By Paul Duboise
There’s no doubt that the Referendum on Europe stirred a hornets’ nest in England and Wales; it became a referendum about the disenfranchised working class and their fading national pride, a last hoorah perhaps for the ordinary man or woman just trying to survive in a country that didn’t want anything to do with them. The “Vote Leave” campaign saw this long before the “Vote Remain” campaign did and played to their fears and insecurity, not to mention their bigotry and hatred. Where UKIP had failed in the last General Election they succeeded here and they managed to achieve what they’d always wanted to – to split the nation, to destroy communities and to mislead us. While Nigel Farage took the plaudits, the truth is that for the ordinary folk of Britain there was another man who was really sticking it to the “Vote Remain” campaign, a man like you; The Man On The Street.
At a time when people didn’t know who to trust they needed someone just like them, someone with not only the will but the balls to speak up, to tell the truth and to show the politicians that there were millions of voices not being heard. In the four months leading up to the Referendum the most-viewed website in England did not belong to either of the two big campaign groups, but that of “Chris Bloke” a.k.a “The Man On The Street”.
Chris, from East London, was experiencing the cultural melting pot first hand and was of the belief that “the soup of multiculturalism and immigration tastes like shit when you’re forced to eat it every single day”. He tweeted that along with a link to his blog on January 15th 2016. Within hours he’d been re-tweeted 4000 times and his blog achieved a record number of visitors, some 11,000. By the end of that week he had 840,000 followers on Twitter and his blog had been visited nearly 3,000,000 times – Chris suddenly had a voice and he was not going to waste the opportunity to use it. With web advertisers falling over themselves to get in on the action Chris was able to work full-time on his blog and he was posting at least an article a day, not to mention tweeting every 30 minutes. By March there was no busier website than “The Man On The Street” and Chris was becoming ‘the’ working class hero. Having tried to ignore him for weeks, News editors started using Chris’s blog as the number one source of “Vote Leave” insight thanks to the incredibly busy comments sections below each of his posts; Chris had truly become THE man on the street, the only one that mattered and his voice spoke louder than anyone’s. Chris was famous; locally, nationally and eventually internationally and yet the “Vote Remain” campaign ignored him, to their great cost.
Chris had stumbled upon a very simple format and it was working. The title of each post started “Fuck XXXXXXXX” where XXXXXXXX was the issue he would be discussing, with the summary being “It’s/They’re shit”, “it’s/they’re XXXXXXXX” where XXXXXXXX was his opinion summarised in one word and finally “and I hate it/them”. While critics claimed that a one-word summary of an issue lacks any kind of journalistic flare or rigour, it appealed to the many Britons who have short attention spans and don’t want to have to read or understand important or complex arguments. While some considered Chris was dumbing-down for the tabloid-reading masses they also had to concede that it was the most effective way of drawing people in and he became, probably, the key influencer of public opinion with many people admitting they believed “if Chris says it, it’s probably true”.
By April the world was desperate to meet Chris, and News Channels were working around the clock trying to find out who and where Chris was, in the hope of getting him on their shows to interrogate him, but he remained aloof. There were a few close shaves though, he would later reveal, and after a Daily Mail reporter managed to get his phone number and his parents’ address in Surrey, Chris was forced to go underground. In his one and only press release he wrote:
“I am a wanted man, not for any crime but for my knowledge and my beliefs. If I reveal my face to the world I would be painting a target on it and putting a price on my head (and my integrity) and I am not prepared to do either of those things. Oh, and my name’s not really Chris, so fuck you all if you’re trying to find me by using my name.”
By May 2016 those who were hunting him believed they were getting close; there had been countless attempts to hack his blog and he had stopped using a mobile phone completely, he would eventually tell the media. He’d spent hundreds of pounds on the best PC security he could find in order to hide his online presence and location so he could continue to post daily. His Twitter account was compromised a number of times and he kept his followers up-to-date on these attempts by those he claimed wished to silence him and/or kill him, which added to the vociferous support he received online. As time passed so his posts reflected his apparent paranoia but even the most implausible claims he made (and there were many) were regarded as truth by those who followed “The Man On The Street”, a man who would not be bullied into silence.
Just when it seemed that he was going to make it to the end of the campaign, he made his first, his only and last mistake on the morning of Wednesday June 22nd, one day before the vote. He ordered a pizza for breakfast, which by anyone’s standards is odd. The delivery driver posted a selfie of him with the pizza and the message “Pizza at 10am? I must be delivering to Chris Bloke! #themanonthestreet”. The precise details of what happened in the next 45 minutes are confused at best but after being inundated with phone calls the Pizza Shop eventually let slip the address the delivery driver was going to and the rest is, as we all know, history. Hundreds of journalists and thousands of supporters and protesters flocked to a suburban house in Weybridge, Surrey. Police from three forces spent 8 hours trying to clear the street of protesters while journalists set themselves up for a first look at the man who’d single-handedly driven the UK to the point of leaving the European Union. Eventually, on the morning of the 23rd, a retired husband and wife edged nervously out of their front door with the world looking on and gave the following statement to the press, one you have probably found it very difficult to forget:
“Hello, we’re Simon’s Mum and Dad. Simon can’t come out right now as he’s not feeling very well but he wanted us to tell you that he’s very sorry for all the trouble he’s caused and he’s deleting his blog right now. He never meant to cause anyone any problems but what started out as a bit of fun has got way out of hand and he’s very, very, very sorry. It was all a joke, but he promises that he’s learned his lesson and will never do anything like it again. Now, if you don’t mind we just want to get past you to our car so we can go and vote. Thank you.”
The world was stunned, I know I was. Was it really all a joke? Is Simon his real name? Was he really on the run, moving from place-to-place to avoid being caught? Was any of it true? Obviously the answer to some of those questions is yes and for the others it’s no, which is unhelpful at best. What we do know is that “Chris Bloke” is actually “Simon Farquharson”, who has spent almost his adult life enjoying living off a very generous trust fund and has only had one job since he turned 18, which was working as a glass collector in his Students Union Bar which he did for just one semester back in 1993. More importantly, however, Simon was anything but “The Man On The Street” and when the truth about him was revealed, both supporters and protesters burst through the Police barricade and attacked his home. Simon had hidden in the panic room he’d had installed and it was several hours before the Police managed to get control of the situation, not before his parents’ home had been completely ransacked though.
The media, meanwhile, were trying to make sense of the body-blow Simon had delivered; they had all been completely duped for months and they were quick to leave the scene. While some news agencies reported the revelation most did everything they could to sweep it under the carpet and get back to reporting on the voting that was taking place around the country. “The Man On The Street” was no more and the press wanted nothing to do with him, which is why on the morning it was announced to the world that Britain would be leaving the European Union you will not have seen a single news item about Chris Bloke/Simon Farquharson. Social Media, however, was an entirely different matter with angry comments and death threats aimed at Chris/Simon from a nation that had shown itself to be “simple-minded, ignorant, naïve, easily-led and incredibly stupid” as Chris told people in a rare tweet a couple of days after the vote. We have all blamed the “Vote Leave” Campaign for misleading us, and I was sure that Simon would be delighted that the vast majority of people still do but before I passed judgement I needed to hear it from him.
I contacted Simon’s parents a week ago; they were forced to sell their home of 38 years due to the constant crowds of people that would gather outside their home. The damage caused to their property exceeded £80,000 and they felt it was better to sell up and leave. Simon, who we now know has never left the family home, went with them and after much persuasion agreed to speak to me on Skype about everything that has happened so far in 2016 and what motivated him to not only start the blog but to keep the joke going long after it had ceased to be funny. I should warn you that his responses to my questions might upset and offend many of you, as they did me.
Me: “I think I should probably start by asking you which way you voted in the Referendum?”
Simon: “Remain, of course!”
Me: “Can I ask you why, given everything you’ve said and done this year?”
Simon: “Look, I thought it was so funny how the so-called “little people” were getting their knickers in a twist about immigrants and jobs when the truth is many of them are too lazy to get a job and are happy to not be doing some of the menial jobs immigrants do. Many people have to accept they’re just not going to be millionaires and get on with it. If we hadn’t been in Europe all this time many of them would’ve had their benefits cut completely or would be working a 48-55 hour week as standard, no overtime. Europe helps workers, end of. I’m all for a global community and we’re this tiny little Island that would be meaningless on the world stage if we didn’t have the language. To not be in Europe, for all its flaws, is a mistake and you have to be in it to change it. We just voted to have no say in how the rest of the world treats us. We’ve been stupid.”
Me: “But you must’ve realised back in February that you’d started something that was escalating rapidly and that people were looking to you for their information. Why didn’t you use the opportunity to support the Remain campaign?”
Simon: “I honestly thought people would realise I was being sarcastic. I wrote a post about how Muslim migrants from Syria were setting themselves up in London as professional dog-walkers so they could steal the dogs and cook them and eat them in their state-funded 5 bedroom asylum-seeker homes. People actually believed that! They believed anything I said! It was absolutely hilarious! I was testing the public to see how stupid they were and they just kept on proving me right. Before I started I couldn’t understand how people could be so stupid and I was curious to see how far I could go before they realised they were being fooled. Did people really think that Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were men of the people, supporters of the working class? I’m as disappointed as anyone that it took so long to get rumbled and by a pizza of all things.”
Me: “But you appealed to people and their empathy by making outlandish claims that you were being hunted down for speaking the truth as if you were one of them, one of the working class? You encouraged them to like you enough to follow you and believe you? You have treated the general public terribly, in my opinion.”
Simon: “Well maybe, but in a ridiculous scenario it doesn’t hurt to throw in a little peril if you want people to keep reading, but I honestly thought the penny would drop. I did little but lie to people for six months and they loved it, they couldn’t get enough of it. Is that my fault? I’m one man, the “Vote Leave” and “Vote Remain” campaigns had hundreds of people working for them. Why didn’t either side ever take me on, call me out, prove I was lying? I wrote that if we chose to remain in Europe, immigrants from the poorest countries would be given Caravans along the east coast as part of a time-share arrangement so they could have holidays just like poor Britons do, in order to help them integrate into society. I called it “Project Skegness” and not one journalist, reporter, critic or opinion-maker called me out on it, like they didn’t call out Farage and co. on their claims about money to Europe that could go into the NHS. They lied, people believed them. I lied, people believed me, only at least I had the decency to make my lies utterly implausible; it’s really not my fault that people believe everything they read and do no research.”
Me: “So you have no remorse about what you’ve done?”
Simon: “Of course not. I made almost 5 million pounds from web advertising alone. I’ve been offered a book deal worth a couple of million and there isn’t a chat-show airing today that wouldn’t meet my asking price if I said I was available and you know what, if and when I do I will say to them and the audience what I’m saying to you; people are fucking stupid and if they’re not prepared to fact-check they deserve whatever’s coming to them.”
Me: “But you must’ve realised at some point how powerful you were, how people were looking to you for information? Why didn’t you let the joke run for a while and then tell people, millions of people, that they were being mislead, and that they needed to stop believing everything they read online and start looking for the truth? Why didn’t you give them what they needed to make an informed decision?”
Simon: “You’re not the first person to blame me for Brexit and you won’t be the last, but I had one vote and I used it just like everyone else did. I did my fact-checking, I took my vote seriously and I didn’t let outrageously nationalist and borderline racist and xenophobic claims made by the “Vote Leave” campaign influence my decision. Do you think people will make the same mistake again? Some will, but far less of them. I’ve taught people a lesson they fucking needed. I’m only sorry that so many people allowed themselves to be led astray by idiots like Chris Bloke. Chris Bloke! I used the surname “Bloke”! Fucking idiots, all of them.”
Me: “It sounds to me like you have contempt for working class people, which is what successive Governments for the last four terms have had which is why “Vote Leave” won; it was a protest vote about the way people are treated, the referendum on Europe was hijacked to serve as a referendum on the leadership of the country and you have to take a sizeable portion of the blame for that.”
Simon: “I don’t have contempt for working class people, I have contempt for stupid people. At least now you know how many of them there are out there; about 70% of England is stupid. Do you think I don’t know how shit life is in Middlesbrough, or Hull, or Grimsby, or Doncaster? Do you know how they know it too? They didn’t vote for Labour, the party that’s supposed to have their backs, at the last election after five years of austerity. You want to blame me for Brexit? I stoked the fire, sure, but I didn’t let the people down before or after the credit crunch and I will be paying my taxes on what I’ve earned, unlike a lot of very wealthy people our Government gives tax breaks to. I’m not happy we voted leave, but at least now we have a decent idea of how people really feel about politicians and what they say, not to mention how Britons feel when the wrong people are prioritised for housing and benefits, especially if they weren’t even born here. I’m not anti-immigration, but if you were born here and you’ve been made redundant because of the austerity measures companies have used as an excuse to bolster their profit margins, and someone who barely speaks the language gets help before you do, don’t tell me you’re not going to be pissed off about that. If, however, you’re pissed off because you’re too stupid to know when someone’s bullshitting you, well, you’re beyond help anyway and you deserve to rot.”
Me: “This all started because you made a comment about multiculturalism in which you likened it to a bad-tasting soup. I get it, it got it then and I get it now, but you must’ve realised a lot of people didn’t. You had an opportunity to steer people the right way and you chose not to.”
Simon: “If the “Vote Remain” campaign had got in touch, any of them, things might’ve been different, but they ignored me like they ignored the working class. Not my fault, not my problem, not my burden.”
Me: “You talk about people as though you’re one of them, that you understand, but you’ve lived at home all your life and lived off a trust fund. Do you not see how the people you have mocked might feel betrayed by you?”
Simon: “Ah, a personal attack. You know you’ve lost the argument when you make it personal, right?”
Me: “But you’re judging people, you have judged people, mocked them, fooled them and now you’re turning it around on them and their difficult lives while you enjoy a very easy life. You have essentially decided that it’s okay to tease the little people, the poorest of people, you’ve made them feel even worse about their lives than they already did and you’ve done it from your ivory tower, looking down on them.”
Simon: “I told you, I went after stupid people. If I’m guilty of anything it’s that I under-estimated how stupid people actually are, how gullible they are and how many of them there are. On April 22nd I wrote a post about how Europe is secretly implementing Sharia Law and that if we vote to remain in Europe we will have to implement stoning and lashing as a form of punishment for people who commit traffic offences and that multiple offenders will have their hands cut off, which will result in money that could should be used for health care and education being ploughed into cars for people with no hands. Nobody, not one person, questioned the validity of my claim or asked me to prove it. Instead people got themselves worked up into a frenzy about what was obviously, clearly, bullshit. Have you ever read News Thump or The Onion? Does anyone really believe their articles are true? Okay, a few people who don’t get sarcasm but 70% of the country? No, of course not.”
Me: “But when you started telling people you were a “wanted man” you blurred the line between sarcasm or satire and reality. People believed you were being hunted. You played on their fears and mocked them at the same time.”
Simon: “Stupid people, I mocked stupid people.”
Me: “Well, let’s be clear here, you mocked many people and insulted many more.”
Simon: “It’s only an insult if there’s intent to insult. Syrians eating dogs? Come on…and do you know who didn’t get upset, which is surprising given their track record? Muslims. I made fun of Islam and the supposed threat it posed to our laws if we voted to remain in Europe. Europe! The most secular body of countries in the world! Look at France now, do you think they’re going to let Islamic law make its way under the radar there? They’ve already banned the burka and the niqab! Germany? Well, if they can do it to the Jews they can do it to the Muslims too, right?”
Me: “For most people it’s not European migrants they’re worried about though.”
Simons: “Right, it’s non-Europeans they’re worried about and that situation doesn’t change whether we’re in Europe or not! Look, I get why people were upset with me but really they were upset with themselves; they realised they’d been fucking gullible idiots and they got themselves worked-up into a frenzy looking for someone to blame for being stupid other than themselves. Do you know what I am? I am what happens when a nation that is too lazy to do the work it needs to starts to point the finger of blame at anything and everything but themselves. There are millions of hard-working Brits who will take any job going if it means there’s food in the fridge and the bills get paid. It’s not perhaps a great life but it is a life. These are the people who don’t just accept what they’re told. Then there are those who might once have had reason to feel aggrieved but have done little or nothing about their predicament and are the first to point the finger at a Polish woman who gets a cleaning job, a job that they think should go to a British person, someone born here, but they wouldn’t do it themselves, oh no. Why? Because they were born here and they deserve better than a cleaning job. Fuck them, fuck them all because there are people who queue outside the Job Centre every morning, and they apply for jobs every day even when they know they don’t have the skills required or that a hundred other people will apply too, but they keep trying. Those people, they’re the ones who deserve to be put first and it’s a travesty that more often than not they are given no help at all. But for those who just turn up to sign-on for another fortnight, who fuck around all day moaning about how shit their life is but don’t even try to improve it and then have the nerve to have a pop at someone, anyone, who works a job they think is beneath them, fuck them all. To then make that self-created malaise the reason they vote to leave Europe? Arseholes, they’re arseholes and so is anyone who sympathises with them or, worse, agrees with them.”
Me: “You had the opportunity, though, to tell hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people that they were listening to lies, including yours, but instead you chose to keep the joke going for your own amusement, profit from it and then mock these people further after the event. You spurned the opportunity to reach millions of people who didn’t share your real take on everything that was going on and hid behind a character, one who seemed to understand them. You got in where the “Vote Remain” campaign couldn’t, and as a remain voter yourself, but you just made matters worse. You have exploited the masses, made huge personal gains from it and after all is said and done shown no remorse for it. You lost! Britain voted to leave Europe! Whatever you say your intentions were, you lost! To not show even a little humility or regret shows you are simply an attention-seeking narcissist, no better than Boris or Nigel.”
Simon: “If you’re falling down a hole you can’t even begin to think about how you’re going to climb out of it until you’ve hit the bottom. You can’t. The Brexit vote is a reset button, it’s us hitting the bottom. Now we have to climb out and in order to do that we have to face up to what’s around us, the reality of the situation, and start to change the way we approach things. We’re at the bottom of the hole looking up now. If we’re going to even contemplate being able to climb out of it we need a plan, one that will stop us from falling down into the hole again, or falling again before we even get out. That means change, and it starts only when we face up to who and what we have become and resolve to be better. That means we have to be honest, for the first time in generations, about what’s really going on in this country. The last general election and the Scottish referendum should’ve been the wake-up calls we needed but they were not. There’s no turning back now, though.”
Me: “Okay then, prove to me you’re not just an agitator. What needs to change? Do you have any suggestions or even answers or are you just a hypocrite, someone happy to point the finger at someone else but offer nothing by way of a solution, like the people you claim to hate so much, the stupid people?
Simon: “Where does one begin? Brexit? Well, multiculturalism as we thought we knew it has come to an end. We are a nation of people divided, partly through misinformation and partly through obvious favouritism and at the very top. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and that’s how it’s been for as long as I’ve been alive. Now we have endured a sickening swell of angry nationalist pride from people who voted to leave Europe and who now mistakenly believe they have won something. We have no idea how this is going to pan out, none whatsoever, because it’s never been done before; we’ve won nothing, not even independence at this point in time. Brexit has exposed a range of social and political issues that have been ignored for too long. Socialism, which I’m not opposed to, has made way for extreme liberalism and that has cost people jobs and a voice. I don’t have a problem with better border controls but I do have a problem with people who think it’s okay to bomb another country and then not provide shelter for the innocent people caught up in the humanitarian disaster we’ve had a part in creating. There should probably be a cap on economic migrants, but when it comes to granting asylum, when it comes to lending a hand to people, we need to change our ways because you can bet your life that if the shoe was on the other foot we’d be the first to complain if the rest of the world didn’t help us out. We live in a country where you can get a criminal record and even a prison sentence for non-payment of a parking ticket, but greedy people who cause businesses to collapse, and thousands of people to be made redundant, through lining their own pockets, get a day in court to promise they’ll sort it out and they walk away from it with a ticking-off. That’s what really hurts people and that’s why we all have to change. All I have done is point a spotlight on the people who need to change the most. Do you still think I’m the problem, or even a catalyst? If you do you’re out of your tiny mind.”
Me: “What about those people, then, who feel that all you have done is pour petrol on the fire when you could’ve poured water on it? The people who, rightly or wrongly, believed in you and what you had to say?”
Simon: “Well, I don’t have any sympathy for them at all. I do, however, have something that might help them realise where they went wrong. The blog is obviously down for good, but I have backups. I have spent the last month or so organising them by category and It’s my intention to release it as an e-book for £1. I’m calling it “How Chris Bloke showed you how stupid and ignorant you are” and every last penny of profit the book makes will go to organisations in the north of England who help support people trying to get back to work. For people like you, however, I should probably have called it “Get off your soapboxes you patronising and sanctimonious pricks”.
Me: “And I think that’s probably as good a place as any to bring this interview to an end.”
Simon: “That’s the first thing you’ve said I actually agree with.”