“The word Reichstag is now trending on Twitter,” noted the Observer’s Toby Helm.
John Crace of the Guardian – fresh from a rather strained comparison between Nigel Farage and either Stalin or Hitler – retweeted a passage from The Handmaid’s Tale referring to the establishment of a theocratic dictatorship by a terrorist group via the suspension of the United States Constitution.
Paul Mason told a crowd of Remain protesters in Westminster that “if Boris Johnson seizes power from Parliament, I promise you we will never have another free election in this country”, and got them to swear a bizarre oath that “at 12 o’clock on Saturday, we are coming for you, Boris Johnson”.
The Independent declared the announcement of a Queen’s Speech prorogation a ‘coup’.
Kate Osamor – the charming Labour MP who infamously told a Times reporter “I should have come down here with a bat and smashed your face in” – compared the Queen doing her perfectly proper constitutional duty by not meddling in politics to the last King of Greece’s active political involvement in sparking a military coup in his country.
At a ‘#stopthecoup’ rally yesterday evening, Owen Jones, himself a recent victim of political violence, summoned up the imagery of the spilt ‘blood of our ancestors’ and branded the Prime Minister a ‘tinpot would-be dictator’. He tweeted that the issue was now a ‘war’ which ‘we are going to fight with everything we’ve got’ (though his speech and ensuing column go on to urge ‘peaceful civil disobedience’).
The Best For Britain campaign even suggested that the monarch ought to remember the fate of Charles I.
Elsewhere in hardcore Remain circles, you could find every OTT analogy you might imagine. This was a mash-up of Peterloo and Kim Jong Un. It was Hitler’s Enabling Act revived. It was fascism, communism, and any other available totalitarianism, both historical and fictional.
As I’ve written in the past, I don’t mind a vivid analogy or an emotive turn of phrase. I may even have been guilty of committing some myself on occasion. But haven’t we just spent years being told in ever more self-important tones that “words have consequences”, and therefore everybody must take great care in their speech?
I can recall plenty of times hearing that the language of betrayal used by angry Brexiteers towards politicians who break their promises is actively dangerous; that military analogies or terms of any sort are equivalent to threats of violence; and that for a newspaper to characterise rebellious Tory MPs as ‘mutineers’ constituted a direct incitement of threats towards them.
At times this crusade for more dull language has become even sillier. A year ago Owen Jones (the very same) protested that Chuka Umunna’s call for Jeremy Corbyn to ‘call off the dogs’ was part of ‘a dehumanising narrative used against…Labour members’. ‘Party members are not dogs,’ he noted, helpfully eliminating any lingering doubt.
They can’t really have it both ways. What would the reaction of the above people be to Nigel Farage whipping up a crowd to chant ‘we are coming for you’ about a named political opponent? Or if pro-Brexit pressure groups tweeted darkly about the execution of the Queen? Would they see it as harmless to be accused not of being merely wrong but of being would-be dictators, on the very cusp of irreversibly establishing tyranny?
Do they still believe that ‘words have consequences’, or is that only applied to words they disagree with?