The funny thing about Britain’s self-proclaimed “educated class” is that it is often far more delusional than the unwashed masses that it so readily disparages. Nowhere is this truer than in the current fiasco around Britain’s no-deal Brexit on 31 October; a prospect that has become far more likely now that Johnson has taken up residence in 10 Downing Street.
Assuming that the EU27 do not U-turn and compromise on the Single Market, only the UK parliament stands in the way of the very worst trading terms possible (no country on the planet voluntarily trades on WTO terms). The problem is that the UK parliament is not up to the task. And sadly, this is because the hidden agenda of the Remain camp in Parliament is the same one that cost it the referendum in 2016… In a word, neoliberalism.
With very few exceptions, the run up to the referendum was marked by a barrage of pro-Remain commentary backed by consistent polling showing that Britain would vote to remain in the EU with at least a ten point margin. Only a handful of Cassandras – myself included – drew attention to the apparent fragility of the Remain support. Too many Remainers looked likely to stay at home; whereas the Leave vote was guaranteed to turn out. Worse still, the “don’t knows” were largely conflicted between not voting or voting to leave the EU.
The deeper division, however, ran along class lines. The affluent class based in London and the Southeast and around the campuses of the top-tier universities chose not to campaign to remain in the EU; instead opting to hurl abuse at anyone who suggested that there might be some merit to leaving. Unsurprisingly the result of being called racists and fascists did not cause Leave voters to change their minds; it merely made it all the harder to win them back.
Largely unseen by the “educated class,” four decades of neoliberal economic policy had opened up an inequality gulf that had left vast swathes of the UK with no hope under the prevailing system. The dwindling band of ordinary people who bothered to vote in general elections faced a choice between a blue austerity and a pale blue austerity which could only worsen their living conditions still further. On the eve of the 2015 general election, Labour’s shadow Work and Pensions minister, Rachel Reeves told the millions of families suffering in-work poverty that “Labour is not the party for you.” And so, more and more voters turned to UKIP as the only party that appeared to offer the prospect of change.
On the eve of the referendum, there was still a chance of heading off the disaster that was looming increasingly loud. As I warned a fortnight before the vote:
“The negative project fear campaigning in this referendum appears to be further compounded by a growing people’s revolt against the established order that has largely manifested in the form of right-wing populism in Europe, the UK and the USA. It is no accident that people have drawn comparisons between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, or between the US Tea Party and UKIP. These being the (relatively) moderate face of the altogether uglier right-wing nationalist movements that are gaining traction throughout Europe. In the UK, this was forewarned in 2015 in the uneven distribution of the 4 million UKIP voters; a large proportion of whom were traditional Labour voters in Labour’s urban and former industrial heartlands in England and Wales (in Scotland, where a social democratic SNP offered an alternative direction, UKIP got nowhere even as Labour was annihilated).
“At the core of this – largely white working class – eruption of anti-establishment sentiment are, no doubt, a hard core of consciously racist hard core fascists. But this no more explains the rise of right wing populism than the personality of leaders like Trump, Johnson, Farage, Le Pen or Hofer – people reminiscent of the self-absorbed loud mouth down the pub who trots out simplistic pseudo solutions to complex socio-economic problems. Instead, we need to look at political systems designed precisely to disenfranchise the majority of ordinary people; together with a debt-based economic system that has served to enrich a minority while impoverishing the majority…
“The core problem for the Remain side is that they are heavily invested in a project fear that everybody thought would triumph because it appeared to work at general elections; in the LibDem’s catastrophic AV referendum; and in the Scottish near miss. But project fear only works if it can offer at least some semblance of a positive alternative and, crucially, if the person conveying the message has the respect of the voters. The leading figures of the Remain campaign have neither. As a result, Cameron looks set to lead us to disaster.”
The solution I offered was simple enough:
“In practice, there is only one person who can guarantee that Britain will stay within the EU at this stage. But he is the one person nobody in the establishment dare unleash. I speak, of course, of Jeremy Corbyn; the only political leader in the UK to enjoy a mass supporter base large enough to guarantee a vote to remain. The Blairites – still less the Dark Lord himself – will deliver nothing less than a vote to leave. The support of the leaders of an increasingly marginalised trade union movement will not do the trick. Nor will the ineffectual pleas of charities and NGOs that benefit directly from EU funding rally support for Remain. Only the mobilisation of that mass of people that swept Corbyn into the Labour leadership can succeed where the establishment figures have failed.
“However, neither the Tories, the Blairites nor the wider establishment wants Corbyn anywhere near this campaign for one very simple reason – neither side wants Corbyn to emerge as the man who saved Britain. Such an outcome would leave Corbyn looking decidedly prime ministerial. Nevertheless, the choice seems clear – project fear can carry on shouting warnings of doom with growing urgency at an electorate that appears to be more inclined to shout “f**k off” in reply; or they can encourage Corbyn to play the Gordon Brown role and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The question is whether the posh boys, the Blairites and the wider corporate elite are prepared to risk handing the keys to 10 Downing Street to Corbyn in order to keep Britain in the EU.”
Karl Marx once wrote that history is often repeated, “First time tragedy second time farce.” Farce it is today when we discover that the self-proclaimed Remain party is prepared to eschew the single opportunity before it to prevent the 2016 referendum result from being put into practice. As the BBC reports:
“Jeremy Corbyn risks jeopardising a vote of no confidence in the government by insisting he becomes caretaker PM, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has said.
“If he wins a no-confidence vote, the Labour leader plans to form an emergency government and then delay Brexit to avoid a no-deal scenario.
“But in a new letter, Ms Swinson said Mr Corbyn’s insistence on being interim leader meant there was a danger not enough MPs would support the vote.”
This is nothing short of delusional thinking when one considers just how difficult it would be to reverse the 2016 result. Neither Labour nor the Tories have a mandate to do so. To reverse the result without going back to the electorate risks the kind of schism that last opened up in the 1640s; with the legitimacy of parliament undermined. As former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood explained recently:
“A second EU referendum will not solve the problem of divisive politics… I don’t think that we should just embark upon these questions lightly because people will rightly ask what is the point of voting again in any future referendum or indeed election.
“So, there is a real concern about democracy but also there’s a concern about democracy if we do crash out of the European Union and it’s not just a concern for democracy, it’s also a concern for the economy, for the future for young people, for a whole raft of economic issues.”
There simply must be a general election prior to any second referendum. Before there can be a general election, however, there simply must be a successful vote of no confidence in the Johnson government. Unfortunately, as Johnson’s advisor, Dominic Cummings, has made clear, in the event of a no confidence vote, Johnson would prorogue parliament immediately; calling a general election in early November – by which time the UK would have crashed out of the EU without a deal. The only means of preventing this is for the opposition parties to use the fourteen days provided by the Parliament Act to form a caretaker government without the need to hold an election.
To be clear, Corbyn is offering exactly what the pro-Remain camp was demanding just six months ago. As Lewis Goodall at Sky News explains:
“Jeremy Corbyn has quietly committed the Labour Party to everything Remainers wanted and were calling for only a few months ago: a government which would extend Article 50, then go to the country pledging a referendum on Britain’s exit deal, with Remain on the ballot paper.
“Mr Corbyn had no end of political slurry deposited on his head for refusing to make such a commitment hitherto. You might think that those same people who were pouring it would be jubilant. Yet their response was curiously muted.”
For the leader of a minor party, whose MPs could fit into a single London Taxi, to find fault with the Leader of the Opposition (who, by the way, is the only person who can table an official vote of no confidence in the government) reveals the same insanity that resulted in Brexit in the first place. As Goodall points out:
“The process of Brexit radicalisation which has yielded such a dogmatic zealotry on the Brexit side, which has seen some Brexiteers go from acceptance of the single market right through to no deal in barely more than a breath, has transformed the Remainers as well.
“Now, nothing, not even a serious path to Remain, is good enough. It sees people like Jo Swinson brand Mr Corbyn a Brexiteer even in a week he has offered the best chance of averting it. It has blinded them to political possibility and entrenches them in the redoubts of their own self-righteousness, a series of gilded cages which will yield nothing but defeat…
“Remainers are fond of pointing out the democratic mandate for no deal is limited. About that they are correct, but the insulation of the Remainer psyche now precludes them from the self-analysis to internalise the equally self-evident fact that the mandate for a second referendum is equally non-existent.”
From a neoliberal standpoint, though, choosing Corbyn is as bad as a no-deal Brexit. Both, like the election of Trump in the USA, would signal the end of the political and economic consensus introduced by Thatcher and Reagan and consolidated by Clinton and Blair. The reality, though, is that the neoliberal consensus was holed below the water line in 2008. The majority of the population simply isn’t buying it any more. As political economist Mark Blyth (who counts himself as part of the educated class) explains:
“What they need is somebody to explain to them why it is that inequality has got so out of whack and our politics is run by the very people who are sitting at the top of the pile pulling the strings of the politicians. They’re not stupid. We think they’re reading ‘fake news’. They’re not. They’re just looking for an alternative account, because they don’t believe a word that comes out of our mouths anymore.”
It is a sad indictment of our education system that the self-professed educated class is so deluded that it clings to a system that is already fading in the rear view mirror even as its worst fears are about to be realised in the shape of a no-deal Brexit. Rather than grasp the one chance of preventing that outcome with both hands, they choose to stand aside because they cannot bring themselves even temporarily to support the one post-neoliberal populist that might just rescue the UK from an economic calamity. As I wrote before the 2016 referendum, “The Remain campaign must choose Corbyn or choose to leave.” Then as now, it seems, leaving the EU – this time without a deal – is the Remain camp’s preferred outcome.
As you made it to the end…
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