“Part of what it is to be courageous is to see reality accurately and to respond well in the face of it." ~ Jonathan Lear

16 November 2017

Never mind Russian Twitter-bots, what about Obama’s Brexit fake news?

Several years ago I had the chance to go to the United States with a Labour Party group to canvass for Barack Obama in his re-election campaign.

It seemed like an attractive idea, but I decided against. For one thing I wasn’t a fan of the hero worship of Obama that many engaged in at that time. Also though, I felt that I would be an imposter there, that it was really none of my business, that it was the Americans’ election and not for me to rock up and tell them on how they should vote.

Colleagues told me that the reception on the doorstep was generally favourable and the Americans didn’t mind. But I was uncomfortable. I felt I would be an interloper. So I didn’t go.

Roll on a few years and Obama had no such compunction about coming the other way and lecturing the British on how we should vote in our EU referendum. Indeed in April 2016 our Prime Minister David Cameron placed a nice presidential podium in front of him to do so in front of a salivating press pack.

Barack Obama tells Brits to get with the programme

He didn’t disappoint, saying that the United Kingdom would be ‘at the back of the queue’ when it came to trade talks if it voted for Brexit. The Guardian gleefully reported that it was “an intervention that delighted remain campaigners” while its columnist Jonathan Freedland said, “It was the Vote Leavers’ worst nightmare" and that, “At a stroke, he had crushed not only a core part of the leavers’ economic argument.”

But Obama was telling a fib, or perhaps, if we want to be generous, he was fooling himself – all sponsored and signed off by both American and British governments. His words were that, “the UK is gonna be in the back of the queue,” which is an unequivocal statement of what is going to happen.  However, Obama’s term of office was coming to an end within a few months, so he wouldn’t be able to direct policy to follow his statement. Maybe the Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton would have stuck to his script if she had won the forthcoming election. But would she have followed through with it? Who knows? When politics changes, politics tends to change to match it.

As it happened Donald Trump won the election and Obama’s sincerely-delivered statement of what was going to happen proved to be nonsense. We might even call it a ‘bullshit’ or ‘fake’ statement, one which turned into ‘fake news’ in the relaying by mainstream media and the rest of us.

In this way, ‘fake news’ is nothing new, contrary to the agonised wailings of those who preside over our public life and have only started to notice it recently. What is perhaps new is that these people are no longer having it their own way in disseminating information/misinformation and controlling what happens in our political life. They have only become bothered about the process now that they have started to lose control over it by losing power.

...Which brings us on to Russia and its apparent attempts to interfere in the Brexit referendum and other Western elections through fake social media accounts and spreading fake news. I used to see tweets from at least one of these accounts pop up in my Twitter timeline quite regularly. ‘David Jones’ from ‘Southampton/Isle of Wight’ was a prolific pro-Brexit tweeter with more than 100,000 followers who apparently only tweeted during Russian office hours and when unmasked as a ‘Kremlin stooge’ promptly went private on his/her account.

I never engaged with this account, always finding it a little odd: maybe too prolific, too well organised and well-crafted for an ordinary human being. It fitted in rather too well, appealing to a right-wing social media consensus while not showing any of the real life presence that you would expect of someone so dedicated, articulate and popular in these circles (which aren’t blessed with many such people).

The subject of fake Russian tweets has been getting more and more attention on both sides of the Atlantic. Yesterday, The Times led with a story about how “Russian Twitter accounts posted more than 45,000 messages about Brexit in 48 hours during last year’s referendum in an apparently co-ordinated attempt to sow discord.” This was quickly subsumed into a gathering liberal-left narrative that Brexit was somehow the result of a Russian conspiracy and that Brexit voters were dupes, although some were a little more sanguine, with the Blairite commentator John Rentoul tweeting,

I'm more concerned about the David Joneses of this world, who manage to build up a large, trusting following over a long period of time. No doubt, this account would have helped drag some people over to the Brexit side during the months before the vote by helping build up a weight of force behind the Brexit cause that mainstream civil society was failing to provide for the most part.

This is a concern, but I find it difficult to get excited about it. Why? Because this sort of activity pales compared to the weight of political power mobilised by other international sources against Brexit, of which Obama is just one example. The IMF, the United Nations, the G20, international investment banks, seemingly the whole of the global Establishment was waged on one side, in an overseeing posture, demanding the British people do what they are told.

You might argue that they were doing so in plain sight and employing evidence to back up their demands, but this ‘evidence’ was typically the evidence of prediction. In order to present an anti-Brexit case, they predicted that Brexit would be a disaster. This power of prediction, wedded to their privileged access to the public through government news machines and the mainstream media, confers more than a degree of control over what can appear in the public sphere and how courses of action can appear to be attractive and unattractive.

In this way politics and opinion comes to appear in the guise of knowledge and fact, which apparently cannot be challenged.

But, as we might see with Obama, knowledge of the future is a contradiction in terms. There is a dishonesty here, but it is an officially-approved dishonesty, one which gets platforms and podiums and mass media coverage and red carpets rolled out for it on a daily basis.

It is the dishonesty of a global Establishment, against which the dishonesties of a few clever Russians tweeting fake news from St Petersburg troll farms seems a concern, but trivial.

11 November 2017

A book is on the way

I have just finished writing a book. The title is ‘The Tribe: the liberal-left and the system of diversity’ and it will be published between August and November 2018 by Imprint Academic.

[Update: the publishing date is now scheduled for 1st July 2018]

The Tribe picks up on many of the themes I have been exploring on this blog about the politics of identity. However, it reaches towards a wider understanding of what is going on: of how and why the politics of gender, skin colour and other forms of ‘fixed’ and quasi-fixed identity have come to dominate our public sphere in recent years.

This is where the idea of ‘the system of diversity’ comes in. With this idea, I am not talking about the sort of social system which covers the whole of society like some accounts of capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism do. Rather, the system of diversity appears as a system of relations, which offers possibilities – for involvement, inclusion, social approval and also material reward.

The system exists where and when these relations exist and where those possibilities are grasped and offered out again; its limits can be found where those relations do not exist and/or the possibilities not grasped. As I have been writing it, a lot of the political activity happening within the system is dedicated to attacking those who appear outside it, which helps draw us towards the system by making being outside it appear unattractive and unpleasant, in contrast to the ease of acceptance to be found inside.

The progressive ‘liberal-left’, as 'the tribe’ of the title, appears in the book as an identity group in its own right which presides over this system, not least through its dominating presence in many of our major institutions. One marker of this tribe is that it politicises other forms of identity than its own, fixing us to forms of apparently fixed identity, distinguishing favoured groups from unfavoured on the basis of skin colour, gender and other things.

All of this hasn’t been easy to write about. There are many subtleties and complexities to the system that I have discovered while working on it. Also, lashings of new evidence appear daily in our public sphere which is difficult to keep up with, as with the recent #MeToo phenomenon and the ‘Pestminster’ scandals. While writing, I have been constantly interrogating my ideas against what has been going on. I am sure those ideas stand up. But there will be plenty of debates and arguments to be had, that is for sure.

The book has ten chapters, including an introduction that explains the basic ideas and shows the system at work through examples from our politics and wider society. Then Part I considers how identity works in the system, looking at the liberal-left as an identity group and the situations of the favoured and unfavoured groups that it politicises. Part II addresses the capturing of our major institutions and the controlling of speech and language which helps the system to consolidate its power, including over what can appear as true. Lastly, there is a chapter offering some thoughts on how we might respond to the system.

I hope the book offers readers plenty of food for thought. I think it will. I also hope it stimulates others to build on its ideas and take them off in additional, interesting directions. We shall see . . .

I owe some thanks to this man Shostakovich and also Vaughan Williams and others for helping me to get through the writing of The Tribe in one piece, just. I guess, in difficult situations and in thinking about difficult subjects, sometimes more difficult forms of music can speak loudest.

9 June 2017

On Labour's success in the General Election and implications for Brexit

Labour hasn't won the General Election, but it feels like it has, and has good reason to feel that way. Theresa May called the election believing that she would batter Labour into virtual irrelevance. But circumstances - and the voters - had other ideas.

I try to avoid predictions, but like most people I was pretty confident that May would win a decent majority yesterday even after all her wobbles of recent weeks.

Her weaknesses certainly have a lot to do with the result. Early on after she called the election she was way ahead of Labour in the polls, but the campaigning has found her out. She is clearly not a happy campaigner and not a people person. Her strengths seem to be in making carefully calibrated and calculated political interventions, as she has done with a handful of impressive speeches on Brexit. During the campaign she came across as wooden and fearful, which isn't a good look for a leader, let alone one running a quasi-presidential campaign saying 'Vote for Me', not us. Then when the terrorist attacks came, she did her thing but was quickly exposed by Labour on police cuts and didn't have the flexibility and political skills to respond.

Which brings us on to Labour, for its success is not just down to the weaknesses of its opponents. Credit to Jeremy Corbyn, though I'm the opposite of a fan of his, he ran a positive campaign with a positive manifesto offering hope. In the process, and with Labour 'moderates' shutting up, Labour managed to sidestep its divisions and piece together a coalition of voters that was enough to pick up 40% of the vote.

There was clearly a 'Corbyn effect', energising and enthusing younger voters as well as old lefties, and taking advantage of the Greens calling so much for a progressive alliance, thereby basically telling their people they may as well vote Labour, which many did.

However, I think most observers neglect the strength of the Labour machine, which was built up during the Kinnock and Blair-Brown years and is expert at targeting voters, manufacturing simple messages, tailoring them to different demographic groups and rolling it all out in co-ordinated, basically effective local campaigns.

In this way Labour managed to, somehow, square the circle on Brexit, at least in electoral terms. The idea that the election was a rejection of Brexit seems misguided (probably willfully for the most part), not least given prominent Brexit campaigner Kate Hoey's thumping victory in the heavily-Remain-voting Vauxhall constituency - when she had a highly personal campaign waged against her by the Liberal Democrats in league with Gina Miller and other prominent Remainers. For Remain supporters, Labour did offer something though; it opposed Theresa May and her apparent 'hard Brexit' strongly. However for Leave voters it offered something too: accepting the referendum result and agreeing to the trigger of Article 50 - thereby partially neutralising the focus of May's campaign even before she got into trouble over her manifesto and terrorism/police cuts.

To me, Labour's position on Brexit looks incoherent as actual policy, since its people say they want Single Market access while also wanting some kind of vague end of free movement while also maintaining they couldn't walk away without a deal. These aims seem incommensurable if taken seriously. I would guess they derive from a compromise trying to keep three different forces within the party happy. These are the following:

  1. The likes of Corbyn and John McDonnell who understand that Brexit could open up more opportunities for the exercise of national government and quite like the idea, but know they need to keep their EU fan activists and MPs on board;
  2. Those people (and Labour has plenty of them) who do not understand negotiations and genuinely fail to realise that you have to be prepared to walk away in order to get a 'good' deal;
  3. Those who are connected into the Mandelson-Blair project which links in to George Osborne and a few other Tories, some Liberal Democrats and also into the EU, who can see Brexit unravelling if Britain refuses to accept a deal offered by the EU. In this way they want to guide us to that point while indulging their more naive party colleagues that a hard Brexit would be disastrous so should be ruled out altogether. I don't know anything about this personally, but I would assume Keir Starmer as Labour's Shadow Secretary on Brexit is plugged in to this group.

What happens next I have as little idea as anyone else, but there is no doubt that these anti-Brexit forces are now strengthened. Labour may have voted to trigger Article 50, but it is not fully committed to Brexit and the positions it takes could easily dilute it to the point of not actually happening. Those positions will now have a greater influence on what actually happens. The Blair-Mandelson-Osborne-Clegg project could yet win out by the back door, which is rather apt given that neither of them are sitting MPs any longer.

26 May 2017

On Bullshit - that British foreign policy causes terrorist attacks

The idea that British foreign policy somehow caused Salman Abedi to go and kill children in Manchester is so stupid that on one level it seems offensive to even discuss it.

Yet this idea is strongly present in our public life, promoted by Islamist organisations like CAGE and recycled by countless left-wingers, including – in diluted form – by Jeremy Corbyn in a speech he is to deliver today.

As Corbyn will put it, “That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and held to account for their actions.”

It is a fair point to make that there is a difference between causation and blame. That basic distinction applies also to immigration, for which we can say runaway housing costs and pressure on public services are partly caused by increased numbers of people but this does not mean that incomers are in any way to blame.

The trouble is politically, whereby figures like Corbyn highlighting this link feeds into a widespread narrative that takes foreign policy is the cause, a single cause, rather than a contributing, motivating aspect (or excuse) in some cases. Coupling this with saying that attacks like Manchester are ‘nothing to do with Islam’, you end up with a situation in which terrorists’ religious justifications for doing what they do are discounted, except as a form of determinism, of provocation and response. Their agency is pushed to the margins in favour of an account of causation in which Britain or the West or non-Muslims always appear as subject while Muslims are objects simply doing what the subject causes them to do.

This explanation is a negation of morality and ethics. It also barely qualifies as a truth claim. Indeed, it seems to me that addressing the truth isn’t the point to it. The 'foreign policy' explanation not a lie so much as bullshit, intended to deceive and draw people towards a certain way of seeing the world. It is political.

As Harry Frankfurt put it in his wonderful little essay, ‘On Bullshit’,

“However studiously and conscientiously the bullshitter proceeds, it remains true that he is also trying to get away with something. There is surely in his work, as in the work of the slovenly craftsman, some kind of laxity which resists or eludes the demands of disinterested and austere discipline.”

He added, “It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth - this indifference to how things really are – that I regard as of the essence of bullshit . . . the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony.”

People using the ‘British foreign policy’ explanation are playing politics rather than attempting to tell a truth. With sometimes admirable motives, albeit in the process sacrificing concern with the truth, they are attempting to draw attention away from the religion and the religious group and towards something that treats both of those things as victims and as virtuous.

This is also what Islamist politics and Islamist organisations are trying to do of course, though with not such admirable political motives.

It is concerning the way that other major institutions, including large parts of the Labour Party, have fallen into recycling the same bullshit that they do.

24 May 2017

Islamic terror now has a comfortable place in our political life

These days I am often reminded of a scene from the film The Godfather Part II.

Al Pacino’s character Michael Corleone is in Cuba for a meeting of gang and business bosses to divide up the spoils of corrupt deals with the Batista government. Driving around the island he sees a number of Castro rebels being arrested, one of whom breaks away and kills himself and a military police captain with a grenade.

In relating the episode to fellow bosses, Michael says this tells him something about the rebels, that “they can win”. The fact that the rebels were motivated enough to die for their cause showed that they could prevail over a regime that had to pay its people to fight. (One of the other business-crime bosses present by contrast dismisses them as ‘lunatics’. Shortly afterwards the Batista regime crumbles and Fidel Castro takes over.)

In Downing Street yesterday, Theresa May as Prime Minister gave one of those speeches that are becoming familiar to us and also to her and the likes of her. Commentators praised her for finding the right words and showing the right level of resolve. She rounded it off by saying,

“And today, let us remember those who died and let us celebrate those who helped, safe in the knowledge that the terrorists will never win – and our values, our country and our way of life will always prevail.”

I think it’s worthwhile thinking about some of these words and formulations:

  • Safe
  • Knowledge
  • The terrorists will never win
  • Our values, our country and our way of life will always prevail

There’s an awful lot of knowledge being expressed there, and it’s knowledge of the future, which is a self-contradiction, (yet is all over the place in our political life, notoriously in the economic warnings of Project Fear during the EU referendum). We don’t and can’t know these things. We cannot be sure, and we are certainly not safe in the knowledge that everything is going to be OK. Safe is the opposite of what those young concert-goers and their parents turned out to be. Given things now are not OK and have got worse over time, there is every reason to suppose they will not get better in the future.

Claiming to see into the future gives this sort of talk from May and others a cosmic character. It is the sort of talk that a religious leader would use, claiming knowledge of the future and therefore control of it, demanding the flock keep the faith and stay with her.

It’s an assertion of authority. But the resort to prophecy is also part of a pattern and a habit. We have heard it all before from political leaders past and present, home and abroad. Tony Blair was a master at it, and I think it is his example that everyone has been following since.

They have all fallen into the same way of addressing the problem: by invoking this quasi-mystical authority that they know the nature of history and can therefore tell us what to think and how to feel. Moreover, seemingly everyone with a pretension to lead is at it: issuing instructions and making demands, including that those who do not obey their demands are punished (Katie Hopkins seems to have taken this role from Nigel Farage as a sort of folk devil for progressives).

In this way, Islamic terror is now integrated into a system of possibilities and responses for those involved in our political life, from politicians to the police to community and faith leaders and the rest of us in everyday life. The patterns have been established. The responses have been prepared and are ready to employ whenever a new attack occurs.

Meanwhile the sort of people who committed the atrocity in Manchester on Monday night are not going away. They are clearly in it for the long term, and are not lacking in commitment or organisational skills. We may dismiss them as ‘lunatics’, ‘barbarians’ and ‘irrational’, but they have shown an ability to plan and execute complex and demanding military and logistic tasks in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and elsewhere – and now, increasingly, in Europe and even North America.

But what would it mean for them to win and to defeat us and ‘our values, our country and our way of life’? Theresa May and others wouldn’t be saying what she says if it wasn’t now in question.

Obviously, in the near future, there is no chance of jihadists taking over the government or mounting a coup and establishing a Caliphate in Britain or Europe. They do not have the power.

But that is probably not the point. What their actions do is to draw attention to their cause of maximising Islamic power, while re-asserting their antagonism to other sources of power which they see as threatening it (from governments ‘intervening’ in Islamic countries to little girls going to Ariana Grande concerts).

By drawing attention to their conflict, they re-create it, create opposition and thereby eke out a greater role for themselves in defending Muslims and attacking those who threaten Muslims. This role is also taken on by non-violent Islamist representative organisations. Every jihadist attack also brings attention to them and re-states their importance in public life as mediators between Muslim communities, the state and the rest of society.

It therefore gives these softer Islamists political power, leverage and some justification for their claims of victimisation, which in turn brings the forces of the state to their side in a protective role, which is something they want to extend.

Their consistent underlying message is ‘do what we say and this will stop’. Make way to our demands and the situation will come under control. Protect Muslims from attack and the extremists will no longer feel the need to respond. Stop people being nasty to Muslims. Bring in a blasphemy law to protect Islam from attack. Arrest those who criticise Islam. Ban practices which offend us as Muslims, like highly sexualised Ariana Grande songs being performed in school.

These are much softer demands than those for an Islamic Caliphate, but they are demands which wouldn't have much force would it not be for the 'problem' of terrorist attacks and the opposition which they encourage between Muslims and non-Muslims. For Islamists as well as for our politicians, Islamic terrorist attacks play a role.

While we all stand together, united against extremism, we gradually come to accommodations that pass ‘our values’ and the rest not to the extremists, but to those who use them as cover to achieve the same ends of our society and state becoming more Islamic, incrementally and without us barely noticing.

This is what defeat would look like in practice. 

30 March 2017

On Richard Dawkins and Brexit: confusing science with politics

“One fact of life I have learned over the years is that it is possible to be very clever and stupid at the same time.”

Chris Mullin, the former Labour MP and diarist of the New Labour years, said that in his latest memoir Hinterland, referring to judges who presided over the notorious miscarriages of justice that unravelled in the 1980s and early 1990s, like the Birmingham Six IRA bombing case which he was involved in.

This line has come to mind several times lately reading the outbursts of some of those who are still livid at the EU referendum result.

Now I don’t have a problem with people who feel strongly about remaining in the EU, just as long as they respect those on the other side as legitimate political opponents who have worthwhile arguments and in this case won a democratic battle fair and square. The trouble with the arch-Remainers that I am thinking of – the Labour MP David Lammy, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and the philosopher A.C. Grayling come to mind – is that they each treat their own opinion as absolute, as a form of law which has been broken by an ignorant population that does not know what is good for it. For them, the EU vote came down to one choice: the right thing or the wrong thing - and they knew absolutely which was which.

Into this fray the respected evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has thrown himself with an impressive enthusiasm, issuing some remarkably abrasive tweets and now writing what is perhaps best described as a frothing rant (otherwise known as an article) for the New Statesman, entitled, ‘We need a new party - the European Party’. In this piece we can see, perhaps as clearly as we will ever see, the troubles that scientists (or quasi-scientists like in the social sciences, including economics) can get into when they fail to respect the limits of their science and start using the authority they have in their fields to pronounce on politics.

Dawkins starts off his article by trying to cover himself from this though, saying,

“I wasn’t qualified to vote in the referendum. Nor were you, unless you have a PhD in economics or are an expert in a relevant field such as history.”

This is a nice bit of double-think, for it says that he isn’t qualified to decide, but also establishes that he is qualified to say who is, which means he can take for himself the authority of those who have the authority. You just pick up on the arguments of whatever authority you choose in those fields that you decide are relevant and you have the authority too: job done.

Now he has gathered up a nice slug of authority for himself, he can properly let rip in the meat of the article:

“I voted Remain, too, because, though ­ignorant of the details, I could at least spot that the Leave arguments were visceral, emotional and often downright xenophobic. And I could see that the Remain arguments were predominantly rational and ­evidence-based. They were derided as “Project Fear”, but fear can be rational. The fear of a man stalked by a hungry polar bear is entirely different from the fear of a man who thinks that he has seen a ghost. The trick is to distinguish justified fear from irrational fear. Those who scorned Project Fear made not the slightest attempt to do so.”

It is difficult to counter arguments characterised by a succession of assertions like this, not because they are good arguments, but because you don’t know where to start. But we can see at the core of his arguments this word ‘rational’ – that his arguments and those of people he trusts are rational, while those of others aren’t; some instances of fear are rational, others aren’t.

For him, the EU referendum question was a technical matter to be decided by the relevant experts (the qualification criteria for which he does not explain, but reserves for himself). As he puts it, “You might as well call a nationwide plebiscite to decide whether Einstein got his algebra right, or let passengers vote on which runway the pilot should land on.”

As I have found in reading and listening to other arch-Remainers, Dawkins does not address the actual arguments of his opponents. He does not quote them or take them on based on their core arguments. Rather he makes his appeal by assertion and insult – thereby departing from the scientific method of analysis which he invokes to justify his authority. He rants about the distrust of experts, but does not address how his supposedly infallible economic experts failed miserably with their predictions for the economic consequences of a Brexit vote.

But worse is the way that he brushes over the core arguments of the Leave side, which I supported. For him, the arguments made about democracy, sovereignty and accountability have no relevance. They do not fit into his schema so must be illegitimate for being irrational (as well as being apparently ‘visceral, emotional and xenophobic’ in character). Dawkins confuses science and politics, trying to reduce the latter to the former, relegating politics to a technical discipline in which we have a surface democracy but the real power is wielded by political and economic experts.

To the elitist accusation, he says,

“Am I being elitist? Of course. What’s wrong with that? We want elite surgeons who know their anatomy, elite pilots who know how to fly, elite engineers to build safe bridges, elite athletes to win at the Olympics for Team GB, elite architects to design beautiful buildings, elite teachers and professors to educate the next generation and help them join the elite.”

By this viewpoint, the ultimate ends of politics and of mankind should be put out of our reach as citizens.

Personally, I think it’s marvellous that a majority of us stuck two fingers up at this sort of view in the referendum. For democracy to be meaningful, as democratic society, what we vote about must also be meaningful. We must be able to make change happen, as a political community, with poorer and less educated people having the same basic power as me or you or Richard Dawkins or his elite clerisy.

Change must be possible, otherwise we are simply living in what the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev called ‘managed democracy’, not so far off from the kind that Vladimir Putin runs in Russia as we might like to think.

So, as I have said here before about my own choice, Je ne regrette rien.

23 January 2017

Brexit and the arts: reflections on a BBC Radio 3 discussion

Listening to BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters programme the other day, I was struck by a discussion they had about Brexit and the arts – and thought it was worth breaking off from my book-writing to reflect on it a little.

The discussion illustrated once more the remarkable hold that ideas and myths associated with ‘the European project’ have taken over the great and the good in Britain. That includes the BBC of course.

As we have come to expect from the Beeb since it was allowed to drop its impressive impartiality during the referendum campaign, the discussion here was remarkably one-sided. All three guests, Cathy Graham of the British Council, composer Gerard McBurney and Emmanuel Hondre of the Philharmonie de Paris, were resolutely anti-Brexit. The only questioning of their consensus came from a short segment of an enjoyable rant from the artist Grayson Perry, railing against the complacency of the arts Establishment for peddling its comfortable ideas and preaching to the converted. 

However, the substance of what Brexit means was for the most part explored only on a plane of abstractions, and Perry's message was assimilated into how ‘we’ need to respond to what a horrible and nasty thing ‘they’ have done to us. Listeners heard from McBurney a fear of how ‘parochialism’ might take over, a wailing about how Leave voters “feel resentful at a world in which ideas flow from one culture to another”, with the strange implication that ideas and people might somehow no longer circulate between these Isles and the rest of the world after Britain leaves the EU.

It was all rather strange. Taking these ideas seriously, you might think that music and ideas and people hadn’t circulated between Britain and the rest of the world before we joined the EU in 1973; as if the arts in Britain were a wasteland before that point and have been some sort of beneficient paradise ever since. It also had me wondering how all these Russian violinists and Chinese viola players and American trumpeters managed to get jobs with British orchestras given that their countries are not in the EU.

But somehow such details didn’t seem to be the point, with the assertions just left hanging, remaining unexplained and unexplored and largely unquestioned by presenter Tom Service (who is generally excellent on this programme and others). It seems that all this was an established consensus (among an Establishment, you might say) – and with established consensus, assumptions are shared and become part of a generally accepted reality, however questionable they are.

Quite clearly, this is what has happened in the arts world. That world, like those of the business and economic elite, mainstream politicians and our major institutions (not least educational), is genuinely baffled by and afraid of the world outside itself. It sees the other half that voted a different way to it as genuinely ‘other’. Existentially, there appear to be two sides which are separate from each other: a new form of a very old class divide.

But that divide is not strictly middle class to working class – and from this Radio 3 discussion I think we could hear some intimations of the lines on which at least one side draws it. The invoking of ‘parochialism’ and ‘provincialism’ by McBurney in particular might be absurd if taken seriously, not least in such a multi-cultural country as Britain, but it points to a slightly different and more substantial political position. That is a political stance of not wanting to be tied down in any way to the land, territory and people of Britain, of not making one’s identity connections on those lines, of subsuming oneself into the much bigger, European entity. This means to a greater or lesser extent sacrificing affiliation to the smaller unit and forsaking the attachment to one’s geographical origins. It is an urge to sameness on a higher, more abstract level, being part of Europe not as a separable part but as indistinguishable from the whole, casting off those embarrassing connections of national identity, which are derided as ‘parochial’, 'provincial' and ‘nativist’.

This mirrors the political integration of Europe of course: of the drive to sameness, of European citizenship rights trumping those of nation states, of the disintegration of nation states and nationalities within Europe.

Even by getting quite involved in the whole EU referendum thing I still gasp sometimes at the extraordinary hold this story and the myths associated with it have come to have. Indeed I am constantly surprised by how many people – especially those in elite positions in our society – do not just approve of these ideas but are wedded to them as a core part of their own personal identity, one which is utterly different to that of those they oversee from their exalted positions.

It is visceral and emotional and in some ways incoherent (which is the nature of attachment), but it is also indelibly attached to what it is not: the most important aspect of who I am is that I am not like them. As an identity relation, this doesn’t have to manifest itself as being better than them in an absolute sense, but it often does – and certainly does here. There is a potential challenge here for the arts as for politics and the other ‘top’ professions: to show they have something to offer to people they seem to have lost all existential contact with - and often hold in contempt as we have seen from the referendum and its aftermath. This is fundamentally problematic though, for a great many of them are deeply protective of and committed to their separateness and higher status, and of looking down on people.

Thinking of classical music as I do (which is why I was listening to the programme) I couldn’t help associating all this with the modernist music movement. Modernism – especially in its atonal form - often seeks to intellectualise music, to take it beyond tunefulness to a place where it can be judged as other intellectual works are: through the use of concepts, thoughts, brain-power – thereby putting it beyond the reach of those who like music more for its musical qualities and placing its adherents on a pedestal with intellectual, ideological backing to justify it.

To me, one piece of contemporary musical modernism generally sounds pretty much the same as another (generally, awful), whoever produced it and wherever whoever produced it came from. It seems to be part of the same general movement as the wish to disappear into Europe: a process of assimilating and integrating, of losing the connection between ourselves as distinctive beings and the place where we come from: the push of globalisation in other words.

To my mind at least, great works of art are more likely to come from rebelling against this drive than going along with it. In that light, Brexit might itself appear like an artistic statement: one of rebellion and reaction against the people who direct our culture, who tell us what to do and what we should like; an assertion of individuality and distinctiveness. Maybe our Establishments are right to feel threatened by it?