Tag Archives: brexit

Global gaslighting

We are living in a world where the truth no longer holds any sway in the pursuit and consolidation of power.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the sordid beginnings of Donald Trump’s America: in the run up to the election the lies were so blatant that it seemed impossible that anyone could take them seriously, but they were dismissed in the name of political rhetoric.

Now that he has taken the reins of the presidency, these lies have become an accepted technique amongst those heading up his regime. There are his tweets, of course – dismissed all too easily as the ravings of a lunatic – but these are given brazen validation by the claims of his team. Sean Spicer insisting that Trump’s embarrassingly small inauguration crowd was the biggest ever seen. Kellyanne Conway inventing a massacre to terrify people into accepting their draconian travel bans.

These outright lies are bad enough on their own, but when combined with accusations of fake news levelled at those who disagree, and the patronising, scathing delivery with which Trumps and his allies address their critics, this segues neatly into classic gaslighting – and gaslighting on a global scale.


Too many people I know – liberals, intellectuals, people concerned with truth as a foundation for society – are beginning to doubt their sanity. It seems almost impossible to believe that people in such positions of power can lie so brazenly and not get called out for it. This is, of course, part of the point – and is something which has been explored at length in publications as diverse as The Washington Post and Teen Vogue.

Something that I’m not sure people are admitting quite so openly is the extent to which this is happening on this side of the pond too. We all raged at the lies printed on the sides of buses during the Brexit campaign. We all shook our heads in disbelief as Michael Gove dismissed the opinions of experts, repeatedly calling into question the very value of expertise. Doctors rallied against Jeremy Hunt over the false statistics he used to support his calls for a seven day NHS. And then this week, when Jeremy Corbyn is still being hauled over the coals over his decision to whip his party into going against their instincts and vote in favour of leaving the EU, Theresa May sends a letter to the electorate in the run up to a crucial by election lying about both Labour’s clearly stated intentions and the voting behaviour of local Labour MPs.

Increasingly, as in the disunited states of America, our politicians refuse to acknowledge these untruths even when presented with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. And even if they do, the damage has already been done.

The media, with its almost entirely right-leaning benefactors, whips up these lies into something bigger than themselves, and our democracy is left gasping for breath at the heart of it with no-one knowing what to believe any more.

Increasingly an ability to analyse the media and move beyond the role of unquestioning consumer is a vital skill – and yet Media Studies continues to be sidelined and ridiculed. The internet provides us with almost endless news sources, yet at both ends of the political spectrum these twist and subvert the truth: even if you want to question the status quo, to seek out some sort of integrity at the heart of it all, it is all too easy to get dragged down someone else’s rabbit hole.

And actually the reality of the direction our education system – and thus our society – is taking could not be further from harnessing that ability to question and challenge. Our childrens’ minds are being suffocated with pointless facts, their teachers’ creativity and professionalism stifled with the relentless drive of ever-increasing ‘standards’. Schools themselves are in very real danger of becoming nothing more than factories which churn out young people chastised into obedience and so desperate to carve out their own little place in the world that they will sacrifice all their dreams of a better world in order to do so.

We owe our children more than this.

We have to give our young people – our society – the tools to survive, morally and intellectually, in this post-truth world.

Of course this is not in the interests of those in power. As parents we need to act, to show the young people in our care that they are valued, they are important – and they are powerful.

So much of what is accepted – expected – in modern parenting is about championing compliance above all else. We need to fuel the fire in our children’s bellies, give them the strength and the confidence to be active members of society, and above all move away from the idea that it is by being ‘good’, and by doing what we say, that they are most valued, most loved.

It is pretty clear that, however much it might be painful to accept, our generation is not doing such a great job at building a society that we are happy to live in. I’d like to think, though, with thoughtfulness and care, that there is hope our children might.

Things to do

A recurring conversation I have been finding myself having lately, both online and face to face, is what on earth we can possibly do in the face of a world that has turned itself upside down.

Trump, Brexit, the demise of the NHS, the rise of the right across Europe, the devastating refugee crisis, an increasingly vulnerable natural environment, and increasingly terrifying global instability. There is so much that is wrong with the world at the moment it can be hard to know where to start.

There are those who have dedicated themselves to a very clear path of activism, honing in on one cause and throwing their time and energy behind it, and others who are convinced that there is very little point in doing anything – that the cogs will keep turning in the same direction however big the groundswell of people that want things to change.

I am still trying to work out what my one clear path is – the aspect of all this mess that I feel most passionate about and where I have the knowledge and skills to be able to make a real difference. But in the meantime I know I cannot sit pessimistically back and just do nothing.

There have been lots of articles doing the rounds to kickstart people into action, some of which I have found more useful than others. In no particular order, here is my current list of things to do to begin to affect positive change. Hopefully there will be something here to keep you moving forward!


Seek solidarity

Sign petitions. Join rallies. Go on protests. Take part in twitterstorms. On their own, these things might not always achieve an awful lot – but the very process of coming together with other people who feel as strongly as you do that things need to change can help you to keep going and find the strength to take things to the next level. If you seek out local action you might meet people close to you who can help you generate ideas and turn your frustrations into campaigns – and at the very least we are collectively sending out a message that our political leaders do not speak for us. It might not feel like they’re paying much attention, but there are plenty of people who are.

Engage in the political process

Like it or not, our imperfect political system is an essential piece of the puzzle in getting our voices heard by those who have the power to do things differently. If you’re not already a member, join a political party. Get involved in local campaigning on the issues you care about. Write to your MP. Arrange to meet with them. Email the Prime Minister about those issues that you get so irate about on Facebook. It’s easy to dismiss the impact an email might make, but if every single person feeling disenfranchised and disillusioned took ten minutes out of their day to explain why to the people running the country then the millions of emails that would ensue would be hard for them to ignore.  Of course the ultimate engagement in politics would be to stand for office: somebody has to represent our communities, and if you don’t believe that those who do are doing a very good job then do something about it! And obviously, don’t forget to vote – whatever chance you get. The political climate might be very different right now if everyone had protested with a cross in a box rather than by crossing their arms and staying silent.


Choose your news carefully 

With the abundance of fake news stories doing the rounds online it can be all too easy to get suckered in to something that supports your point of view without checking that it’s actually true, and that’s not going to help anyone. It’s worth using a range of different stories to get closer to the truth of what’s going on, and it’s really important to support serious journalism – financially, if you can. So much of our media is controlled by those with the money to manipulate consumers’ views in whatever ways suit them. If we want more independent news outlets to survive we need to fill the gaps left by the dearth of big business backers.

Support the arts

In a world where the mainstream narrative is becoming increasingly divisive and exclusionary the arts have a vital part to play in fuelling an alternative way of looking at the world. There has been some really positive action coming out of the arts community recently: from publishing houses vowing to help authors from marginalised countries to get their voices heard to New York’s MoMA showcasing contemporary artists barred from the US and actors using their position on the West End stage to publicly challenge Trump’s policies. We all have a part to play in this: we can all read the books, visit the exhibitions, watch the plays; we can talk about them, and we can help fuel an alternative narrative.

Engage in debate

Don’t let hate go unchallenged. Don’t help liars keep up their masquerade of truth. Whether it is stepping in when you witness acts of prejudice in the street or commenting on a questionable Facebook post that pops up in your timeline, don’t be a silent bystander to all the stuff that makes your blood boil. Maybe try not to get too obviously furious about it – we are in the business of building bridges here, not burning them – but if you can become that voice of doubt in the mind of those who are accepting the status quo without stopping to think about it then you are on to a good thing. And if it’s the mainstream media that is spouting the lies then challenge that too – the Independent Press Standards Organisation investigates complaints about newspapers and magazines, and Ofcom does the same for television and radio.

Donate to groups on the ground

Money again. Just as with the media and with the arts the most surefire way of supporting the activists making change happen is to put your hand in your pocket. There are so many different groups that could use your cash – Planned Parenthood, In Facts, the White Helmets, the NHS Support Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, the ACLU to name just a few. None of us could donate to them all- but we could all choose one to make our priority. The flip side of this is of course not financially supporting organisations who are part of the problem… The recent high profile boycott of Uber showed just how powerful the consumer purse can be – and the #grabyourwallet campaign lists many other businesses you might want to think twice about supporting.

Find your niche

This is not a fight for the short term: if we are going to be able to harness our considerable collective power to really make a difference to the future we are going to need to buckle in for a long and bumpy ride. If you can, find a way to use your skills and your interests to really focus in on an area where you can bring about change. The potential scope for this is huge, and will be different for each of us. Whether it’s academic study, artistic endeavour, advocacy, direct campaigning or something else, think about how you can make your efforts count.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you hold your nerve. With the Trump regime indulging in its campaign of global gaslighting and our Tory government becoming increasingly removed from any sense of truth it can be all too easy to put your head in the sand and pretend that none of it is happening. But it is, and it is up to all of us to try and turn the tide.


If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to make a stand you might want to check out this stunning print by my friend Caitlin – a vision of acceptance and international community, with 50% of the proceeds going to the American Civil Liberties Union.

And if you have any other ideas about positive actions we can take, then please do share them in the comments.

Beyond Brexit

It has come to something when, five days since I woke up to discover that the people of the UK had voted to leave the EU, this news has now been relegated to third in my list of things that are keeping me awake at night.


Firmly at the top is my incredulity at what is happening within the Parliamentary Labour Party. As a fully paid up Labour member, I am incensed that they have chosen now to mount their nefarious coup on Jeremy Corbyn. It has little to do with the referendum result – Corbyn after all succeeded in bringing two thirds of Labour voters with him into the remain camp – and everything to do with the fact that, for a range of reasons, a huge number of Labour MPs just don’t like him or what he stands for. Their numbers have swelled now, of course, with others making a frenzied guess as to the most likely winning side and plumping their allegiance there, and the leader of the Opposition, elected by an overwhelming mandate less than a year ago, is left clinging on by his fingertips. The PLP has yet to present a single alternative candidate for the leadership role, and polls suggest that even if they did Corbyn would still win the support of the members – and rightly so, from where I stand.

Then over in the Tory camp, we have had the resignation of Cameron (even though he said he wouldn’t) leaving us with the terrifying prospect of Boris Johnson for PM. He might not win, but our other options don’t exactly fill me with optimism: Theresa May, who wants to repeal the Human Rights Act, Michael Gove (or his successor Nicky Morgan) who have ripped apart our education system, or maybe perhaps Jeremy Hunt, who is still in the process of dismantling our NHS. I quite genuinely want rid of the lot of them, but given the state of the Labour party I can’t see that happening in a general election which could be called as early as October this year. In fact the only people who are likely to benefit significantly from all of this are UKIP, who despite the continuing odious behaviour of their leader are currently celebrating the validation of everything they stand for.

Which brings me to the fallout from that Brexit vote itself. Naturally, pretty much every major claim the Leave camp made is proving to be false – from that £350 million a week for the NHS, to the reduction of immigration, to improved fortunes for our fishermen, with more revelations coming out each day. Our economy is in dire straits, Osbourne is promising tax rises and spending cuts, and the EU seems intent on making an example of us despite the government’s continuing assertions that they can use this as leverage to cut a better deal.

More important than any of this though is that seemingly the vote to leave the EU has opened the floodgates to a torrent of racist and xenophobic abuse up and down the country. My own work recently on the resettlement of Syrian refugee families in Torbay has shown me how close to the surface these racist views have been hiding, waiting for validation that a hatred of ‘the other’ is not only ok, but a justified move in the name of self defence. That validation has been growing in the rhetoric of the Leave campaigners over the past few months, most notably that of course of Nigel Farage, and now that the Leave campaign has ‘won’ there are many who seem incapable of extricating that ‘victory’ from supposed proof that the rhetoric was actually fact, and that those who would never before have voiced their racist views in public can now do so with impunity.

As someone who generally has a pretty strong sense of self-efficacy, I have been almost completely floored by this barrage of contradictions to my conception of the world we live in. When I haven’t been frantically cross-referencing media sources to try to discern some sort of truth in the midst of it all, I have been scouring property websites for somewhere to hide on a distant Scottish loch, and eagerly encouraging my husband to renew his lapsed Canadian passport.

But actually, I quite like where I live. I am quite fond, despite all of its efforts to put me off, of the UK. And so, through stubbornness or denial or a combination of the two I will not, for now, be going anywhere.

There are, however, some things I need to do for myself if I am going to survive in this post-Brexit world:

1) See the result of the referendum for what it is

Despite the glee of many factions of the Leave camp over the narrowly won referendum, I do not believe that there is anything to celebrate here. That is not just because I staunchly believe that remaining in the EU was the best thing for our country, but because I believe that the vote to leave was a symptom more than anything of a broken society.

I wholeheartedly appreciate the motivations behind those calling for a second referendum – it is becoming increasingly clear after all that the Leave campaign was won on lies, and that no-one actually has a plan for what to do next. However I also believe that a second referendum would only succeed in disenfranchising further the millions of people who have voted for change, and whose trust for the political system hangs from a fast-fraying thread.

For what it’s worth, I’m not entirely convinced that we will actually be leaving the EU at all given the various barriers that still lie between our government and that decisive action, but we cannot simply ignore the seventeen million people who voted for that, however unfounded or misguided we might believe their reasons to have been.

Rather we need to look at those reasons, and look at how we address them moving forward. We also need to seriously shake up our politicians and our press, who have wilfully moved from barely acceptable propaganda to outright lies in order to deceive and manipulate the population. Those are not the foundations on which a democracy survives, and all of us deserve better.

2) Re-evaluate my political engagement

Since I was elected to my town council last May, I have been directly involved in politics in a way I haven’t been before. As a teacher, I was always politically engaged – keen to work with the unions, and to recognise that being a public servant was not just about the very important business of teaching itself. I worry, though, that in local politics my view has become narrowed.

You would not believe the amount of things a town council has to do in the wake of government funding cuts, and the upshot of that is that a group of volunteers who care passionately about their community are being kept extremely busy just making sure no vital services fall through the gaps, with very little time or energy to engage in the bigger picture of the real forces that are making everyday life so very difficult for so many people.

I don’t think I’m ready to step down from being a town councillor quite yet, but I do want to become more involved with my local Labour party – perhaps even actually switching my allegiance to them as a councillor rather than continuing as an Independent. More and more I believe that it is Labour’s vision, on a local and a national level, that will really make a difference to communities like mine. Though of course that vision at the moment is under threat, and unless Labour can maintain the commitment to progressive politics rather than returning to a dance around the centre line with the Tories I may have to have a serious rethink.

3) Join those standing up against racists and bigots in pursuit of a tolerant, inclusive society

It drives me to distraction that this even has to be a ‘thing’, but there is no doubt that our society is currently experiencing something of a free-fall into the past as far as equality is concerned. The myriad of incidents that have been reported in just the past few days are no doubt only the tip of the iceberg, and whilst I have yet to witness anything myself there is no way I will be ignoring it if I do.

In the meantime I have a safety pin firmly attached to my lapel, and I will continue to support and promote the groups who are working tirelessly to ensure that the bigots do not win.

4) Take a step back from social media

There is a difficult balance to be found, here, between making sure I am as informed as I can reasonably expect to be and not getting completely suckered in to the internet at the expense of the real world. There are so many incredibly complex, multi-layered issues to grapple with, and there will be for some considerable time to come as all of this crazy takes its course. I need to somehow accept that there is no panacea for my aching brain to be found amidst the conflicting words flying around the world wide web, and that if I am going to maintain some semblance of sanity I need to take a step back and trust that somehow good will prevail. If it doesn’t there’s always that loch.

5) Make time for the things that are important in my life

Friends and family, and my writing. When all is said and done it comes back to these.

I have lots of events to look forward to over the next few weeks where thrashing out the truth in all the chaos can be done over a cold drink rather than through a keyboard: who knows, we might even be able to talk about something else!

And then there’s Arthur of course, who is most definitely getting frustrated with the political monolith that has inserted itself so ungraciously into our lives. Whilst it is his future I am most afeared of in the middle of the night, I clearly have a responsibility not to let it impact unnecessarily on his present – and to be present, both physically and emotionally, as much as I possibly can.

And finally there is writing, and the plans I made for summer before this cataclysm hit. Those poor novels are still languishing on my hard drive, and I can’t let political turmoil be just another excuse for not showing them the light of day.

For better or for worse, we are living in interesting times. It is up to us – as it has always been – to make the most of them.


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