Skip to content

Where’s Herod when you need him?

Scot Tenorman


Oscar Wilde’s line about the rage of Caliban not seeing himself in the mirror has been taken to heart in the last week or so by young people claiming to be suffering from profound emotional responses to the EU referendum result. We defy readers to read this thread at The Student Room without feeling like Eric Cartman rejoicing in the tears of Scot Tenorman. In person – overheard on public transport, for instance – they are even funnier, wearing expressions of virtuous sincerity and stoicism in the face of disaster, taking it in turns to say the same thing in ever so slightly different ways, shuddering deliciously at the dread name Farage like Harry Potter and his pals contemplating the word Voldemort, remorselessly reinforcing each other in their invincible certainty in their own goodness.

Amusing though they may be – and the ones claiming that they may fail their exams because of Brexit have surely attained to a comic genius on par with Charles Chaplin and Stan Laurel – it is when they begin to expatiate on the prospects and desirability of overturning the result through protests and phony petitions and political sleight-of-hand that it becomes clear just how dangerous is the prevalent world view amongst young people today. They would quite explicitly prefer to live in a kind of banana republic where plebiscites are overturned by an alliance between a self-righteous mob on the one hand, and the rich and powerful on the other (of whom more below), rather than accept what they see as the unpalatable outcome of a free election.

It has become commonplace to caricature today’s young people as the Stepford Students or the Midwitch Cuckoos – the latter being particularly apt, in that they are completely alien to older generations, extremely demanding and creepily indistinguishable. But their shrieking emotionalism is a strong clue that the fundamental issue is really psychological. More thought has been given to the phenomenon in the United States, where fanatical campus politics has so far been more high profile, but it seems clear that we are dealing with a kind of mass hysteria which has led to thousands of young people being collectively insane. They are profoundly ill, suffering from some kind of advanced anti-social behavioural disorder – some psychosis that permeates every one of the infantile protests and hysterical complaints for which they have become so infamous.

A meeting of the Student Union

A meeting of the Student Union

It is an illness, in fact, which has turned them nasty. What, after all, are the key elements of their world view? A passion for intellectual conformity; the bullying and intimidation of ideological dissenters through no-platforming and physically aggressive protests; the disavowal of free speech, democracy and the rule of law as bourgeois tools of oppression; a weird and repellent fixation with the supposed misdeeds and cunning of Israelis in international affairs; after the referendum, a sinister worship of youth and the condemnation of the weakness, ignorance and depravity of the old; and above all a burning obsession with race which dominates their every idea – all these are such text-book definitions of a fascist movement that it would hardly be out of keeping with the modern campus aesthetic if they were all to adopt the black shirt as their uniform for public demonstrations.

Older die-hard Remainers should be very careful, therefore, about indulging their new allies, but are alas suffering from a different derangement of their own. Affecting a quite amazingly nauseating aura of Olympian responsibility for the toiling, ant-like mortals at their feet, they are appealing to the principle of Parliamentary supremacy and the tempering of democracy with senatorial virtue (theirs, naturally) to make the case for Parliament simply to ignore the referendum and do what it likes.

Inevitably, they are dusting off the parliamentarian’s all-time favourite bit of pseudo-philosophy from the aptly named Edmund Burke, the noted eighteenth century MP and charlatan whose principal interests in life were (a) himself, and (b) a bizarre and ultimately unsuccessful two-decade-long persecution of Warren Hastings, presumably motivated by the frustrating realisation that Hastings was actually a real scholar and not merely a self-satisfied buffoon – which at least argues for a degree of self-awareness chez Burke, however contemptible his response to it.

Be that as it may, in 1774 Burke found himself explaining to his constituents in Bristol why he was really doing them the most tremendous favour by entirely disregarding their passionately-held opinion on a matter of policy and voting against their wishes:

“[An MP’s] unbiased (sic) opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you…These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Edmund Burke following his speech to the electors of Bristol

Edmund Burke following his speech to the electors of Bristol

This egregious claptrap, so nearly identical to the oleaginous pronouncements of die-hard Remainers in Parliament this last week, is variously described as either his ‘speech’ or his ‘letter’ ‘to the Electors of Bristol’. We strongly suspect the latter, since there is no historical record of Edmund Burke being horsewhipped and thrown in a horse trough, these being the most likely consequence of trying this outrageous garbage in the actual presence of those West Country squires of the eighteenth century so memorably characterised by Henry Fielding’s Squire Western. Far wiser to stick it in the letterbox and immediately embark on a long overseas tour wearing a false beard.

Needless to say, however, Burke’s little gem has been cherished by politicians for 250 years as one of those flashes of sublime wisdom which, from time to time, shines out of a great soul to illuminate the Path of Life for the rest of us. Equally needless to say is that, in reality, it is self-serving balderdash forever being seized upon by MPs when they somehow get hold of the queer and fanciful notion that their function is something more exalted than merely doing what they are bloody told.

At least the Midwitch Cuckoos have the justification that the racism they imagine themselves to be fighting would, if it were the real motivation of most Leavers, be something worth fighting against. Far from fighting social pathologies, however, their older allies are indulging in them – it was, after all, the oily flood of snobbery, corruption and sycophancy which did as much as anything to drown the Remain camp, and these are probably just as harmful to society and a thousand times as widespread as genuine xenophobia.

So, here’s what you do, ye die-hard Remainers young and old, courtesy of Uncle Jack for free and for nothing. “They don’t want to be in the EU,” you say to yourselves. “Fair enough. So here’s something which we also like, such as Norway-style EEA membership, which they might accept as well. Let’s talk about it and see if we can’t find a relationship with Europe which accepts that the country wants non-membership of the EU, but which also features lots of that lovely international cooperation and massive treaties with loads of kickass sub-sub-sub-clauses that we Remainers are nuts for. Deal?”

They won’t, though. Like the scorpion who stung the frog in mid-river, it is simply their nature. The young ones want everything exactly their way or they will throw a tantrum, and the old ones simply believe that they know better. A real radical – aye, and one who spent time in prison and yet more in exile for his radicalism – was well aware that people such as the die-hard Remainers are not the solution but precisely the problem:

“This wretch preaches up the doctrine, that some part of mankind, nay, the most, are born slaves, who ought implicitly to be submissive to the caprices of a few, who by accident, knavery, or cunning, shall wriggle themselves into power.” (John Wilkes, The North Briton, No. 19, October 19 1762)

Truly, when the Midwitch Cuckoos wriggle themselves into power, we will be in a world of trouble.