People’s Vote: A final say on the Brexit deal risks the revival of misinformation politics | Liam O’Dell

Expecting the electorate to vote on a Brexit deal they haven’t read is the type of blind faith and naïvety which was easily exploited in 2016.

Most of the general public didn’t look at this week’s draft withdrawal agreement in full. A total of 585 pages in length, it fell on journalists and politicians, each with their own conscious or unconscious bias, to summarise the entire document and inform the British people. The same will happen with the final deal, and if a People’s Vote is granted, it’ll be yet another referendum led by soundbites and manipulation.

Photo: David Holt/Flickr.

It is this, alongside the fact that the vote will most definitely include a ‘remain’ option, which allows for the ‘final say’ project to be easily dismissed as a “loser’s vote” or a re-run of the first referendum. If it does indeed come to fruition, it would not only be met with contempt by Brexiteers, but it would further fuel disillusionment and a hatred of the establishment and public institutions. Misinformation’s revival would put fake news and manipulation back on the agenda, and the tireless work of journalists using investigative reporting to win back public trust in a post-truth climate will be undone.

This wouldn’t be the only detrimental backtrack to occur if a people’s vote was granted. It would also involve significant u-turns from the Conservative government – both on its stance on a people’s vote and going back to the public for a second time. The first decision will damage the party’s reputation amongst Brexiteers, whilst the second will most likely infuriate some SNP politicians who have consistently faced opposition to calls for a second independence referendum in Scotland. Such a decision would be unlikely for a unionist party, and would only lead to an increase in support for the ‘Yes’ campaign.

Not only that, but the Tories’ decision to allow the public to have the final say would also come with a sense of concession from Theresa May (if indeed, she is still negotiating in this hypothetical scenario) that her deal may not be the best option. Whether such a sentiment is explicitly stated, or simply implied, it’s a decision which would harm the case for the public to vote for her deal should that be on the ballot paper. As such, even if there were three choices on the ballot (a ‘no deal Brexit’, May’s deal, or remain), it could still appear to be a remain-leave referendum if it’s deemed that May no longer has confidence in her own deal by calling a people’s vote.

I do, however, think that this would be unlikely, and the government would still urge the public to back her arrangements. In which case, consider this: what’s not to say that they might send out leaflets to households similar to the ones they sent in 2016? Granted, this may be where the Electoral Commission steps in, but could UK households receive a summary of the deal from the Prime Minister, and if so, what would the implications of this be?

While all of this is, of course, hypothetical, if the People’s Vote campaign wishes to win over more leavers and remainers, it must be seen as offering the single, logical solution which is optimistic and would not create further division. This would also involve setting down the foundations for a fair and honest referendum, free from sensationalist language and misleading information.

Unfortunately, those behind the campaign are yet to acknowledge the full scale of misinformation and post-truth in our political processes. In their reportA Roadmap to a People’s Vote, the group say “there is a strong democratic case for much better regulation and transparency in political advertising on the internet, or even going further”, calling for social media companies to be “challenged to show that they are taking all actions within their power to prevent abuse” with the threat of tough new legislation if they don’t. It’s a promising step, but one which completely ignores the other, wider issues which tie into the misinformation machine. If a referendum on the final deal were to see the creation of official campaigns, their activities must be closely monitored for accuracy and fairness.

Yet, in amongst all of this, they recognise that “there may not be time for legislation” around online political advertising. When one considers the fact that there wouldn’t be enough time to call another referendum before the Brexit deadline of 29 March next year, both the plausibility of a people’s vote and its repercussions are called into question.

To truly learn from the lessons of 2016, adequate safeguards and provisions preventing the revival of misinformation in our political discourse must be put in place during a people’s vote. Without these assurances, the campaign will continue to be branded a re-run of the first referendum, and will fail to win over the support from Brexiteers which it so desperately needs.

Liam O’Dell is a freelance journalist and blogger.

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‘Brexit’ review – Smart, witty political satire which leaves no stone unturned

An intelligent script gels with vibrant performances in this snappy, fast-paced mockery of the slowing constitutional dilemma –

Brexit poses as much of a challenge for politicians as it does for comedians and satirists. Both frustratingly vague and incredibly complex, it can be hard for a joke about something so dull as our exit from the European Union to land.

Timothy Bentinck is amusing as the procrastinating PM Adam Masters. Photo: Steve Ullathorne.

Brexit playwrights Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky also have the additional task of cramming in as many perspectives on Brexit into a single show as possible. The 75-minute play boldly swings at Labour and the Conservatives, soft and hard Brexit and the battle between remainers and Brexiteers. Making the point that we’re yet to make any real progress with the negotiations, Brexit‘s satire – perhaps rather worryingly – has remained timely for the whole of its run at the King’s Head Theatre.

Timothy Bentinck (The Archers) is the fictional Prime Minister hesitant to make progress on Brexit, while his frustrated political consultant Paul Connell (passionately and candidly portrayed by Adam Astill) continues to push for progress. Elsewhere, Pippa Evans and Thom Tuck play the remain-backing and Eurospectic cabinet ministers respectively, with Tuck delivering a hilarious, almost pantomime-like take on the Etonian Tory politician stereotype.

Perhaps the strongest form of satire in Brexit is the fact that all the comedic nonsense isn’t far removed from what we’re seeing in our real-life discussions about our withdrawal from the Union. If not making comedic and absurdist jokes about Twitter resignations or the tireless back-and-forth between remainers and leavers, the vibrant assortment of characters provide witty and logical takedowns on Brexit’s many flaws, complexities and contradictions – such as having both International Trade and Brexit departments, when the former can only be achieved after securing the latter.

As our withdrawal from the European Union continues to dominate the headlines, Brexit is the perfect comic relief for frustrated voters and enthusiastic politicos.

Brexit is now playing at the King’s Head Theatre until 17 November.

UKIP: Why it’s the beginning of the end for the single issue party which thrived on personality politics | Liam O’Dell

After UKIP’s National Executive Committee’s vote of no confidence in his leadership today, leader Henry Bolton was right: “the party is probably over”, and here’s why.

Photo: Derek Bennet/Flickr.

It was a bitter stalemate for a party which rose to success of the back of personality politics before it was ‘cool’. With a couple of resignations recently during Bolton’s time as UKIP leader, who knows if any more could follow should the former police officer manage to hold on to his position. No matter what happens now (whether Bolton resigns or members vote him out), a replacement is on the horizon in what would be an election for the fifth UKIP leader in the space of 18 months. When one considers June 2017’s snap election in amongst all these contests, could so-called ‘voter fatigue’ take its toll and finally bring an end to the UK Independence Party?

When Nigel Farage announced his resignation as leader after the 2016 EU referendum, numerous media outlets and commentators said such a decision had created a ‘power vacuum’. Now, three leaders later and it seems as though such a vacuum at the heart of the party is yet to be filled – for one good reason.

Whilst the media circus hasn’t bothered to explore the specific details of the in-fighting in UKIP (or, arguably, such details haven’t come to light), it seems as though the party longs for Farage’s return. Putting the politician’s popularity within the party aside, it was Nigel Farage that created the image of UKIP. Throughout the referendum campaign, journalists mentioned how leaving the European Union was an issue for which Farage had campaigned for many years. There’s a reason why US President Donald Trump has described the politician as ‘Mr Brexit’ – it’s because, even before the referendum was called, Brexit has been seen as ‘his baby’.

Since Farage’s departure as leader, the Conservatives – tasked with delivering Brexit – has soaked up the slogans and obsession that UKIP left out in the open during the power vacuum. The Tory claims about Labour MPs going against ‘the will of the people’ during the EU Withdrawal Bill debate is a type of whinging and complaining one would expect from UKIP, if they had becoming the strong ‘pro-Brexit voice’ the party has said they want to be.

However, with no MPs in Parliament, it’s a bit hard to be that voice when there’s no representation in the House of Commons, and the Conservatives are the only right-wing party pushing for a successful Brexit and have the responsibility and power to do so. Why should members support a ‘pro-Brexit voice’ outside of Westminster and add a further degree of separation when they can call on the Prime Minister (or, even their local constituency MP if they’re a Tory) to take direct action?

Granted, the fact that the UK still hasn’t left the EU yet may warrant such a voice in the debate, but the fact that UKIP are still the United Kingdom Independence Party following such a vote is baffling. An attempt to refresh the party with a new logo – despite it leading to some issues with the Premier League – may indeed have been a welcome move in terms of pushing the party forward post-Brexit, but it still grounded them to a single political issue.

In order to survive, UKIP must find a bold and likeable personality to fill the Farage-shaped hole in their party, and branch out from one single issue. Yet, with reports that the ex-leader may set up his own pro-Brexit party, the former seems unlikely. As for the latter, UKIP would have to go to the drawing board to think of national policies – besides Brexit – for which to campaign on. At a time of problematic leadership and in-fighting, it seems unlikely that the party would be able to agree on much as members’ patience runs thin.

With another leadership contest looming, this is the beginning of the end for UKIP.

Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew d’Ancona (REVIEW)

How does one begin to explain the current social and political climate in the Western world? A chain of unprecedented events has created a plethora of new, futuristic vocabulary (such as alternative facts, fake news and the Oxford English Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016, post-truth) that are yet to be properly defined. Although, that hasn’t stopped some individuals from taking on the mammoth task of providing much-needed clarity. Matthew D’Ancona’s exploration of post-truth delves into existentialism, post-modernism and digital mediums with a final call-to-action which is to be expected from an established British journalist and columnist.

Photo: Penguin Books.
With such a relevant background, one would assume that fake news – as a by-product of post-truth – would be featured heavily in the 150-page book. Yet, save for a couple of small sections on the topic, fake news isn’t mentioned that often. Instead, D’Ancona’s analysis of post-truth acts as a centre-point – a springboard – for him to jump seamlessly from discussions about social media and clickbait to the role of satirists.

Given the short length of the book, Matthew is quick to jump to the heart of his commentary, which appears to be that of post-modernism. To explain such a complex subject (and one which lacks clarity) with a critical perspective that is just as vague and detailed is a bad move, but a move d’Ancona makes nonetheless. Whilst he should be commended for trying to define the indefinable, a couple of sentences is not enough to clarify the main basis for his argument. Long story short, I was thankful that my knowledge of post-modernism from A-Levels hadn’t left my mind completely, but that’s not to say that I didn’t struggle to understand the basis for d’Ancona’s argument. As someone who approached the book with a brief knowledge of what post-modernism entails, one has to wonder whether someone without said understanding would be able to comprehend the more intrinsic aspects of Matthew’s commentary.

Nevertheless, like most works of non-fiction, Post-Truth includes some interesting and thoughtful points about the decline of trust and accuracy following Trump and Brexit. It’s towards the end of the book – the fifth chapter titled ‘”The Stench of Lies”: The Strategies to Defeat Post-Truth’ – where d’Ancona really sells his perspective. Summarising the best bits from previous chapters, the columnist reminds us of the current situation, and attempts to provide some solutions to the post-truth problem the Western world is currently experiencing. Although this section contains the motivational bravado possessed by most successful newspaper columnists, it still feels somewhat disorientating despite D’Ancona stating many options for society going forward.

If anything, Matthew d’Ancona’s Post-Truth raises more questions than it does providing answers, although that is understandable given the complexities of the subject matter. Whilst it is far from the definitive conclusion to the problem of falsehood, the journalist has at least begun to shed some light on an important socio-political issue in this small publication.

A UK debate on net neutrality could happen post-Brexit – we must be ready | The Friday Article

Pizzas, memes and American talk show hosts have all tried their hand at explaining one of the most complicated issues facing the world of technology today. On Wednesday, organisations staged a ‘day of action’ for Net Neutrality Day, showing the world what it would be like if Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had the power to prioritise certain traffic or websites over others.

Finger browsing app icons
It’s time we started talking about net neutrality across the pond.

Watching the debate from across the pond, UK citizens breathed a sigh of relief knowing that net neutrality has been enshrined into EU law. That is, until the moment they realised that we voted to leave the bloc just over a year ago. Now, just like other EU laws, the regulation that allows us to enjoy online content regardless of whom our ISP is hangs in the balance.

Cue another piece of political news which did the rounds yesterday which could put all of this at risk: the government’s not-so-great Repeal Bill. If it passes in the state that it’s in now (somewhat unlikely), then ministers will be granted the power to pass secondary legislation. Whilst it’s nice that the Conservatives want to cut Parliament’s workload (dealing with over 50,000 pieces of legislation sounds like quite the hassle), doing so in a way which avoids the scrutiny of MPs has opposition parties raising their eyebrows – and rightly so.

Even if the Tories decide not to amend the regulation without scrutiny, a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, however flawed it may be, could see the net neutrality law scrapped. Regardless of the fact there was a ‘voluntary system’ prior to this law, given Theresa May’s calls ‘to regulate cyberspace’ and the passing of the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’, any opportunity to degrade internet freedoms will most likely be taken by the Tories.

We need to act now. With the latest data from the Office for National Statistics revealing that 99% of 16 to 34 year olds are recent internet users (compared to just 41% of adults aged 75 or over), a British debate on net neutrality could very well be led by the younger generation.

It would certainly be a powerful campaign from our young people, too. The Conservative Party has been left battered and bruised after the youth vote crushed her arrogance (not to mention her majority) after last month’s general election. Tory MPs scrapping net neutrality – threatening young people’s Netflix subscriptions, social media access and main campaigning platform – would be a very, very bad idea.
One must not fall into stereotypes when discussing the internet, but as much as the youth campaign should challenge any decision to allow ISP’s to control the viewing of online content, it must also ensure that older people understand the issues associated with this. Net neutrality is an issue which affects all of us. Even if an individual is offline, they will be indirectly affected by an unfair Internet.

The possibility of a second general election has left everyone in a political limbo, with a degree of uncertainty about what’s coming next. Depending on what side of the political spectrum people identify, it either fills them with hope or dread. Either way, for the sake of our online society, the surge of young people being interested in politics must never fade.

There’s a hidden truth behind the snap election – we must be suspicious | Liam O’Dell

After nearly three weeks since the triggering of Article 50, the Tories have finally spat out the Brexit pill which no party wants to swallow. A snap election on June 8 will continue to create more uncertainty that Theresa May promised to end.

Photo: Number 10 on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.

“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” the Prime Minister said in a speech earlier today.

We must be suspicious. An arrogant Conservative Party determined to defy the rulings of judges and Lords to pass the Brexit Bill has once again resorted to Cameron’s levels of cowardice. Voters will remember that, but they must question the true reason for calling the election.

The immediate presumption would be that it is an attempt to decimate Labour, but that is questionable. It seems too great a risk for May to sacrifice the Tory majority (and a supposed lack of opposition on Brexit from Corbyn) to ‘kill’ the left-wing party. If the PM expects to win back a majority in June, then she is forgetting that a general election has become more than a Labour vs. Conservative battle.

A call for a snap election is – of course – a gamble, and it’s one May appears to have taken due to the disunity in other parties (according to her speech, at least).

With Labour’s in-fighting continuing to bubble every once in a while, the SNP tackling their own referendum and the Lib Dem’s membership slowly rising, it seems as though May is aiming for a wipeout whilst building upon her majority. But when has disunity within other parties ever hindered the Tories’ Brexit plans? If anything, it’s almost given May a ‘carte blanche’ to do her thing without any real scrutiny.

It’s even more confusing when the Conservatives have always been arrogant and stubborn when enforcing policies. To gamble their majority for the sake of silencing other parties, or getting them to support their plan, seems unfathomable.

So what is the explanation for the snap election? My friend Jarrad Johnson raises an interesting point, saying on Twitter that “someone or something has forced May’s hands behind the scenes.”

It’s an interesting comment when we look back at the past. The last time we had a vote between the typical five-year period was, of course, the 2016 EU referendum. On that occasion, it was believed that this was to end the internal conflict within the Tory party about whether we should leave the European Union. Now, as we face another surprise election before the end of the usual five-year term, we have to consider whether the same arguments are occurring once more.

Theresa May’s Brexit speech: A statement which failed to solve the problem of certainty

The post-Brexit debate has always been about seeing both sides of a very complicated equation. Our exit from the EU must satisfy the leave voters that wanted a return of Parliamentary sovereignty, whilst pleasing those who wanted more controls on immigration. It must be a clear removal from a union, whilst also reassuring remainers that their rights to live, work and travel around Europe won’t be affected – at least not too much. However, one of the biggest problems Theresa May failed to solve in her speech at Lancaster House yesterday was that of certainty.

Photo: DFID – UK Department for International Development on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

There is a balance to be struck ahead of triggering Article 50. Understandably, May must keep some of her cards close to her chest, as it were, when going to the negotiating table – not everything can be disclosed to the public beforehand in case it jeopardises our position. Yet, the vagueness that comes with describing Brexit with cake metaphors, colours or the popular line ‘Brexit means Brexit’ does not provide certainty to those who need it most: the remainers. Uncertainty leads to frustration and anger, which only adds to a debate which is currently dividing our country.

Of course, the first point about the PM’s 12-point plan for leaving the EU was about certainty, but whilst the transitions of EU law into British law after Brexit (until they are repealed by Parliament) was reassuring, that’s not the only thing remainers are worrying about. Sure, all this talk about a ‘Global Britain’ may reassure some business owners if they forget about the fact we’re leaving the single market, but what about dealing with the division in the UK? What about addressing the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and right-wing populism? What are you doing about those, Theresa?

In a sense, it was a statement structured like a non-fiction novel. They mostly tell us things we already know, but present some new information too so we don’t feel patronised. Unfortunately for Mrs May, telling us that we’ll need to control our immigration and that we want to make our own laws doesn’t prevent a feeling of deja vu from lingering in the air. Likewise, mentioning that we’ll be leaving the single market and protecting workers’ rights (the latter should please Labour to an extent) in passing won’t help either.

It was a speech littered with juxtapositions too. LBC’s James O’Brien mentioned on his show yesterday that it suggested “we’re a global country that doesn’t want you to come here”. Whether it’s a lack of detail or contradictory remarks, both don’t provide the clarity we need.

Finally, there came a line which will only add to the anxiety remainers have at the moment. “While I am sure a positive agreement can be reached,” said May, “I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

During the referendum campaign, those who backed a vote to stay mocked and joked about Brexit having a disappointing outcome. The comments all followed the same tone of it being a magical post-Brexit future which never comes to fruition (be it told in the style of a dodgy divorce, bad plans for a night out or so on). It’s a joke which may just become possible.

After all, Theresa May plans to give Parliament a vote on the final deal. Yet, with Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party MPs all opposing the Conservative’s plan for Brexit (on varying levels), it’s unlikely that an agreement on the terms of exit will be struck in the Commons.

A disastrous ‘no deal’ remains a possibility. This, combined with May’s unclear comments on leaving the single market and resolving our country’s division, has only created more uncertainty – something forced optimism always fails to mask.