Gina Miller @ The Bristol Festival of Ideas
04.10.18: Tuesday night and off to an evening with Gina Miller, who is known mainly for legally challenging the UK Government’s right to invoke Article 50 (Brexit) without reference to Parliament. In the absence of political moderation, for many, Miller has willingly, or unwillingly become the figurehead for those desperately seeking somebody to rally around. As a consequence, Miller has faced an appalling barrage of abuse, including threats of gang rape, beheading, racial harassment, murder and, acid attacks. Her personal office has received packages containing dangerous substances. Her legal team has been subjected to protests outside their offices, and at least eight people have been served with cease and desist notice by the police. In a self-declared act of ‘satire.’ Rhodri Colwyn Philipps, 4th Viscount St Davids, a British peer, described Miller as a “boat jumper” and added: “If this is what we should expect from immigrants, send them back to their stinking jungles.” The 4th Viscount St Davids also offered “£5,000 for the first person to ‘accidentally’ run over this bloody troublesome first generation immigrant.”
How have we got here? A question I often find myself asking, whatever our views on the challenges we face in our communities. What has stirred up so much animosity, hostility and, hatred? It is a darkness that strikes at the heart. A hatred I have known to have existed in the few but not the many. The grumpy uncle, or neighbour who lazily points the finger at everybody else for their troubles while fearfully avoiding the hallway mirror. Last Sunday evening I spent over 2 hours in a public meeting trying to discuss the merits and genuine concerns of a proposed winter shelter for the homeless in my neighbourhood. These issues are always sensitive, often the catalyst for bringing the worst out of people with locals exasperated by the weak administration of the consultation process managed by the City Council. Yet, none of this provided any justification for the uncontrolled rage, and venom aimed at those most vulnerable in our community who face the threat of freezing to death over the winter periods.
The demands for the council to compensate people for a perceived loss of house value, if the project were to be granted, is one thing and a concern for personal safety is another, these are entirely natural concerns. The council must calmly explain how it will help mitigate these factors, justified or not. How these adult discussions are able to take place in an environment of open hostility, lack of humanity and outright appalling behaviour is frankly beyond me. At one point I turned to witnesses a group of people poised continuously to interrupt when breath was taken by anybody else contributing to the meeting, tightly clenched hands, a reddening and angry facial expression, like volcanos awaiting explosion. This is not a legitimate expression of concern, but an embolden confident disregard for anybody else. In part a small reflection of where we are as a people at the moment, polarised and unable to reach out, share and lacking any empathy. A smaller reflection of what Gina Miller is relaying tonight.
There is much, which I agree with Gina Miller, Brexit, the general state of politics in the UK, government abuse of power, erosion of accountability and a need to find new ways of opening up dialogue across our fractured political divide. There are also issues where her analysis, on the surface seems naive with the reiteration of the muddle that a ‘kinder, more socially aware capitalism’ will help solve the deep-rooted economic injustice between North and South and in the micro-economies of the UK regions. Not everybody who works in the world of capital finance has, and will never have the values of Gina Miller, and waiting for this type of transformation to take place is a wait too long. Especially for those who have had to live with the consequences of failed 3rd-way market-based (kinder capitalism) solutions since the 1980s. A decade, which brought the promise of an end to ‘boom and bust’ economics by its advocates who often now like to start their narrative from the financial crash of 2007, and the onset of austerity.
Tonight and I can genuinely sense a feeling of the utmost loss, grieving, ongoing bewilderment amongst the audience. It is a feeling captured towards the end of the evening during the Q&A session when Miller to her credit talked about the need to reach out to those who voted for Brexit. The voice is one of that is reminiscent of many who cannot comprehend a loss of power, an elderly man who asks “how do we get into their heads to help change their minds.” A question I am quite sure sounds much more sinister than what the questioner meant but nevertheless gets to the core of the problem. As a proud North East migrant, who voted for remain, but wanted reform. It’s not a case about getting into people heads, but listening, demonstrating empathy and a willingness to support the implementation of policies that will address economic injustice.
Gina Miller is a remarkable woman, and I can list a lot of platitudes. I utterly reject and condemn the vile misogynistic and racists abuse she faces and will no doubt continue to suffer. She is an inspiration to anybody who values common decency, and more people like her are required in public life. Her decision to transfer political allegiances away from the Labour Party to the Liberal Democrats is regrettable but understandable as the Lib Dems seem to offer a better home for her ‘kinder capitalism’ ethos. It is a move that also contains an element of irony given some academics had drawn the conclusion that the seed of Brexit was sown when the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government embarked on their policy of austerity. I can only reflect that our appreciation of Miller’s work will be valued more in the post-Brexit landscape, after the storm, than it is today.
I finish writing this blog entry, I open my web browsers and read the headlines. The Institute for Public Policy Research have published a new report (link here) calling for “A radical overhaul of Britain’s economy as far-reaching as Labour’s post-war reforms and the Thatcherite revolution in the 1980s is needed to address the UK’s chronic failure to raise the standard of living of millions of workers since the 2008 financial crash.” As well-meaning and insightful this report maybe I am left thinking, while Rome burns.