Apropos yesterday’s dramatic and historically resonant intervention by Arlene Foster’s DUP – a coming together of two of the most potently charged issues in British politics – let’s remind ourselves of the immediate antecedents of this mess. First though, here’s a personal statement.
My view of Brexit is not simple. That’s because the issues aren’t. For one thing, despite having the better arguments in principle, Lexiteers (socialists for Leave) never rose to the challenge of showing how in practical terms Brexit could at this juncture, given the prevailing balance of class forces and xenophobic context of the ‘debate’, be other than bad news for British workers.
(We owe that xenophobic context in no small part to the fact that, due to the issue’s greater toxicity for the Tories, we’d barely heard a squeak since the seventies from Labour opponents of the EU.)
For another, though I voted Remain (with peg on nose, as I said at the time) my differences ever since have been with people who voted as I did. I could forgive the confusion of EU with internationalism: that’s par for the course when your worldview lacks class analysis. What I’m less able to forgive are the snobbery and contempt for those Leavers who, having gained little enough from the neoliberalism which is the lifeblood of the Brussels bankers and technocrats, were called out as racists and morons. That’s before we even get to the sheer illiberalism of so many self styled liberals when things don’t go their way. I don’t say they all have second homes in the Dordogne, or are exercised solely by soaring costs for weekends in Amsterdam: just that the outpourings of rage seem bent on making up through spleen and vitriol what they lack in accuracy of focus. (In these things, as in many others, the parallels between reactions to Brexit and to Clinton’s defeat are striking.)
Some things about Brexit are very simple though. One: the June 2016 referendum was called for the narrowest of partisan reasons. David Cameron thought to subdue the eurosceptic wing of the party he led. In this he was smugly confident of a Remain majority.
(Our rulers – most of whom wanted and, with a complacency to match Cameron’s, expected that Remain majority – misread the mood. Just as they had in the too-close-for-comfort vote in Scotland, 2014. Just as they would in respect of Corbyn, June 2017. And just as their transatlantic counterparts did in the run up to November 2016. These things happened, or nearly happened, in defiance of the messages dominating the airwaves. Small wonder there’s such panic – over ‘fake news’ – on the part of mainstream media owners who provide the stuff in daily spades.)
Two, the ‘public debate’ was on both sides absurdly simplistic, and on both sides marked by deception. The simplistic components – their chickens coming home to roost as we begin to digest the immediate implications of Brexit – derive from reducing a multi-faceted issue to a simple boolean, yes or no, when all the dirt dishing within and without the Tory ranks is now about what ‘no’ really means. For their part, the deceptions came from zealots who presumably saw the odd stretcher as a price worth paying for the Greater Good.
Three, a truth was reaffirmed with admirable clarity in yesterday’s handcuffing, by Foster & Co, of a prime minister clinging gracelessly to office.* That truth being that, once again and with far reaching consequences, the narrowest of partisan agendas is driving Britain’s relations with the European Union.
* It would be foolish to attribute that ‘graceless clinging to office’ to personal ambition on the part of Theresa May. Right now I doubt there’s anyone on the planet who envies her. No, driving this shoring up of the indefensible is the spectre of one Jeremy Corbyn. Had business-as-usual politics not been so rudely interrupted by the 2008 crash and had the Tories, with Liberal and rightwing Labour collusion, not taken it as a green light for ‘austerity’, Britain’s real rulers would by now have forced another general election. One that would have returned a Labour Party led by an Yvette Cooper/Owen Smith style technocrat. In this respect those who, prior to June 2017, saw Corbyn as ‘unelectable’ spoke truer than they knew.
But it’s precisely because Corbyn showed himself, to the horror of the cabals who really govern Britain, more electable than Labour’s Coopers and Smiths that May and crew are in their current fix. For the time being Britain’s ruling class can only watch in dismay as this tragi-farce plays out. As for the rest of us, well, you didn’t really think Britain a democracy, now did you?