Ann Widdecombe, the comedy turn on Strictly Come Dancing and the Brexit Party, was interviewed on Sky News on Sunday morning. In the absence of any manifesto or policies from the Brexit Party, all we have to go on are the pronouncements of party worthies like Anne. And it didn’t make for inspiring listening.
Ann was very keen to tell us that perhaps one day science might produce an answer to the question of whether gay people can be turned straight. Science does actually have a position on so-called gay conversion therapy, and finds that it’s a form of psychological torture. That doesn’t stop Ann, who thinks that the solution for gay people who are unhappy because of their sexuality is for them to have the possibility to change into straight people, and not for homophobic bigots to stop making them unhappy. You know, bigots like Ann who when she was an MP voted against an equal age of consent, the Equality Act, same-sex adoption, civil partnerships, and in favour of a ban on the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools. By which was meant educational policies telling schoolkids in an age appropriate manner that gay people exist.
Why thank you for clearing that up Ann. It’s a bit like suggesting that society’s problem with racism could be solved if only scientists could invent a procedure to turn black people into white people instead of you know, teaching people that it’s wrong to be racist.
It’s just a pity that science will never find an answer to Ann Widdecombe. It is peculiar that she has such faith in science to bolster her own prejudices, but is lacking in such faith in the scientific method when it comes to climate change. Ann thinks that policies to mitigate or reduce the effects of climate change are pandering to doom mongering, and people who deny the reality of climate change get treated like victims of the Nazis. Poor thing. She’s the real victim here.
Ann’s comments illustrate the problem with Nigel Farage’s Brexit party. It is of course unlikely that when it does get around to adopting a manifesto and a set of policy positions that it will include a commitment to Ann’s “gay sex changes”, whatever they may be exactly. That’s not the point. The point is that Ann isn’t just a colourful and harmless eccentric. She is a deeply reactionary woman with some harmful and truly vile views. When she was Prisons Minister during the government of John Major in the mid 1990s, she vigorously defended the policy of forcing pregnant women prisoners who had gone into labour to give birth in chains. Now she has a platform as an elected politician again, and is using that platform to reopen questions about minorities.
It’s not true to say that Nigel Farage’s Brexit party has no policies other than leaving the EU immediately with or without a deal, its other policy is to have no policies because that way it can act as a blank canvas to the hopes and aspirations of everyone who happens to oppose membership of the EU. That means that it currently includes people like Ann who would be on the right wing of even a right wing party like the Conservatives, and it also includes people like Claire Fox, formerly of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who defines herself as a left-libertarian. (Although the writer and activist George Monbiot regards Claire’s politics as being a part of the pro-corporate libertarian right. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2003/dec/09/highereducation.uk2 )
The real reason that Nigel is so reluctant to adopt all the policy positions that would be necessary were the Brexit party to be a serious challenger for power in Westminster is that it would mean settling on a set of policies that all the disparate voices in his party could agree on. That’s vanishingly unlikely to happen. Libertarians like Claire Fox are never going to find much common ground with authoritarians like Ann Widdecombe on social or moral issues. So instead the Brexit party is structured in such a way that Nigel’s leadership can never be challenged. He’s learned from his Ukip days. This new party is going to be his creature, and his alone.
Yet if the Brexit party is to establish itself beyond its initial appeal to the anger of frustrated Brexiters, then it has to be more than a vehicle for Nigel Farage’s ego. A right wing apologist for big business, who’s funded by millionaires, and who espouses the politics of Thatcherism is going to have a difficult time maintaining his pose as a challenger of the elites to disaffected working class former Labour voters.
It is entirely plausible that the internal contradictions of the Brexit party mean that it will prove to be a short term political phenomenon, like Cleggmania in 2010. That’s why the real concern about the Brexit party isn’t the Brexit party itself. It’s the effect that it will have upon the Conservatives. It’s going to turn the Tories even further to the right, make them even more hardline on Brexit, and will make it even more likely that they’ll take the UK, and Scotland with it, out of the EU without a deal in order to placate the angry Farageists. Unfortunately Farageism is a creed that can never be satisfied, it can only be betrayed. The future of the UK is a dark and unwelcoming place. Scotland needs to escape.
Meanwhile, the Tory leadership candidates are vying with one another to prove their love for the precious union, which is Tory-speak for not allowing Scotland to have a say on its future. The latest addition to the oeuvre is Jeremy Hunt, who filmed a wee video in Edinburgh in which he went on about how Adam Smith could only be a genius because Scotland had united with England. Clearly, if Scotland had remained independent Adam would have sat in a cellar in Edinburgh with only some crayons and a colouring book for company. Funny how these Tory acolytes of Adam Smith always forget about his warnings about the dangers of unbridled capitalism.
Jeremy was keen to tell us, or rather he was keen to tell the 13 Scottish Tory MPs who actually have a vote in the leadership contest, that he wants a Brexit that works for everyone, for remainers as well as leavers. So just hush Scotland, Jeremy has our concerns at heart. Jeremy will get us a Brexit that works for us, like encasing your feet in a concrete block works for your aspirations to run a marathon.
Then he went and spoiled it all by saying that he wanted a Brexit that worked for Culloden as well as Canary Wharf, blithely ignorant of the role that Culloden has played in Scottish culture and history. He just wanted somewhere jockish that started with a C, so it could alliterate. We have a C word for you too Jeremy.
He could have gone with Cowdenbeath, Condorrat, Cumbernauld, Crieff, Carnoustie, Carnwath, Callanish, or Croy. But no, he picked the name of a place most noted for the defeat and slaughter of the Jacobites by a vengeful British army, which sparked off military occupation, massacres, ethnic cleansing, and the British state’s wholesale oppression of Scottish Gaelic language, culture, and identity. He picked a place that is symbolic of the crushing of Scotland by a British establishment bent on revenge. He picked a place that symbolises the death of Scotland’s hopes and dreams. And he couldn’t even pronounce it properly.
Way to go to prove that you’re in touch with Scottish sensibilities there, Jeremy, by mentioning Culloden while trying to make a case against independence. It sparks off such positive thoughts and feelings about the British state amongst Scottish people. Culloden, it’s our happy place.
Jeremy’s wee video did achieve something. It showed that as much thought went into its creation as the British government has given Scotland during the Brexit process. It showed Scotland that the very best we can hope for within this UK is to be governed by people who at best view us as a spot of colourful history, and who are woefully ignorant of the realities of Scotland. The best reason for independence is that it’s only then that Scotland can be governed by people who actually understand it.
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