On the second anniversary of the UK’s greatest day of shame, I shall be doing something I haven’t done for decades – taking part in a political march to Parliament.
That I am joining the “March for a People’s Vote” is a far from perfect representation of my views on Brexit. For one thing, if the 2016 referendum proves anything it is that binary choice referenda are amongst the worst ways of taking major, existential policy decisions. Compounding the obscenity of June 23rd 2016 with another opportunity for non-dom neo-liberal elites, Putin/Trump, and evil liars like our current Brexiteer Cabinet Ministers to promote xenophobic bile will do nothing to heal the wounds and build a new consensus in the UK.
However, alongside my writing, my discourse with those to whom I have spoken in the run-up to the referendum and since that dark day, the march represents one of those ‘looking my children and grandchildren in the eye’ moments. It is symbolic, gesture politics. But, in a country where the politics of representative democracy is so fatally deficient, perhaps symbolic gestures are the only honourable strategies we have left.
This blog has always championed the primacy of the ‘narrative’ over absolutes. The Brexit fiasco will forever be the textbook example of how a toxic narrative championed by ‘the few’ profoundly evil people in positions of power will deliver acutely malignant results on ‘the many’ less empowered.
‘The will of the people’, if it exists at all outside a populist veneer justifying extreme authoritarianism, was never captured solely and accurately in the 2016 EU referendum. 17.4m people expressed a preference to leave the EU; 48.2m did not. 17.4m people’s preference at a moment in time in 2016 cannot remove rights and opportunities from approaching 70m indefinitely into the future. Even in the district in the UK with the highest Leave majority (Boston with 76%/24% on a 77% turnout), only 23100 people voted for Brexit; 44,460 did not. This is regardless of the now known pervasive lies and illegality of the Leave campaign and the foreign (non-dom and Russian) interference in it.
There is certainly a narrative that could have been articulated in the aftermath of the referendum – by either Cameron or his successor – that argued “the referendum has been indecisive; the country is deeply divided over the issue; we must seek to build a consensus in the whole country and with our European partners as to what we should do next. We will put the results of that exercise to the country within the next 12- 18 months at a proper test of peoples’ preferences in a general election.”
One cannot deny this narrative is messy and complex. But in the real world, politics IS messy and complex – that’s one of the potential strengths of representative democracy. More importantly, though, one cannot deny that such a narrative is immeasurably more honest than a vacuous ‘Brexit means Brexit’ in absolute thrall to the marginal victory of Putin, BoJo, and Dacre’s disinformation.
The political choice of the toxic Brexit narrative has, in the complex, messy real world, produced a failed country, led by a chronically ineffective, incoherent government.
The UK has never been more disunited – with Gibraltar and Northern Ireland compelled to severely change its relationship to the UK; Scotland most likely to follow suit or be savagely repressed; and London and our great cities never more ill at ease with their Little Englander hinterlands.
As for the Government, there is pretty much NOTHING positive one can say about it. The Brexiteers hold the PM to ransom; loathe the Chancellor and their Remainer colleagues; and blame everyone but themselves for their almost total lack of progress in their respective ministries. The PM dodges all responsibility for the racist ‘Hostile Environment’ and Windrush scandal. She lies to her own MPs to get votes through Parliament that will actually suppress debate and ‘meaningful’ votes on the future of UK Sovereignty. She bungs moolah to the anachronistic DUP to prop up her premiership. She, and the majority of her Cabinet know for a fact that the Brexit trauma will make the UK and a majority of its citizens worse off (although ‘the few’ may benefit). She must be leading the first Government ever to have worsening the welfare of the country and its citizens as their explicit primary purpose.
You genuinely ‘couldn’t make it up’!
If that dark fantasy isn’t enough, we have the ‘Leader of the (Corbynista faction of the) Opposition’.
Arthur Conan-Doyle, son of Irish Catholics, used his archetypal English creation, Sherlock Holmes, to mouth a powerful quote for solving the most intractable mysteries, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
There is clearly a large majority in the country, in Parliament, and in the Labour Party for remaining in the EU – albeit in a reforming relationship. A genuine, wise “Leader of the (whole) Opposition” could defeat this government, assemble a broad, reforming coalition, and mitigate the consequences of Brexit on the most vulnerable (and the majority of Labour-leaning) communities.
Corbyn has proved it is ‘impossible’ he sincerely believes in effecting the inclusive, reforming, progressive policies within his grasp that particularly benefit the more disadvantaged communities of the UK. As improbable as it might seem, the only explanation that remains is that he is a neo-lib non-dom ‘sleeper’ whose covert purpose is sustaining the Brexit coalition. Indeed, Corbyn’s role as their poodle/wingman is probably the only thing on which May and Bojo agree.
I have always tried to conclude these angry invectives with some positive prescriptions for the way ahead. I can still do little better than my six point November 2016 blog ‘The plot against Europe Part Three – The Fightback’.
This included the ‘inclusive mass movement’ – hence sustaining and building on the People’s March.
‘Progressive political leadership’ and ‘enhanced fundamental devolution’ are coupled, given the chronic and increasing failure of the UK and its Government. Northern Ireland and Scotland will have new settlements (or independence). The elected Mayors of both parties – particularly Khan, Burnham, Street, maybe Jarvis – are noteworthy because they are qualitatively so superior to the current rabble of Cabinet Ministers. Give them and other effective local leadership teams the power to effect change.
‘Legal recourse’ is an increasingly live issue both tactically for the illegal Leave campaigns and their hate crime inciter political mouthpieces, but also more strategically for the attempts to abrogate parliamentary sovereignty, devolved constitutional settlements, and remove citizen rights.
‘Consumer power’ is a dog that has not yet barked but might still potentially have a role to play in a digital democracy. And ‘EU proactivism’ is similarly still struggling to find its place, although Macron provides a fulcrum for a potential coalition of reforming assertive leadership that embraces and nourishes the UK Remainer majority.
I suppose there is one ingredient I would add to that 2016 prescription.
This blog has argued, for at least three years, that representative democracy has had its day. What it has been less explicit on is that this needs to be coupled with the end of the Nation State.
The ease with which authoritarian leaders and their financial backers can capture nation states by manipulating current forms of representative democracy is exemplified by the failure of the UK. But it also manifests itself in Trump’s US, the intolerant populist governments of Eastern Europe and now Italy, the failures of Rajoy’s Spain and Puigdemont’s Catalonia to build new consensuses rather than ‘winner take all’ conflicts, and beyond. This should be discussed further in future blogs – but any thoughts, ideas, references/signposts and indeed feedback that readers have will be welcome.
So, I march with pride against the Daily Mail’s Will of the People, as one of their ‘enemies’. I shall show those who continue to prosecute Brexit knowing how harmful it is to ‘the many’ the (lack of) respect they deserve, though I have some sympathy for some of those taken in by them. Whilst it is difficult to retain much ‘glass half full’ optimism, I find some comfort in another Conan Doyle quote.
“I should dearly love that the world should be ever so little better for my presence. Even on this small stage we have our two sides, and something might be done by throwing all one’s weight on the scale of breadth, tolerance, charity, temperance, peace, and kindliness to man and beast. We can’t all strike very big blows, but even the little ones may count for something.”