Brexit and Manufacturing Consent: Why All the Mystery Surrounding Article 50?
What is Brexit?
Technically, it is an abbreviated term meaning British Exit from the EU. Many see it as an opportunity to cast off the so-called shackles of the European Union Association Agreement, and most notably the growing rate of immigration. After accusations of monetary corruption involving offshore accounts and an EU-wide ‘crackdown’ on tax avoidance, former Prime Minister David Cameron sanctioned a referendum allowing the people the right to vote on whether to leave or whether to stay. The majority voted Leave, Cameron resigned, and as the value of the pound fell inflation soared, leading to widespread panic for the millions of UK residents who didn’t seem to understand exactly what they had voted for, or how their decision might ultimately affect them.
So who were these people, and how did they develop such strong opinions? A vast majority of those who voted Leave were the elderly, those who had championed World War propaganda in a time when the manipulation of one’s population relied more on the threat of violence than sophisticated, media-driven indoctrination. Others who voted Leave seemed to be of the Nationalistic persuasion, a fact made evident by the rise in popularity of the British National Party. The tabloid media promoted the whole affair as the will of the British people, as an opportunity for the country to re-establish itself by rediscovering its bygone principals. For perhaps the first time in their lives, a generation believed that the choice was in fact theirs to make.
Since the vote there have been numerous instances of racially motivated violence which have no doubt resulted from the xenophobic nature of the mainstream media’s Brexit crusade. There has also been a resurgence in football hooliganism, while a high-profile Remain campaigner was shot and stabbed to death for associating with human beings who happened to share the same colour skin as those whose criminal mugshots appeared in the tabloids day after day. Society in general has become more conflictive, once again feeling justified in expressing all manner of hatred and aggression. Just last week I was accosted by a drunken woman who had merely heard the word Brexit spoken. ‘What about Brexit?’ she screamed. ‘It’s right! It’s right!’ When I calmly asked her to elaborate she became even more furious, mainly by her inability to justify her fears and hostilities.
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So where has all the anger come from? Well, tabloid headlines such as Your Country Needs You: Vote Brexit Today (The Daily Express) certainly don’t help, and are quite frankly condescending in their transparency and intention to exploit the prejudices of a generation who were sent into battle to die. In the minds of those glued to the fear-mongering pages of such presses, there are vanloads of migrants clogging our borders, while killers and rapists arrive on a daily basis to steal our livelihoods and suckle at the teat of our welfare system. Why those migrants were forced to flee their homes in the first place is never mentioned. The American-led coalition’s ‘war against terror’ is a distant memory, and as social activist Naomi Klein famously proclaimed, ‘people without memory are putty’.
Another fact that people seem to forget is that Brexit was won on misinformation regarding the economy, lies which vastly exaggerated the extent of the burdens imposed by the EUAA. The Leave Campaign claimed that Britain gave £35,000,000 a week to Brussels, money which could be spent on more important services such as the NHS. They later backtracked on the pledge, which was the main reason why millions had voted to leave in the first place, using the spurious platform of unregulated political advertising in the most cynical way imaginable. Other lies were that the UK was unable to deport EU criminals, that the Common Agricultural Policy significantly increased the cost of UK living, that health tourism costs us billions – the list goes on and on.
It should come as no surprise that the UK government would set out to hoodwink the population in this instance; the fact is, they have been doing it since time immemorial. They were able to privatise the railways and university finance off the back of false promises such as better transport networks and levels of education, assurances that experts correctly estimated would prove impossible, but of course politicians were already aware of that; it was all a smokescreen. The same might be said of Brexit, which has already seen Prime Minister Theresa May enforce austerity in the public sector, sanctioning cuts to family benefits while making it clear that the NHS will in fact receive no extra money despite its rapidly escalating problems. At the same time George Osborne has slashed corporation tax from 20% to 15%. Politicians have promised that the economy will suffer for only a short time before its inevitable resurgence, and it is clear which section of society is charged with the burden of plugging the leak.
All of this has the hallmarks of what Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism, a relatively new phenomenon which sees governments orchestrate social and economic disasters, scaring societies into yielding to their proposals and using the ensuing mayhem to reassemble the pieces in a way that is beneficial to the elite classes. She argues that the so-called ‘free market’ is not a democratic process, but a strategic procedure which feeds off the weak and ignorant. During the Iraq Civil War a new law was passed to allow Shell and BP to claim their vast oil resources. After a tsunami decimated the coast of Southeast Asia, beaches were auctioned off as tourist resorts. Following hurricane Katrina, houses, hospital and schools were never reopened, while those who could not pay to be rescued were simply left to perish. When the financial bubble popped, the values of deregulated capitalism remained unquestioned while social welfare was de-funded on a global scale. These American free market policies now dominate the world.
In any moral society, these gross levels of inequality would be addressed frequently and honestly, but capitalism thrives on such disparities, and its media establishes a framework which restricts the public’s range of knowledge and opinion. This week the high court ruled that the government could not trigger Article 50 and set Brexit in motion without a vote in parliament. Labour have suggested they will not move to block Article 50 as long as they are informed of the government’s ‘basic plan’ for leaving the EU, while party leader Jeremy Corbyn has suggested that he would vote against them if assurances are not made in regards to safeguarding workers. This led to those judges being branded ‘Enemies of the People’ by the Daily Mail, while Prime Minister Theresa May insisted on pushing through article 50 as quickly as possible, the Tories explaining that revealing their plans would significantly weaken their position.
Quickly moving to defend the aggressive stance of the country’s pro-Brexit tabloids the Prime Minister impartially pronounced, ‘I believe in and value the independence of our judiciary. I also value the freedom of our press. These both underpin our democracy.’ But let us look at the facts. To what end are these so-called free presses promoting their opinions? Until the 1960s ‘red tops’ were publications that were devoted to the Labour Party and worker’s unions, but by now the Labour Party is a very different entity, and the unions they supported have long-since dissolved. According to political activist Noam Chomsky – a man who was described by the New York Times as being ‘arguably the most important intellectual alive’ – ‘States are not moral agents; they are vehicles of power, which operate in the interests of the particular internal power structures of their societies.’
Chomsky devised a theory known as the Propaganda Model, which rebukes the idea of a free press and in fact describes a media that will ‘present a picture of the world which defends and inculcates the economic, social and political agendas of the privileged groups that dominate the domestic economy, and who therefore also largely control the government’. Furthermore, Chomsky explains that the media serve their societal purpose through their selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, focus of analyses, emphasis and tone. He suggests that there are no left and right wing parties, just ‘extreme right’ and ‘centre right’, and that those in the media are indoctrinated through education and career opportunities to promote the business concerns of the elite, and that they would not have jobs were they not sufficiently subservient candidates. The majority of journalists, he explains, are unaware of their own conditioning, for without it their whole existence would come tumbling down. Some of the world’s most respected journalists, his friends, concur, admitting that their ability to voice irreverent opinions have to be ‘played like a violin’, their opportunities to speak with impunity few and far between.
In the UK, those who own the newspapers and broadcasting networks which fiercely support Brexit are billionaire’s such as Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond and Johnathon Harmsworth 4th Viscount Rothermere, the latter of whom a British nobleman whose media empire stretches back to the late 19th century. These are the same voices who consistently victimise immigrants and the poor, advocating the notion that parents live ‘lifestyles’ on the welfare system, and, as Conservative peer Baroness Jenkin of Kennington did back in 2014, attribute low income families’ dependence on food banks to the fact that ‘poor people don’t know how to cook,’ while Monday’s benefit caps threaten to rob children of their homes just in time for the festive period.
It is this kind of haughty ignorance and self-serving attitude that leaves working class society at loggerheads with one another, which makes victims of the helpless and inspires hatred and racism, resulting in the kind of chaos that allows the privileged to systematically pick the bones of the society upon which it feeds. For years the Conservative Party has thrived on its ability to manipulate the UK class system, allowing ‘new affluent workers’ middle class aspirations and promoting delusions of higher social standing for those who are made to resent the ‘benefits cheats’ for whom they are unfortunate enough to have to subsidise for.
Playing on the so-called democratic rights of Brexiters, who are either unable or unwilling to see the transparency of the Conservative Party’s duplicitous nature, the Prime Minister would this week rally the familiar war cry. ‘What’s important for MP’s and peers is to recognise that parliament voted to give the decision on our membership of our European Union to the people on 23 June – a majority voted and we should now deliver.’ But it’s not simply a question of whether or not they should deliver, it is a question of what it is they propose to deliver. After all the chaos and the hatred, the fear and the confusion, what exactly are the people voting for? The fact is, we probably won’t find out until it is too late.