Bastards and fools: an open letter to my MP

An open letter on Brexit to my MP, Keir Starmer QC

Cartoon: everyone queueing up for wrong, easy answer

Cartoon: everyone queueing up for wrong, easy answerKeir Starmer QC MP
House of Commons

February 10th 2017

Dear Keir,

Why did you become an MP?

Your previous job, as director of public prosecutions, was better remunerated, so it can’t have been for the money. You seem a humble and conscientious sort, so I doubt it was for the glory. Was it, then, because you wanted to make the world, or at least your country, a better place? I ask because I’ve been wondering whether your actions of late are fully consistent with that aim.

I’m not a religious man, but I’d like to quote you a passage from the Bible that offers an insight into the wisdom of crowds.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.

The governor said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’

They said, ‘Barabbas!’

Pilate said to them, ‘What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’

They all said to him, ‘Let Him be crucified!’ (Matthew 27:15)

The argumentum ad populum – the contention that something must be right simply because most people believe it to be so – has been recognised as a fallacy since Thucydides. The unspoken truth behind the representative democracy we have accepted as our political system is that ordinary people are not good at governing themselves.

Ordinary people do not have teams of advisers. Ordinary people do not have a civil service to carry out exhaustive research on the pros and cons of any proposed policy. We do not always have top-drawer educations, or the luxury of spare hours to meditate on problems. Few of us are able to see even the small picture clearly, never mind the big one. This is why we entrust MPs with the running of the country.

Never has there been a more exquisite demonstration of this point than the EU referendum. It’s clear beyond a shadow of doubt that hardly any Britons – on either side – bothered to acquaint themselves even fleetingly with the workings of the European Union, or the benefits and drawbacks of membership, prior to the vote. Those who did found themselves confronted with hysteria, hyperbole and rampant disinformation.

Even now, when I engage in online discussions with Leave voters, I find the majority still parroting the flagrant falsehoods published in the Sun, Mail and Express and on far-right conspiracy websites such as Breitbart and Infowars: lies about bendy bananas, lies about EU accounts never being signed off, lies about Turkey’s imminent accession and David Cameron’s World War Three (it was, as you know, a triumphant bit of straw-manning from Boris Johnson).

While I do not doubt that some people voted Leave in good faith and in full possession of the facts, some of the reasons I have seen and heard have ranged from the trivial to the downright absurd.

Even before the vote, it was clear that many of these motivations were incompatible. Opponents of free movement, for example, cannot possibly have their wish at the same time as those who want to create a flexible, deregulated “European Singapore”. We cannot both drastically reduce immigration and give more money to the NHS. Whatever shape Britain (or, as seems likely, its former component parts) is in when Brexit is over, a sizeable proportion of Leavers are going to be bitterly disappointed – on top of all the Remainers, and many of those who didn’t vote.

'We voted leave because of immigration'

Hannan: "No one voted Leave because of immigration'

No one can say with certainty how deep and lasting the damage wrought by Brexit will be. (That fact alone should have been deterrent enough.) Most of the unaccountably maligned “experts” are pessimistic: between 3% and 9% off the country’s GDP, job losses in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, cooperative enterprises such as Erasmus and Cern wrecked, reduction in revenue for universities, loss of tax and talent from the skilled migrants now making plans to work elsewhere, and a colossal dent in the UK’s soft power. Even many Leavers quietly admitted that the UK might suffer economically and politically, at least in the short term, though they assured us that the advantages (the muezzin call of “Sovereignty!” that we hear five times daily) would eventually compensate.

Should article 50 be triggered, the ultimate fate of the country will hinge, of course, on the exit negotiations. The omens here are not good. We started out by offending our longstanding allies with our arrogant (and baseless) announcement that we would be better off without them. Theresa May’s bullish stance and the casually offensive remarks of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage then rubbed salt into the wound. And given that the EU is keen to make the prospect of leaving as unattractive as possible to deter other members from following suit, and given our woeful shortage of skilled trade negotiators, I see very little chance of us emerging from these talks with a lovely cake and a pleasant throb in the belly.

The UK, then, looks set to end up poorer, more divided, and more isolated on the world stage – at a time when the authoritarian right is enjoying an alarming renaissance, when Donald Trump’s presidency is destabilising world peace, when radical Islam still poses a potent threat, and when Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions are gathering momentum.

Brexit risks being not just a faltering step backwards from economic, political and cultural standpoints, but a giant leap.

It comes as no surprise, then, that applications from foreign students to study at UK universities have already fallen by 7%. It will not shock you, either, that a large number of EU citizens resident in the UK are making preparations to leave. For some, the vote on Wednesday 8th February against the amendment on article 50 guaranteeing their rights was the final straw.

These are not scroungers, dossers or health tourists. These are hardworking, talented human beings who contribute hugely not just to the economy, but to society. They have jobs, they speak English (often to a higher standard than some of the natives I’ve encountered online), they have built lives here, and many have found love here. But their abysmal treatment at the government’s hands, and the new wave of xenophobia unleashed by the referendum vote, have made them feel unwelcome, and uncertain about their futures.

We risk throwing out not just the bathwater, but the baby, and the bath.

I’ve heard North Korea’s nice this time of year

I should add at this point that, if the government persists in its pursuit of a recklessly hard Brexit, if liberal values continue to be scorned and undermined, if racially motivated attacks continue to multiply, then I will be joining them in leaving. Am I overreacting? You be the judge.

Never mind that Brexit has destroyed my retirement plans. Never mind that the vote has already cost me almost £2,000 in increased holiday costs and grocery bills. What truly horrifies me is what seems to be happening to my country.

For simply airing the possibility that a hard Brexit might not be the best possible outcome for the country, or for suggesting that perhaps not every single Muslim on these shores is a western-hating rapist intent on killing us all, I have been called a traitor, a moron, a “cuck”, a “libtard”, and worse. For espousing views that I once saw as synonymous with the land of my birth – openness, tolerance, cooperation, trust – I have received multiple death threats.

I suddenly live in a society where where perfidious hatemongers like this man have acquired unquestioning followings in the hundreds of thousands.

A society where views like this, and this

'I hope all the refugees freeze to death'

and this

Guy threatening to kill Tim Farron

and this

Picture of drowning migrants labelled 'scroungers'

now routinely go unchallenged.

A society where behaviour like this, this, and this is becoming normalised. People are being verbally and physically abused, in some cases killed, for the crime of wanting to help other people – or simply for wearing the skin they were born in.

The country is falling to bastards and fools: bastards who weave lies and fools who believe them.

'The EU arliament is not elected'

If this is the new Britishness, then I want no part of it. I refuse to contribute any more to a country that tolerates, or even celebrates, racism, ignorance and spite. I’ll go to Canada, or Ireland, or Germany, where something like the British values of old still pertain. And I know for a fact that I will not be the only one.

A promise is just a promise

Theresa May seems intent on pursuing Brexit to its most brutal extent, no matter the cost. One can only assume that this is because she regards the referendum as a form of contract with the people of the UK; a promise.

But governments break promises all the time. The Tories broke nine of their 2015 manifesto pledges within 100 days of taking power. At least three more have gone for a burton since June 23:

Conservative manifesto: broken promises of Brexit

But there is a larger problem here. What if fulfilling one promise means breaking others? What if enforcing a disastrous Brexit leads, as it well might, to the breakup of the UK? To new borders and sectarian strife in Northern Ireland? To lost jobs, to further cuts to the NHS, to higher taxes, more austerity? Who is to say that the Brexit promise outweighs all others?

Politicians don’t like to make U-turns because they think they are a sign of weakness. But sometimes, backtracking is the bravest thing you can do. The sunk cost fallacy has been acknowledged as a fallacy for almost as long as the argumentum ad populum. You can always turn back. And sometimes it is the only sensible course of action.

In any case, Brexit is not the “will of the people”. It is the will of at most 17.4 million people – a total that undoubtedly included many who were voting purely in protest at Cameron and austerity. Even fewer wanted a hard Brexit, with all the upheaval and economic woe that it will entail.

I was delighted to discover that you were standing as my MP. You seemed that rare and precious thing: a politician with brains, integrity, conviction. A man who thought and spoke well and was not afraid to take an unpopular stance. As a result, in the 2015 general election, I put a cross next to a Labour candidate’s name for the first time. When Labour lost, and Jeremy Corbyn took over the leadership, I thought he, too, seemed a decent man.

But unless you, and the Labour party, abandon your policy of pusillanimous submission to Theresa May’s every unmandated whim, unless you begin making substantive efforts to minimise the damage wrought by Brexit, and in particular, unless you start offering some credible support to my European friends in this country, whom you have, until this point, unforgivably betrayed, I will have no choice but to switch my allegiance to the Liberal Democrats, the only party that has shown consistent integrity on this issue. Until I emigrate, of course. Then you can do what the hell you like.

History is studded with stories of people in power faced with difficult choices. On the one hand, the safe option: give in to the will of the most vocal, even though they know the consequences are likely bad. On the other, ignore the clamour of the ill-informed, have the courage of your convictions, and choose the more difficult, but ultimately more beneficial, course of action. Those who choose the first path are invariably, like Pilate, reviled. Those who choose the second are feted as heroes.

You don’t eradicate the language and behaviour documented above by appeasing it. You eradicate it by fighting it with every sinew. Every day these bastards are not resisted, they grow bolder. To allow a hard Brexit is to pander to their tiny-minded, combative, backward, binary vision of the world.

How will you be remembered?


Andy Bodle

Author: Andy Bodle

Perennially grumpy middle-aged git with broadly negative views on just about everything. Was intermittently funny once.

16 thoughts on “Bastards and fools: an open letter to my MP”

  1. Thank you Andy,
    Eloquently and accurately put. There are probably millions who support your letter.
    Please keep in close touch with Starmer. Never give in – never.

  2. I have not read every word (I will save it for later) but the words I have read reflect my thoughts also. Like you I was pleased to have Keir Starmer as my MP. But I feel sadly let down by him. I wrote him a letter recently, pleading with him to stand up for what he knows is right. I did get a reply, which reads as though it is not a generic response. But it was along the lines of the people voted out and therefore we are going to leave. Very very sad.

  3. Well said. As James Surowiecki noted in his book, “The Wisdom of Crowds”: “If army ants are wandering around and they get lost, they start to follow a simple rule: Just do what the ant in front of you does. The ants eventually end up in a circle. There’s this famous example of one that was 1,200 feet long and lasted for two days; the ants just kept marching around and around in a circle until they died.”

  4. Thank you Andy,

    You are not alone. What is happening here is both unbelievable and terrifying. My country, it seems, is dead – or certainly close to.

  5. Extremely eloquent & powerfully expressed. I agree with every word. I used to believe that Britain, with all it’s faults was a fundamentally decent & fair country; not any more. Words cannot express my profound disappointment & sense of betrayal, but you have come close, thank you.

  6. This makes me feel an incredible amount of despair because every word is true. I hope that you got/get an adequate response. I no longer feel at home here in the country I was born and bred in. It is not looking like the place that I will stay if we continue down this destructive path. This is a brilliant letter. Well done.

  7. Thank you for your eloquent reflection of the views of so many British people who are being led into this catastrophe by a sycophantic government.
    I am still awaiting a similarly well written and persuasive argument in favour of leaving the European Union but have stopped holding my breath.

  8. I have read every word Andy, and agree with each of them. Your letter exactly promotes my views on this mindbogglingly stupid course of action. I feel so sickened by the responses engendered from some members of the leave brigade that I feel like I should renounce my citizenship of the UK on purely concientious grounds alone!
    I live in Spain and have done so for some years, more than 15, so I and my ilk were denied access to the so called democratic vote on this issue. I have always been fairly proud of my nationalty, even though I understand that historically we were bloody brutal. The era of empire building was not one we can be proud of in any humanitarian way, most nations of Europe and the so called civilised world were engaged in this activity and pulled no punches in ataining their goals. It has never been a consideration for me to become a Spanish citizen but I am seriously considering it now!
    I ruly hope your letter gains some purchase with Starmer but my opinion of most Labour and Conservative MPs is tgat they are self serving and toe the oarty line. This I suspect is what will happen hear! I refer you to the soeach of Anna Soubry. So sad and pathetic!

  9. What a fantastic letter which sums up everything I feel about our country in 2017. The one thing I would add is that I think it impossible to find a Leave voter who can make a reasonable case for Brexit being something objectively beneficial to the country. You mention the two opposing views in the Brexit camp. So rather than it being the will of around one in 4 people, the Brexit we actually get will be the hoped-for outcome of what… Perhaps one in 10?

    “The will of the people”…

  10. Starmer’s central point seems to be, from his generic reply email: “Although the referendum was, technically, advisory, it was politically binding. None of us who campaigned day in and day out ever suggested that the exercise was simply advisory.”

    Sadly a ‘technical’ error has left us in this mess. I’ve also written to him, and gone on susequently to join Lib Dems.

  11. Huge thanks for expressing my thoughts in such an eloquent way. It is beyond my comprehension that decent, thoughtful and caring MPs (I do believe such beings exist!) can act in such a collectively disastrous way. Brexit is not the will of ‘the people,’ nor is it democratic to slavishly follow a vote based on so many lies and so much ignorance. Thank you again.

  12. Hello agree with every word of your eloquent and well researched letter. Great examples we see and despair. Where is Spitting Image when we need them as never before.
    I’m shocked that Britain is horrified by Trump yet complacent, even supportive, of May. As she ignores most of the divided country and drags it, plan free, vision free into what’s effectively, a war with Europe .
    Can they not see the connection?
    Thanks so much for writing and we can only hope you receive a considered reply from Keir Stormer. I was totally thrilled when he first stood up and defended parliament in the commons. Since there I’ve been bitterly disappointed in his lack of consistency. I’m up the way and Tulip Siddiq had the integrity to stand up for remain. All good thoughts and thanks again. Brightened up my Monday.

  13. I want to see Mr Starmer’s response to this fantastic and unfortunately true letter. You have put into words the feelings of so many of us.
    Angry is the word too for many of us. Angry that the government disrespects the people enough to do what they did – and blame ‘the will of the people’ for actions that they had been considering for many years. AS it is our country is damaged – probably irreparably, and that is also something that any of us are angry about. The social divide is something that wont heal easily.

    I only hope that you manage to get this letter our there – to others who might well need to read it. Well done Andy.

  14. Thank you. I wish I’d written this letter. My own MP, to whom I have written many times, invariably replies with a ‘cut and paste’ response which rarely directly tackles any points I make. I’d love to know what kind of reply you get.

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