their respective data firms therefore destroyed the level playing field, creating an unfair advantage for the leave campaign as a whole, thus enabling them to snatch victory in a game that was never fair to begin with.
And I know what you’re thinking: why? Why do all this? What did tech billionaire Robert Mercer have to gain by Britain crashing out of the EU?
Again, the answer isn’t a simple one.
First and foremost, the Brexit campaign arguably served as a testing ground for the technology that would later go on to prove pivotal in Trump winning the presidential election. A former employee of Cambridge Analytica has described their work as “psychological warfare” - they used methods previously only employed by the military to “effect mass sentiment change” in order to win elections in so-called developing countries (what? You thought that interfering in foreign elections was a ‘Russian’ thing?), only this time the methods were being tested on the British electorate before being deployed for the ‘real battle’ in the US.
Secondly, massive political upheaval suits the likes of Mercer. A swing toward the Right is a veritable wet dream for your average plutocrat: tax cuts for the super-rich, wide-spread deregulation, the stripping back of hard-won rights (Mercer once described the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as “a major mistake”), the dismantling of welfare programmes, roll-backs on green efforts – basically, the Trump presidential playbook.
And that’s exactly where Britain is headed. Should we crash out of the EU with no deal (a prospect that is looking increasingly likely), we could become” a giant export-processing zone, exempt from the laws that govern other rich nations” (George Monbiot) where coal is burnt freely, sewage is pumped into our waters, hormone-altering chemicals are reintroduced to our plastics, and everyone is too distracted by the food and drug shortages to notice that the disaster capitalists are ‘cleaning up’.
Of course, Mercer isn’t the only wealthy skidmark attempting to use Brexit to fulfil his personal deregulation fantasy. There’s dark money connecting the Democratic Unionist Party, Scottish Tories, a Danish gun-runner, a 22-year-old fashion student who spent £675,000 in the ten days running up to the referendum on a pro-Brexit social media campaign, and various Brexit ministers who stand to gain personally from a no-deal scenario.
So where does this leave us?
Firstly, the events surrounding Brexit provide us with clear evidence that capitalism is well and truly broken. A system that enables the kind of concentration of wealth necessary for billionaires to exist at the expense of the poor is clearly an indication that the system has failed. A system that then enables these billionaires to influence domestic and foreign politics for personal gain to the extent we’ve seen with Mercer is an untenable disgrace. Make no mistake, the pitchforks are coming.
Secondly, next time that you hear weak-jawed, gammon-faced politicians defending Brexit as ‘the will of the people’ or demanding that we ‘respect the democratic process’ you will know that they are either naïve fools or barefaced liars. A referendum result so obviously influenced by individual foreign interests can in no way be defined as ‘democratic’. So call your politicians out. Reject their bullshit. Donate to Open Democracy and help them to expose the dark money behind Brexit so that it’s impossible for our leaders to ignore.
Whatever you do – don’t give up. A no-deal Brexit is not the end. We have so much more to lose if we don’t fight the powers trying to strip us of ours.