Brexiteers, Bremainians and Blairites
by Alan Bolwell
(Image by Catrin Austin)
As tensions run unusual high in the political climate all sides are scrambling to prepare for a general election that could come as early as 13th October. With the markets in shock, the leaders of both main parties temporarily out of action, Scotland and Ireland looking to hold independence referendums, and until recently laughable xenophobes jostling for position, the possibility of a Little England run by a team of quasi-fascist Blairites is upon us. Store tinned goods and bottled water.
Following the 52-48% vote to Leave the European Union, David Cameron has resigned. He had already declared intentions to resign this year and after identifying himself as a front runner in the Remain campaign the result presented a good opportunity to withdraw. Cameron’s exit leaves open a new government cabinet that will likely feature some of the more prominent Brexiteers, including Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Boris Johnson, Theresa May, Ian Duncan Smith, and my tip for next Prime Minister, Stephan Crab. Whoever takes the top job has to take responsibility for taking the UK out of the EU, so it has become a bit of a poisoned chalice, whoever takes the top job has to plunge the country into economic and social instability, at least for a while, as their first act. This is David Cameron’s smirking revenge.
— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) June 27, 2016
Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd is rumoured to be running for leadership but may regret her comments about Boris Johnson as part of her Remain stance, she said of him, “Boris is the life and soul of the party. But he isn’t the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening!” In terms of power plays within the Conservative Party, she picked the wrong team.
There was the inevitable attempt from within the Labour Party to blame Jeremy Corbyn for the voting choices of 10M people. Within a day of the result being declared a vote of no-confidence was called by two MPs, Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey, supported in the media with a roll-call of the usual Blairites that are wheeled out to do their best to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, the party, and themselves whenever the opportunity presents itself. Hilary Benn tried to turn the Shadow Cabinet against Corbyn and was summarily fired, leading to a group of resignation threats from the Shadow Cabinet, so far 28 MPs have been identified as part of a coup. The no-confidence motion was passed and there will be another Labour Party leadership election. It has been suggested that this coup has been deliberately orchestrated by The Fabien Society to coincide with the release of the Chilcot report which is due to be released in mid July, which for many is a travesty of justice, because Jeremy Corbyn is expected to be one of the strongest voices in holding Tony Blair to account for the Iraq War, for others this was cynically predictable.
Jeremy Corbyn is still extremely popular among the membership and unions. Dianne Abbot, a long standing Corbyn ally, welcomed a leadership election because it would prove his popularity, and called out those involved in the coup for putting their own agenda before the needs of the membership and the country. In response to the coup Corbyn gave a statement calling for unity and appointed the most diverse Shadow Cabinet ever, many with ‘real life’ experience working in their respective departments.
The right wing of the Labour Party have missed out on the nuance in these referendum results, responding to it by blaming Jeremy Corbyn for not correctly instructing Labour voters how to vote. Their assertion assumes that voters somehow got it wrong, that their experience is invalid, and that it is up to leaders to correctly instruct them. Treating the electorate as if they should be told how to vote is precisely the political elitism that this result is a rebellion against.
Labour need to respect the result of the referendum and the mandate that their membership gives Jeremy Corbyn. To do otherwise is to insult the public. If Labour could learn anything from this referendum it is that respect and empowerment go a long way with the electorate, even more important, it would seem, than the economy. That’s why the Corbyn and Leave campaigns did so well. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to Labour leader and the Leave campaign made people feel as if ‘we were taking back control of our country/party’. Leave related to and empowered people.
There were lots of data to suggest that reasons to vote were influenced by age, education, location, social identity rather than economic class, and racism. The typical Leave voter being older, in rural or post-industrial settings, with less education, from a socially conservative background, with fewer opportunities and a propensity to intolerance of other ethnicity and cultures.
There was pretty clear evidence that older voters voted to Leave and younger voters voted to Remain proportionally. The younger generation are pretty frustrated by this, it raises issues of inter-generational justice, younger people tend to vote in smaller numbers, but a highly motivated minority of politically educated young people will be aware that the older generation grew up with: more jobs, more housing, free university education, and a fully funded NHS. In maturity this generation voted for overwhelmingly for policies to cut all of these things to protect their gold plated pensions.
— ➖A.Brooks➖ (@EssexPR) June 23, 2016
The Remain campaign treated anybody who had concerns about the free movement of people like racist idiots who needed to be told what was best for them. In response to this Leave voters defied the perceived establishment intelligentsia elite. The Remain rhetoric was a rebellion, actively garnering an anti-intellectualism vote, in spite of and perhaps because of UKIP supporters’ stereotype of being unintelligent. If this was a motivating factor for you then the referendum was a collective IQ test, one that we failed, perhaps on purpose, but still failed.
There were clear geographical trends. Those deprived areas in receipt of the most funding from the EU voted most strongly to leave, e.g. Cornwall and Wales – Hastings is a prime example, receiving £9M in funding from the EU, but voting to leave by a margin of 55-45%. The geographical mapping of the Leave vote coincided almost perfectly with the socially conservative vote of deprived post-industrial areas of the 70’s with low ethnic diversity – it is a rejection of a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural vision of England.
Part of this election result was about taking back our country. It was about giving the establishment a good kicking. In this sense, it was about pride and about control. That word more than any other: control. It works both on a collective political level of sovereignty, in terms of defying Brussels, and on the individual psychological anti-political level of defying the smug British political elite, who overwhelmingly backed Remain. People want to feel in control. People want to do something, anything, in a world devoid of political autonomy. The actual consequences of a Brexit were so obscured that for many it was a choice of: Remain, do nothing, stick to the status quo, because they want you to; or, Leave, do something, jump into the dark, because you can.
There is sadly a worrying rise in English nationalism. Whereas this is not inherently dangerous the identity as English rather than British is a very confused identity with a very strong idea about ‘them’, and a very muddled idea about ‘us’.
There were many different reasons for voting Leave, each section of the Leave debate has taken the result as a 52% endorsement of their particular angle. Including the racist vote. Which means the extreme groups such as Britain First and the National Front falsely believe that the majority of the country is behind them. Moderates failed to challenge or create an effective counter-narrative alleviating concerns about competition for work from the free movement of European citizens and in that void, racist media, the Leave campaign and the same powerful elites, that they were pretending to oppose, insidiously fueled the rise of fascism. Deflating economies historically give rise to fascism and this debate has tragically been marred by fascist terrorism. This is the enduring shame of the Leave campaign. The murder of Jo Cox and a spike in racist/xenophobic attacks and abuse since the referendum campaign raise issues that must be met head on. Whether in or out of Europe, racism and fascism should never be tolerated. Whenever encountered in Britain we must act quickly to stamp it out. Mutual respect for each other is our only way forward.
In response to the referendum result many liberals and leftists are trying to consolidate a broad coalition, locally and nationally, between, The Labour Party, SNP, Green Party, Liberal Democrats, unions, activists, and the general public, in order to: protect workers’ rights, environmental safeguards, living standards, education and the NHS. The fear being that Conservatives will use this as an opportunity to rewrite British law. Now that we have ‘taken back our country’ a battle has begun to determine the nature of it. If this movement is to be successful it needs to use the same rebellious terms that were successful in the referendum: Creating a narrative of pride, of control and self-determination.
What is needed now is to learn from this rejection of the old divides of left and right and the modern PR mold of a politician with more spin than bottle. We need to teach people about the proud history of British protest. We need to run events with Union Jack bunting, free tea and cake sales where we invite people from all backgrounds to talks about the peasants revolt, the Levellers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the suffragettes, the abolition movement, and gay pride. We must show that British socialists are proud of British institutions and through nationalisation we want to people to take back control of our water companies, our Royal Mail, British Rail, and the NHS.
What we need is a leader that relates to both progressives and social conservatives, someone who is a bit older, someone who fights for the disenfranchised rather than blaming immigrants, someone who was not too much of a zealot about the divisive EU referendum, someone who speaks in a way that is honest, simple and kind.
The time has come to deselect Labour MPs that betray their membership. The time has come to take back our Corbyn.
I will update this article as various power struggles play themselves out…