Think the Tories started messing up Brexit in 2016? Have a closer look.
Posted on March 25, 2019
By the time anyone reads this or, indeed, by the time I’ve finished writing it, Michael Gove could be Prime Minister. Those are the muddy depths in which we now slither.
Sunday evening’s news showed us some middle-aged white blokes driving some expensive, middle-aged white-bloke cars in and out of Chequers. The pantomime villains, Johnson and Rees-Mogg, were identifiable; the others just blurred into a fudge of anonymity. Quite what they were fiddling and faffing at only feeds our indifferent, weary cynicism – an attitude to which we are all now entitled. These people are beyond redemption or forgiveness.
But then they were before Brexit. Where do we start in recounting their misdemeanours since 2010? With their continued determination to sell off all areas of public service to the highest bidders so that profits could be made and services slashed? With hacking school spending and then hiking up tuition fees? With the attacks on the poor manifested in the grotesque bedroom tax or the bungled Universal Credit? With their lauding of the ‘freedoms’ of the gig economy which boosts employment figures while allowing people to juggle three jobs in order to make ends meet? With the dog-whistle racism of the ‘hostile environment’ and the contemptible treatment of the Windrush generation? With their utter, unrelenting, ideological commitment to austerity as a political choice?
Just to be clear here: Labour has sins of its own to answer for. In particular, it started the ball rolling in terms of privatising schools, became quickly convinced of the need to snuggle up to high-profile entrepreneurs and, oh…..ignored the will of the people and sanctioned the bombing of homes, schools and hospitals. But it didn’t try to placate its own backbenchers by plunging the entire country into chaos by asking for a simple answer to a complex question.
Last Saturday hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to ask for something. Among their number were people that I know and like and with whom I could not disagree more on this topic. I have written elsewhere in this blog about why I am unconvinced by the idea of a second referendum or a people’s vote. I see three objections to ignoring the democratic process.
First, the very people who suffer most under austerity are those who chose to leave. Their vote was one of anger and frustration. How much more angry and frustrated will they now be if they’re told to go back and give the ‘right’ answer? When our political parties melt down, where will they turn? UKIP and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon perhaps?
Second, what will a people’s vote be about? A re-run of the first referendum? If so, maybe one of the questions should read, ‘Now do you understand how stupid you’ve been?’ Or will it be about ‘deal or no deal’? And if so, which deal? The one condemned by pretty well all shades of political opinion? Or will there be a space at the bottom of the ballot paper for ‘any other suggestions’ or, as has been put to me as a serious proposition, a range of alternatives using the single transferable vote system? Good luck with that.
My third and final objection resides in the fact that, as ever, Marx was right. No, not him. Groucho. The former star of the silver screen roguishly observed that he wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would accept him as a member. Observing the antics of EU officials, lording it over the hapless May when their own particular Romes are burning, hasn’t been edifying. Neither, as it happens, has been their own commitment to unfettered neoliberalism, demonstrated never so clearly as it was in its dealings with Greece and, to a lesser extent, Spain and Italy. There’s nothing cuddly about these people and their political beliefs.
For the record and in case you’re interested, after a good deal of wrangling I eventually voted remain. But there is little to love about the EU. The sorts of social and economic reforms that would be at the centre of the least left-leaning (OK, Corbynite) government would be systematically blocked by the corporations, finance houses and the tamed labour institutions of the EU. And please don’t give me that old chestnut about keeping the peace: just because you bomb by proxy, it doesn’t make you Francis of Assisi. My principal – and, ultimately, exonerated – concern was that a leave vote would embolden the sort of nationalism and racism that has, regrettably, surfaced since. And in case you’re still reading and still care, in the event of any sort of second vote, I’d follow my initial instincts and opt for leaving.
Some objections to this decision are obvious. By opting to leave, you place yourself in the same camp as Farage, Johnson and Gove (although the latter two can, as we know, swing like a weather vane on this) along with every flannelling, flatulent union-jacker around. So much better to be with the lovely celebrities. Or Tom Watson – the man whose loyalty makes Iago look like the human equivalent of Lassie. Or Richard Branson, who strides through life regretting only that souls aren’t tangible so that he could buy them up and sell them back to us. The argument about being defined by who else is on your side is always a feeble one: when it comes to Brexit, it is completely meaningless.
The people’s vote, we are told, will ‘break the deadlock’. Presumably because so many of those bewildered, thick racists will have seen the error of their ways. Judging by the aching smugness of some of the placards on display on Saturday, some people have an odd notion about how to change those people’s minds. And what if the vote took place and, contrary to what your own social media bubble had echoed at you, most people hadn’t changed their mind much? Let’s say it went 52/48 the other way. What then? The best of three? Penalties?
I have argued throughout this blog that anyone with a slick, glib answer to Brexit is a fool and a charlatan. One thing, however, is irrefutable. The bunch of floundering incompetents currently charged with doing this aren’t up to the job. They are the people who gave us austerity and did so as a deliberate political choice. When we do eventually get out of this mess, as we must, then our only hope is a government that genuinely commits to houses for ordinary people, free education, proper jobs, environmental sustainability and the dozen other things to which a sensible government in the second decade of the 21st century should give untouchable priority. The chaps in the cars in Chequers don’t have the will or the wherewithal to do so – their commitment to austerity, which fired the gun for the entire unholy mess, tells us everything we need to know.
Just looked. Gove not PM.