Sunday, 2 July 2017

Brexitland does not exist

I think it must have been 2007 I stood atop of a cold hillside in Bradford with Rageh Omaar, presenter of Channel 4's Dispatches. He and his team had come to do a documentary on immigration. Only a couple of years on from the 7/7 bombings, immigration and Islamic extremism were hot topics and the BNP was at its peak.

They chose Bradford because it was a convenient backdrop for the subject. I agreed to speak to the cameras because I wanted to put a more nuanced argument across. I don't recall exactly what I said but I had remarked that the complaint was not with immigrants, rather it was the government who had taken the brakes off without consultation or consent. I thought I did a pretty good job of it. For forty minutes we stood shivering while I got my point across.

When it came to air though, the opening scenes were of me in the distance walking side by side with Omaar, seemingly deep in conversation. These were just establishing shots and I could just as well have been talking about anything. The narration had it that I was moving to Scotland to get away from Bradford because of immigration. That wasn't true. I just didn't want to live in Bradford because it sucks more generally, and I wanted a fresh start. I was pretty angry at that because it hinted that I was part of the non-existent "white flight" taking place at the time.

I did, however, get the last laugh in that, of the forty minutes I spoke to camera, giving them plenty of material, they only managed to use about twenty seconds of it. It could have been because I was shivering so much but it wasn't until later I realised what had gone on.

The producer for the programme had asked me if I knew any other people who might have something to say on the subject. I gave the lady the number of one of my good friends who lived in the city centre. As it happens, he declined to speak to them on camera. He saw them coming where I did not. "What they wanted was a working class Yorkshireman to have a moan about the pakis" he observed. At that moment it became clear why my footage was not used. It wasn't the racist rant they were after.

In effect they had already written the script and were casting for it in much the same way as you would produce a drama - only this way you don't have to pay the people you use.

Thinking back, I probably should have made an official complaint. Their portrayal of me was a distortion and I found it intensely embarrassing. Just as well I did move away. Ever since though, knowing how they operate, I have been extra cautious of anything I see on TV, knowing that what we are watching just isn't real. London hacks sketch out their preconceptions then go and find a walking cliché to confirm it.

In that regard I am equally sceptical of remainer narratives in that they are very much informed by that same kind of "journalism". We've seen plenty of its type with the Guardians' John Harris's forays into Stoke on Trent and Sleaford. A condescending safari expedition into Brexitland. This kind of dishonest hackery spawns its own sub-genre of commentary, where the leave voters are pathologised as some kind of jelly-brained dupes incapable of reason.

Don't get get me wrong, you can very easily dig out footage of some real muppets with some very stupid ideas, very often Question Time audience members, but actually neither side has the monopoly on idiocy. You can find a broad spectrum opinion on the subject and some will be less credible than others. There has been, though, a concerted effort to portray Brexiteers as ignorant peasants with backward views.

In fact, I tend to find it's the London Tory Brexiteers who are the dimmest of the bunch - the ones who are actually supposed to be able to make a credible case and know how the EU works. Talk to actual working class people and they have more of a clue than is believed. For sure you're not going to get an in depth conversation about non-tariff barriers but the perceptions of the EU, largely being a remote, bureaucratic and mysterious entity over which we have no real control, are about right.

Brexit is not something that appeared out of nowhere. Our collective experience is of a left wing centrist consensus government which doesn't change regardless of who you elect, where views on further EU integration are completely ignored. Brexit was the reward for their hubris. The remain campaign largely confirmed what we already know; the political class's contempt for us is absolute.

Ultimately Brexit was a two fingered salute to our political class - and to a large extent our media. Behind that though is the desire for a change of direction - to initiate some real change - and after twenty years or more of political stagnation, any change will do.

Where it will settle, nobody quite knows, but this is how democracy works. If they'd listened to the public to begin with we wouldn't have snatched their toys away. Now that we have, we can have a serious debate about the state of our politics. That was not going to happen any other way - and that, as much as leaving the EU, is what I voted for.

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