In response to Owen Jones: how we can stop Brexit

In Owen Jones’ latest Guardian column he says that he can’t see how Brexit can be stopped but that he’d like to be persuaded that it can be. So, here’s my attempt to persuade him both that Brexit can be stopped and that the Stop Brexit campaign isn’t the way he portrays it in his column.

First, though, some common ground. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I agree with Owen that arguing about the referendum is not the way to Stop Brexit, and I especially never want to see ‘but it was an advisory referendum’ put forward as an argument in political debate again. People who like using referendums to decide policy issues are not going to be persuaded by that argument because for them ‘advisory referendum’ is as oxymoronic a phrase as ‘advisory election’. The Brexit process was put into action by an act of mass politics and it can only be stopped in the same way, not by either pretending it never happened or hoping a court will somehow reverse it. It will only be stopped by a popular movement against it. That said, while there are still some people on the Stop Brexit side still fighting like it’s 2016, a lot have moved on from there and are looking to the future, not fighting the old battles. By not looking at those fighting on those multiple other fronts, I think Jones does a disservice to the Stop Brexit movement.

This leads me to the first major disagreement I have with Jones’ depiction of the Stop Brexit campaign, that it’s somehow an elitist movement or just a reactionary Establishment clique led by “Tony Blair, Nick Clegg and unelected peers”. I think some of this comes from his experience of campaigns on the left where campaigns are usually more formally organised things with central groups to plan things and approved spokespeople. From my experience, the Stop Brexit movement is a dispersed movement that includes several groups of various degrees of organisation as well as a whole mass of individuals who aren’t formally attached to any group. Blair, Clegg, Adonis etc only speak for themselves, not for anyone else, but it suits certain sections of the pro-Brexit media to spin the idea that they are the official spokesmen for the movement. There are plenty of other people out there who could speak for the pro-European cause, but the media aren’t making any efforts to get out there and find them, preferring instead to drag out their old contacts and re-stage some old fights.

Jones has failed to notice that the Stop Brexit campaign is a lot more than it looks from the media portrayal of it. There are people out there making the positive case, talking to people, organising meetings and leafleting people, it’s just that they’re getting together and doing it off their own backs, not as part of formal movements that report to a committee chaired by Nick Clegg. People are out there trying to shift public opinion, but the biggest block to shifting that opinion is the lack of voices out there to amplify their efforts and speak up for them. Instead, the few journalists and commentators who would normally back a forming mass movement against letting right-wing ideology run free are too busy telling them that they’re nothing more than the establishment fighting for the status quo.

It is the Stop Brexiters who are campaigning against the status quo – the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and all their front benches all publicly support some form of Brexit even if they’re not clear on the details. The assumption of the media is that Brexit is going to happen, and anyone who argues otherwise can expect to be pilloried for daring to express such a radical view and going against the will of the people. There’s a whole range of new, diverse voices out there who aren’t arguing to return to June 22nd 2016 and pretend nothing happened but are making the case for why the UK needs to be committed to a European future and explaining the benefits of EU membership and what we’re about to lose. And yes, like Jones I’d love to press “a big red button to make it all just go away” so we can talk about “low wages, insecure jobs and the housing crisis” as well as so much else but Brexit isn’t going to go away as an issue any time soon. Brexit is the acute condition that we have to deal with first before we can get to any of the chronic ones lingering behind it.

“A Labour-managed Brexit that doesn’t shred our links with the EU and turn Britain into a low-regulation tax haven still seems preferable” if the alternative is the chaotic mess of some North Atlantic rights-free tax haven, in the same way a shit sandwich is preferable to a manure baguette. The positive message Jones wants to see is tied to all the issues he wants to tackle – if you want an economy that supports better wages and more skilled jobs, if you want a Government with the funds and the credit rating to tackle the housing crisis and everything else, then you need to be part of the largest trading bloc on the planet, not sitting hopefully outside it. Yes, there’s a huge problem with the way our political system works and it needs root and branch reform so that people can feel that they’re included and listened to, but to do that sort of reform needs economic stability and a system that hasn’t already surrendered what economic clout it has to corporations demanding tax cuts.

Finally, Jones argues a weirdly defeatist point arguing that if Labour argued to stop Brexit it “would haemorrhage many of the 3 million or so of its voters who backed leave” leading to “a decisive Conservative electoral victory, enabling the party to implement the most true blue of Tory Brexit deals”. This is oddly similar to the sort of anti-Corbyn argument that Jones eagerly denounced (and was proved right to do so) but yes, if Labour just announced ‘we’re against Brexit now’ without any build up it might well lose votes. If, however, it came after a time of them exposing the flaws in the Tory Brexit argument, coupled with voices across the political spectrum talking about the benefits of stopping it altogether, then they could build a narrative and actually lead the people to reject it, rather than just shrugging their shoulders with a ‘well, what can you do?’. There isn’t a a magic unicorn Brexit without economic harm out there, every version of it causes some damage, and Labour could use this opportunity to wipe the Tories out for a generation for putting the country on the path to ruin.

Brexit can be stopped, there’s a whole lot of arguments out there about why it should be stopped and a nascent mass movement that can foster new leaders who’ll make that case, but it needs courage and support from those in positions like Jones to speak up for them, not tell them to sit down and accept that things can’t be changed.

Predictions for 2018

By making this post, I’m falsifying a prediction I made on Twitter that I’d continue to say ‘I should/will do a blog post about that’ and never get round to doing it, so take the rest of my predictions in that spirit.

1) There won’t be a General Election or referendum in the UK this year during 2018, but we’ll likely be in the run-up to one by the time New Year’s Day 2019 comes around.
2) All the main party leaders will be the same this time next year. May will be about to face a challenge, Corbyn will face be secure, and Cable will be facing the sort of whispering campaign to get rid of him that he participated in against other leaders.
3) Corbyn and McDonnell will have a falling out that leads to McDonnell being sacked/demoted and a new Shadow Chancellor being appointed. Someone will non-ironically say that McDonnell had to go because he was too centrist.
4) Several new ‘centrist’ parties will be established. None of them will have any lasting impact a week after they’re formed/announced.
5) There’ll be a lot of short-term happenings in British politics that seem very important at the time, but will be barely remembered at the end of the year. Indeed, at the end of the year, things will look relatively similar to how they are now, with lots of looming problems still consigned to the ‘too difficult’ pile.
6) Trump will still be in office at the end of the year, but not in power. Either officially via the 25th Amendment or unofficially via Kelly and Mattis exerting more control over the White House, Trump will become more of a figurehead for his administration rather than actually leading it.
7) Spain and Catalonia will agree a formula for the latter to have a recognised independence referendum.
8) Shortly before the new series of Doctor Who starts, some of the most egregious arseholes on the internet will come together to stage a series of increasingly weird protests about a woman playing the Doctor. It’ll be near impossible to talk about the series online without them jumping onto any conversation with a series of inexplicable hashtags, but this won’t stop the new series getting the sort of mainstream critical attention and public awareness it hasn’t had for a decade.
9) But Star Trek: Discovery will have the ‘oh my word, did you see that?’ shock of the year (and that’s pure speculation, not a spoiler)
10) France will win the World Cup. Lots of people will get over-excited about England’s chances after a couple of decent performances take them to the quarter-finals.
11) Wolves will win the Championship (I’m aware that’s as much a statement of fact as it is a prediction, but I still like to say it) and all three promoted sides will be from the same area as one of the relegated Premier League teams (Wolves for West Brom, Cardiff for Swansea and Bristol for Bournemouth).
12) The Winter Olympics will be overshadowed by lots of sabre-rattling between Trump and Kim Jong-Un. Several countries will recall their athletes during the Games because of threats from North Korea.
13) Blog posting here will continue to be sporadic, coupled with several times when the site stops working for no readily apparent reason.

Things Tim Farron doesn’t understand: Atheism

(Hopefully not the first in an ongoing series)

If you’ve seen more Liberal Democrats facepalming than usual this week, it’s probably thanks to Tim Farron’s speech to the Theos think tank in which he puts forward the argument that maybe it’s liberals who are the real illiberals. Featuring a variety of hoary old cod-philosophical chestnuts like equating freedom of speech with freedom from criticism, his speech goes on to argue that Christianity “is the essential underpinning of liberalism and, indeed, of democracy” which feels somewhat of a stretch. While I wouldn’t argue that it’s antithetical to either, for every Christian he cites on the side of social progress, there were others fighting against them, arguing that their particular brand of injustice was endorsed by the Bible. I don’t dispute that individual Christians have had an influence on the development of liberalism and democracy but to claim that Christianity itself is somehow fundamentally linked to them feels akin to claiming that you can’t use calculus without agreeing with the religious views of Newton and Leibniz.

It also misses out that saying ‘I am a Christian’ is similar to saying ‘I am a liberal’ in that the statement alone reveals very little about the person’s actual belief. Just as ‘liberal’ is used across almost the entire political spectrum, so ‘Christian’ can mean anything from fire-and-brimstone revivalists who think Trump’s a bit too moderate for their tastes to Quakers complaining Jeremy Corbyn’s a bit centrist. There are plenty of intersections between the two along those scales, but neither is fundamental to the other.

However, the bit of the speech where my raised eyebrow threatened to tear a muscle came near the end when he talks about atheism like this:

Well look, atheism is not the absence of belief, it is a belief in absence and therefore the absence of common values. It’s a belief in there being no unifying truth. But if there is no unifying truth then, by its own standard, the belief that there is no unifying truth must also be bogus. If you declare that there is no unifying truth then it stands to reason that this declaration isn’t true either. Ergo, atheism doesn’t exist. And I refuse to believe in something that doesn’t exist.

This is a somewhat bizarre interpretation of atheism, most notably regarding atheism as a belief in itself and thus somehow self-negating because it’s a belief in nothing. It also comes up earlier when he says it would be “silly…to make atheism the state religion”, which I would agree with, though we’re clearly using two different ideas of silly here. He thinks it’s possible to make atheism a state religion because it’s somehow a belief like a religion, while I think it’s silly because it’s the same as declaring you’re going to make a pumpkin your car.

There’s an old saying that Tim doesn’t seem to have encountered or understood: we’re all atheists, I just believe in one less god than you. I don’t believe in Tim’s God the same way he doesn’t believe in Vishnu, Ahura Mazda, Odin, the Tooth Fairy or Russell’s Teapot. However, not believing in a certain category of things does not mean not believing in all things, and it especially does not mean that atheists believe in an absence of common values. By a similar leap of logic I could argue that if there is no unifying truth there can be no unifying understanding, thus there can be no language, therefore you’re not actually reading this blog post right now because the language it’s written in doesn’t exist. That argument doesn’t actually make sense – all I’ve done is transposed the word ‘unifying’ from one context to another and claim it does – and it’s the same as suddenly reversing the words in your definition of atheism and claiming that’s also true.

Atheism does not mean believing in nothing, it just means not believing in a god or gods. Atheists can believe in universal truths and values, but ones that are revealed by natural action or human discovery, not by being handed down by divine writ from above. Some may not believe in unifying truths or common values, but there are plenty of religious people who do the same – some will live in heaven for eternity, while the rest of us are doomed to eternal damnation is hardly unifying, is it – so to claim it’s a special property of atheism, and one shared by all atheists, is simply misunderstanding the concept at a basic level.

I’m annoyed by this speech, not just because it feels like a real slap in the face for those of us who defended Tim a few months ago, but because it feels like little more than a compendium of Christian cliches about secularism, liberalism and atheism. It seems to be getting him some attention, but when Tim’s new admirers include people like Tim Montgomerie and Douglas Murray it’s hard not to be reminded of Dora Gaitskell’s comment when her husband basked in seeming triumph at a Labour conference: “all the wrong people are clapping.”

Want to stop Brexit? Then stop fighting like it’s 2016

Remainers, 48 percenters, proud Europhiles, gather round and listen to me when I tell you that if we’re going to stop Brexit, then we have to stop refighting the referendum.

There’s lots of people who seem to think there’s a short cut to stopping Brexit by invalidating the referendum. There are several reasons and ways presented for doing this, but it boils down to a simple argument: Because of (spending irregularities/lies on buses/it was only advisory/Russian trolls/insert your favourite argument here) the referendum was wrong, therefore we should all pretend it didn’t happen and stop doing Brexit. Unfortunately for people putting that forward, the possibility of any of those arguments, even in combination, persuading enough people of the desirability of memory holing the referendum is in the same region as Elvis turning out to be the Loch Ness Monster.

It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal of ‘if only’ arguments and the chance to have a do-over of something that you got wrong the first time. If we could just go back a couple of years then we could have a Remain campaign that wasn’t eye-meltingly incompetent, or develop a better way to counter bus-based propaganda, or have better weather on polling day or a million other things that would have absolutely, definitely changed the result. The problem, however, is when a political version l’esprit de l’escalier becomes a substitute for having policy that deals with the present.

The problem with a strategy of invalidating the referendum is that it looks to most people like an attempt to cheat or win on a technicality. It’s not a political win, where you persuade people by the strength of your ideas but a dirty one, where you manage to rig the system to your advantage. Unless you’ve got evidence of widespread and systematic vote fraud/tampering in the referendum (and I’m about as sure as I can be that there wasn’t) invalidation is not going to be a successful strategy. You don’t persuade someone to change their mind by telling them ‘you didn’t know what you were doing when you voted because of (insert nefarious force of your choice here)’ Even in the best circumstances, people are very unwilling to admit they might not be responsible for their own opinions (and we don’t have the budget to give everyone a detailed education in the mechanics of public opinion), so don’t expect them to be grateful someone who didn’t vote the way they did is telling them they’re thick.

Like generals, political campaigners are often only concerned with refighting the last war instead of developing the strategy and tactics they need to win the next one. If you want to stop Brexit, then you have to accept the world we’re in, which is one in which people voted for it in 2016 and aren’t going to be persuaded that something else happened then instead. This isn’t a ‘believe in Brexit and everything will be fine’ argument – I thought it was a bad idea in 2016, and I still do today – but a call to try and win the political battles of today, not the ones of eighteen months ago.

To win those arguments needs a change in the way arguments get phrased. There’s too much of a tendency to frame everything in terms of the referendum, coupled with the underlying assumption that we’re divided into political tribes of Leavers and Remainers. When news comes through it’s all too easy (and I’ve done it myself) to talk about it in terms of ‘see, this is why I was right in the referendum and you were wrong’. It makes us feel good and justified in what we’ve done, but consider how someone on the ‘other side’ might see it. For a start, you’ve drawn a line and made two sides, encouraging them to think of themselves as being on the Leave ‘side’. That means they’re now primed to deal with any news we get that’s not good for our side – we find reasons to dismiss or dispute it, to reinforce our notion of ourselves as being right and being fixed in our opinions. You’re not persuading someone to think about the future, merely to reinforce their view of themselves as someone defined by an action they took in the past.

There aren’t any time machines, memory holes or even obscure legal precedents discovered by some bloke on Facebook that are going to make it so the referendum didn’t happen. The only way to stop Brexit is through votes that are yet to take place. They might be in Parliament, in an election or even at another referendum, but if we want to win those votes then we need to be thinking now about how we persuade people to side with us when they come about. So when you’re sharing news about the Irish border, trade talks, GDP figures or whatever else, talk about what this means for the future of the UK and everyone living here. Don’t tell process stories about the referendum, instead tell meaningful stories about how we can do something different and improve people’s lives. Don’t get into fact-checking arguments on social media with hardcore keyboard warriors who aren’t going to change their minds, because all that’s doing is reinforcing the narrative of two opposing camps which just hardens opinions around the referendum. Don’t repeat their soundbites in the belief you’re correcting them – remember the old adage that if you’re explaining, you’re losing – but develop our own arguments instead. Start with ‘no deal is a bad deal’ and work from there with people who are better at coining pithy phrases than me.

Stop arguing against things and start arguing for things, and give people a reason to rally around the positive instead of just getting angry about things that can’t be changed. Those who want Brexit are happy to rehash the referendum arguments ad infinitum because they won that time. We need to move on and make the arguments that will win the next votes, not imagine we’ve got the power to change the past.

Can one tweet change a person’s mind? No, but a barrage of them might

To save time, I need to build a bot that finds the appropriate xkcd for a post.
There’s lots of annoying responses going around to the issue of social media bots, but one of the most annoying to me is the canard of ‘it’s all stupid, they can’t be influential because who’s going to change their mind on how to vote after seeing one tweet or Facebook post?’ It particularly irritates me because it’s conflating two bad ideas together. First, the idea that our political opinions are fixed and immutable things, near impossible to change, and secondly, ignoring that the sheer quantity of content produced by bots is important in itself.

The first issue is something I wrote about in more detail a while ago but in short if your view of people’s political opinions is that they’re entirely fixed, you’re generally wrong. Part of the problem here is that people with strongly held and developed political opinions of their own tend to assume everyone else is similar to them in their access to and desire to use information on which to develop their opinions. It’s people with high information levels about a subject assuming that everyone else has the same level of information, when in fact most people’s opinion towards most things is what Converse called a ‘nonattitude’, having so little knowledge of an area that any opinion they’re asked to give it on it is effectively random. Almost everyone has some issues on which they’re high information individuals – for some of us it’s politics, for others it’s sport, some know lots about art or cooking or construction or any number of issues where high information individuals might have huge disputes about something, while the rest of us would probably stare blankly at anyone who asked us for our opinion on it.

So while people might have an opinion built up over time about which party they support in political matters, they tend to gloss over the detail of policy, which means that when they’re asked to decide on a specific policy in an environment where their traditional party cues are meaningless – through the medium of a referendum, say – positions are going to be a lot less strongly held and much more subject to change. Our opinions on most issues aren’t a neatly organised filing cabinet, neatly organised and fully cross-referenced, they’re much more like piles of paper strewn across numerous shelves from which we tend to grab whichever looks best at the time. We can have multitudes of different considerations hanging around there, waiting for us to find the right context to consult them in and weigh them against each other.

This is why it is silly to say that one tweet can change the way someone thinks on an issue, in just the same way that it’s unlike that any one leaflet, poster, TV ad, newspaper article, or even blog post might decisively change someone’s mind for good. The aim of anything like that isn’t to change your mind there and then, but to get into your consciousness enough to form a consideration that you will later form an opinion on. Again, this isn’t about seeing something, going to your mental filing cabinet, pulling out a folder and rewriting it, but rather seeing something and sticking it on a shelf for future reference. One consideration alone might not be enough to make you act in a certain way, but a bunch of them developed over time and coming from a number of different sources could well be. It’s why companies don’t just broadcast their adverts once and figure everyone will see it, why billboards remain in place for weeks not hours, and why political parties deliver rainforests worth of paper during election campaigns. It’s not about changing minds so much as it is about getting people to have a balance of considerations that’s favourable to you in their head when they’re asked to make a decision – and once they’ve made that decision, human nature often means they’ll tell themselves that was their opinion all along, and there wasn’t any way they could have changed it…

Radicals and Democrats and Renewals, oh my!

As ever, there’s an xkcd for that
It’s getting very hard to go on social media these days without bumping into someone declaring that they’re going to be creating their own new centrist political party and inviting everyone to join. In this era of Warholian politics, everyone gets to be a party leader for fifteen minutes, and last night it was Economist writer Jeremy Cliffe describing his Macronic dreams in public and declaring a new ‘Radicals UK’ movement. Previous incarnations of this idea include ‘the Democrats‘, ‘Renew‘, multinational street parties in Maidenhead, and the idea that George Osborne will come riding to the rescue sometime around 2022.

Now, I’m not going to repeat the various blog posts and articles I’ve already written about why forming a new centre party isn’t the guaranteed route to political glory some people seem to think it is, but I do want to focus on one particular aspect of all these proposals. Tom King talks about it here, and we could phrase this problem as ‘you want to create a socially liberal, anti-Brexit, forward looking party, yet the Liberal Democrats and the Greens already exist. Why not just join one of them?’

The usual response when asked that is to say something on the lines of ‘because reasons‘ and declarations that this new party is going to be different in some vaguely unspecified way. I think it actually reveals a fundamental flaw in the makeup of these new movements that show why they won’t amount to much more than a short term flash in the pan, even before we get to the massive problems they’d face because of the nature of the British political system and the structure of the British electorate (the ‘socially and economically liberal’ people they want to represent are the smallest segment of British voters and massively over-represented within the commentariat).

The problem I think the ‘we have to have something new’ attitude reveals is an antipathy to dealing with the actual realities of politics, especially centrist politics, which requires the ability to compromise and build wide coalitions of support if you’re going to achieve your long-term goals. Compromise and coalition isn’t just something that happens between parties, it’s something that has to happen within parties unless they’re going to remain hopelessly small or ridiculously centralised and authoritarian. Divisions, disagreements and factions are an inevitable part of creating any political movement that has more than a handful of members. The sort of people declaring that they want to join a new movement/party because they have some disagreements with the existing ones are the sort of people who are going to become very disillusioned very quickly when it turns out that not everyone in their bold new movement agrees with them on everything.

It’s very easy for someone to read what they want into a vague set of principles – consider that even in existing parties, there are people who are a long way away from what you might regard as that party’s core beliefs – and aside from being anti-Brexit these new movements are saying little more than ‘we’re for good things and against bad things’. Jeremy Cliffe talks of his Radicals UK being ‘pro-tech and social liberal‘ but what do those phrases mean to people. One person might see ‘pro-tech’ as full speed ahead to the technofuturist dream, fracking all the way because technology will save us, while another might see it as ‘yes, we must invest more in sustainable technology and renewable energy’ while ‘social liberal’ can mean anything from a vague Cameronian middle-class niceness to full-on Georgist land value taxation fuelling massive social changes. Somewhere along the line if you want to be a proper political party, you’ve got to broker a compromise between these people who’ve all joined your group because they think it means they won’t have to compromise.

If you want to try and create a political party for people who don’t like the realities of doing politics, that’s fine, but at some point you’re going to have to face up to the problems and contradictions that causes for you. If you’re going to build a movement based on people who aren’t willing to compromise, don’t be surprised when they won’t compromise with each other.

Is ‘centrist’ being used more often now?

Following on from my Prospect article, I’ve been wondering about a perception that we seem to be using and discussing terms like ‘centrist’ and ‘centrism’ now, though there’s also the chance of it being selective perception on my part, given my PhD topic. So, as evidence that it’s not just in my head, here’s what Google has to say about it.

In all of these graphs, the blue line represents how much people are searching for ‘centrist’, the red line how much they’re searching for ‘centrism’. ‘Centrist’ is almost always the most searched of the two terms. The global graph is quite jittery (indicating it’s not searched very often so small ups and downs in the number of searches make big changes in the graph) but has two clear early peaks around the end of 2004 and 2008 (possibly connected to the US Presidential elections then) and then rises as we get closer to the present day.

Breaking it down by country…

We see the 2004 and 2008 peaks on the graph for the US, which are a bit more prominent than they are in the global trends, and the rise towards the present day isn’t as big as it is globally, but still above the 2004 and 2008 peaks.

The UK graph has a much more pronounced rise in recent months, with the only noticeable peak before that in February 2005 – and no, I can’t work out why that might be.

Canada gives us a slightly different picture, with a generally higher average trend than the US and UK, but still with the current rise. There is an earlier peak there, around the end of 2005, which might be linked to the Canadian federal election that took place in January 2006.

I’ve done those three as an example, but there definitely does seem to be a rise in searches for ‘centrist’ and ‘centrism’ over the last year or so, which is interesting, though for now I’m just going to leave it at presenting you with the data and seeing what theories you come up with to explain it, rather than putting forward my own.

On Macron, elsewhere

My Political Quarterly article ‘Macron’s lessons for the British centre’ is now available free, so please go read it and tell me how many errors I’ve made in it. It’s based in part on this post I wrote a couple of months ago, so you may find some of it familiar.

Whether you like it or not

There’s been a few times in Doctor Who‘s history where the show has done stories that have featured thinly-veiled features of its own fans. However, some (and I stress some, most definitely not all, not even a majority) of the reactions I’ve seen to the announcement that Jodie Whittaker is the new Doctor have crystallised an idea for me that by the far the most accurate of them – whether it’s intentional or not – was Full Circle, a story from Tom Baker’s final series.

Now, you may not be familiar with the details of this 37-year old story, so a quick recap of the pertinent points of the plot. There’s a colony Starliner from the planet Terradon that’s been marooned on the planet Alzarius for generations. The descendants of the original crew are attempting to repair it so they can take off and travel home, but Alzarius has an occasional phenomenon called Mistfall, when the rapidly-evolving Marshmen emerge from the planet’s swamps and attack the ship. The twist is revealed in the line “We cannot return to Terradon, because we have never been there.” The crew aren’t the descendants of the original Terradonians, but an earlier generation of Marshmen who took over the ship and became like them.

GARIF: We’ve got to kill them. Kill them!
DOCTOR: No. No, I think we should let them go.
GARIF: What?
DOCTOR: Look! They adapted quickly.
GARIF: They’ll learn to breath the air.
DOCTOR: Yes.
GARIF: They might break into the ship and wipe out the crew.
DOCTOR: Yes. Still the manuals in the great book room will show them how to put it all together again.
GARIF: They could learn to read?
DOCTOR: Yes. Just like they did forty thousand generations ago. They’re your ancestors.
LOGIN: Nefred’s dying words. That’s why we can’t return to Terradon.

Fifty-four years (it’s a bit shorter than ‘forty thousand generations’, but we’re in the realm of metaphor here) ago Doctor Who fandom was born, and it’s been through many Mistfalls since then. Every generation of fandom has believed it was the descendant of the original Terradonian stock, preserving that unbroken line from those who watched the opening titles of An Unearthly Child right through to the Doctor meeting himself in the Antarctic snow. And every one of them has seen their own version of the Marshmen coming to threaten fandom as we know it. Didn’t these incomers know that they were damaging fandom by having the wrong opinions about which stories were good, by writing fanzines about the show, by drawing their own art, by going to conventions, by writing their own stories, by discussing the show on the internet instead of in zines, by making videos, by posting gifsets on Tumblr instead of discussing it on forums…

Just like Doctor Who is never as good as it used to be (it’s all gone downhill since it stopped being about a policeman on his beat and started focusing on strange police boxes in junkyards…) so Doctor Who fandom is never what it was, and all these new fans coming in are just going to smash up the Starliner we spent so long repairing from when we were the young unruly interlopers from the swamps who were Doing Fandom Wrong. I’ve seen plenty of ‘I’ve been a fan since before the next Doctor was born, and she’s not just a bad choice, the fans who are cheering it on will kill the show’ from people who really should know better who don’t remember that people were criticising them for liking Peter Davison because he was far too young and blond to play the Doctor and Brian Blessed would have been so much better because he’s much more Doctorish, don’t you know?

Ian and Barbara leaving? Abandoning historical stories? Confining the Doctor to Earth? A robot dog? Three companions at once? Forty-five minute episodes? Taking it off the air? Making it in America? Making it in Wales? All these and many many more questionable decisions have killed Doctor Who, many many times over. That original idea about some scientists and their young assistant, possibly accompanied by a mysterious and crotchety old man, has become many many things over the years. The Marshmen have swarmed through the BBC as much as they have through fandom, and they’ve always rebuilt and forgotten that they were the invaders once.

The joy and accidental genius of Doctor Who is that it has no creator, no one lurking behind the scenes to tell us what it must be and what it must not be. It will die in a thousand different ways and be reborn in a thousand and one new varieties in response. None of us are the Deciders of what is and is not Proper Who, we’re all just primeval slime with ideas above its station. We can’t return to IM Foreman’s junkyard, because we have never been there. We can only move on, accept that things will change and know that there are always going to be new generations to follow us, and all of them will be told they’re going to kill what someone else loves. They’re not, they’re just passing on the wonder to those who’ll follow them for all the generations to come.