So here we are, a week on from a paradigm-shattering vote on Britain’s membership of the EU, and politics in the UK has descended into a malfunctioning mixture of Wacky Races, Blackadder and Game of Thrones; leaving the English no longer able to look down their noses at the odd spectacle of the American presidential race.
A week since the EU Referendum ended in a winning vote for Brexit, the country is in a state of political confusion and social anxiety, and the future is a blur of uncertainty. The Prime Minister has said he is resigning – but not just yet. The Conservative Party is divided and no one is sure who the Prime Minister is going to be.
At this same time, the main opposition party is in chaos, with a massive coup attempt taking place against Jeremy Corbyn. We are not sure who the leader of the opposition is going to be in the coming weeks or months either. Mainstream news broadcasters appear not to be sure whether we even have a working government at the moment.
If this week has been a shambles, the weeks and months leading into the Referendum were also a shambles. Referendum night/day itself was a shambles. Nigel Farage all but conceded defeat early on the night of June 23rd – within hours his campaign was winning.
Every poll and pundit had predicted a win for the Remain campaign. Come the morning and victory for Leave, that campaign’s chief spokesperson Boris Johnson appeared shaken and lost.
That’s because Boris Johnson wasn’t planning to win. He and David Cameron had probably agreed that if there was to be a Referendum debate, someone from the party in government was going to have to lead the Brexit side – but that Remain was going to win anyway. I am convinced that Boris Johnson was even more confused than Cameron was as to why and how the Leave vote had won.
The fact that, for two or three days after the result, Boris was AWOL is suspicious. This should’ve been his moment to give celebratory speeches and TV interviews – instead he hid.
Probably because he knew he didn’t have anything resembling a plan – because winning might not have been his plan in the first place.
In his absence, Nigel Farage was instead paraded all over TV, making over-the-top and sometimes offensive speeches which did absolutely nothing to soften the great unease and division that had emerged sharply in British society.
But this was probably fitting, as Farage has been the true face of Brexit. It had been Farage and UKIP all these years campaigning so ceaselessly for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and Farage who had ultimately forced the Conservatives towards a Referendum. And, in all likelihood, it had been Farage’s campaigning that had won so much support for Brexit, with the likes of Boris and Gove simply being very late (and insincere) icing on the cake – and only because the carrot of career advancement was dangling enticingly in front of them.
Boris didn’t join the panto until very late – and I’m fairly sure his heart wasn’t in it; but that he and his long-time Etonian chum David Cameron had simply come to a little gentlemen’s agreement that in a Referendum to appease the right-wingers HE would throw in with the Brexit campaign. The main reason would’ve been to give Boris a big PR boost for his eventual accession to leadership of the party once Cameron stepped aside some time in the future.
The problem was that the Remain campaign was so mistrusted by so many people, with anti-Establishment feeling so high that a popular, charismatic figure like Boris jumping into the Leave campaign might’ve been the thing to just about tip Leave ahead of Remain in the final reckoning.
If so, it was all a game that backfired badly.
A shambles. The Brexit ‘campaigners’ within Westminster of course had no plan in place for a Brexit – because they weren’t supposed to win.
One of the side-effects of that is that, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, the tension, uncertainty and anxiety kicked in very quickly… and hasn’t abated in the week since.
At precisely the time where unsettled people need reassuring statements from reassuring, familiar figures – like Boris, like Cameron, like the Labour Party – they have instead found their politicians either AWOL or resorting to unprecedented levels of in-fighting and backstabbing.
Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, Cicero, Anthony – it has felt like all of the characters and archetypes are in the script for a modern take on the fall of the Roman Republic. What is unclear in that analogy is whether the metaphorical doomed republic is Britain or the EU.
In their absence, Nigel Farage (Octavian? Fuck, no) – the least reassuring and most unsettling politician in the country – has stolen the limelight, basking in his victory, making triumphant speeches and heading over to Brussels to antagonize the European Parliament, while some of the Far Right groups who’ve been most zealously campaigning for Brexit are declaring victory for themselves; emboldening racists and xenophobes to steal the Brexit narrative from those Leave voters who otherwise had the best of intentions, leaving a number of EU migrants and general immigrants unsettled, while leaving most young people and progressives fearing for their future and their society.
That the Far Right has stolen a huge chunk of the narrative and that they see Brexit as THEIR victory and their story is quite evident. But I knew that from months ago, as did anyone who kept a close eye on Far Right websites and social media.
“This is VICTORY DAY, brothers,” wrote Andrew Anglin, the editor of the Far Right, pro-Trump, anti-Semitic website, Daily Stormer, on Friday. “Nothing can stop us now. But the fact is, brothers: nothing ever could stop us. God and nature are on our side. The stars themselves declare our ULTIMATE VICTORY over the (((forces of darkness and evil))).”
FYI, I’ve recently been informed that when you see the ((( ))) parenthsis, it is basically a new online fad used by racist trolls to single out names and things they regard as Jewish.
“The vote by Brits to exit the European Union is encouraging for White separatists,” the ‘National Action’ Chairman Will Williams wrote on Friday morning. “‘Brexit’ was driven by nationalism and rejection of non-White refugees flooding into Great Britain.’ He goes on to talk about “responsible whites” wanting to live only among their own kind (source).
The links between UKIP – the party most involved in trying to get the UK out of Europe – are fairly easy to establish. UKIP had previously done a deal with a Far Right white supremacist and Holocaust-denier, Korwin Mikke; a Polish MEP for a Far Right party who, among other things, said the minimum wage should be destroyed and that the vote should be taken away from women. Major Far Right campaigners for the Brexit vote include Britain First, the English Defense League, and the BNP, as well as general Far Right figures like Nick Griffin and Tommy Robinson. Internationally, Far Right politicians like Marie Le Penn in France, as well as others in Holland and elsewhere, along with US political names like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin.
The likes of Boris and Michael Gove have done their best to distance themselves from the less savory elements of the Brexit campaign, as well as from Farage and UKIP; and it isn’t their fault that unsavory forces have happened to support the same outcome as them, albeit for very different reasons (nor is it the fault of millions of ordinary Leave voters that racists and fascists have had a field day with both the campaign and the outcome) – but the problem is that it’s not their story anymore.
They didn’t HAVE a story beyond the campaign itself – there appears to have been no morning-after plan whatsoever: just blank, confused faces for a few days, followed promptly by a free-for-all power grab involving different camps of ambitious politicians.
With horrible timing, the Labour Party Centrists decided now was the time to ambush Gaius Julius Corbyn on the Senate steps, while rival Tories decided to reenact the Roman Civil Wars too, seeing the confusion and apparent stalemate as an opportunity to further personal ambitions.
So where are we now?
We are being told that the Labour Party is in an ‘existential crisis’ that could jeapordise its very existence. There is talk now of the party actually, literally *splitting* into two different parties. In effect, the opposition is destroying itself, allowing the Conservatives to cement power in Westminster – free of any effective Labour opposition, already free of any Liberal Democrat opposition (who were destroyed comprehensively last year) and probably free now too of the EU.
And yet even in the Conservative Party, the Game of Thrones is unfolding.
Boris – who never intended a victory for the Brexit campaign he was (probably insincerely) endorsing – seems to have fallen apart at his unwanted victory. And lots of voters who probably imagined Boris was their man are now dealing with the fact that Boris isn’t even going to run for party leadership after all.
Michael Gove, who has spent months telling us he isn’t fit for leadership, doesn’t want leadership and has no plans for leadership, is now running for leadership – perceived by many to have stabbed his friend Brexit co-campaigner Boris in the back in what was essentially a coup within a coup.
And surprise, surprise – Gove appears, fully backed and championed by the kingmaker Rupert Murdoch, a right-wing and anti-European tycoon who did more to ensure the Brexit than anyone.
And yet the quickly emerging ‘front-runner’ in the leadership contest, we’ve suddenly been told, is Theresa May – a character who has been almost entirely absent from the entire arena in the lead-up to the referendum vote. What that means, essentially, is that the Brexit vote could see the installation AS PRIME MINISTER of the woman who has been most consistently trying to bring about a mass surveillance state – a woman who, one would imagine, would be the Deep State’s ideal candidate for Prime Minister.
And it may happen entirely without any election or public say in the matter. And you were worried the EU was undemocratic! Enjoying Brexit yet?
Meanwhile, it took absolutely no time at all for false promises and misleading claims from the Brexit camp to be exposed. And scores of vulnerable, undecided voters who’d been swayed by the arguments suddenly realised they’d been duped – literally as early as the next day. “I personally voted leave believing these lies, and I regret it more than anything, I feel genuinely robbed of my vote,” a woman calling into an LBC radio show echoed the sentiment, saying she felt “conned” by the claim and felt “a bit sick”.
Shock horror – politicians tell lies. Why anyone would think only one side of the debate might’ve been lying, I don’t know – maybe the fire and brimstone of the Remain campaign’s scaremongering was just too obviously a pantomime. The funniest part now is the possibility that neither Leave nor Remain voters are going to get what they wanted.
But whether it’s in Britain’s best interests or not to leave the EU – and I entirely accept that it might well be – what is clearly misguided is the misconception that this has been an ‘anti-establishment’ campaign and anti-establishment victory.
I had been suspicious of the whole Brexit-as-anti-establishment-victory narrative all along, since long before the actual vote. One of the biggest – if not the biggest pro-Brexit propagandists has been The Sun newspaper and the Murdoch empire in general. Since when is Rupert Murdoch, The Sun or Fox News ‘anti-establishment’? Since when is The Daily Mail or Daily Express, for that matter, anti-establishment?
My scepticism was confirmed just a day or two before the vote when The Sun ran the front-page about the Queen ‘backing Brexit’. It was nonsense, and anyone with two working brain cells would’ve known that was nonsense – but it might’ve been enough, at the last minute, to convince one or two particularly gullible people into voting a certain way.
Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media empire is generally credited with ‘picking’ which party or leader wins elections in Britain. One of my most abiding memories of any General Election was when Murdoch simply decided, halfway through an election campaign, to switch his media empire’s support from Gordon Brown and Labour to David Cameron and the Tories – a move that many have credited with having determined the course of the 2010 election and helped put the Conservatives into government (just as he was heavily credited with having helped Tony Blair win his elections).
With his various media outlets consumed by millions of people, Murdoch has sometimes been dubbed the King-Maker. Whether, having now accomplished a Brexit, his empire can successfully play kingmaker for Michael Gove remains to be seen.
But Murdoch’s highly influential outlets have generally been viciously anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and highly, permanently Euro-phobic for the longest time. Murdoch is essentially anti-European and permanently slanted in favour of Anglo-American interests.
In his book How Britain Will Leave Europe, former Minister for Europe Denis MacShane describes how former Prime Minister Tony Blair considered holding a referendum on adopting the euro, only to renounce the plan for fear that the “shadowy figure of Rupert Murdoch” would use his media empire to campaign against it. ‘Few men have done more to fuel anti-European frenzy than the Australian-American media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, owner of several newspapers and the UK’s most important private television news channel’, he writes.
An old article in Politico, fittingly titled ’12 Reasons Why Cameron Will Lose on Brexit’, also cites Murdoch as one of the chief reasons, noting that ‘Britain is unique in allowing its major newspapers to be owned by men who pay no tax in Britain and who dislike the EU. That’s their right, but as a result, the news coverage of Europe over 25 years has been skewed to crude misreporting and propaganda.’
Not so surprising then there is such strong anti-European feeling in at least half of the population, just as there is such strong Islamophobia and general dislike of immigration – all of which seems to have come pouring out more openly in the days since the vote, and much of which is the result of years of the most awful, divisive, low-brow tabloid journalism.
All of which has nothing to do with some of the legitimate and important reasons lots of people have for voting Leave (of which there are two or three particularly good ones) – but I am illustrating why calling it ‘anti-establishment’ is a nonsense.
The whole notion of ‘voting anti-establishment’ was misguided to start with. If you were voting against the EU on an ‘anti-establishment’ basis, you were simply rejecting one realm of establishment politics in favor of another – as in fuck Brussels, yay for Westminster. ‘People’s Revolutions’ are not supported by people like Boris Johnson (who I have nothing against, by the way) or Michael Gove. And the British establishment, along with its Deep State, are no less elitist or corrupt than the people in Brussels – and may even be more so. It wasn’t Brussels that destabilised the Middle East or invaded Iraq, cut people’s welfare, or turned their backs on the disabled.
Martin Lewis touches on that point here, asking why a so-called ‘anti establishment’ vote would object to European elitism by placing their fates more firmly in the hands of British elitism. ‘So often, arguments are made by Brexiteers about how undemocratic the EU is. Some of the points are valid. But one will rarely hear someone who castigates the EU’s lack of democracy discuss the UK’s own democratic deficit’, he writes. ‘And one of the core arguments heard time and time again is that ‘the European Commission is unelected’. Let’s put it straight. The Commission – the EU’s civil service – is appointed by elected governments to implement the wishes of 28 democracies who have voluntarily come together. It’s by no means perfect, although if it messes up, the elected EU Parliament can dissolve the Commission.’
As he points out also, ‘all this misses the point that one of our own Houses is totally unelected in the UK – the House of Lords, which like the Commission, can initiate legislation. It desperately needs reform – but few of those condemning the EU as undemocratic condemn the Lords on the same grounds. 25 per cent of Lords appointments since 1997 are former MPs who lost elections or resigned. That’s without even mentioning Westminster’s hideously disproportionate voting system. When will those who castigate the EU’s lack of democracy take action to reform our broken democracy here?’
None of which lets the EU off the hook for its own problems, nor the fact that technocrats are probably pushing for the creation of a super-state – with or without the consent of its member states. Professor Werner, Director of the Centre for Banking, Finance and Sustainable Development at the University of Southampton, offers a mostly solid, coherent basis here for Brexit.
The EU of course is deeply flawed, has a widely acknowledged ‘democratic deficit’, and is fatally imbalanced – but the same is true of our own system. And it could be regarded as a macrocosm of everything that’s wrong with (and sometimes right with) our own national systems of government, elitism or mismanagement.
The behaviour of our own politicians and parties – both pro-Remain and pro-Leave – in the days since the referendum result demonstrates that precisely. If anyone was expecting fabulous things from Brexit, the last few days won’t have done much to fill them with confidence; even if a more coherent strategy does emerge somewhere down the line – which is by no means guaranteed.
However, it may be that – if the EU is only a few years from a collapse – then getting out will have been the best thing, in the long run, for the UK; even if it was done in a confusing, shambolic way worthy of Blackadder and being led by Dick Dastardly and Mutley.
You also have a generation or more now of people who – rightly or wrongly – feel like they’ve been sabotaged by their elders.
Over 75 percent of 18 – 35 year olds voted for Remain. This situation now plays into the perception that a generation that was given everything – free education, secure pensions, social mobility, affordable homes, a liberal and progressive society – has allowed subsequent generations to have nothing. There is a lot of anger, and will continue to be a lot of anger in a country that – as many now note – is deeply divided.
Having said that, there’s just as much reason to suspect that lots of the particularly young Remain voters are as utterly unaware of some of the more dictatorial, nefarious elements of the EU’s leadership as Leave voters are of how badly some of our national systems fare when measured alongside the supposedly undemocratic EU. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the 18 – 30 age group didn’t even turn up to vote.
Millions have signed petitions calling for another referendum, and many thousands have marched in protest at Brexit – rather problematically, this could easily be spun as a petition or a march against democracy. Which just illustrates that virtually everyone, in whichever camp, is now in a highly problematic position in which they have to tread very carefully.
Both sides of the EU debates lied, exaggerated, tried to scare voters. What people needed was a Spock like point-by-point explanation of the pros and cons; what we got instead was scare stories from one side and deceptions from the other and the general public being talked down to like silly children. Unfortunately, silly children isn’t far from the truth in many cases.
I’ve been thinking back to the last General Election. Last year – though it feels like a lifetime ago now – the Liberal Democrats got utterly decimated all across the country. The party of protest, once centered on Paddy Ashdown, had made the fatal error of getting into government. Seeking to do the right thing by entering a coalition with the Conservatives – believing that being in government, even as a partner, would allow them to do some good – they ended up bearing the entire brunt of people’s wrath in 2015, ending up with virtually no presence in parliament.
But the main thing most people agreed was the reason for the terrible punishment the Lib Dems had taken was their u-turn on tuition fees. Scores of young people, outraged at having to pay for their higher education (even though they wouldn’t have to start paying until or when they started earning £28,000 a year) decided to punish the Lib Dems for this; even though it was the Conservatives who had prevented the promise from being kept.
I remember this election vividly because I clearly could see the dangers of reactionary behaviour at the ballot box.
Turning against the Lib Dems as a backlash over one issue was both unjustified and dangerous – most of those punishing them were themselves liberals and progressives and young people, who I felt at the time were not accomplishing anything with their misplaced ‘protest votes’ but were actually harming their own futures.
It was the Lib Dems who had been blocking the Home Office’s efforts to introduce the Snooper’s Charter and conduct mass intrusion/surveillance into private life (good luck with that now, folks, when pro-surveillance Theresa May becomes Prime Minister), and it was the Lib Dem presence in coalition that prevented the Conservatives from scrapping the Human Rights Act.
The Lib Dems might’ve also actually been impeding any move towards an EU Referendum while they had been in coalition government. And Vince Cable had warned Cameron that it was a bad idea to hold a Referendum in the current climate.
In taking out so much anger on the Lib Dems – who had been a counter-balance in government to the Conservatives and an assurance of some liberal/Left presence in the Cabinet – what the ‘protest vote’ was foolishly doing was ensuring full Tory control of government, paving the way also for the right-wing elements of the Tory party to push Cameron into their long-sought EU Referendum.
The ‘protest vote’ reared its head against last week in the Referendum itself, with scores of people panicking or distraught the next day, saying they’d only voted Leave as a protest against the Establishment – and only because they thought Brexit wasn’t going to win. Some belated advice, especially for people younger than me – don’t ‘protest’ vote. If you’re going to vote, vote with your principles or vote for what you think is best for yourself or your society.
But last year, I could see the trouble ahead when the Lib Dems were so battered in that election. I distinctly recall a forlorn, almost tearful Nick Clegg giving a speech talking about “the end of liberalism”. I had been troubled by that speech and still am.
With the Liberal Democrats gone and Cameron being left vulnerable to the right-wingers and UKIP sympathizers in his own party, the Referendum became inevitable.
But one suspects that, as far as Cameron was concerned, this was simply a way to resolve the longstanding split in the Conservative Party – appeasing the right-wing by giving them the Referendum they wanted and resolving the Europe issue. Again, it wasn’t supposed to be lost – Boris Johnson was only a pantomime character thrown into the mix to play the whole thing out.
Did politicians simply play games with the fate of the country, too cocky to think things might go wrong?
If so, they were also – on the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme – playing games with Europe itself, as experts now believe the Brexit will inspire several more Referendums in other EU countries and possibly lead to the collapse of the EU itself.
Of course some of those European countries have very good reasons for wanting referendums and questioning their EU membership – and so did large parts of England.
But the referendum has simply substituted one disillusioned half of society – depending on how happy Leave voters in general are in the next few years, dependent on how this Brexit goes – for a different half of society who are now disillusioned with the idea of Brexit altogether.
So where does all of this leave us now?
While racists and xenophobes were immediately sticking racist slogans on Polish cultural centers and telling foreigners to ‘go home now’ (literally there have been reports of people saying ‘we’ve voted – you have to leave now’), someone – preferably Farage – will have to inform them it doesn’t work that way; and that if Britain wants the desired trade agreements with the EU, it will have to still be subject to free movement of EU citizens.
Moreover, remember the Brexit is non-binding and, even if Cameron or whoever the PM is, does activate Article 50, it will take 2 years for the process to be completed. Anything could happen in that time. That is assuming Article 50 is activated at all.
In an analysis on the UK Constitutional Law blog titled ‘Pulling the Article 50 ‘Trigger: Parliament’s Indispensable Role’ by Nick Barber, Jeff King and Tom Hickman, it is argued that it is Parliament, and not the government, that gets to decide whether to trigger a notification under Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union. And Parliament at present is overwhelmingly filled with MPs – from all parties – who were and still are pro-EU.
And while the serious levels now of anger and anxiety among pro-EU Brits – as well as the issue of Scotland and Ireland – may continue to cause great tension in society, it has to be said that any attempt to nullify or reverse the Brexit result (which is being seriously suggested by multiple sources and in various ways) will cause even more outrage.
If the racial tensions and anti-EU feeling is very high among Leave voters now, imagine what it will be if those millions who voted Leave were to have their genuine, democratic victory taken away from them. And the thing is, they would be right to be angry – the Referendum was democratic, and any attempt to bypass it or nullify it will cause even more unrest than there already is right now.
Meanwhile, if the political situation appears this disorganized and chaotic on the surface, we should probably wonder if something much more coherent and controlled is going on behind the scenes. Though, at present, we don’t know what that is, I have some suspicions about it – which at present I’ll keep to myself.
In the meantime, enjoy the Wacky Races.