Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood took to social media over the weekend to criticise the UK Labour Party stance on Brexit:
“Time and time again, Labour fail to stand up to the Tories and oppose their extreme version of Brexit.
“In Wales, the Labour Welsh government signed up to a white paper with Plaid Cymru outlining this country’s best interests for the Brexit negotiations. It included continued participation in the single market.
“Why does Labour at UK level appear to be doing everything possible to work against that white paper? Why are they refusing to join in with building a coalition of different forces that can work towards the white paper’s proposals and stop an extreme Tory Brexit?”
This is of course, run of the mill political point scoring aimed at winning disgruntled Labour voters over to the nationalist cause. But Ms Wood knows (or ought to know) full well why the UK Labour Party is ducking questions about its preferred Brexit settlement. Put simply, in order to form a government in the UK parliament, Labour must win back its traditional working class support in those constituencies that delivered the biggest margins in favour of leaving the EU. However, the activists that Labour needs to get out on the doorsteps to win these constituencies tend to be fervently pro-EU. To come out in support of either position is to lose the supporters of the other, and thus to cede power to the Tories; who will inevitably deliver the worst Brexit settlement of all. Labour’s only hope is to fudge their Brexit policy until the next election is won.
Not that Ms Wood is really interested in answers to rhetorical questions. For, like many resentful remainers, she promotes the fantasy that leave voters in some of the most deprived regions of the UK have been chastened by the referendum result and the ensuing hard-right version of Brexit being pursued by Theresa May’s Tories. They were, so the myth goes, misled by the lies of a wholly dishonest Leave Campaign into voting against their own best interests. Having seen the outcome, we are told; they are now suffering “buyer’s remorse” and desperately seek a second referendum – or at the very least a “soft Brexit” – to return the UK to some much needed sanity. If Labour refuse to support such a move, the argument goes, then it is for the Welsh (and Scottish) nationalists (and the electorally toxic LibDems) to step up to the plate.
It falls to Larry Elliott, Economics Editor at the pro-Remain Guardian to disabuse the promoters of this narrative:
“There was, though, a snobbish and nasty subtext to the buyer’s remorse theory, which was that the plebs were too dumb to know what they were voting for.
“Yet it was always a long shot that a second referendum would come about by these means and so it has proved. Eighteen months on and there has been little sign of buyer’s remorse.”
According to Elliott, for the buyer’s remorse strategy to have worked, Britain would have had to be plunged into a 2009-style recession in which the economy shrunk by four percent or more. The brief stock market fall immediately after the referendum was simply insufficient to persuade leave voters to change their minds. Moreover, Elliott makes a more cutting criticism of those remainers who believe that bad economic predictions – which, at least for now, have failed to materialise – were ever sufficient to persuade leave voters to change their minds:
“…proponents have spent so much time banging on about how terrible Brexit will be that they have neglected to come up with any solutions for tackling the reasons people voted for Brexit in the first place: low wages, job insecurity, the feeling that they were not being listened to. Remainers have latched on to any piece of negative economic news – no matter how trivial – in the hope that this will lead to change of heart among leave voters. But they have struggled to sketch out a plan for dealing with Britain’s structural economic problems, which were there before 23 June 2016 and will still be there whether or not the referendum result is overturned.”
Of course, leave campaigners lied through their teeth when they told the British people that these problems were due to UK membership of the EU. Promises of extra funds for the NHS and new jobs for British workers once immigration was curbed were mendacious; particularly since they relied on a Tory government that has a long track record of hatred toward both the NHS and jobs.
Nevertheless, the unacknowledged (by remainers) reality is that the remain campaign was so inept that it failed even to acknowledge the existence of the problems; still less explain how continued EU membership was going to solve them. As I pointed out in the weeks prior to the referendum:
“Telling unemployed, underemployed and impoverished people that the economy is going to suffer if we leave the EU simply will not do the trick. If you believe you are already at the bottom of the heap, you might even take a perverse pleasure at the thought that it is those who called you “chav” or “scrounger” who are about to get to taste some of the fare they have been serving to you and your family for decades.”
Like working class Trump voters in the USA, Britain’s impoverished leave voters were not voting against their own best interests. Rather, they were taking advantage of one of the very few occasions where their votes might just result in change. Is Trump going to make America great again?” I very much doubt it. Will Brexit deliver £350m per week to the NHS? Of course not. But the alternative that was presented was just more of the same grinding poverty that Britain’s deindustrialised regions have been living with since Thatcher’s recession in the early 1980s.
The positive side of the leave vote – insofar as there is one – is that it has put the British elite and their Westminster Village apologists on notice. In June 2016 the British electorate stopped listening to the elite. They did it again in 2017 when they overturned a Tory poll lead of 20 percent and very nearly elected a self-confessed socialist. This is the message that affluent metropolitan liberals ignore at their peril. Because once people demand change, they are – clearly – unconcerned about who promises to deliver it. If the political centre cannot deliver, people will go to the populist fringes.
And if the populists won’t (or can’t) deliver?
Then we may yet find ourselves looking back fondly at political figures like Corbyn, Sanders, Trump and Farage as populists who at least paid lip-service to freedom and democracy. Because too much more of the same failed neoliberal economics is likely to propel us into the arms of real extremists replete with armbands and jackboots.
As you made it to the end…
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