The opinion polls and their momentum suggest my resolution to try and persuade at least one person a day to vote REMAIN has been comprehensively bulldozered by the lies of the BREXIT leadership and their promotion by the offshore tax haven owners of the tabloid press. Therefore, the dual themes of this blog series – ‘the world is mad,’ and ‘democracy in terminal decline?’ – will reach crisis point in the early hours of June 24th – almost regardless of the formal referendum result.
So, what contingency plans can progressive Britain promote, on the basis of ‘never letting a serious crisis go to waste’?
A perceptive explanation of how it has come to this is provided by a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. Commenting on the Australian general election campaign as being about ‘nothing in particular’, the author drew from Trump and Clinton to Hofer and van Bellen in Austria, to illustrate the decline of liberalism and socialism as an ideological battleground of democratic elections.
Ideology has been replaced by a populist urge to punish – e.g. immigrants – and the need to vote AGAINST someone or something the angry voter dislikes – e.g. political elites – rather than for anything in particular. So van Belen narrowly beat the Austrian fascist because ‘people didn’t like him, but liked Hofer even less’. The outcome of the US presidential election is likely to be determined by the anti-Trump and anti-Hilary negative turnout rather than any positive, thought-through, attachment to their specific ideologies and programmes.
Similarly, a significant LEAVE vote, whether above or below the 50% threshold, is a spoiling vote for gratuitous hate and punishment – whether of Cameron, the neo-liberal machine, refugees and immigrants, or of rational policy deliberation and a culture of openness and internationalism.
Paradoxically, Cameron personally, and his elitist friends in the neo-liberal machine will do perfectly well – even if slightly inconvenienced by the crisis. The rejection of rational policy deliberation in an open, international culture, though, will punish the poor and disadvantaged. It will set back our progressive great cities and communities as red-neck England, in particular, chooses a nasty, small-minded parochial intolerance and hate-driven exclusion. As uncomfortable and tragic as it is to repeat, think again of the Farage Nazi poster on the day of the murder of Jo Cox – these are the images of an England majority BREXIT.
I cannot deny it is difficult to fashion a recovery strategy in the face of the destructive evils that have been unleashed – but at the minimum:-
- Cameron must go – whatever the result – to be replaced by a transitional Government of National Unity (representative of a majority of non-BREXIT opinion rather than the current Tories with 24% of the eligible general election vote). There IS a clear majority for this in the Commons – and probably in the Lords and other institutions of the state if politicians have the will to step up and do the ‘right’ rather than the party political thing
- The BREXIT lies should face the full test of legal recourse. They lied about the £350m; they raised xenophobia with their Turkish demonization and Nazi posters. They and the tax haven run press entered into a (probably criminal) conspiracy to mislead the voters and raise racist hate. If they had done this in a general election I am told they would certainly have been open to prosecution. Now, legal proceedings should be initiated – crowd-funded if necessary by the progressives who care (I shall certainly contribute).
- In a similar vein, in the event of a BREXIT 50% UK majority, the areas where there is no mandate for Leave – like Scotland, London, Northern Ireland and elsewhere – should also initiate legal proceedings to thwart the BREXIT hate being imposed on their national and local communities. As I have said in 2014 on the Scotland referendum, these legally-non-binding referendums are not an automatic cast-iron rubber stamp for life-changing, constitutional destruction – if you are strong enough to not want it to be.
- On the more positive political side, devolution must proceed apace – promoted by the Government of National Unity – at nation (i.e. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland), region/ city region and local levels. It should be driven by a task-focused (and therefore speedy) constitutional convention. It should include reform of Westminster and Whitehall as well as sub-national machinery of governance.
- Most difficult of all, we need a new commitment to serious political discourse and civil society; perhaps supported and co-funded by progressive capital prepared to see the dismantling of neo-liberal structures and narratives.
On June 24th, the UK will be in existential crisis. The evil will not retreat or disappear; the neo-liberal elites will roll-out their contingency plans whatever the result. But there will still be a significant cohort of progressives in the UK. The majority of our political representatives (in the round including local Leaders) will still wish the future of this country to be in a multi-cultural, open Europe. The thoughtless and indifferent Brexiter and the stay at home abstainer will still have the choice of building hope and vision rather than being driven by anger and hate.
Jo Cox’s maiden speech may become an inspiration for the turnaround and recovery. She spoke of a constituency with strong Labour roots but also areas of Conservative representation; of non-conformity and independent thinking; of regional economic regeneration and community cohesion. She spoke of the “joy” of representing the community politically and of celebrating that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
These are desperate and desperately sad times. But, if there is to be the most powerful and positive memorial to Jo, it must be rooted in the sort of political leadership she was destined to provide. On June 24th the pro-European politicians – of many hues – need to stand up and be counted for an integrity and honesty they have not henceforth shown (ideally shaping and incepting a new Government of National Unity). And the progressives should give it our support, whilst we redouble our efforts and energies to create a civilised, tolerant, and engaged social and political culture across our cities and communities.