Brexit goes glossy in Wetherspoon’s pubs
Regarding John Harris’s article (England’s rebel spirit is rising – and it wants a no-deal Brexit, 21 January), in Wetherspoon’s outlets across the country, pamphleteering against a deal has become an industry. On every table in every bar (almost 1,000 of them) is what looks like a menu. Called Propel Newsletter, it promises readers falling food prices and cheaper booze in the event of a no-deal Brexit and condemns the “Oxbridge toffs” who would have us think otherwise. Jacob Rees-Mogg is not described as an Oxbridge toff. Instead he is seen smiling with Tim Martin in the 100-page glossy magazine, which customers can pick up free.
Remainers or pro-dealers who remove the “menus” and magazines find that these are immediately replaced, making one wonder just how large the print run was and how much money Tim Martin has spent on his personal campaign. As a member of the public and not a politician, he would say that in his pubs he has every right to give away whatever he likes.
Those who want a second referendum should be careful what they wish for. If “no deal” is not a choice on the ballot then large swathes of leave voters will feel disenfranchised.
If “no deal” is an option on the voting paper, with more than one other choice dividing the rest of the vote, Tim Martin may well find that a democratic vote brings him exactly what he wanted.
• John Harris’s trips to places that it is assumed readers of this paper steer clear of, with the aim of uncovering unpalatable truths from the people he meets, are generally good value: well written with insights. Going to Wetherspoon’s to listen to Tim Martin address a meeting in a pub at 10.30am was, however, only ever likely to expose as narrow a range of sentiments as, for example, judging the moral climate by reference to readers’ comments on Mail Online – at best imprecise, or just simply misleading. Abstemious readers should not be misled into believing that all Martin’s patrons have signed a pledge to agree with his view on anything, let alone Brexit. John Harris also needs to get out of his musical rut, stop quoting punk lyrics from the time we joined the EU, and listen to something more uplifting but rebellious, like “What would William Morris say”, by contemporary folk writer and musician Reg Meuross.
• In attempting to explain Brexit fervour, John Harris cites the line in the Sex Pistols song Anarchy in the UK “Don’t know what I want, but I know how to get it” as part of a centuries-old English “tendency to indulge in futile, inexplicable gestures”. Brexit may be better encapsulated by Johnny Rotten’s question to the audience at the end of the last Sex Pistols concert in 1978: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
Harris also says that “belief in a second referendum still seems to be largely the preserve of a certain kind of middle-class person”. Perhaps we should include Nigel Farage in that: in an interview with the Daily Mirror on 16 May 2016 he anticipated a remain victory and said that, if it was a narrow win, pressure would grow for a rerun of the ballot: “In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way.”
• John Harris cites the futile yell of Johnny Rotten’s Anarchy in the UK in his assessment of England’s rebel spirit. But for me, as I believe John has already acknowledged in the past, it’s Rotten’s fatalistic poetry of God Save the Queen that nails the moment: “There’s no future in England’s dreaming”. Yeah, I think that pretty much covers it. But sadly, I suspect the anger of the potential H-bombs he witnessed in Wetherspoon’s will not be defused until they have their day. Only then perhaps will they wake up to the true consequences of their nationalistic dreams of independence, empowerment and status. It’s just sad that the rest of us have to be dragged along.
• Wetherspoon’s is taking Brexit to absurdity, by serving fewer wines and beers from the EU. Where will this end? If it is using HP Sauce, that iconic brand with the picture of the Houses of Parliament on the label, then Wetherspoon’s needs to look closer. It is now produced in the Netherlands.
Kilmaurs, East Ayrshire
• I grew up in the northern town of Blackburn in a very working-class family and then lived in an artists’ community in Manchester, so I am in touch with both sides of the Brexit argument. People in my local pub talk about how they think politicians will betray Brexit and the people. Then I go to Manchester and I hear university students the same age as me who think the pub drinkers are idiots.
People in working-class towns voted leave out of anger – not at the EU as an institution but against the political class in general. Of course, it is then easy to point at them and say: “Why vote against EU membership then?” But that is to miss the point of their anger. For these people politics has not just failed them but forgotten them entirely. Industries that they had pride in shrank. Mine and steel workers, factory workers and tradesmen, had their occupations taken from them.
Then a devastating recession forced many of them to the extremes of desperation. Then we had a referendum and they heard a Conservative prime minister asking them to vote for the status quo. Of course they voted leave. Theresa May says another referendum would damage social cohesion. I agree that in the current vicious and aggressive atmosphere it would. But if we were to reach out to the people we disagree with we could start to heal these divisions. After all, those guys in the pub in Blackburn and my friends in central Manchester would both buy me a pint, so why not each other?
• There is a straightforward and simple explanation for the Brexit vehemence that John Harris so vividly observes. This is, and always has been, an epistemological problem, a problem of knowledge. Present company excepted, the British media have, for 40 years, largely suppressed or censored information that would show the vast benefits and advantages that accrue from our partnership with other European countries. Eager to headline questions about straight bananas or sugar mountains in the past, the media have largely left the general population uninformed about Europe and the positive effects it has on our lives. Even Tim Martin of Wetherspoons appears to be completely in the dark about politics, Europe, and the great good our EU membership brings.
Dr Ian Flintoff
• John Harris evokes George Orwell’s comments about nationalism versus patriotism, but is he observing patriots or nationalists? Has the distinction been lost, or was it ever understood? Orwell makes clear the distinction between love of place and identity as being decidedly preferable to a hatred of “Johnny Foreigner” born out of fear and ignorance. Both are usually based on sentimental myths often fed by the rightwing press and insufficiently exposed. Even banal bans on coloured lightbulbs and orders to reduce the power of vacuum cleaners stoke up resentment against the EU when, in fact, these were proposals from the UK government.
Harris refers to a feeling of empathy for the Wetherspoon’s patrons eager to swallow Tim Martin’s agitprop with their pints. Certainly, the political elite need to begin to understand, and act on, the confusion and resentment felt by traditional communities to such rapid change to their sense of place and identity before the nationalism of the extreme right does it for them.
• John Harris regrets that people are worked up about Brexit rather than climate change. Surely they are opposing choices? No one who cares about climate change could possibly vote for a policy that will entail transporting goods from the other side of the world rather than from across the channel, thus deepening the carbon footprint for the foreseeable future.
In choosing Brexit, the British people showed their lack of concern about climate change and subsequent decisions, like accepting fracking, have confirmed that Britain is already closer to the US president’s point of view on these questions, than that of Emmanuel Macron.
Liez par Maillezais, France
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