I didn’t want to write this, I didn’t want to write something with any tinge of Brexit about it. I wanted to write about something more fun like the demise of western civilisation. The last thing we need right now is more commentary on Brexit.

But no, my hand has been forced. I have been compelled to do this by a friend. A friend who, for what must be just over two years now, has been posting images on Instagram that is basically a stream of unprovoked, strangely out of character and mildly concerning, knee-jerk, low-effort, lowest common denominator pieces of pictorial snobbery.

“Ah, beware of snobbery; it is the unwelcome recognition of one’s own past failings.”
Cary Grant

This educated, middle-aged man roams around and whenever he sees a St George’s flag or Union Jack, takes a photo and like some kind of middle-class Pavlov’s dog, adds supercilious, smug and hateful comments mocking Brexit voters.

There are so many examples to choose from it’s hard to narrow it down, but here’re a few to illustrate the behaviour.

“All the people that put up those flags and all the people that live there are horrible racist Brexit voting bastards.”

He posted an image of a London council estate during the World Cup, which was covered in St George’s flags. It looked utterly spectacular. Incredibly symmetrical in its construction, and clearly something the whole estate had bought in to.

I liked it, so I did what one does on Instagram, I ‘liked’ it. And I did. I did like it. Usually, that would be it. I’d tut, wonder what had become of my friend, contemplate what his motives were for a second, then move on to liking videos of a puppy meeting a kitten for the first time. But after years of witnessing this pathetic little conceit, for once I couldn’t resist going deeper and looking at what people had commented.

I imagined what I’d fine and wouldn’t you know it, snobbery is all the rage. “Is that your house? Lol” “Shudder” he replied. Someone said “Ing-er-land”, then another said something about Morrissey living there and another from him saying that their curtains were probably swastikas. If you don’t speak unfunny w*nker, what this means is all the people that put up those flags and all the people that live there are horrible racist Brexit voting bastards.

There are others, one of a VW Beetle with a Union Jack decal on its bonnet accompanied by “Herbie goes Hard Brexit”, another shows a little independent DIY store with a Union Jack outside and he comments, “Brexit Rebrand coming along”. It goes on and on, with the oft-uttered tropes bemoaning the intellect of people who voted Leave, the fat cats who duped them, and yet despite the obvious tedious predictability, I don’t match this behaviour to the person I know.

“He also supported two football teams, something I have never and will never be ok with.”

I came to two realisations; one is that he’s hardly unique. With the tiniest research, round you can see that this, as they say, is a thing. The net of social media trapped weak little sprats and seems to force them to gasp for air by screaming their shrill little screams in the hope that their brand gets a like.

But the other was that, no matter how disappointing and dull I find this activity, I don’t buy. Not for a minute. Virtue signalling, aside from being overused, doesn’t quite cut it here. Maybe this is something else.

When’s he not calling everyone with dirty nails and the wrong kind of skincare regimen a racist, this chap lives a heaven-sent existence, full of second homes, zero financial concerns, endless skiing holidays, and brand new things every week that aren’t needed.

But again, that’s not unusual is it, and one doesn’t want to play identity politics here and say you can’t have views on X if you are X and don’t have the lived experience of an X (whatever the holy balls ‘lived experience’ means), but I’ve known this person for years. Years before June 2016, not only was he silent about his love for the EU, but I don’t recall him having a single political opinion. Not one.

He was however prolific in his generating of racist innuendos, casual but persistent sexism, and an ability to email around the most appallingly graphic and horrific Internet ‘gems’. He also supported two football teams, something I have never and will never be ok with (they were both in the Premier League too, you just don’t do that! That for me is always a warning sign. That says to me, you don’t really like football, you just got into it in the 90s because it was zeitgeisty. Frankly, if you don’t like football, why bother pretending?! It’s a hugely thankless drain and for most of us, immensely disappointing). Despite this, I have always liked him. Besides, in the words of many a greying radio DJ, it was a different time, right? It was ironic!

Getti Images

But something new happened around the time of the referendum, all of a sudden people started getting traction if they used #Brexit in a post. A toe was dipped in, a tickle felt in the testes, like a dog getting it’s back rubbed, and as cracks appeared in the dam of Lake Pretence and he went all in.

I remember the odd conversation in June 2016, when asked by some perennially middle-class friends which way I’d vote in the referendum, I said that I wasn’t sure yet and was greeted with raised eyebrows. I said I was still looking into it because I wanted to get as good an understanding from as many sources and views as I could and was suspicious of some of the agendas on show.

But when I returned the question to my friends I heard the responses like, “Because I quite like how things are”, and “Because everything seems ok” or sometimes they’d just look blank and change the subject. They occur to me to be as unthinking and self-serving reasons as any others I’ve heard, from any side.

And that’s ok of course, most of us must deep down know we are voting in any election or referendum for what we personally feel is best. For us, our family, our tribe and so on.

“Feel the same way about people like Milo Yiannopoulos and ‘TV funny man’ Frankie Boyle, I don’t believe them”

The world’s not perfect and opportunists will spring up whenever there’s a…well, opportunity. Apparently, some Leavers were happy to pretend Nigel Farage was one of them because he drank pints, and Remainers were willing to trust in the people they had quite recently referred to as war criminals.

Returning to my Instagramming friend though, and thousands like him, the fact is, as I said, I don’t buy it. I’m sure there’s an element present that, while pretending to drink this particular Kool-Aid by holding it in his mouth while captioning his latest weak foray, some seeps down his throat. But on the whole, it smells like someone cashing in. The social currency too tempting to ignore, he’s bent like a weed in the wind and wrapped his fingers around this particular flagpole.

I find this kind of attitude rather worrying; these are the character traits of the kids that clung to the thick right arm of the school bully, “Yeah, I think Kevin’s new bag is crap too, hit him in the face!”

They’re the type who might creep up on you, and from behind slip their nasty little knife in your back, whispering, ‘It’s for your own good’.

And not to minimise their impact, but I feel the same way about people like Milo Yiannopoulos and ‘TV funny man’ Frankie Boyle, I don’t believe them. I just don’t think they believe what they’re saying. Milo seems addicted to a certain type of attention from a particular type of audience. Boyle has gone from a comic willing to write for the Sun, ridicule disabled people and laugh at rape to some kind of SJW superhero.

The tell-tale signs of these people are easy to spot, out come the terms they’ve appropriated from other commentators and all of a sudden my white, wealthy, middle-aged, middle-class friend with two homes and a leafy, safe and secluded life is lamenting the terrible impact of white middle-class men and the idiots who doff their cloth caps at them.

For a split second when I first saw it, I thought it must be some kind of clever joke, a social media satirist at play but sadly it’s not. There is real irony here though, not that masquerading one from the 90s, he’s become a true populist, riding the back of a horse that vomits emojis and snobbery.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to see a lot of this as envy either. True or not, people like this will view the underclass, the white van driver and such as having an energy and life in them that makes their look drab and soulless by comparison.

Since the slum journalists in the 19th century, liberals have enjoyed being able to patronise and pity the underclass until cor lumme! wouldn’t you know it, they’ve only gawn an ‘add an opinion about sumfin’. Brexit has been the picking off of a scab revealing a nasty little pus bag of class hatred, and it’s coming from the haves.

Tom James