Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.
“Margaret Thatcher Six Feet Under!” shouted the demonstrators as we arrived in Manchester. Ah, those comforting, familiar old chants. “Tory scum off our streets!” they screamed, their faces puce and contorted with loathing. Then, a touch less imaginatively, “Scum! Scum! Scum!”
Left-wing hate mobs are as much a part of a traditional Tory conference as angling for an invitation to the ConservativeHome reception. There is nothing new here. It happens every year. And, I’m compelled to add, it happens asymmetrically. You don’t get right-wing mobs bellowing at delegates to the Labour conference, let alone mobs that include Conservative politicians.
I have discussed the asymmetry on ConHome before. Neither side has a monopoly on political odium, obviously, but there are various metrics that show how lopsided it is: Labour supporters are more than twice as likely to say they would drop a friend who voted for the other side, for example.
Hatred – or what Leftists call “otherisation” – can easily tip over into actual incitement. This year, effigies were strung up from a bridge under a banner reading “130000 KILLED UNDER TORY RULE TIME TO LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD”.
The disgusting claim that the Conservatives are murdering people – or “killing them through austerity” – is not confined to the hard Left. It is made regularly by Labour MPs, and has been endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn. Think, for a moment, about the implications. Once you have accused the other party of murder, it ceases to be your opposition and becomes your enemy. Indeed, attacking its representatives arguably becomes an act of self-defence. That was, broadly speaking, the line taken by James T. Hodgkinson, who shot a Republican Congressman two years ago after convincing himself that Republicans were waging war on the poor.
This sort of language has gone unremarked and unreported for as long as I can remember. I suspect that every politician, Labour, Liberal Dem or Tory, has been on the receiving end of it. (A fairly typical message from yesterday: “How disgusting to learn that Dan Hannan has children”.) It’s the sort of thing we all learn put up with, and it doesn’t occur to most of us to claim victim status on the back of it. There are some disturbed people out there, and if you’re in the public eye, they shout at you.
So why, all of a sudden, are MPs and commentators fainting like affronted Victorian matrons over the use of the word “humbug”? Broadcasters spent a week running the story in tones of delighted horror. Often they twisted the facts, claiming that the Prime Minister dismissed concerns over the safety of MPs as “humbug”.
That was nonsense: what he was dismissing, quite rightly, was the claim that people might be incited to violence by hearing the phrase “Surrender Act”. For that claim to come from a party whose leader made excuses for an actual terrorist movement in Britain, and whose deputy leader demands “direct action” so that “no Tory MP can show their face anywhere in public” is indeed humbug of the highest order.
What we are seeing, in truth, is a final throw of the dice from those who fear that Johnson has outwitted them. The Conservatives have been ahead in recent opinion polls, and Johnson towers over Corbyn and Swinson in the “Best Prime Minister” surveys. Hence the almost hysterical attacks on him, the dredging up of preposterous and salacious stories from years ago, the deranged conspiracy theories about shadowy hedge funds.
None of it is working. People can see what is going on. A Europhile governing class is determined, in defiance of its past promises, to thwart the referendum result. Johnson is seeking to honour his commitment to the country and deliver. It really is that simple.
The constant mistake of the pro-Brussels Establishment has been to assume that voters – especially Leave voters – are thick. Hence their belief that if, with a little prestidigitation, they can keep Britain in the EU while Johnson is still PM, he will get the blame.
In the same way, they assume that, if they block everything in Parliament and then point at the ensuing mess, people will turn against Brexit itself rather than against the people who created the mess. They assume that if they keep calling for an election, despite constantly voting against one, they won’t look cowardly. They assume that if they demand a “people’s vote”, despite refusing to implement the actual people’s vote, they won’t look anti-democratic. They assume that they can call the Prime Minister a dictator, but that people will be upset by his use of the word “humbug”.
But people are not dim. That is why, even as MPs empty cartridge after cartridge at Johnson, the opinion polls are not budging. If some MPs contrive, yet again, to keep us in the EU, they, rather than those trying to get us out, will be blamed.
Hence the sudden interest in forming what is hilariously called a “government of national unity” without an election. Remember how, in 2011, Brussels imposed civilian juntas on Italy and Greece to keep them in the euro? British Europhiles evidently long to do something similar here, forming a “government of national unity” that exists solely to oppose the will of the nation.
Does anyone imagine that it would work? What would the cost be – to our democracy, to our national cohesion, to the legitimacy of our national institutions? If this scheme somehow came off, and Britain were kept in the EU, what kind of member state do Remainers imagine we would be afterwards? A snarling, captive Britain with an alienated and angry electorate – is that what they really want?
If we want to lower the temperature of our body politic, breaking the fever and eliminating the violent language, what is our best option? Is it to annul the biggest vote in our history? Is it to string things out through another referendum? Or is it to deliver Brexit in a liberal and moderate spirit that reassures the 48 per cent? You only have to put the question.