Gina Miller, heroine of Remain, spoke with London MP Tulip Siddiq on Thursday evening before a gathering in the Macmillan Room of Portcullis House. That’s the building by the Thames opposite the much older, grander and crumbling Palace of Westminster. It’s where 200 or so MPs hang out. Police with massive guns look on as your bag is x-rayed on the way in, underlining that these are uneasy times.
It doesn’t help that the mother of parliaments is providing so little reassurance, diminished by a feeble Opposition and its core purpose seemingly thought acceptable to sideline by Her Majesty’s government. Parliament’s proper function is what Miller and fellow campaigners famously went to court to assert. Self-styled True Brits hate her for it – some with a seething, disturbing passion – but this resident of Chelsea, born in 1965 in what was then British Guiana (now Guyana), has confronted them with constitutional traditions they seem to want tossed in the skip of history.”I’m a history geek,” she said. “There’s been Whitehall prerogative creep”.
Miller was, as always, elegant, confident, dauntless, formidable. She argued that the referendum had not been about the country but about politics, and that the debate was conducted amid shocking levels of ignorance, not least on the Leave side, which had not expected to win and had no grasp of what winning would entail. Answering audience questions, she said Britain now had to remember what its enduring values are and the best things it has stood for in the world. That shouldn’t be about Left or Right, but about right and wrong, including defending the rule of law. “Remember what Brand Britain is,” she urged.
She spoke of receiving letters written on expensive stationery in cultivated hand bearing sickening threats, as well as menacing phone calls and keyboard warrior social media filth. A polo-playing Knightsbridge viscount has been charged with sending her racially aggravated messages. She recalled the 1970s sitcom Rising Damp, which poked fun at a stuffy racist and made her laugh. “But now there is hatred,” she said. “Permission has been given.” At one point she observed: “I don’t know Britain any more.”
For all that, it was a fortifying evening. Miller said she understood some of the anger of Leave voters but declared herself an optimist: “This is an opportunity to move forward.” Correspondence she had received from people in ethnic or cultural minorities describing being picked on have strengthened her conviction that bigotry must be confronted: “When we see it, on the Tube, on the bus, we must speak up.”
As for parliament, Miller, who described herself as a Labour supporter, feared that Opposition feebleness would make it easier for the government to go about its Brexit business secretively, below the radar of proper scrutiny. To Remainers, then, falls the task of asking questions, demanding answers, forming pressure networks and refusing to be passive in the face of possible catastrophe.
Plenty to reflect on, then, after casting an upward glance at Big Ben and riding the Underground and Overground home.For many Leavers, an Out vote seems in part to have been a vote against London and all they think it stands for. Perhaps such prejudices were confirmed by nearly half of London’s 45 Labour MPs, including Tulip Siddiq, defying the Corbyn whip last month to vote against triggering Article 50. But Remain City is the nation’s capital and the home of its national government. May it strive to help Brand Britain to remember its truer, nobler, better self.