On the BBC News on 4 June, a bearded British man, publicly defending Donald Trump, sported a baseball cap bearing the inscription: “MAKE AMERICAN GREAT AGAIN”. A few weeks earlier, you can see two further British subjects sporting the self-same sartorial delight in this video report on the Brexit Party. Maybe “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” should have been emblazoned on the famous Brexiter battle bus…?
This last week, we’ve witnessed a preposterous, ornate ‘state visit’ from Donald Trump, whereby British politicians and media have fallen over themselves to indulge him; there is, of course, no contradiction at all in their calls for greater “sovereignty” outside the EU and their offering up of the NHS and other areas as part of a cap-in-hand trade deal with the USA…!
We’ve seen European Election results where Farage’s Brexit Party gained 2% more of the vote than UKIP in 2014: hardly a ringing endorsement of a “No Deal” Brexit. 5,248,533 Brexit Party voters signalled their strong commitment to an illusory patriotic dream, perhaps not realizing that many of their candidates are tax avoiding pirate capitalists. Sadly, my own region, the North East of England, was the most susceptible to Brexit Party’s empty, manifesto-less, empty populism: who, instead of great candidates like the Greens’ Rachel Featherstone, elected a silver goateed Thatcherite Scot who lives in France as a North East MEP:
Some positives? Well, the now unequivocally far-right UKIP flopped, with Stephen Yaxley-Lennon humiliated. Moreover, the combined Lab-Green-LD-CUK-SNP-PC-SDLP share of the vote rose to 54.3% from 42.1% in 2014. The combined Tory-BP-UKIP vote was 42.5% down from 50.8% UKIP, Con and BNP got in 2014. The right is not winning as much as it was in 2009 and 2014; even, 2004, remember, which saw the absurd, vanity-stoked rise of Robert Kilroy-Silk MEP! There is a long way to go to defeat these people and their ideas, but, tentatively, the tide is turning as facile, unachievable ideas meet reality. Yet, on the Brexit issue, you sense not enough has changed: a re-run of the referendum would simply be 52-48 the other way. Sadly, bleakly, we may have to suffer the realities of an ever more unleashed pirate capitalism before the largely inattentive part of the public realises it has been sold not just a pup, but a rottweiler.
Do we care more about blue passports or protecting the ideals of the NHS? If the anti-Brexit petition got 6 million signatures, this should be getting even more: as we are now getting to know the shape of an actual No Deal Brexit. It will be a Britain that has literally amputated its own heart and brain if we allow the NHS to be “put on the table” with US profit to be put above UK people’s well-being. Brexiters only plan to make Trump’s America great again, remember?
Novelist and essayist Jonathan Coe has written persuasively of the strange movement from Olympics Britain of 2012 to the Brexit vote of 2016, not neglecting to argue that austerity was the harsh reality beyond the optimism expressed in Danny Boyle’s ceremony:
Still stunned by the referendum result, and cowed by the way it was talked up in the media as an overwhelming mandate, our political class remains paralyzed by its own commitment to delivering the undeliverable.Jonathan Coe, TIME, 06/06/2019
We have been landed in this mess by the Tory Party, whose leadership campaign now is focused on a positive vision for the future of the country – hard-drugs for some and Hard Brexit for all! This article, too, reveals the Tories’ state of perhaps terminal weakness, with candidates scared of the likelihood of ‘Crowds booing Tories’. If they were genuinely confident in their Brexit and indeed in defending their record in government, they would welcome a proper, representative public forum. Instead, they will lobby for a disproportionately blue-rinsed, elderly and affluent assembly of Tory members and voters… And if they do get their way – sadly, the BBC see themselves as beholden to this hapless government – it may surely end up rebounding on them, as people see an audience that manifestly does not reflect the country at large.
Friday morning’s Peterborough by-election result was more heartening than expected: maybe these are the first signs of Brexit fatigue? Or is it evidence of my gnawing suspicion that, beyond the quite large and doggedly entrenched 5 million Leavers and 5 million Remainers, the largest number of people ultimately care more about other, domestic issues…?
It certainly suggests that Labour would be likely to “win” a general election under FPTP but probably with a minority government, so would have to work with other parties (GP, SNP, LD, PC). However, it isn’t going to be quite so simple to “put Brexit to bed” if you’re in power, but they could conceivably do so, and working and compromising with those 4 other parties should be key (and it would show up Theresa May’s failures to compromise even more)… What the result should demonstrate is that the Brexit Party may well gain a lot of votes, but they’ll gain relatively few seats under FPTP and invariably split the right-wing vote in a strange reverse-mirror of the 1980s.
Labour are making some positive steps, policy-wise: Angela Rayner and the National Education Service; Corbyn and Rayner with the absurdly overdue move away from the rhetoric of ‘social mobility’ and ‘meritocracy’: these are stale 1990s concepts that just dress up Grammar School-like idea of giving a leg up to a lucky few. Improving opportunities for all, ‘equality’ and ‘social justice’ are far more desirable and progressive goals. Let’s hope that Labour can also move towards a fairer system of transparency over land ownership and properly tax the biggest hoarders of land: not ordinary home-owners, but the small number who heard the vast acreage of Britain, as Ian Jack details in the LRB. More school playing fields and libraries and the idea of the Public Good.
Practical steps to achieve progressive outcomes:
1. Labour, after winning an election but without a majority, introduce a programme of constitutional reform including, crucially, Proportional Representation as a genuine sign of goodwill and cooperation towards those smaller parties.
2. They hold a second referendum on the actual Brexit deal that is available (& if No Deal isn’t given as an option, there’s proper public communication about why not).
3. The Labour-led government institute a genuine end to austerity and a return to ideas of the Public Good: NHS, NES, land reform…
4. They begin radical plans to address climate change.
I am of the Left but I care about listening to, learning from and allying with those of social-Liberal (not Orange Book Cleggite) and Green views. I am a Left-pluralist who realises the left’s historical record means it should not assume it has all the answers. New alliances need forming, to outmanoeuvre Johnson and Farage. Too many in both the Liberal-Left and the Left have turned their fire on each other and resorted to Life of Brian-esque sectionalism rather than relentlessly turning fire on the real enemies: especially those two privileged men named above, the lying journalist and the ‘rebel’ stockbroker.
Saving the planet is frankly the biggest issue that faces us. Let’s gradually and democratically consign Brexit to the history books: an impossible dream sold by the Tories on a false prospectus and face humanity’s real crisis and emergency of Climate Change and Britain’s real crisis of austerity. The first will be tough and require significant societal changes, and needs to be done in concert with others, the EU included… The Green New Deal is a good first step, but isn’t in itself going to be sufficient.
So, greater wisdom, humility and willingness to achieve the above four steps is necessary to unite the Left, ecologists and the Liberal-Left and keep the UK together as a political entity.