When Theresa May went to meet Donald Trump in Washington, I was avidly watching and waiting to see how they would meld. The result was what I wanted: A reaffirmation of one of the most important global alliances in history, a pledge to do business as soon as legally possible. But, oh, how quickly the narrative changed. This is why I am so alarmed. Because while we observe protests about foreign government’s policies, and allow our politicians to get caught up in crude two-dimensional virtue-signalling, we risk that their cries about some emerging dystopian future may actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
By Terri Hall l February 14, 2017
LONDON-I am alarmed. Not by Donald Trump, nor by Brexit, like the rest of my generation, but by the sheer wave of mass hysteria that seems to be sweeping the West.
You would think Americans were living under the tyrannical rule of Stalin, or that the price of a loaf in Britain had soared to £150 because the economy had flat-lined when the country decided to govern itself.
I am alarmed that so many people are being whipped into a frenzy and feel compelled to cherry-pick between the latest trending ‘issues’ of which they then consume columns of hyperbolic outrage on social media to become motivated enough to pick up poster paints and take a ‘selfie’…and worse.
Behind the glare of the hyperbole actually lies a reality that is becoming increasingly and dangerously obscured.
When Theresa May went to meet Donald Trump in Washington, I was avidly watching and waiting to see how they would meld. Certainly she had been quietly critical of some of his words, and given how bountiful a free trade deal with the globe’s largest economy would be to really kick off our sovereignty, I was hoping she would put on her best diplomatic face and get the job done.
The result was what I wanted: A reaffirmation of one of the most important global alliances in history, a pledge to do business as soon as legally possible, and the hatchet buried over any lingering distrust. In business, you rarely get to choose your customers, and a pragmatic dealer will put on the tightest possible performance to engage with them and strike the most profitable deal.
But, oh, how quickly the narrative changed. She was wrong to not have told Donald Trump how to run his own country, even though Remainers wouldn’t want her running her own. All of a sudden the deliria from America had swept across the Atlantic and people are up in arms about Donald Trump’s supposed ‘Muslim Ban’ and are calling for his state visit to be cancelled.
Neither the gross exaggeration nor the dangers of this crude generalisation are lost on me. This may be a lazy, headline grabbing turn of phrase by the media, but among cells of protest groups it is the deliberate propagation of a sense of critical alarm through contorting reality, designed to compel people into action. Action that I fear will become increasingly hard to contain and will provoke social unrest for simply existential reasons alone.
I am not saying I don’t think people should discuss politics or protest based upon their convictions, quite the opposite. A policy that segregates one group of people from another in terms of treatment will always attract criticism, usually from the group who have been disadvantaged. I am not surprised by the reaction of Olympic juggernaut Mo Farah, a Brit of Somali origin who trains in America, expressing concern about his own travel status and that of his relatives. It is a policy that conceivably could directly affect him. But the fervour and clamour of pseudo-anguish being stoked up on social media and reinforced in the press, where people march in the streets; this sudden death of political apathy and pragmatism, replaced by crazed hysteria, when the country is at peace, and people can vote and live relatively safe and secure lives, when the economy is strong and social justice is higher than at any time in history, really makes me wonder what would happen were we suddenly to face a real crisis.
Of course, the protestors would argue it was in the greater spirit of mankind and our counterparts in other countries. But the fact that the Western community are mass protesting over a 90 day travel moratorium on 7 countries for security reasons, when raging drought across Africa is about to claim many lives suggests to me that they are rather myopic in their selection of causes-celebres.
But the hysteria is spreading beyond the realms of ideological driven youths. The First Minister of Wales, the leader of the country’s devolved government, joined the chorus to block the American President’s state visit.
I checked the trade agenda, and the Welsh Government have no fewer than four big trade delegations to America this year. I thought a national leader was elected to represent the country’s best interests. I then noticed they were also going to Saudi Arabia, where public executions and stoning are par for the course, Dubai where a raped woman can be banged up in prison for adultery, and China, where the last time anyone saw an opposition in party in power was in 1949.
The right to protest is one of the greatest freedoms a civilised society can offer. But those professing to be protecting rights and freedoms are ironically calling for a travel ban on a world leader because he proposed a travel ban.
Those with a more pragmatic worldview are waiting for the hysteria to subside. But what if it doesn’t?
In Parliament, Theresa May slammed opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s predictable opine that she should cancel the state visit, to which she curtly responded; “He can lead a protest. I am leading a country”.
During the same debate the usual suspects queued up to air post-fact grievances about Brexit, as the Commons debated, among other things, the vote on Article 50, which thankfully all but the most maverick of politicians agreed to back in honour of democracy with a resounding majority of 498 votes to 114.
Meanwhile the European Commission has come up with some sort of fictional ‘final bill’ for Brexit, suggesting Britain would owe arrears of 40-60bn Euros. Where they got this figure or how they intend to justify it is another matter, but I cannot see one Mrs May opening her chequebook at Brussels’ command.
They have also threated trade talks would take until 2020, with the former EU ambassador adding that it would be the greatest renegotiation and multilateral deal forged since the end of the Second World War. Well if we had left it another decade it would be even grosser, and we would also have a putrefying Euro to contend with. Let’s see how long those trade negotiations do take when the EU’s largest export manufacturers are faced with temporary tariffs.
But one thing that has been cemented through the two big electoral shocks the world faced in 2016 is the common, common sense of the pragmatic right wing of politics.
How we deal with the Despairniks is another question and one that, I fear, is starting to need urgent attention. The Bank of England has revised its growth forecast up. Last year, the UK had the fastest growing economy among developed nations. Interest rates are being kept at a manageable 0.25%. Brexit has been signed off by a clear majority of MPs following a perfectly transparent referendum. It’s hard to see where the UK is going wrong to attract such panic and vitriol.
There have been warnings that MPs who don’t support Brexit could stoke civil unrest. Never before have I heard such a warning in the UK.
This is why I am so alarmed. Because while we observe protests about foreign government’s policies, and allow our politicians to get caught up in crude two-dimensional virtue-signalling, we risk that their cries about some emerging dystopian future may actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Alexandra Phillips is former Head of Media for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the political party in Britain that successfully campaigned to leave the EU and was aide to its charismatic leader Nigel Farage. She left UKIP after the referendum victory and joined the Conservative Party in order to ensure other big political ambitions are met in the U.K. She is a political advisor and communications consultant in London. Ms. Phillips is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis, of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.