This is what online harassment looks like

Obscene images, hate sites and a game where people are invited to beat you up have been inflicted on Anita Sarkeesian.

When I first wrote about the sexist abuse of women online, collating the experiences of nearly a dozen writers, the response was largely positive. Many hadn't been aware there was a problem; they were shocked. Others had assumed that they were the only ones whose every word on the web was greeted with a torrent of abusive, threatening comments.

But a few reactions stood out, among them that of Brendan O'Neill, the Telegraph blogs section's resident contrarian. He wrote that feminist campaigners pointing this out was a "hilarious echo of the 19th-century notion that women need protecting from vulgar and foul speech". We were, he said, "a tiny number of peculiarly sensitive female bloggers" trying to close down freedom of speech.

The best response to that argument, incidentally, comes from Ally Fogg, who wrote recently:

What you fail to understand is that the use of hate speech, threats and bullying to terrify and intimidate people into silence or away from certain topics is a far bigger threat to free speech than any legal sanction.

Imagine this is not the internet but a public square. One woman stands on a soapbox and expresses an idea. She is instantly surrounded by an army of 5,000 angry people yelling the worst kind of abuse at her in an attempt to shut her up. Yes, there's a free speech issue there. But not the one you think.

I couldn't have put it better myself. As the months have gone on, and more "trolls" (or "online bullies", if you're a semantic stickler) have been exposed, the perception that what we're talking about when we talk about online harrassment is "a few mean comments" or an insult or two has grown.

On 12 June, I wrote about American blogger Anita Sarkeesian, who launched a Kickstarter programme to raise $6,000 to research "tropes vs women in videogames". Donating was - and I really can't stress this enough - completely voluntary. There are Kickstarters for all kinds of things: for example,  a "dance narrative featuring some of NYC's most compelling performers that celebrates the pursuit of love and the joys of imperfection" doesn't sound like my kind of thing, but God Bless Them, they are 89% funded towards their $12,000 goal. 

But a big swath of the internet wasn't prepared to live and let live in Sarkeesian's case, and began spamming her YouTube video comments with a pot-pourri of misogynist, racist and generally vile abuse. Each one individually was grim; together they constituted harassment. (You can read the full story in my blog here).

Since then, Anita Sarkeesian has been subjected to a good deal more harassment. Let's run through the list for anyone who still thinks this issue is about a few mean words.

Image-based harassment

 

This is the kind of stuff people have been sending to Sarkeesian's inbox, repeatedly, and posting on the internet in an attempt to game her Google Image search results. There have also been drawings of her in sexually degrading situations:

Both these sets of images are taken from Sarkeesian's blog post documenting the harassment (and are reproduced with her permission). They have been posted on the web generally, and also sent specifically to her Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel. The second set show, in her words:

The first image depicts a woman drawn to resemble me who is tied up with a wii controller shoved in her mouth while being raped by Mario from behind. The second image is another drawing (clearly sketched to resemble me) featuring a chained nude figure on her knees with 5 penises ejaculating on her face with the words “fuck toy” written on her torso.

Hate sites

These take a couple of forms: either the creation of specific sites dedicated to trashing you (and again, to come up in Google searches of your name) or posting your details on established forums where haters like to hang out. In Sarkeesian's case, that has involved posting her phone number and address. It's hard to see that as anything other than an attempt to intimidate her: "We know where you live".

The interactive "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" game

This one is so incredible I had trouble believing it existed. 

It's an interactive game, inviting players to "beat up Anita Sarkeesian".

As you click the screen, bruises and welts appear on her face.

I find this fairly disturbing - the idea that somewhere out there is a man - a 25-year-old from Sault Ste Marie, a city in Ontario, Canada, who was offended enough by Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project that he made this.

In the description accompanying the games, he adds:

Anita Sarkeesian has not only scammed thousands of people out of over $160,000, but also uses the excuse that she is a woman to get away with whatever she damn well pleases. Any form of constructive criticism, even from fellow women, is either ignored or labelled to be sexist against her.

She claims to want gender equality in video games, but in reality, she just wants to use the fact that she was born with a vagina to get free money and sympathy from everyone who crosses her path.

Some of the commenters on the game have expressed disgust, but not all of them. One wrote:

You are so right, sir. It's the execution which lets this game down.

Wikipedia Vandalism

I wrote about this in the initial post, so I'll be brief here: Sarkeesian's Wikipedia page was repeatedly hacked with crude messages and porn images, until it was locked. This went hand in hand with...

Hacking/DDOSing

Hacking is gaining entrance to someone's private data or website, while DDOSing - using "denial of service" attacks - involves sending a website's server so many requests to load the page that it crashes.

That's what happened to Sarkeesian's site as her story got shared around the world. This image was posted as a way of bragging about taking it down:

 

Personal Life

Sarkeesian is rare in sharing so much of the harassment that she has been subjected to -- and it's a brave choice for her to make. Every time I write about this subject, I get a few emails from women who've been through the same thing (and I'm sure there are men, too). They tell me much the same story: this happened to them, but they don't want to talk publicly about it, because they don't want to goad the bullies further. 

If you were Anita Sarkeesian, how would you feel right now? She's somebody with a big online presence through her website, YouTube channel and social media use. All of that has been targeted by people who - and I can't say this enough - didn't like her asking for money to make feminist videos. 

I think Sarkeesian has been incredibly courageous in sharing what's happened to her. Those obscene pictures are intended to shame her, to reduce her to her genitals, and to intimidate her. 

I'm sure there's plenty here which breaks the law - both in the UK and the US. But the solution here probably isn't a legal one: it's for everyone involved to have some basic human decency. This isn't just a few rude words, and it isn't OK. 

An online game invites players to "beat up Anita Sarkeesian".

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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In this week's magazine | The Brexit lies

A first look at this week's issue.

1 - 7 July issue
The Brexit lies

 

Brexit crisis: A special edition on the political, financial and constitutional fallout of the EU referendum.

A very British revolution: Andrew Marr on how the biggest democratic act of modern times emerged from the biggest establishment cock-up in living memory.

Can Boris be stopped? Simon Heffer goes inside the Tory leadership contest.

Brexit and the death of liberal politics: John Gray on the left in denial.

John Simpson deplores a careless and vicious referendum campaign and Britain’s brutalised public discourse.

George Eaton on the shadow cabinet revolt against Jeremy Corbyn.

Stephen Bush on Westminster’s failure to grasp what comes next.

Nicky Campbell’s diary: Why the Brexit vote came as no surprise to us at Radio 5 Live . . . and watching Corbyn watching Cameron on College Green.

Jason Cowley on Brexit lies, our essay crisis Prime Minister, and the demise of English football.

Helen Lewis: The Leave campaign promised us all a unicorn but now claim they just hinted at the possibility of a Shetland pony.

Felix Martin and Vince Cable on Brexit, the market response and the future of the British economy.

****

Andrew Marr: How a monumental establishment cock-up led to our biggest act of democracy.

It was a catastrophic error of judgement that produced the referendum, says Andrew Marr. Now the “plain people” of the English heartlands have spoken, and the political class is paying the price:

As dawn broke on Friday morning and I turned over in bed to grab my phone and Twitter, I thought immediately of G K Chesterton’s poem from 1915, about the secret people of England:

Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.
There is many a fat farmer that drinks less cheerfully,
There is many a free French peasant who is richer and sadder than we.
There are no folk in the whole world so helpless or so wise.
There is hunger in our bellies, there is laughter in our eyes;
You laugh at us and love us both mugs and eyes are wet:
Only you do not know us. For we have not spoken yet.

Well, they have spoken now. This was a quietly devastating revolt by the English heartlands – southern and western suburbs; the urban sprawls of the Midlands and the north; former mining areas and devastated ex-industrial towns – against London, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the so-called elites. Looking at the numbers, one sees that it was a revolt also by older voters against younger voters and by poorer against richer, better-educated voters. It was, of course, a great democratic moment. Apart from the hideous and probably unconnected murder of Jo Cox, it was accomplished peacefully, and by a majority of well over a million. That sets it aside from Chesterton’s vision, which moves on from benign, bucolic defiance to outright anti-Semitism and warnings of blood-drenched revolution. Well, that’s the beauty of modern democracy . . .

The decision by the British people to leave the European Union is this country’s single biggest democratic act in modern times – indeed, as far as I can make out, the biggest ever. But it is also one of the elite’s most significant blunders, provoked by the most senior politicians for the wrong reasons and then pursued in what (to use a crude but apposite phrase) is the biggest establishment cock-up in my lifetime.

[. . .]

According to one of those involved, this all started at a pizza restaurant at Chicago O’Hare Airport at the time of a Nato conference in 2012, when David Cameron and his closest political allies decided that the only way of scuppering Ukip and the Euro-hostile right of the Conservative Party was to give the British people a referendum.

The brutal way of putting this is that Cameron decided to put party management and tactics ahead of grand strategy, grossly overrated his own negotiating skills, and has been badly bitten in the bottom accordingly. He has often looked like a chess player who plays the next move brilliantly yet fails to see three moves ahead. There is, however, a more generous explanation – which is simply that this referendum was inevitable; that it was more than time for restless British voters to reassess their membership of a union that has changed dramatically since we joined, both in extent and in depth.

[. . .]

My guess is that parliamentary chaos and an overwhelming sense of drift at the centre of politics will propel us into an election later this year or early next year. If so, that will mean that, tactically, the Brexiteers, who don’t want to trigger Article 50 just yet, must do so before the people are asked for their view again.

And, of course, if it turns out that George Osborne’s blood-curdling warnings about jobs and investment turn out to be even half accurate, then those same cheerful gentlemen will have many personal apologies to make to people who do lose their jobs, or see prices rise and their pensions fall. There is plenty of anger still to come.

That’s not so surprising: after all, this was a kind of revolution. It has been a very British revolution, accomplished through the ballot box and after a great deal of nonsense spoken on all sides. The plain people, of England, mainly, have spoken at last and their voice has blown over not just a constitutional link with the European continent but also almost the entire political class – and most of the pollsters – and oh, go on, then – us clever-Dick journalists as well.

 

Special report: Simon Heffer on the Tory leadership contest.

Simon Heffer finds the Conservative Party in a “hysterical” state of mind as the “anyone-but-Boris movement” springs into action:

The press – and not just on the left – could well give Johnson a hard time. His baroque private life has exhausted its capacity to shock, but there is scope to scrutinise his record of underachievement as mayor of London; or Michael Howard’s sacking him for lying; or the Times sacking him for making up quotations (from his godfather) in a story; or his offering to assist his old schoolfriend Darius Guppy in having a journalist who had disobliged Guppy beaten up. Or perhaps, in the present political mood of the Western world, he can emulate Donald Trump, being able to say and do the most appalling things and yet still encourage vast numbers to vote for him.

Theresa May’s ambitions have been barely concealed. She has been “on manoeuvres” since the 2015 general election. She worked out that the best way to manoeuvre during the referendum campaign was to say nothing, to avoid becoming a divisive figure. Aside from some rare moments of half-hearted support for Remain, that is exactly what she did. Had she gone the other way, the leadership contest might be closer, because her seniority and experience would have matched Johnson’s charisma: as it is, the best her colleagues believe she can hope for, barring some dramatic development, is to come second. A Times poll on Tuesday said that Tory voters preferred her to Johnson, which has the smell of accuracy about it. Activists – those with a vote – are a different matter. They appear in no mood at the moment to elect a Remainer.

Yet they are in some measure in the mood to elect a unifier: and, for all his attempts at sober statesmanship since the vote, Johnson (given his past) will have to stretch credulity even more than usual to convince as one of those. The anyone-but-Boris movement is motivated by the list of his perceived offences and character defects. Few believe he would have plumped for Leave had he thought it would lose: Johnson’s years on the rubber chicken circuit, and his mailbag from Telegraph readers in the provinces, made him more aware than most of his metropolitan colleagues of the true nature of public feeling outside the bubble. He is seen as utterly flexible in terms of principle: and, from the nature of his campaign rhetoric, as disloyal, cynical and lazy. Critics recall the number of deputy mayors (seven at one point) he required to do his last job. He is widely considered untrustworthy.

Perhaps he can unify activists who seem near universally to admire his carefully manufactured persona: he will find it harder to unify the parliamentary party, and would probably require a resounding general election victory before doing so. Even then, doubts born of years of witnessing his buffoonery and prevarication would be hard to allay.

****

MPs felt that two other Brexiteers had far better credentials as unifiers. The most obvious was Michael Gove, whom some tried to persuade to stand; but Gove signalled his willingness to throw in his lot with Johnson.

The other increasingly discussed name in the days after the referendum was Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister and, before that, economic secretary to the Treasury. Many even in her own party never thought of her as a potential leader until recent weeks: but these were weeks in which she showed her key virtues. She is intelligent and capable. She had a long career in business before entering government, and presents a happy contrast to ministers who spent their lives as special advisers before gracing the back benches. Leadsom is deeply principled but also reasonable: she abstained in the vote on same-sex marriage because she did not want to show a lack of respect to homosexuals and lesbians who wished to solemnise their relationships, but she could not support the notion because of her religious views. Remainers consider her to have performed uniformly well in debates and television interviews during the EU campaign, because she avoided personal attacks, spurious claims and wild threats.

She is popular with her colleagues. However, if she has let her name go forward she will start from the back of the field. It would require the sort of organisation that enabled Mrs Thatcher to beat Ted Heath in 1975 if she were to pull this off. However, should Johnson implode during this campaign, and she had become a candidate, she would be fabulously well placed to pick up his voters.

May would seem to be way ahead as the Remain candidate, but will have to earn that position in the hustings that will run over the summer. The dark horse is Stephen Crabb, who replaced Iain Duncan Smith at Work and Pensions, in league with Sajid Javid, a secret Leaver who called it wrongly and who is now trying to salvage his future. A self-deprecating man from a humble background and with few enemies, Crabb, who was previously Welsh secretary, reminds me of John Major, who was brought into the cabinet and rose rapidly. In a leadership campaign held in the middle of a parliament, Major won and became prime minister, trading heavily on a backstory of his unprivileged upbringing. If Crabb ends up being nominated, he may be the man May must beat if she is to be the principal challenger to Johnson.

George Osborne has ruled himself out but remains relevant. He wants to carry on in government and, like the overgrown student politician he is, may be about to make an accommodation with those he has denounced for months in order to continue to hold a senior post. Also, not least because of Cameron’s laziness and casual attitude towards his party, he had exercised a substantial and growing influence over patronage and especially over senior government appointments. He had made a point of getting to know MPs on the way up, not least because he expected to be prime minister and wanted to be sure he had a clientele of loyalists to support him. He was starting to appoint his ministerial team, in effect, before becoming prime minister.

Osborne’s prospects have crashed, but his machine remains, for the moment, intact. If he has chosen wisely, he has a group of loyalists whom he can deploy in support of the candidate he chooses. However, now he can be of no use to his clients, it will be interesting to see whether they take the blindest bit of notice of him.

There is talk of Johnson making him foreign secretary, which would show an advanced sense of humour, given the role that person might have to play in the exit negotiations. Gove, if he has thrown in his lot with Johnson, might end up as chancellor.

The party is so fractious that the next nine weeks could provide a roller coaster: any talk of going back on the idea of strict border controls, for instance – something Johnson has hinted at – could cause huge turbulence. I suspect we are about to find that conducting a leadership contest at any time is a project laced with tension; to conduct one in a climate of scarcely concealed hysteria is not least why anything could yet happen.

 

George Eaton on the shadow cabinet revolt against Corbyn.

If the Tory party is hysterical, the Labour Party is engaged in full-blown self-destruction, writes the NS political editor, George Eaton. On 28 June an overwhelming majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party pushed through a vote of no confidence in him, yet Jeremy Corbyn is fighting on:

Despite Corbyn’s landslide victory less than a year ago, his opponents are hopeful of a close contest. They speak of an “unmistakable shift” in party members’ attitudes since the EU referendum defeat. Unpublished polling is said to show “significant public appetite” to sign up for the leadership election in support of an alternative to Corbyn.

But the Labour leader’s supporters are unambiguously bullish about his chances. “The infrastructure with which we’re starting this campaign is so far ahead of where we were a year ago,” James Schneider, Momentum’s national organiser, told me. “And that was a stand-out campaign.”

Corbyn’s allies see no evidence of a “significant” shift in opinion among many members and activists. Although one senior figure conceded that “we will have lost some support”, he spoke of the potential to recruit thousands of new voters from the wider left – “the people Jeremy has stood with for thirty years”.

The Corbynites, anticipating victory, are already threatening retribution. One told me that measures such as mandatory reselection of MPs and lower nomination thresholds would be brought forward. “They don’t want it but they’ll get it,” he warned. “They’ve opened Pandora’s box.”

But it is deselection by the voters at large, in an early general election instigated by a new Conservative leader, that many MPs now fear most of all, especially as many of the nearly four million who voted for Ukip in the 2015 election are expected to support the Tories. “There isn’t a safe seat north of Islington,” a senior figure said.

 

John Gray on the troubles of the left after the EU referendum.

The victory of Brexit heralds the end of the liberal order, argues John Gray – voters have inflicted the “biggest shock on the establishment since Churchill was ousted in 1945”. Those on the left clinging to the hope of a second referendum are like “bedraggled courtiers fleeing Versailles after the French Revolution, unable to process the reversal that has occurred”:

. . . there will be no going back. The vote for Brexit demonstrates that the rules of politics have changed irreversibly. The stabilisation that seemed to have been achieved following the financial crisis was a sham. The lopsided type of capitalism that exists today is inherently unstable and cannot be democratically legitimated. The error of progressive thinkers in all the main parties was to imagine that the discontent of large sections of the population could be appeased by offering them what was at bottom a continuation of the status quo.

As it is being used today, “populism” is a term of abuse applied by establishment thinkers to people whose lives they have not troubled to understand. A revolt of the masses is under way, but it is one in which those who have shaped policies over the past twenty years are more remote from reality than the ordinary men and women at whom they like to sneer. The interaction of a dysfunctional single currency and destructive austerity policies with the financial crisis has left most of Europe economically stagnant and parts of it blighted with unemployment on a scale unknown since the Thirties. At the same time European institutions have been paralysed by the migrant crisis. Floundering under the weight of problems it cannot solve or that it has even created, the EU has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that it lacks the capacity for effective action and is incapable of reform. As I suggested in this magazine in last year (“The neo-Georgian prime minister”, 23 October 2015), Europe’s image as a safe option has given way to the realisation that it is a failed experiment. A majority of British voters grasped this fact, which none of our establishments has yet understood.

 

Stephen Bush on SW1’s failure to grasp what comes next.

The NS’s special correspondent, Stephen Bush, considers a Leave campaign that triumphed in both “the most forbidding Tory fortresses and the safest Labour strongholds”. The Brexit vote was, he argues, powered by twin forces: “the marginalisation of England’s poorest and obsession with the Westminster game”. Now that it’s over, neither side is keen to engage with what comes next:

The full-fat Brexit option is one that promises an end to the uncontrolled immigration of the single market. That would result in, among other things, the demise of the City of London as a global financial centre, the reappearance of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and less easy holidays on the continent for British tourists.

The consequences of such a change in our relationship with Europe’s other countries have yet to be fully appreciated. The Conservatives are split on free movement, while Yvette Cooper, who is rumoured to have her eyes on a second tilt at the Labour leadership, believes that her party should accept the end of free movement, with all the economic consequences that would have.

Put simply, there is no group in British politics offering a way forward that is both politically deliverable at a European level and not economically ruinous for Britain. That is too horrible to contemplate, let alone discuss with the electorate, so the focus, instead, is on the old internal battles: the left and the right of the Labour Party, the “anyone but Boris” caucus in the Conservative parliamentary party.

The marginalisation of England’s poorest and an obsession with the Westminster game were the forces that powered the vote for Brexit. That triumph has sent the pound plummeting, forced the resignation of the Prime Minister and thrown Labour into crisis. It has emboldened the far right across Europe and has been followed by a series of attacks on Britain’s ethnic minorities. It may yet presage the break-up of the United Kingdom and unravel peace in Northern Ireland. The fruit of ignoring its consequences in favour of the parliamentary game may be more bitter still.

 

John Simpson on a careless and vicious campaign.

Echoing this week’s Leader, the BBC’s world affairs editor, John Simpson, reflects on a “careless, nasty and mendacious” referendum campaign, one that was in stark contrast to the sobriety and decency of the Euro campaign of 1975:

Like most days in Brussels, Friday 7 June 1975 was overcast. Yet the sun shone that morning on anyone from Britain. “You English,” said the grand, cerebral correspondent of Le Monde, coming over to me in the coffee room at the Berlaymont Palace: “we can always trust you to do the sensible thing. I wish the rest of us were as sensible as you are.”

During the night the results of the first referendum on staying in Europe had poured in, and 67 per cent of people had voted Yes. Only two administrative areas voted No: the Western Isles and Shetland.

As the junior BBC correspondent in Brussels, I shook hands with the man from Le Monde as though I was accepting the congratulations of a whole continent on Britain’s behalf. When it counted, my fellow citizens always seemed to show a sturdy common sense, a resistance to extremism and wild, utopian claims. People had taken the referendum extraordinarily seriously, as if their one vote was going to decide everything. I got dozens of letters and phone calls asking for advice, and was often stopped in the street with earnest, troubled questions. Was the Common Agricultural Policy really going to destroy British farming? Would food prices go up? Would our cars sell better or worse in foreign markets? What about fishing? I tried to answer each question as best as I could, and would be thanked politely for my answers; this was long before Michael Gove (who was only seven at the time) proclaimed that “people in this country have had enough of experts”.

After the 1975 results came through, and the scale of the Yes victory was clear, the then industry secretary, Tony Benn, who was the de facto leader of the “Out” campaign, accepted defeat gracefully: “When the British people speak, everyone, including members of parliament, should tremble before their decision . . .” The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph had all called for a Yes vote. Only the Communist Morning Star, joined by the Spectator, which was going through a fiercely right-wing phase, had campaigned against.

Forty-one years later, the sheer nastiness and mendacity of the 2016 campaign was, by contrast, stunning. So was the careless way many people wandered into the voting booths to vote on the entire future of their country. “Oh yes, I voted Leave,” a specialist at a big NHS hospital told me. “Well, I couldn’t make my mind up, it was all so complicated, so I plumped for No because I thought it’d make life more interesting.”

An opinion poll carried out immediately after the result was announced indicated that seven out of ten Leave voters hadn’t thought the referendum mattered very much. In comparison to 1975, we seemed to sleepwalk our way to a decision that could have the utmost consequences for the lives and prosperity of our children and our children’s children. “I hate the f***ing old people of this country for what they’ve done,” an engineering student at a notably gloomy street party in Oxford said to me afterwards. Another explained in some detail how the funding of six graduate students he knew would be cut off almost immediately. All of them, he said, would now apply to US universities for jobs there.

We didn’t appear unduly shaken by the murder of a young and immensely promising MP by someone apparently stirred up by the issue. “Britain first” or “Put Britain first”, he is alleged to have shouted as he shot and stabbed Jo Cox to death. To him, it seems, she was a traitor for wanting to remain in Europe.

In the two centuries since 1812, only eight MPs have been murdered – six of them by Irish republican fanatics, one by a lunatic. Jo Cox seems to have been the first MP to be killed for personal, reasoned views. Did this change the campaign? A week later, she seemed almost to have been forgotten. When the news of his victory came through, Nigel Farage had put the memory of her murder aside to such an extent that he could say the referendum result was a revolution achieved “without a shot being fired”. He apologised later, but perhaps it showed how far from the forefront of his mind the atrocity had been.

The referendum campaign seems to have coarsened and brutalised our whole public discourse. When David Cameron, whose careless decision to hold this referendum has destroyed his career, arrived at an event in Lincolnshire a few hours after the result, someone screamed “Traitor!” at him. Nor is the savagery confined to one side. When Boris Johnson, triumphant after the events of the night, left his home on Friday morning, a group of people shouted: “Scum!” Well-printed, laminated cards have been put through the doors of houses in Cambridgeshire where Polish people live, calling them “vermin”. Muslims and eastern Europeans have been abused on the streets or on social media and told to get out of “our” country. At a post-referendum rally in Newcastle, supporters of the old National Front unfurled a banner reading: “Stop immigration. Start repatriation.”

The difference between the two referendums, of 1975 and 2016, is the difference between two separate countries. Our political rhetoric has become nastier, cruder and more brutal.

 

The Diary: Nicky Campbell.

The broadcaster Nicky Campbell reveals that the Brexit vote surprised few at Radio 5 Live:

I have been hosting phone-ins on BBC Radio 5 Live for 20 years and never has there been a time like this. Our station, more than any other, is in touch with our audience because listeners getting in touch with us is our lifeblood. We pride ourselves on reaching far beyond the confines of metropolitan England. The referendum’s result surprised no one here.

The numbers of people texting and calling have been phenomenal. For the sake of unimpeachable balance, we had to make sure that Remainers and Leavers had equal airtime and the statistics show that we succeeded. This wasn’t always the easiest of tasks, because before polling day most of the fire and fury came from the Brexiteers. They were the insurgents. They were storming the Bastille.

However, as Friday dawned, a new equilibrium began to emerge. The ancien régime sprang into life and stormed back. We have broadcast some fascinating conversations encapsulating our national divides. What a professional privilege it has been to hear the ebb and flow of the debate – the pride, the prejudice and the passion – play out in my headphones. It’s what we’re here for.

Following the vote, Campbell found himself in the curious position of watching Jeremy Corbyn watch David Cameron resign:

On Friday morning, I arrived on College Green in Westminster at 4.15am. The grass was already churned up like Brechin City’s pitch in late November and the scene was as manic as the stock exchange would soon become. At one point, I was in our gazebo interviewing Jeremy Corbyn. The press, radio and TV crews were five deep outside, trying to hear the exchange – just as they were outside all the gazebos with the big beasts in them. Corbyn had walked into mine.

David Cameron appeared on the screen to make a statement. I apologised to Jeremy for cutting short our conversation and he courteously acknowledged the significance of the moment. Then I found myself looking at him as he watched the humiliating demise of his foe, whose place in the history books would now be blighted. Jeremy’s expression was pensive and intense as he stroked his chin in slo-mo. What game of multidimensional chess was he playing in his head?

Woody Allen once said that in an existential moment, his entire life flashed before his eyes – then he realised it was somebody else’s life. In Jeremy’s case this was somebody else’s fate but, in the fragility of the moment, perhaps he glimpsed his own and that of every player, eventually. He knew that many worlds were changing. But I don’t think he was pondering the next chess move. It wasn’t political calculation. It was human sympathy.

 

Jason Cowley on the Brexit lies and our essay crisis Prime Minister.

The NS editor, Jason Cowley, notes an equivalence between geopolitics and football this week – England is becoming a laughing stock:

Whatever you think of Farage’s politics (and all NS readers will no doubt despise them), you cannot doubt his conviction, radicalism or political brilliance – no one did more to take Britain out of the EU than he. His triumph is total and contrasts markedly with David Cameron’s failure. For such a pragmatist, the Prime Minister gambled everything on the referendum. Perhaps a series of narrow victories, notably in the 2014 Scottish referendum and the 2015 general election, had beguiled him into believing in the myth of his own good luck. But he never prepared the electorate for the referendum or made the positive case for the EU, until it was much too late. He is one of the guilty men who has led Britain to its present impasse, perhaps the guiltiest of all, because of his insouciance and carelessness. John Wheeler-Bennett, the conservative historian, described Neville Chamberlain’s actions at Munich as “a case study in the disease of political myopia which afflicted the leaders and the peoples of Europe in the years between the wars”. Cameron, the essay crisis prime minister, has turned out to be similarly myopic. Now we all have to live with the consequences of his wretched defeat.

****

[Douglas] Carswell sent an especially mendacious tweet during the campaign: “I am with @Vote_leave because we should stop sending £350 million per week to Brussels, and spend our money on our NHS instead.” As a monomaniacal Eurosceptic he would have known that he was lying about Britain’s EU contribution. He would have known, too, that the juxtaposition of this figure with NHS spending was wilfully misleading.

Yet when I called him out on his lies he suggested that I had not come to terms with my grief. I am not grieving (being no ardent lover of the EU) but I am angry – angry about the mendacity and cant of the Brexiteers, who are already retreating on promises and pledges made. The leaders of Leave are, in effect, free-market Randians who will be leading a coalition of social conservatives that cannot hold. Soon there will be plaintive cries of betrayal and, from the streets, shouts of, “This is not what we meant at all!”

****

 “Fuck off, we’re voting out” chanted the drunken English yobs at the start of the tournament in Marseilles (they were less exuberant once the Russian Ultras marched into town). England will not be missed at the Euros. Worse than this, they exited to the sound of derisive laughter, as they retreated to their island stronghold. The laughter has not ceased. You could say that, after Brexit, the English are becoming something of a laughing stock, alas.

 

Helen Lewis on living with the lies of the Leave campaign.

The NS deputy editor, Helen Lewis, argues that if political advertising was subject to the same rules as commercial advertising, most of the Leave campaign’s output would have been banned for making false claims and outrageous promises:

If there is one sentence that explains the referendum result, though, it’s this one from the website of the Advertising Standards Agency. “For reasons of freedom of speech, we do not have remit over non-broadcast ads where the purpose of the ad is to persuade voters in a local, national or international electoral referendum.” In other words, political advertising is exempt from the regulation that would otherwise bar false claims and outrageous promises. You can’t claim that a herbal diet drink will make customers thinner, but you can claim that £350m a week will go to the NHS instead of the European Union.

The brains behind the Leave victory discovered this loophole in their earlier incarnation as the NoToAV campaign, promising that the cost of a new voting system would deprive babies in incubators or squaddies in Afghanistan of a spurious figure plucked from the air. And they got away with it.

Will they pull off the same trick again? It was noticeable how quickly the twin planks of the Leave campaign – extra money for the health service, and the implicit promise to cut immigration by “taking back control” of our borders – fell apart. On Good Morning Britain just hours after the result was declared, Nigel Farage decried the NHS pledge as a “mistake” (he was not part of the official Leave campaign that made it).

That evening, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan told Newsnight that “taking back control” of immigration didn’t necessarily mean cutting it. He advocated joining the single market: meaning that if Turkey does join the EU, Britain will be obliged to accept freedom of movement for its citizens. And we won’t have a veto on Turkish accession. (When we leave the EU, we will also lose automatic access to the scheme by which failed asylum-seekers are returned to the country in which they first claimed sanctuary.)

The first few days after the referendum felt like an extended period of gaslighting – being told that things you could distinctly remember happening had not, in fact, happened. How could anyone think that the Leave campaign had promised an extra £350m for the NHS? The money was “an extrapolation . . . never total”, said Iain Duncan Smith on the BBC. It was merely part of a “series of possibilities of what you could do”. My eyes flicked from his pious face to Twitter, where someone had posted a picture of him standing next to the campaign bus. Its slogan read: “We send the EU £350m a week. Let’s fund the NHS instead.” Then I looked at the pinned Tweet for the chief executive of Vote Leave, Matthew Elliott, which reads: “Let’s give our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week.” These people promised us a unicorn and now claim they merely hinted at the possibility of a Shetland pony.

Watching the chaos unfold on television – and taking part in some of it herself – Lewis finds herself “lost in the meta”:

Nothing feels more artificial than doing live television. You sit there, isolated from the rest of the news, hair full of Elnett and face caked in something approaching yacht varnish. Then you’re expected to chat away with an anchor as if you were old mates under dazzling white lights, while seven crew members stand around watching you. Worse, everything has irony baked into it: TV now happens in the lively expectation that it will be instantly giffed, memed and stripped for parts on Twitter. It’s like eating a pre-chewed meal.

We live in such a media-literate culture that politics has the same sense of déjà vu. Its tropes are so familiar from TV programmes about politics that living through them in real-time 3D feels profoundly dissociative.

[. . .]

Two days after the Brexit result, I went to College Green in Westminster to record a live version of BBC1’s Sunday Politics. The atmosphere on the muddy lawn, tramped by a thousand assistant producers, was suffused with overwrought importance and high absurdity. Spread out across the grass were tents – “Why don’t you sit in the news gazebo?” a producer told me – from which shell-shocked generals would occasionally emerge, ashen-faced, fresh from rallying the troops through an interview with Radio 5 Live. All it was missing were pillars of smoke, the whump of artillery and a man in a Hawaiian shirt with a cigar. Instead, we had a new shadow cabinet resignation every time we went off air for ten minutes.

That pandemonium compensated for referendum night, when all the channels were at their most sober. Inevitably, David Dimbleby was presiding over a stately galleon of a BBC show, on which things were so serious that Jeremy Vine wasn’t even allowed to dress up as a bendy banana. Over on ITV, Tom Bradby was doing his matinee idol thing (he always looks like someone playing a charming rotter in a detective drama) while Sky News had trapped Kay Burley at a series of parties where she couldn’t make anyone cry. It all reeked of gravitas.

 

Plus

Martin Fletcher: How the press deceived readers and inflamed xenophobia during the referendum campaign.

View from Boston: Anoosh Chakelian reports from the most Eurosceptic town in England.

Ed Smith on David Cameron’s fatal error – sacking Michael Gove.

Julia Rampen on Nicola Sturgeon, the woman leading the fight
to keep Scotland in the EU.

Laurie Penny says she wants her country back.

Letter from Tripoli: Anthony Loyd comes face to face with the hardship facing African migrants in Libya.

Rowan Williams on David Brooks’s vision of the good life in
The Road to Character.

Steven Poole discovers how GPS technology is changing
the way we live and think.

John Mullan considers the strange hold of A E Housman’s
poetry over the English.

          Melanie McDonagh admires Terry Eagleton’s old-fashioned definitions of culture.

          Leo Robson encounters two new versions of The Taming of the Shrew, on page and on stage.

          Stephanie Boland reads Solar Bones by Mike McCormack.

          Erica Wagner talks to the author Paul Kingsnorth about compost toilets, the end of activism . . . and voting Leave.

Film: Ryan Gilbey immerses himself in a world without sight in
Notes on Blindness.

          Radio: Antonia Quirke scales the world’s oldest sheet of ice with the BBC World Service’s Science Hour.

          For more press information, please contact Anya Matthews: anya.matthews@newstatesman.co.uk / 020 7936 4029 / 07815 634 396.