Brexit: three things we shouldn’t forget

5 Dec

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?




4 Replies to “Brexit: three things we shouldn’t forget

  1. The nub of this question is ‘sovereignty.’ Socialists and reformers in general realise that it is the key to democratic change; tories and their allies welcome the political relief that they get when they can tell us that issues, such as renationalisation, cannot be discussed because one set of international rules or another protects capitalists from democratic control.
    I have always regarded the EU as an attempt to recreate the Hapsburg empire- its parliament has no powers and it is run by bureaucrats with a deep distrust of the common people.
    My hope is that when the time comes, and it is going to come sooner rather than later, Corbyn and his handful of parliamentary allies make the case, which is very simple, that if the British people really want to govern themselves and shape the future they will have to insist on rewinding the various treaties imposed on the EU-almost invariably in defiance of public opinion- since Britain joined the Common Market.
    I can think of few causes which would be more genuinely popular in Europe than that of thorough going democratic reform of the EU and of a rejection of rentier imposed and inspired neo-liberal austerity policies. The elites in Brussels , faced with a serious threat of pan European Corbynism, would probably be happy to let Britain leave at no charge.

  2. Thanks bevin. I too see “the EU as [having a parliament with] no powers and run by bureaucrats with a deep distrust of the common people”. If any one thing exemplifies this truth it has to be the attempt to sneak in TTIP.

    And I too see a burning need to build a movement for the democratic reforms you speak of, and rejection of those rentier capital and neoliberal interests. If any one thing exemplifies that truth it has to be Greece 2015.

  3. I see another truth here that is being dodged. Lies from both Leave and Remain camps framed the arguments for stay or go and as long as we have right wing elements of the Blair kind within the Labour Party, democracy will be but an illusion. With Diane Abbott now saying she would call for another referendum and people still divided by the issues, either because they don’t understand them or really are being swayed by the BNP and such undesirables, the original referendum, deeply flawed as it was, is being treated as a best of three match. Corbyn will not listen to advice regarding curbing the influx of immigrants and until he does and a conversation begins in earnest, the Brexiteers(many of whom are not necessarily bigots)will continue to be mistrusting of him and his ideology. The right wing neoliberals want lots of cheap labour and don’t care if that workforce is treated as being 2nd class citizens, the left think all and sundry should be welcomed with open arms. There has to be a middle ground which is acceptable to the many and they must be the greater majority by some margin. Internationalism is not about countries without borders, it’s about how those borders are defined If people realize that without our presence within the EU we cannot change the nature of those borders or how the EU can be directed towards open border policy without undue compromise but a universal approach, nothing will change no matter how many referendums we have. People cannot seem to communicate on the subject of immigration without the debate descending into a rabid discourse on what constitutes bigotry and what doesn’t. It’s the single most decisive factor in the EU debate and no-one wants to be labelled a bigot or a loony lefty, dependent on what they advocate, so they avoid it like the plague or wade in with unabashed superior views. Can’t get it right for doing wrong.

  4. Thanks Susan. Immigration’s a hot issue, inseparable till recently from race. I was amused to hear, in a pub three years ago, a bloke sounding off about ‘these people coming over here and taking our jobs and houses’ in a way I’d not heard since Alf Garnett. When I turned to look I could barely keep from laughing. He was black as the ace of spades. Meanwhile an Asian Labour councillor in my city says half his time is spent placating people from Pakistani Kashmir, irate about the influx of Kosovans!

    The middle classes, a category that includes me, produce too many ‘liberals’ who, from leafy suburbs unaffected by the concerns of working class folk – be they black, brown or white – condemn the ‘racism’ and ‘xenophobia’ of those who voted Leave. When and only when we too compete for low paid and zero hour jobs, when and only when we pay spiralling rents for a roof over our heads, then and only then can we speak with some authority about such things …

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