Yel­low jack­ets, blue lan­guage, red faces

The New European - - Agenda -

In his late-1980s mas­ter­piece about a di­vided so­ci­ety whose deep frac­tures are only healed when a mad­man drops a deadly gar­gan­tuan squid on Man­hat­tan, Alan Moore posed the ques­tion: “Who watches the Watch­men?” In our own di­vided so­ci­ety, whose deep frac­tures Ja­cob Rees-mogg pro­poses to heal by drop­ping Boris John­son on 10 Down­ing Street, the ques­tion has be­come: “Who de­fends the Lib­erty De­fend­ers?”

Who they? Well, like the Watch­men, the Lib­erty De­fend­ers are fond of cos­tumes. But un­like Moore’s cre­ations, they are not su­per­heroes.

In­stead, the ‘Lib­erty De­fend­ers’ is ap­par­ently the nick­name favoured by or­gan­is­ers of those yel­low safety jacket en­thu­si­asts – hi-vis, low-iq – who were filmed call­ing Tory Re­mainer Anna Soubry a “Nazi” and a “fas­cist” on her way into par­lia­ment last Mon­day.

Those linked to the Lib­erty De­fend­ers in­clude James God­dard, seen last sum­mer telling a pro-tommy Robin­son rally that “sa­tanic pae­dophiles” were oc­cu­py­ing Down­ing Street. God­dard was cap­tured on cam­era dur­ing the Soubry in­ci­dent ap­par­ently mis­tak­ing Re­main cam­paigner Femi Olu­wole for David Lammy. In an­other clip he can be seen telling an off-cam­era op­po­nent “you’re fair game… if you want a war I’ll give you a war… you ain’t even f**king Bri­tish.”

Theresa May called the abuse of

Soubry and, in a sim­i­lar in­ci­dent, Guardian jour­nal­ist Owen Jones “un­ac­cept­able and dis­grace­ful”. “A type of fas­cism,” said speaker John Ber­cow. “They should be stopped. We must not mis­take them for rep­re­sent­ing any­thing but a tiny fringe,” added Jess Phillips, from what used to be the Labour Party.

But from key Brex­i­teers, the con­dem­na­tion came with caveats. “The abuse is un­ac­cept­able and I con­demn it but a par­lia­men­tar­ian who ad­vo­cates over­turn­ing a ref­er­en­dum re­sult she promised to re­spect should not be sur­prised at un­leash­ing such ug­li­ness,” tweeted Tim Mont­gomerie, the for­mer Iain Dun­can Smith side­man whose Twit­ter pro­file in­cludes a quote from the book of Isa­iah, “I will turn the dark­ness into light”.

Mor­ley MP An­drea Jenkyns wanted you to re­call Nigel Farage and Rees-mogg had been tar­geted in the past and “abu­sive be­hav­iour should not be tol­er­ated from the left or the right”. With typ­i­cal grace, Farage him­self tut-tut­ted about the yel­low jack­ets be­fore hint­ing that Soubry should man up. “Those of us who have taken on the es­tab­lish­ment have to en­dure the abuse; those within the es­tab­lish­ment get a taste of it and sud­denly they want the law changed,” he sniffed.

Mean­while Brexit sec­re­tary Stephen Bar­clay wanted the coun­try to “come to­gether in the na­tional in­ter­est”, which he quickly clar­i­fied meant for­get­ting all about a Peo­ple’s Vote and get­ting ready to “unite be­hind the only deal on the ta­ble”. Rees-mogg claimed the “tense” at­mos­phere out­side West­min­ster was “one of the rea­sons for be­ing very cau­tious about a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum”.

God­frey Bloom, the for­mer UKIP MEP who once said we should stop send­ing for­eign aid to “bongo-bongo land”, popped up to ar­gue that Soubry had “brought it on her­self… ghastly woman”.

God­dard then fol­lowed up by telling his Face­book fol­low­ers that he had called Soubry a Nazi “be­cause she’s act­ing like one… we must re­mem­ber the Nazis were elected into power and then went against or­di­nary Ger­mans”. Face­book re­sponded by sus­pend­ing him. A Pay­pal ac­count to which fol­low­ers were urged to send do­na­tions was also closed.

So where was a yel­low jacket to find suc­cour? The an­swer, of course, came in the shape of Bren­dan O’neill, the con­tro­ver­sial­ist whose hot takes in­clude “If you were abused by Jimmy Sav­ile, maybe you should keep it to your­self ”, “Vege­tar­i­ans: get over your­selves and eat a burger” and “So what if a few horses die in the Grand Na­tional?”

When Soubry was abused out­side Par­lia­ment last De­cem­ber, O’neill wrote that since she was “at the fore­front of a deeply cyn­i­cal and elit­ist effort to de­monise and de­stroy a great act of democ­racy… it is en­tirely nat­u­ral that she should be­come the fo­cal point for peo­ple’s anger.” This time he ar­gued that “Leavers have been sub­jected to sim­i­lar abuse, though on an even larger, more con­stant scale.” O’neill moaned that “the chat­ter­ing classes have been whis­per­ing and hint­ing about these sorts of peo­ple since June 2016”, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to the fact that “whis­per­ing and hint­ing” is not quite the same as sur­round­ing a woman on her way into work and scream­ing “fas­cist” di­rectly into her face.

Later O’neill cropped up on Sky News to com­pare the yel­low jack­ets to the Suf­fragettes. “They have the right to protest on this sa­cred demo­cratic space, the right to gather here and ex­press them­selves,” he said. “It’s the price we

pay for liv­ing in a free so­ci­ety.” He was wor­ried, he ex­plained, about the free speech im­pli­ca­tions of not be­ing able to scream abuse in a fe­male MP’S face, just as in the past he’s been wor­ried about the free speech im­pli­ca­tions of be­ing told you shouldn’t burn an ef­figy of Gren­fell Tower on Bon­fire Night.

Per­haps, though, there is an­other rea­son for O’neill’s dis­dain. At the end of the piece he wrote last De­cem­ber he re­veals, “Anna Soubry told me to ‘f**k off ’ within two min­utes of meet­ing me be­hind the scenes at Any Ques­tions?.”

To which the only pos­si­ble re­sponse is: What took her so long?

Photo: BBC

ABUSE: Anna Soubry is ac­costed by the so-called Lib­erty De­fend­ers

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