While suicides committed live on social media are no longer a novelty, it is still fascinatingly hair-raising to see a whole nation commit hara kiri live on television. But to really get all your hair to stand on end on Friday morning, you would have been well advised to turn off the telly and load up a stock market terminal. As someone on Twitter said, it looked like his screen had been “sprayed with ketchup”.
Bloomberg’s Hot Headlines were simply red — Stanchart and HSBC in free fall, British futures hardscrabbling helplessly and the GBP starting a long glide to a belly landing while the dollar and the yen rose as safe havens. The BBC was showing stills of the white cliffs of Dover, a legendary image not seen for decades, but that ketchup screen said, much louder, that Something Was Up.
Just before the UK referendum on EU membership, CNN ran a story focussing on Britons of Indian origin, who were apparently among the 11 per cent who would swing the vote. Lots of extremely white people in suits wearing tilaks. Lots of visits to richly caparisoned temples, and Conservative MP Priti Patel sounding off about immigration. Eventually, the “Leave” lot triumphed with a margin of over a million ayes, and to hell with the swing vote.
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Even so, Merry England has probably spent the latter part of the week glued to their tellies — the stakes were high and the isle’s infamous weather was dreadful, apparently forcing people to remain home in areas expected to vote “remain”. The liberal lot were incensed with the quality of debate on the BBC, but Indian viewers were struck by their intelligence and decorum.
We’re quite pleased to be shown anything which is neither anchored by some overheated suit yelling his tonsils out, nor features discussants who advocate sacking, pillage, genocide, hot pursuit, nuclear war and other violations of international law and human rights.
The BBC debate at Wembley stood apart, of course, with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and London mayor Sadiq Khan tearing into his predecessor Boris Johnson. When Boris Johnson complains of ad hominem attacks, the circuit-breakers have clearly failed. British politics rarely sees the strident polarisation that we in India have become inured to, and it was surprising to see the scare-mongering thrown up by this campaign.
Martin Fletcher, former foreign editor of The Times, has rained on Johnson’s parade with a Facebook post which reads: “For 25 years our press has fed the British public a diet of distorted, mendacious and relentlessly hostile stories about the EU — and the journalist who set the tone was Boris Johnson.” The former mayor was kicked out of The Times in 1988 for faking a quote but made a mark in Brussels, reporting for The Telegraph with a colourful Euroscepticism which was lapped up by the British right.
Fletcher complains that it was so well-received that all of Fleet Street fell into line, and stories out of Brussels which did not project a curmudgeony officialdom in Brussels out to demean and desecrate all that is British, such as crackers, were suspect. Fletcher concludes that Johnson is now engaged in battle with the caricature of Europe which he created himself, and is frankly horrified.
The Guardian has tracing the colourful history of scaremongering past, recalling the Sun story claiming that Bombay mix was to be legally redesignated Mumbai mix by Brussels, in the interest of political correctness. The popular tabloid struck again in 2005 when an order directing establishments to protect employees from skin cancer was read as a stratagem to get British barmaids to cover up their cleavage, if any. Inches, cubic feet, acres, pounds per square inch and the culturally important pint (of ale or bitters, according to taste) were reported to be under threat.
And there was the alleged crusade against bendy bananas and curvy cucumbers, which were apparently to be snatched from the very mouths of British citizens, at the behest of the European Committee on Standardisation (they have a commission for everything over there, even for commissions).
From Brussels, the BBC reported confusion and alarm in the European Commission, which its officials calmly denied. But the wise know that markets know better than politicians, and they were watching the indices. Standard and Poor’s 500 plunged shortly after midnight GMT, and gold was in demand. Precious metal has always been the most reliable bellwether. When gold surges, you know that war and pestilence can’t be far away.
Already, the BBC NLTimes, Amsterdam’s English news provider, reports that Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders has tweeted: “Hurrah for the British. Now it is our turn.” Amazingly, one guy did all this damage on a global scale. Worse, after resigning on TV, he will probably be succeeded by Boris Johnson. It’s depressingly bizarre.