On Friday I joined a small group of Devon for Europe supporters at a “flash protest” in Totnes. Anthea Simmons, our campaign manager, delivered a letter to MP Anthony Mangnall demanding his support for a general election. We also ran a “democracymeter”, asking passers by to answer questions about the state of our nation by sticking coloured spots on a chart – just like the brexitometers we used during the campaign to stop Brexit.
The democracymeter attracted intermittent interest while we were outside the constituency office, where footfall was low, but much more participation when we moved to the top of High Street, where the market was in full flow. Opinions on the government’s conduct were virtually unanimous, as the photo shows. [The ‘democracymeter was on the High Street for 35 minutes only. Ed]
I had one challenging conversation, with a woman who told me that Brexit was a fine idea in principle but “had been badly implemented”. “That’s the argument the Nazis used in the late 1940s”, I said. “Now you’re calling me a Nazi”, she retorted. “I’m sorry you should think that,” I countered, “but you’ve misunderstood me. What I’m saying is that you are using the same argument as was used at that time – and is often used by supporters of political ideas that have failed.” “But you can use the same argument in two different situations, and these two are not at all similar,” she said, then moved away before I could answer.
It was an exchange that left me thinking. “Such-and-such a failed policy was fine in principle but it was just badly implemented” is not an argument that ages well, that much is clear. But we shouldn’t forget that National Socialism was wildly popular in Germany in the early to mid-1930s, before its evil side came to light, and that it was still endorsed by “true believers” even as it fell apart and was widely discredited in 1945 and thereafter. Is the same true of Brexit? There are many who still defend it. How long will they go on doing so? How much damage needs to be done by Britain’s experiment in neofascism before the scales fall from people’s eyes?
Of course, there are big differences in degree and magnitude. German fascism murdered millions, whereas Brexit hasn’t done that. And probably won’t: the harm it does is stealthier, less brutal. But that makes it all the harder to combat. Meanwhile, its victims are growing steadily in number and the circumstances of individual cases – from businesses going bust, to people dying in ambulances outside A and E, to EU visitors detained at our frontiers – are harrowing. And worrying.
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