At the start of another defining week for the UK and EU, the question of what our political culture will be like after Brexit has come into question. The senior journalist Peter Oborne published an op-ed on Sunday admitting Brexit was a failure. Here Daniel Reast explains why Oborne’s article means more than a guilty plea.
Owning up to a mistake is a hard task. It requires that moment of realisation, a crushing blow to your pride and integrity. In politics, seldom do people take that step to stand in front of people and say they’re sorry. With Brexit, this admission is doubly hard.
Yesterday, the former chief political correspondent for the Telegraph Peter Oborne published a long article admitting he was wrong about Brexit. His judgment of the political and economic issues surrounding the detachment from the EU was, as he claims, proved incorrect.
There’s a lot of humility in his words. He also openly refers to the 2016 referendum corruption with boldness, something a lot of Brexiters have not admitted. It’s undoubtedly an admission which Oborne didn’t take pride in writing; after all, any admission of guilt is made through solemnity.
However, there has been mixed reactions to Oborne’s moment of redemption. Many are rejoicing at the Brexiter’s constructivism. Others are appalled by the arrogance.
It’s worth remembering that Oborne wrote for the Telegraph until 2015, a newspaper so indebted to Conservative Party politics the paper may as well be blue. His journalism has been speckled with Euroscepticism, especially around the 2016 referendum. One op-ed for the Daily Mail in 2017 refers to the “scandalously undemocratic” Brussels bureaucracy.
Oborne makes no qualms about his continued Euroscepticism in Sunday’s article. He’s maintained his principles whilst accepting the reality of our recent crisis. This is typical of Oborne, whom Owen Jones of the Guardian referred to as “a man of integrity and courage”, back in 2015 after Oborne resigned from the Telegraph over the HSBC tax scandal.
Oborne fails to mention his agency in the build-up to Brexit. He’s unaware, perhaps knowingly, that his position in the world of journalism has influenced politician and prole alike. In one article for the Daily Mail, in May 2016, he attacks George Osborne for rigging the referendum through his command of the Treasury. It’s an ironic thesis to compare to his 2019 admission that Brexit was rigged from the Leave side.
The influence of Oborne has led to a wider debate about who we should blame for this crisis. Many are putting it down to politicians such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, who have commanded the rhetoric of Brexit since the first steps. Others are more critical of the media’s influence: lies and unbalanced assertions about the EU and its impact on the UK.
Others are more broad, blaming the electorate for lapping up the lies and crossing that box. It’s a complex and angry grid of argument.
However, it is wrong to submit the idea that the voters are to blame for our crisis. While the electorate is not a blameless organ, their reasoning was based on the lies and dogmatic falsifications made by politicians and journalists. The evidence for this is through the honourable Remainer Now group, which connects former Leave voters and campaigns on the basis that people’s minds change. They’re a humble reminder that we are only human, taken in by promises and persuasion.
So where does this leave Oborne? If we are to move past Brexit, either by remaining or leaving the EU, our country will need healing. Our arguments are bitter and resentful, full of hate. But this can’t become our political norm.
As Michael White stated in 2015 of Peter Oborne:
“What makes him unusual, however, not just among journalists, is his powerful sense of right and wrong.”
I welcome Peter Oborne’s article, not because of his status, but because of the simplicity of the argument. It’s a pragmatic realisation that this crisis is wrong, and not what was sold in 2016.
You can’t discount Oborne’s role in building that catalogue of lies. But you can respect the courage it’s taken to openly admit he was wrong.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)