Gina Miller wants to bring democracy back to Westminster
Gina Miller’s latest act of sabotage on the British government is, she admits with a grim laugh, a case of the last chance saloon.
It started when Miller watched conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May announce a surprise election. May has chosen to hold it at a time of soaring popularity for her party: According to pollsters, the vote on June 8 will decimate the opposition. If May’s government wins the predicted landslide number of seats, Miller fears the resulting “elected dictatorship and one-party state" will obliterate any meaningful debate on Britain’s departure from the European Union.
“Democracy only functions if we have different voices and a functioning opposition, and we don’t have that,” says Miller. “People have to use their voice and their conscience and stand up.”
So Miller—a high-flying fund manager, philanthropist, and political campaigner who rose to fame last year as a figurehead in the fight against Brexit—launched a counter attack. An hour after May declared the election, Miller had set up a crowdfunding campaign aimed at limiting the Conservative party’s victory. Titled “Best for Britain,” the funds raised were to finance a tactical voting drive that urged people to support opposition candidates in key tactical regions. When the campaign launched, its goal stood at a modest $90,000. Six weeks in, the campaign has raised more than $500,000 from 12,580 individual donations.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Brexit opened up wounds that maybe were always there in U.K. society, but were formerly unacceptable. People are crossing that line now.[/quote]
It has been a tumultuous 10 months since a referendum that saw the United Kingdom narrowly vote to end its 43-year relationship with the EU. Miller—who has described Brexit as the “most divisive issue of a generation”—believes the economic implications of a poorly conceived exit from Europe will be severe and long-lasting. Pointing to the number of foreign investors, banks, and businesses currently looking at relocating to other capital cities within the EU, she predicts a rocky future that could see employment levels drop and funding for schools and national health care slashed. “If [members of Parliament] were to exercise their principles and put what’s best for Britain above their own party allegiances, then they would have to debate concepts and principles and vote for us to remain,” she says.
But for May, the attitude has always been that Britain needs to “get the job done.” With tricky negotiations on trade deals and border controls to be hashed out over the next two years, May wants a sizable majority, so she won’t have to negotiate twice: first with the British parliament and then again with the EU. It was in that vein that she announced the election, citing Brexit-based division in Westminster as justification.
Yet without an effective opposition, Miller argues, parliament will become an echo chamber. “This idea that there’s division in Westminster and so calling the election is somehow going to bring unity and close down division—well, Westminster is supposed to be a chamber of debate and disagreement and questioning and accountability,” she says.
This isn’t the first time Miller has questioned the power-grabbing tactics of Britain’s political establishment. Last year, she launched a Supreme court case against British Prime Minister Theresa May—and won—forcing May to seek parliamentary approval before she could trigger Article 50, the legal clause which allows any member to quit the European Union. When the verdict was declared, Miller appeared, smiling and triumphant, in front of the High Court. She had declared war on May’s government and won, a wrench successfully chucked into the political machinery before Brexit operations clunked into gear again.
But that victory came at a cost. Behind the scenes, Miller was dealing with a deluge of racial and sexual abuse. As she matter-of-factly points out, as a well-educated, successful woman and native of Guyana, she was particularly vulnerable to hate speech. After years in the city as a subject of contempt for her transparency campaigning, she thought she was embarking on this next battle with open eyes. But nothing prepared her for the sheer viciousness, including death threats against her children.
“Something happened with Brexit,” sighs Miller as she reflects on the emboldened racism that has correlated with a spike in hate crimes across Britain. “It opened up wounds that maybe were always there in U.K. society, but were formerly unacceptable. People are crossing that line now.”
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]I get letters with beautiful stationery and first class stamps with the most poisonous words and threats. It’s not just on social media—this is (sic) people who are premeditatively threatening to kill my children.[/quote]
Earlier this month, one such tormentor—a tweed-clad aristocrat with a fondness for polo—appeared in court over alleged racist comments he posted on Facebook after Miller won the High Court challenge. In one post, Viscount Rhodri Philipps wrote, “Five thousand pounds for the first person to ‘accidentally’ run over this bloody troublesome first generation immigrant.” He went on to say, “If this is what we should expect from immigrants, send them back to their stinking jungles.”
“This myth that it’s only online trolls is not true,” Miller confirms. “I get letters with beautiful stationery and first class stamps with the most poisonous words and threats. It’s not just on social media—this is (sic) people who are premeditatively threatening to kill my children.”
What her tormentors did not anticipate—and what must make them all the more furious—is the tenacity which defines Miller. Currently, she juggles her tactical voting campaign with a full-time career running the investment fund she and her husband, Alan, set up. The two also founded the True and Fair Foundation, which encourages other wealthy individuals to give back to society in the spirit of what Miller calls “conscious capitalism.” Miller is not one to shy away from a tricky conversation—and so what started as a personal quest has evolved into a fight on behalf of all those who now feel vulnerable in the wake of Brexit.
“I have been passed a baton with this space that’s been created,” she says. “Do I back away from it and drop the baton, or do I embrace it? I’ve decided to embrace it—not because of the horrible letters, but because I also get thousands of emails and letters and calls from people who are frightened, afraid, feel they no longer exist, feel as though they’ve been kicked in the stomach. They feel like no one is speaking up for them, and so they are looking to me.”
She adds, “Some people have said to me, ‘But Gina, the Conservatives will win. What’s the point?’ The point is to let them know that in each constituency there are other people’s voices. Part of the population doesn’t disappear just because another part wins.”