Women of 2016

Steve Beauchampé identifies two courageous candidates, who fought for their beliefs with decency, honesty and humility.

It is the season when various media outlets choose their men and women of the year and there are two particularly outstanding candidates for the 2016 women’s title; Hilary Clinton and Gina Miller. Few women in recent times can have faced such character assassinations, such unwarranted abuse, such torrents of lies and misinformation about themselves as have these two, with both subjected to relentless and unimaginable threats and intimidations from a baying mob whipped into a frenzy by rich and powerful bullies. Yet both have remained resolutely dignified, both have shown immense courage in holding to their beliefs, and both went high whilst their detractors, many wallowing in a vitriol infested swamp and employing the basest, most guttural politics, where facts and truth have become irrelevant, sank low.

More than anything Hilary Clinton and Gina Miller stood up for democracy. Whilst Donald Trump encouraged and led anti-Clinton choruses of ‘lock her up’ and unleashed not just a wave, but an ocean, of lies about her policies, her personality, her health and her record in office with seeming impunity, whilst a pro-Republican FBI official made one of the most overtly political interventions in recent US election history, Clinton heroically stuck to the issues, maintained her composure, displayed her temperament and tried to discuss and debate with an opponent manifestly incapable of either rational debate or much in the way of coherent thought.

Despite the tsunami of insults and unsubstantiated and false allegations made against her Hilary Clinton not only succeeded in winning the popular vote by around 2.83 million but polled the largest numbers ever by a Democratic Presidential candidate other than Barack Obama (65,746,544 at the most recent count). It now seems increasingly likely that the result of the vote was corrupted at least in part, with Trump’s campaign assisted directly or indirectly by Russia under its KGB-trained leader Vladimir Putin. How many more indignities must one woman suffer?

Gina Miller, who voted Remain in the UK’s European Union referendum, and Deir Dos Santos, who voted Leave, joined forces to seek a court ruling on whether parliament, or the government, had the power to trigger Article 50, the mechanism by which the UK begins the process of leaving the EU. It is a question of fundamental constitutional importance, as central to the operation and functioning of British democracy as there could be and one whose ramifications and implications transcend the issue of the EU. A vital question which if not asked now may have profound consequences (and not in a good way) further ahead.

For her efforts, Gina Miller has been subjected to similar levels of opprobrium and vile abuse as Hilary Clinton. Just as Trump and his followers repeatedly ignored inconvenient truths, replacing them with unwarranted criticism and blatant lies, so Gina Miller’s critics have deliberately misconstrued her actions as an attempt to negate the referendum result, when she has repeatedly stated that they are nothing of the sort, being concerned only with the question of parliamentary process, the issue of sovereignty and who ultimately decides what rights we have as citizens.

That Miller has been turned into a hate figure and vilified by opponents, many of whom seem not to understand the constitutional questions and complexities that triggering Article 50 raises, is unacceptable enough. That they have been tacitly encouraged to do so by the casual, inflammatory language and tone of those who do understand these questions and their implications, but who are desperate to close down debate on the terms and conditions by which we exit the EU lest these not be to their liking, is appalling. The EU referendum campaign has already cost the life of Labour MP Jo Cox, meaning that no-one can fail to take seriously the threats of physical and sexual violence made against Gina Miller.

Yet those with the duty and authority to defend her have failed her. Aside from newspaper owners such as Richard Desmond and Paul Dacre (Daily Express and Daily Mail respectively), whose contorted and ultra-biased coverage of the issue has unnecessarily raised the temperature on an already heated debate, two prominent political figures Prime Minister Theresa May and former UKIP Leader Nigel Farage could – and indeed should – have done much more to condemn those threatening Gina Miller.

Yet both have been all but silent, Farage too busy lauding every racist leader of Europe’s regressive right wing populist alliance, and May not only desperate that it be her who controls the timing and manner of Britain’s EU departure, but too busy cosying up to the leaders of Bahrein and Saudi Arabia, countries where kings and princes still act like feudal monarchs and where human rights abuses are commonplace. Exactly the type of countries where a post-EU Britain will increasingly hope to secure trade and arms deals as we up anchor from mainland Europe, leaving behind our moral and ethical compass.