The language being used today following the High Court ruling on the use of the royal prerogative to trigger Brexit is frightening. The headlines in at four national newspapers effectively seek to undermine the rule of law.
The Daily Mail: Under pictures of the three judges who made the ruling is: ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE.
The Sun shouts WHO DO EU THINK YOU ARE.
The Daily Telegraph cries: The judges versus the people.
The Daily Express evokes Churchill’s fight on the beaches speech with its headline, WE MUST GET OUT OF THE EU, printed over the Union flag.
The Guardian has a measured headline, Turmoil for May as judges rule that parliament must decide on Brexit. But its first paragraph starts: “Theresa May is heading for a rebellion over her Brexit strategy…” I can find no justification for the use of the word “rebellion” in following paragraphs.
The front pages can be seen on the BBC website.
For the record, the judges’ ruling was about the process of Brexit not about whether the UK should leave the EU. The ruling upholds sovereign power of the legislature: it supports our MPs and restates the separation of powers between the parliament and the executive. That is something I thought every democrat supported.
The language reflects a very nasty country which is emerging. It is empowering those who feel they can abuse women wearing a head-scarf, those speaking another language and those they think do not look “English”.
A friend told me yesterday of an incident in a pub. He was talking to another friend about Brexit when he felt someone poking him on the shoulder. He turned to be told: “I don’t agree with what you are saying.”
My friend responded that he was having a private conversation and was not talking to the man who had prodded him who then said: “I am Anglo-Saxon, pure Anglo-Saxon.”
My friend rightly ignored this although I would have been tempted to point out that the man was clearly descended from Germanic immigrants.
It is not just in this country that the language of political discourse is being debased. The United States presidential election has descended into a slanging match between the two leading contenders. Russia sounds increasingly bellicose. In Turkey academics, journalists and civil servants are arrested or arbitrarily sacked. There are more examples.
We are seeing something of the language and attitudes which allowed Mussolini, Franco and Hitler to rise to power and was also heard in Britain before the Second World War.
It is frightening. I woke this morning thinking I was less afraid for the future during the Cuba missile crisis 50 years ago.