It has been a while since I have written something for PoliticalSift, but given all the crazy sh*t that has gone down over the past few weeks, to quote Al Pacino in the Godfather III:
Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!
So first things first, we’ve only gone a chuffing Brexitificated (its a technical term). I cannot believe it, but at the same time, I can. Alot of very angry people voted for Britain to leave the European Union. Six and half years of crippling austerity, imposed the a Conservative party, an organisation who’s members (the few still around….) are about as far away from the day to day experiences as most of the electorate as you can possibly get, (as far as Omicron Persei Eight a fictional planet from Futurama) have created this situation. Six and a half years of economic illiteracy advocated by George Osborne, a man who looks like a villain in a 1920s silent film, and David Cameron, our now ex-Prime-minister, has crippled society. It has killed growth. It has not brought down the debt. Ordinary people looked at the world around them, a world in which they felt they had no control, in which everything was dictated to them by markets, far-off elites and organisations with acronyms and said “F**K YOU!”. Globalisation was given a bloody nose, but it has also been to spite their own face.
So, because of Brexit George Osborne has just abandoned his “deficit target” for 2020. Six and half years of austerity are revealed to truly not to have been an economic necessity, but a political choice as everyone has known all along, as the IMF, OECD, IFS and many other “experts” (cheers Michael Gove) have said. Completely unnecessary suffering imposed on millions of people by virtue of economic illiteracy. I suppose the one thing we can take from the chaos thrown up by Brexit is it has revealed the falsehood pushed by the Conservative party ignoring basic Keynesian economic theory in (a very successful attempt) to shrink the state and hold a fire sale of public assets, supported by an unquestioning press & weak opposition who have not held power to account. And now, funny isn’t it, Labour has been arguing for borrowing to invest (ala basic Keynesian economic theory) for yonks. But now Tories, like Theresa May, have started saying this (because since Brexit things are even further up sh*t creek) the press sit up & listen. Insane. Ed Miliband was decried as a “leftist” and vilified for such a stance. Years of the simplistic and economically illiterate “there is no money left” narrative swept under the rug…
Now, I was a strong advocate for remaining in the EU. Personally, despite its many flaws, I believe Britain’s membership of the EU was a good thing. But I can understand, if not agree with, the reasoning of those who voted to leave the EU. People were tired off the status quo. Many people have not seen the benefits of EU membership manifested in their day to day lives. Change or the possibility of change was very appealing. Remain’s main argument (ignoring the ridiculous hyperbole and fear-mongering of David Cameron) was:
You know how things are sh*t right now, well if we leave they’ll get more shit, or maybe not, but more than likely they will.
On an objective level, this is true. But it doesn’t work well as a campaign message. “Project Fear” in my view was Project “Risk Assessment, things that might happen or might not happen, but you’ll have to make a reasoned decision based on the evidence”. I was at my local count on the night of the EU referendum, chatting with the local UKIP guys, nice fellas, but a little *cuckoo*. I was constantly checking twitter, drinking copious amounts of coffee and watching the BBC & Sky News coverage. I remember the moment the result was pretty much confirmed as a victory for “Leave” (around 3:40 am). I took a screenshot of the plummeting value of the £ sterling and sent a text to my friend saying simply “Fuck.” In the space of a few hours more than $2tn of value was wiped from markets around the world. The UK is now officially “through the looking glass” – bond yields fall to record new lows. Moodys have downgraded the UK to Aaa from Aa1. Sadly, Sir John Chilcot was two weeks too late reminding Britain not to act on dodgy intelligence and no plan…
But my regret and sadness comes not only from an economic perspective. From a social one also. To quote a comment from the Financial Times:
The younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of its predecessors.
Further, Brexit and what was unleashed during the referendum campaign worries me. I am half Italian. And in the wake of Brexit, the far right seemed to get very…how to put it… really, really racist. Hundreds incidents of racial abuse and hate crime have been reported since the UK voted to leave the European Union. Now this is not the reason many voted to the leave the EU, I do not for a second think that every leave voter is some knuckle dragging, Enoch Powell loving, Doc Marten wearing skin-head, with a swastika tattooed on their bum. However, I do genuinely believe that Brexit has buoyed the fortunes of the far right & fascist causes across Europe, if not globally.
My English grandfather (Frederick) fought in Belgium and Germany in the 8th Battalion, Rifle Brigade, 11th Armoured division against fascists, he shed blood and lost friends to build the peaceful modern Europe we enjoy today. My Italian side my grandfathers brother, captured by the allies and sent to Eden camp, was treated so well our whole village of San Marco emigrated and came to the UK after war because compared to the corruption and poverty of southern Italy – they saw an open, tolerant nation full of opportunity. My grandfather (Antonio) and my Great-grandfather worked in the post-war concrete factories, helping to build houses as Britain rebuilt after the war. I carry both of their names. Now with Brexit I worry all that is eroding away.
The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime – British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey
Nigel Farage, who gave what I can only describe as the oratory equivalent of pulling down his trousers and mooning, lambasted the EU parliament in a speech on the 28th June 2016. Only one person stood up to applaud Farage following this speech. The fascist daughter of a holocaust denier who is funded by Putin. Marine LePen. However, the debate in the EU referendum was despicable with both sides playing to the lowest common denominator. Remain was just as guilty of this as the Leave campaign. However the abject hypocrisy of the main advocates for by Vote Leave was astounding. Oddly, every single one of them has fallen on a sword.
Boris Johnson didn’t want to drink from the poisoned chalice he had coveted for so long. It is mind-boggling, you cannot fathom it, his hubris, supposed “charisma” and “charm” in part caused this. He wanted to simply use the Brexit/Eu referendum as a platform for his own selfish ambitions. And yet the bloated, caricature of the PG Wodehouse character ran away, like the coward he truly is.
If Boris Johnson looked downbeat yesterday, that is because he realises that he has lost. Perhaps many Brexiters do not realise it yet, but they have actually lost, and it is all down to one man: David Cameron. With one fell swoop yesterday at 9:15 am, Cameron effectively annulled the referendum result, and simultaneously destroyed the political careers of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and leading Brexiters who cost him so much anguish, not to mention his premiership. How?
Throughout the campaign, Cameron had repeatedly said that a vote for leave would lead to triggering Article 50 straight away. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the image was clear: he would be giving that notice under Article 50 the morning after a vote to leave. Whether that was scaremongering or not is a bit moot now but, in the midst of the sentimental nautical references of his speech yesterday, he quietly abandoned that position and handed the responsibility over to his successor. And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legistlation to be torn up and rewritten … the list grew and grew.
The referendum result is not binding. It is advisory. Parliament is not bound to commit itself in that same direction. The Conservative party election that Cameron triggered will now have one question looming over it: will you, if elected as party leader, trigger the notice under Article 50? Who will want to have the responsibility of all those ramifications and consequences on his/her head and shoulders? Boris Johnson knew this yesterday, when he emerged subdued from his home and was even more subdued at the press conference. He has been out-maneouvered and check-mated.
If he runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering Article 50, then he is finished. If he does not run and effectively abandons the field, then he is finished. If he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over – Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession … broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished. Boris Johnson knows all of this. When he acts like the dumb blond it is just that: an act. The Brexit leaders now have a result that they cannot use. For them, leadership of the Tory party has become a poison chalice.
When Boris Johnson said there was no need to trigger Article 50 straight away, what he really meant to say was “never”. When Michael Gove went on and on about “informal negotiations” … why? why not the formal ones straight away? … he also meant not triggering the formal departure. They both know what a formal demarche would mean: an irreversible step that neither of them is prepared to take. All that remains is for someone to have the guts to stand up and say that Brexit is unachievable in reality without an enormous amount of pain and destruction, that cannot be borne. And David Cameron has put the onus of making that statement on the heads of the people who led the Brexit campaign.
Then there is Nigel Farage. The professional Enoch Powell impersonator, chain smoker and drinker of pints, who bravely turned his tail and ran away. A job well done in his eyes as the country smouldered around him. Although despite stepping down as UKIP leader, did not step down from his lucrative “hobby” …
Finally, Michael Gove, having wielded the knife to shaft both David Cameron and his comrade Boris Johnson, has now also failed to get the crown of the Conservative party leadership. And so following an odd leadership contest between the British equivalent of Sarah Palin (Andrea Leadsom) and Mrs Theresa “withdraw from the ECHR in leopard skin jack-boots” May, we now have a new PM without an election. Ironic given Theresa May’s views, back in 2007, about Gordon Brown…
And so we turn to the horror show that it the official opposition. Labour MP’s have decided it is have a go at Corbyn time. 172 -40 voted for a motion of no confidence in Mr Corbyn. There were 216 votes in total, out of 229 Labour MPs. There were 13 who abstained, and four spoilt ballots.
Regardless of their opinion of Jeremy Corbyn, there was a responsibility on every Labour MP to be a collective strong UK opposition offering leadership and direction. We are witnessing the Tories at their weakest, in turmoil over a leadership election whilst the UK is leaderless, and now we sadly find ourselves in the same situation. The Labour Party should have been speaking up for our country, putting Labour values first and working with nations, regions and cities to find a way forward. Instead we now look even weaker and more divided than the Tories. – Alex Rowley
This is why people are angry at the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). They’ve decided to destroy themselves rather than focus their fire on the Conservatives. The coup against Jeremy Corbyn has distracted from the immense societal and economic chaos Brexit has thrown up. Labour could have used this as a party to hammer home how the Tories have destroyed, I mean that given Scotland will secede and Northern Ireland may return to the dark days of the troubles, our country. Labour could have held the Tories to the fire, and said to the public:
“LOOK THE HUBRIS OF THE CONSERVATIVES AND DAVID CAMERON, THEIR PETTY CIVIL WAR HAS TAKEN THE NATIONAL INTEREST AS A JOKE, AND PUT OUR NATION ON THE BRINK!”
Instead the PLP decided to eat itself. Have they such little awareness, the coup has given the media circus exactly what it loves, a juicy distraction. The coup came at a time the country has been ripped to pieces, the Conservative party was in turmoil and the economy continues to tank. We are at a time of national crisis, racist attacks are up, people are afraid and the Conservative government have caused all of this.
One of the reasons we ended up with Brexit was the press were obsessed with “blue on blue” infighting. The press failed to hold power to account. The bullsh*t claims of Vote Leave were not properly scrutinised or critiqued. The £350 million per week lie. The lie that leaving the EU would reduce immigration (see Daniel Hannan MEP on Newsnight…) AND of course the sheer weight & influence of the papers of Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond, Viscount Rothermere and the Barclay Brothers…
Lies. Lies. Lies. That is what dragged us out of the EU. Demagogues, fools and “chancers” preying upon the fears, anxieties and yes the prejudices of ordinary working people. The Labour party should be hammering the Tories, instead they are diverting press scrutiny of all the thing Cameron, Boris & Gove have f**ked up. The press love any minor Labour dispute, so this is a feeding frenzy, and the PLP have let Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson & David Cameron get away with murder. In the national psyche this moment won’t be remembered for the chaos the Conservatives caused, but when the Labour party destroyed itself.
Not only has this coup undermined the best criticism of the Tories that Labour have had in decades by giving the right-wing an easy counter argument that Labour are to blame, they’ve also given the Tories and the right-wing media ammunition against Labour that can be used in its own right.
Given the launch of Angela Eagle’s leadership challenge (with graphics that look like an fragrance / perfume brand you would fine in Boots) Labour now has to have a long protracted leadership contest, right when the country has been brought to the brink economically and socially by the hubris of a Prime-Minister who has strolled off humming.
This allows the media circus to disproportionately focus on Labour splits and let the government and the Conservative party off the hook for bringing us out of the EU by this disastrous referendum which not only has put the economy & our society on the brink (given HUGE increase in racist attacks since Brexit), but will lead to the collapse of the UK (Scotland seceding).
My two cents – Labours problems won’t be solved by a change of leader, the issue isn’t solely Corbyn, it is deep rooted and stems for Blair’s courting of the “middle class” – abandoning the working class of the smaller northern post-industrial (ex-mining towns – Worksop, Haworth, Ashfield) and working class strongholds of the past (Doncaster, Grimsby, Hull ect). Labour under Blair, despite 3 election victories, lost 4 million Labour voters. The issue is they took the support of the white working class (now courted by Ukip) for granted and ignored its core vote. Second, it has promoted for decades SPADs and other individuals with no connection to working class communities – Tristram Hunt for example – parachuted into “safe seats” and tolerated by their electorate simply *because* they wear a red rosette.
People are angry, disenfranchised and want *someone* they feel will work for their interests. People do not trust politicians and feel alienated from politics, hence the support for Jeremy Corbyn, a man who, whatever his flaws (and there are many) is seen as sincere, honest and principled (regardless of the reality). The blame for this long term decline and the erosion of Labour’s core support lies with Mr Mandelson et al. Regardless of their past success, Labour’s current situation is the long term outcome of “spin”, “focus groups” and a litany of failures. Never before has our Labour Movement so desperately needed unity. And so Labour will eat itself.
By Frederick Antonio Gallucci | International Law LLM | @gibblegbble