June 29, 2016
by Martin Odoni
I am reminded of Genady Yenaev.
If that name is unfamiliar to you, twenty-five years ago, during the dying months of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, President Mikhail Gorbachev was briefly overthrown in a coup, or ‘putsch’, by hardline Communists. Yenaev was their leader, and he was unhappy with Gorbachev’s ‘Perestroika/Glasnost‘ reform programs. The putsch lasted days, but eventually, when the Red Army refused to attack its own citizens, Yenaev and his colleagues backed down and Gorbachev was restored to the Presidency. It was one of the most foolish, ill-judged attempts to topple a political leader since the brief restoration of Henry VI of England at the expense of Edward IV in 1470. Yenaev’s failed attempt to maintain the Soviet Union pre-dated its demise by all of four months; the Hammer & Sickle flag was lowered for the final time on Christmas Day that year, and the coup was what started the countdown to the empire unravelling.
This week, the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party have attempted their own putsch against their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and it has proven as foolish and self-destructive. The whole fiasco has been a speculative ‘hail-mary‘, chiefly because it has been almost entirely reliant on that most undependable of weapons – hope. Yes, their attack has included all the classic dirty tricks and intricate co-ordination with overly-helpful media who are gasping to curtail any resurgence of the real Left. But in the end, the whole strategy of the coup has hinged almost completely on the hope that Corbyn would simply be the first to blink. For the ‘Red Tories’, the hope was that because Corbyn is an honourable, decent, unaggressive man, that must mean he is a wimp. If he is a wimp, they could simply bully him into resigning. Right?
But decency and being a wimp are two very different traits. Given all the character assassination Corbyn has had to endure throughout a career in the House of Commons for thirty-three years, and especially over the last twelve months, this assumption about him seems laughably simple-minded. Having soaked up relentless, uncivilised pressure for half a lifetime, and still come out of it the same person, Corbyn has become as tough a politician as they come. He has shrugged off so many insults, so many blatant lies about his character, so much intimidation, and still he maintains an air of cool, patient dignity, honesty, graciousness and down-to-Earth good manners. To resist so much unfair provocation and hardly ever lose his temper is a quality that I can only envy. Having been in politics for so long, Corbyn will also have seen every dirty trick ever played, and he was always going to be ready and waiting for them. Sure enough, he had contingencies in place against the coup, including having a new Shadow Cabinet assembled before the stream of resignations was even halfway through. He was never just going to crumble and submit.
The ‘strategy’ of the coup throughout has been feeble and basic, relying on bullying and then hoping everything responds and pans out in a particular way. The minds behind the coup have given so little thought to the ‘what-ifs’ that there were no contingencies in place for anything. No one asked, for instance, “What if the national support sticks with Corbyn?” or “What if Corbyn refuses to blink?” And in behaving so deceitfully and treacherously, they have damaged, perhaps permanently, their own reputations, and to an extent that of their party. Such is the damage that, even if by some Excalibur-like miracle they succeed in dislodging Corbyn,they will still be in a helpless position afterwards. They have sacrificed everything, including their own futures, for the sake of controlling the future. That they did not see the impossible contradiction in that gamble says little for their intelligence.
The Red Tories’ only apparent chance since their failure to yell Corbyn into resigning on Monday has been more blind hope; they hoped to find a way of interpreting the rules so that Corbyn could be barred from standing in a leadership contest. With fewer than fifty MP’s backing him, they hoped they could argue that he did not have enough support to be nominated. But he does not need to be nominated; that rule quite explicitly applies only to challengers, not to the incumbent. The idea of the leader being nominated would make no sense on various levels; if Corbyn is being challenged for the leadership, by definition he has to be given an opportunity to meet that challenge, with or without nominations. Otherwise he is not being challenged but usurped, ergo the challenge cannot proceed. Indeed, his election to the leadership itself is his nomination, in a sense, and if he is no longer wanted, he will simply be voted out anyway.
Of course that is not going to happen, because Corbyn is still wanted by the great majority of Labour members nationwide. It is therefore right that Corbyn should stand. Corbyn will stand. And he will win. All signs are that his support in the Labour Party nationwide is, if anything, even greater than it was in September last year. The ten biggest Trade Unions in the country have all reaffirmed their support for Corbyn, which may even be enough to give him an unassailable lead even before the wider membership have their say.
Angela Eagle seems poised to be the ‘sacrificial lamb’ who will be sent to challenge Corbyn, but that is another self-destructive move; not only is she almost certain to lose to Corbyn, but she could also be put in danger of losing her seat in Parliament. This is because her own constituency party has come out very publicly in support of Corbyn, explicitly protesting against the coup. It seems that, if Diane Abbott’s insights are the truth, this pattern of MP vs. constituents could have been replicated in Labour seats up and down the country, had the coup not been carried out with such indecent haste that there was no time allowed for discussion.
This speaks of the superiority complex of ‘Blue Labour’, the contempt in which it holds the public. It therefore also speaks of exactly why Tony Blair’s vision of the Labour Party has to die. Its refusal to respect the right of the party’s grassroots to be heard will be mirrored in the wider public, and that constitutes a threat to democracy. Blairism will die too if the Red Tories continue on their present course, for if the constituency parties are alienated from their own candidates, the basic foundation of an MP’s election-to-Parliament will crumble.
There is no way out now. The Parliamentary Labour Party has trapped itself by its refusal to respect its leader’s mandate, and its unwillingness to give him a genuine, fully-supported chance to prove himself. Even Ed Miliband got more of a chance than Corbyn, and most of the party regarded Miliband with professional contempt. They have now presented Corbyn potentially with the authority to purge the party of the neoliberal elite, and to restructure the party so that its MP’s can no longer trigger leadership contests without the approval of the grassroots. The party will probably split into two once more, like it did in the early-1980’s.
What that means for the future is not necessarily the return of a genuine left-wing Government; the breakaway of the Social Democratic Party in 1981 not only split the Labour Party but also split its support, and there is bound to be at least some measure of lost support during the split ahead. The hope is that the rapid groundswell of support Corbyn has drawn can offset that, if it continues to grow, while the Conservative Party are dragged backwards by the equal chaos in their own ranks – a chaos that was not duplicated in the 1980’s. Also, future generations of Labour MPs will doubtless include once more many from the political ‘centre’, or from even further right. Yes, they will have to be watched closely to make sure they do not resurrect the parasite of ‘watered-down Toryism’.
But for now, the back of the current incarnation of ‘watered-down Toryism’ has been broken. With the Chilcot Report just days away, and likely to associate the Blairite philosophy permanently with the spectre of war crimes, the whole brand of neoliberalism-with-a-queasier-conscience will be irredeemably tarnished, as will all current politicians who subscribe to it.
I may regret making this prediction, but I shall say it anyway. New Labour is finished.
Once again, the stubborn New Labour bloc persists with trying to promote the Tory-like program of ideas that got the country into the current mess in the first place. They seem incapable of letting themselves recognise the better alternatives.
Meanwhile, is it possible that the Tories are looking for a new General Election this Autumn – and hope to lose it? Anything to avoid the responsibility of activating Article 50, a responsibility they themselves dragged onto the country’s shoulders.
Fascinating summary of the present political landscape in the UK, by Richard Hutton.
The Labour party may be finished-off by the results of the EU referendum: whether wholesale, or just in its current form, is open to question. It’s now clear how Tony Blair has managed to control the Parliamentary Party during the last 11 years. He is currently in Downfall mode – only, instead of ordering servile generals to send imaginary armies into battle, he’s tasking mediocre careerists with mobilising support that they do not have.
If Jeremy Corbyn is deposed, Labour is finished. The attempt to remove him from the leadership is obviously anti-democratic; and there is no justification for it. It is a cynical and disingenuous exercise; planned in advance, irrespective of which outcome the EU referendum bore. It is in defiance of Labour’s membership, supporters, and the unions; while the national circumstances of it make it unforgiveable. The only difference between this coup, and one occurring in a third-world dictatorship, is that the…
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June 28, 2016
Just as a quick reminder that not EVERY Labour MP is a snake in the grass.
FORTY MPs voted full confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party… in today’s vote. We name 37 of them:
- Andy Burnham
- Andy McDonald
- Angela Rayner
- Barry Gardiner
- Cat Smith
- Chi Onwurah
- Clive Lewis
- Dave Anderson
- Debbie Abrahams
- Dennis Skinner
- Diane Abbot
- Emily Thornberry
- Gill Furniss
- Graham Morris
- Ian Lavery
- Ian Mearns
- Imran Hussain
- Jeremy Corbyn
- Jo Stevens
- John McDonnell
- Jon Trickett
- Jonathan Ashworth
- Kate Osamor
- Kelvin Hughes
- Liz McInnes
- Pat Glass
- Paul Flynn
- Peter Dowd
- Rachel Maskell
- Rebecca Long Bailey
- Richard Burgon
- Ronnie Campbell
- Rosena Allin Khan
- Rosie Winterton
- Rushanara Ali
- Sarah Champion
- Tulip Siddiq
- If we presume Jeremy voted for himself, we presume among these are other usually loyal votes. But we can’t be sure.
by Martin Odoni
You know, I am fairly sure that during the referendum campaigns on leaving the European Union, freedom of speech was still being classed as an integral part of ‘democracy’, part of its definition, no less. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy, as people can only be informed if others are free to tell them the facts. Indeed, freedom of speech was so integral to the process that it was being presented as a strange sort of higher power, one of such magnitude that it made lying acceptable. No matter how many times a politician of either camp – Leave or Remain but mainly Leave – was caught spreading a lie or wild exaggeration, attempts to correct the misleading information would be dismissed on the basis of the liar still being allowed to say it because, “HEY! FREEDOM OF SPEECH!“
There were times during these encounters when I wanted to point out that freedom of speech works both ways. One person is free to make an assertion, another is free to respond, and indeed probably has a duty to respond if they have better information.
But since the announcement of the referendum result on Friday morning, I have come to realise, the definition seems to have altered. Leave campaigners appear to have decided that they have the right to alter the meaning of democracy, because they won the vote. So now, the cornerstone of the newly-redefined ‘democracy’ appears to be, “Just shut up, you whingers!”
How do I draw this conclusion? Well, I know very well that I am not the only person in the UK who, over the last few days, has read the following sentences, or at least, passages very much like them; –
“Look, cry baby, just grow up and accept that the vote’s over, will you? You lost, and now you can’t take it. It’s how democracy works, you sore loser – the will of the majority, and the majority has said we should leave the EU! Democracy, see? So shut up and live with it!”
(Former Dr Who actor, Peter Davison, has had just one example of such an exchange on his Twitter feed.)
So there you have it, democracy meant freedom of speech last week, it means shut up this week.
I do not wish to imply that every Leave supporter, or even the majority of them, is/are guilty of this yobbish triumphalism, but there are quite a lot of them doing it. After they spent weeks invoking freedom of speech to defend people who lie to the public, they suddenly seem very reluctant to allow their opponents the right to speak. Not even when all they want to do is point out that the referendum result has caused precisely the problems all the experts had warned, or that the leaders of the Leave campaigns have backtracked on heavily-implied promises made beforehand. Apparently, discussion of such issues is ‘immature’, ‘bad sportsmanship’, or ‘whinging’, because “Democracy!” To explain why one might think ‘Brexit’ is a mistake is anti-democratic.
In fairness, there have been a lot of nasty, generalised remarks in the other direction about Leave campaigners ‘all being stupid’. But if freedom of speech extends to freedom of lying, why should it not extend to freedom of insult?
If we have to say that this is democracy, it is not, in any event, healthy democracy. At a time when so many issues are pressing, and when elected representatives appear too ‘busy’ to discuss them, the task is left to the rest of us. In some respects, it does not matter who won last week, or how we got into this mess. All that matters is we are in a mess, and solutions need to be found.
“Shut up!” will not provide them.
by Martin Odoni
I was not planning to reflect just yet on events in the Labour Party Shadow Cabinet over the weekend, but some of the falsehoods coming from politicians currently embroiled in stabbing Jeremy Corbyn in the back have been so obvious that they insult the public. The main one I have issue with is the claim that this ‘coup’ has not been planned for a long time in advance, and I am so irritated by it, I felt I had to respond.
Polite eloquence fails me however when Labour’s front bench deserters say it. The most restrained response I can muster is;-
Do not insult people’s intelligence, of course the coup was planned out in advance! By being so treacherous, and then by lying through your teeth about it, you have shown that you people truly are Conservatives in every respect except your badge-colour.
How can this not have been heavily, I would even suggest theatrically, planned out and co-ordinated for weeks? It was blatantly obvious that this was going to happen sooner rather than later; the whole country has been bracing itself to see this shameless display of ‘Ides-of-March’ politics from you since Corbyn became leader. And for evidence, we need only see how rigidly choreographed the last couple of days have been;-
Instead of a collective resignation in one group, or in several large rushes, as would happen were it not being stage-managed, there have hardly been two resignations at the same time. No, instead, almost like clockwork, each resignation has happened on its own, very loudly and publicly, so each one gets its own headline on news bulletins and websites, and keeps the idea of Corbyn being an unwanted leader at the top of the news for way over twenty-four hours. Any time there is a sign of other news superseding it, another Shadow Minister announces his/her resignation, and lo and behold, Corbyn’s ‘unsuitability’ as a leader has top billing again.
How often have the ‘greatly reluctant, and deeply disappointed’ ex-Shadow Ministers posted images of their resignation letters on social media? Not only is that opportunistic and manipulative, it is also brutally indiscreet. A letter of that type should be confidential correspondence between employer and employee. And how many of the deserters have given interviews to media, who as usual have offered Corbyn no opportunity to tell his side of the story?
If it were not planned and co-ordinated in advance, why choose the ‘Brexit’ referendum as the reason for a vote of no confidence in Corbyn? His leadership was not what failed there. Hilary Benn, the man whose very correct dismissal after several days of rabble-rousing with colleagues started this uproar, and Alan Johnson were the men put in charge of Labour’s Remain campaign. They failed, even though Corbyn, as they had asked, managed to deliver well over sixty per cent of Labour supporters to the Remain vote. Most ironically, Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey, the two members who tabled the motion of no confidence, had some of the biggest Leave votes in their own constituencies of any Labour MP’s. So were this not a pre-planned stitch-up, and the EU vote were really their beef, why are Labour members not going after Benn, Johnson, Hodge or Coffey, instead of Corbyn?
Better still, why not do what Oppositions are supposed to do, and attack the Government for their astonishingly weak and completely needless campaign of public scaremongering, which clearly did infinitely more to empower the Leave campaign than anything Corbyn did? If ever there were an ideal time to attack the Tories, it is now while they are in limbo due to the shock of the referendum result and David Cameron resigning. It is also practically necessary, as at a time of serious political, social and economic flux, the Tories are failing to offer the country leadership, solutions, or simple focus on key issues. It is the perfect, and most necessary, time to go on the offensive against the Tories, and force Government minds back onto important matters.
Instead Labour attack their leader, at a time that looks tasteless to the public. And they imagine they are fooling everyone as to their reasons. In reality, there will hardly be a Briton alive who does not know why they are trying to unseat Corbyn now; a sustained attack on the Tories at this point is bound to succeed, and they do not want that success to be credited to Corbyn, lest they never be rid of him.
With the Chilcot Report into the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War due for release next week, that ‘riddance’ is now urgent. Corbyn made clear months ago that he is in favour of 2003 Prime Minister Tony Blair being tried for war crimes, should Chilcot find solid evidence of deceit to get a war declaration – which seems inevitable. If Corbyn is still Labour leader on 6th July, he will condemn Blair and his allies in the Chilcot debate without reservation. The ‘New Labour’ brand of watered-down Toryism will be finished, and every member of the party who voted for the Iraq War will be permanently tarnished by it. The only way of avoiding it is to have a leader who will fight to protect them, which Corbyn will not do. (The fabricated ‘antisemitism-in-the-Labour-Party‘ scandal was part of this, an attempt to discredit Corbyn’s party allies in order to isolate him.)
As I say, these deserters are Tories in all-but-badge-colour, and their narrow, cynical self-interest, dressed up as tears of fond frustration at an ‘inept leader’, is so manipulative it could have been orchestrated by Lynton Crosby.
But Corbyn will know all this too. He knows also that if he can hold onto the leadership for just a few more days, the Chilcot Report will hand him everything he needs to break the strength of the Red Tories for the rest of this Parliament.
At that point, anything will become possible.
by Martin Odoni
I do understand that Chancellors of the Exchequer feel the need to exude calm confidence. However the inevitable slump of the pound in the aftermath of the Brexit vote has brought a response from the present incumbent at 11 Downing Street so relaxed you could almost pour him into his suit.
George ‘Gideon’ Osborne, for whom I have of course always had the deepest respect, except when I am asleep (oh yes – or when I am awake), said this morning, with no apparent trace of irony, that the UK is “in a position of strength”. While admitting the painfully obvious point that adjustments would need to be made to the British economy, post-withdrawal from the European Union, he then said, quite maddeningly, that it could wait until after David Cameron has been succeeded as Prime Minister. Osborne could hardly have sounded more like a British Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf as the allied tanks were rolling into Baghdad, if he had declared, “The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of the Treasury!”
Now, according to the 1922 Committee, the next leader may not be in place until as late as 2nd September, which means that Osborne is willing to do nothing at all for two months.
After another day of bad news on the stock exchange – including another very serious reduction to the UK’s credit rating – this seems comatose, not cool-headed. Now in fairness, he is not explicitly ruling out doing anything at all between now and then, merely not arranging the Austerity-heavy emergency budget that he was threatening people with, in his characteristically diplomatic fashion, before the referendum.
But even so, he also has had an air about him of doing nothing, not least given his prolonged absence from public post-referendum view until this morning. There is no doubt that the problems need some corrective action. I am not suggesting anything dramatic, nor am I suggesting that measures Osborne might use are guaranteed to put a stop to the slide in the value of sterling. Further, there is just a chance, though not a great one, that the problems are simply a rather prolonged blip and the markets will soon right themselves once the shock of the vote has worn off.
But it would be an awful lot better if we had a Chancellor who is not just going to count on that hope, instead of being proactive. So here are a couple of small boosters to the pound that Osborne could try, just to apply a bit of a ‘drag factor’ to its plummeting value.
- First, Osborne could ask the Bank of England for a small cut in interest rates. This would make loans for sterling cheaper, and therefore more attractive to potential borrowers. With rates currently at just 0.5%, there is not much room for further reductions, but even a very small cut could help. If enough loans are taken out in response, demand for the pound will have gone up, and may just stabilise its value somewhat.
- Secondly, Osborne could ask the Bank of England to do a sort of ‘negative-QE’ to siphon some electronic capital out of the system. This would make pounds scarcer, at least in electronic form, and there will therefore be less to go around. Therefore, theoretically, demand for pounds would be increased.
- And thirdly, Osborne could order the Treasury to buy up some capital from the markets at a high bidding rate, which pushes the price up, while again reducing the amount of pounds in the system.
(In terms of practical application, options two and three are very similar.)
I do not expect Osborne to try any of these, because none of them really involve giving money to bankers or taking money from poor people.
by Martin Odoni
In some ways, after weeks of witnessing constant deceit and visceral hatred from almost all sides, I am so plagued by referendum-fatigue that I am past caring, but I have to ask a question to the ‘Brexiteers’; –
Do you people have an inkling of what you have set in motion?
Doubtless many of those who have voted to leave the European Union will stand there, chests puffed out with pride, and say, “‘Course we do! We’ve taken back our liberty. We’ve brought our country back, given it its independence, we’ve started the resurrection of Britain!”
No, you have not. You have set in motion all sorts of other effects, but that one? No. Indeed, it could be argued that you have done the opposite.
To make myself clear, while I did vote for Remain, and did some campaign work for it near the end, I was not that strongly committed to it, and only made my decision in the last few weeks before the polls opened. I am a fan of the idea of European unity, but I am not a fan of the EU, which is, when push comes to shove, something of an ‘Austerity Club’. Just see its brutal bullying of Greece over the last couple of years to see the very ugly side of the European Union, and why its single currency is increasingly looking like a scam to crowbar Europe into sweeping away all semblance of a public sector. They are genuine reasons to want to distance ourselves.
So I was always open to the idea of withdrawing from the EU. However, it is an absolutely huge step – bigger perhaps than most Leave voters realise – with monumental knock-on implications. So if I was to be swayed, I needed to be presented with a clear, workable and coherent framework by the Leave campaigns, outlining what Britain would do next once it had withdrawn.
Instead, all I could find was an ugly, distasteful mixture of irresponsible, scarcely-relevant rhetoric about immigration, and obviously untrue claims about the expense of being in the Union. I had concluded, by the start of June, that there really was no coherent plan for a post-EU future – and there still is none* – and so the Leave campaign must have been entirely focused around the very questionable view that leaving the Union is an end in itself. “Anything replacing this has to be better.”
(I imagine people in the Weimar Republic were thinking that of their own country around 1930…)
In fairness, I was disgusted by the most vocal elements of both the Leave and Remain campaigns. Although Leave was more frequently deceitful, in one sense the dishonesty of the Remain campaign was even more inexcusable, as they really had no reason for it. The knock-on effects of the withdrawal ahead will be enormous, very, very complicated, and deeply destabilising. Had they simply laid out those details more fully and more often, instead of resorting to the usual preferred David Cameron/George Osborne tactic of threats and hyperbolic scaremongering, I honestly think Remain would have won handsomely.
Those knock-on effects are substantial, and some of them will be the opposite of what Leave campaigners imagine.
Most particularly, that very large core who keep telling us they are not racists i.e. the ones who want to slow down, or put a stop to, immigration, have scored a spectacular own goal. They fear the refugees in the camps around Calais are terrorists trying to get into the UK, and think that the EU’s ‘open borders’ under Schengen will let them sneak in.
What these people do not realise, of course, is that the UK is not even part of the Schengen Area; see the map here (Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, incidentally, which are not members of the EU, are Schengen countries). Furthermore, Britain, under the 2003 Treaty of Le Touquet, has the right to take part in policing the Channel Tunnel at Calais. The withdrawal from the EU actually jeopardises that treaty, and sure enough, there are already demands in France that it now be re-negotiated. Of course, a re-negotiation is not necessarily the death of that, but it will be an intricate, time-consuming extra process, at the end of which the UK will not have recognisably better control than it had previously. So was it worth it?
Control of immigration is in fact far easier within the EU, where the processes are co-ordinated with far more integration between different police forces across the continent. Step outside of that network, and the police forces on the continent will feel no obligation to carry on sharing the burden our own police have to bear. So again, was it worth it?
“Well at least we can reduce the number of EU migrants coming into the country to steal our jobs!” declare the strictly non-racists who keep using identical rhetoric to all past racist groups. But is it even true? Well not exactly, no. Pro-Leave MEP Daniel Hannan, (about whom there will be more later) has admitted that he expects Britain’s future relationship with the EU to be something akin to that of Norway. Norway is a Schengen country (see above), which means it has open borders, and is more or less compelled to follow EU rules when trading with EU countries. It just has no say over what shape those rules will take. We do have influence over that at present, and that is what we will be surrendering when we leave. So once again, was it worth it?
Even if immigration really did become easier to control outside the EU, that does not necessarily mean good news. The ancient mantra about foreigners ‘coming over here stealing our jobs’ is not only unfair, it is simply untrue. An influx of people make for a larger economy, and that is especially good news in a service economy like the one with which we are presently encumbered. More people in the country means more customers who need services. That in turn means more work for the service sector, which means more jobs are likely to become available. It is with high emigration that people’s jobs are most likely to be taken away. You might just as well grumble about babies ‘being born and stealing our jobs’.
I shall not ask again whether it was worth it.
But as I say, the knock-on effects of Brexit will not include better control of immigration anyway. While members of the Leave campaigns – official and otherwise – try to insist that no promises have been made on reducing immigration, it is very clear that many of their supporters believed it was, and since the vote have been emboldened in their aggressive behaviour towards foreigners and people of colour. (Many anti-immigration activists even seem to imagine that they have voted for repatriation of migrants, which is the form a lot of the growing tensions are taking.)
What the knock-on effects do include is instability. Serious instability, both inside the country and beyond these shores. At home, that anti-immigration unrest is one of the forms this instability takes, and there is already a danger of it turning violent
Add to this the very quick backtracking by Leave campaigners, official or otherwise, on implied promises, almost from the moment that the Leave lead was confirmed to be unassailable. This will also lead to unrest at home. Now the Leave campaigners can argue, and have argued, that such promises were not made word-for-word, but they did their best to give the impression that they were, and certainly made very little attempt to disabuse people of the notion. The aforementioned Daniel Hannan was a lot louder about immigration not going down after he had the result he wanted, than he had been before. Particular condemnation of course for Nigel Farage of UKIP, who also waited until the win was in the bag before disassociating himself from the official Leave campaign’s talk of reassigning £350 million per week in EU funding to the National Health Service. It was a false claim anyway, due to the UK rebate and the knock-on trade stimulus provided by being in the Single Market – the £350 million is simply the ‘priming of the pump’ which will only pump something back to us if we put that opening investment in* – but for Farage to retain any credibility or honour, he should have spoken out loudly and publicly against this fraudulence weeks ago. (On the flipside, the official campaign should equally have spoken out against the false implications of UKIP’s constant talk of Brexit leading to immigration reductions. To their credit, they did speak out against the racism of UKIP’s poster campaign, but not against the deceit of it. And the ever vile Iain Duncan-Smith, who is already trying to pretend that no pledge to transfer EU funds to the NHS was ever made, is claiming black is white yet again. Why did he never take a chance to clarify what the bus was saying while he was standing in front of it?
A verbatim promise? No. But it is plainly very, very misleading, and deliberately so, so it might just as well be a flat-out lie.)
Instability within Government has been substantial, with David Cameron announcing his resignation as Prime Minister (and with usual cynical cowardice, passing on the heavy responsibility of activating Article 50 to his successor), and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn facing an (admittedly opportunistic and fabricated) uprising by his own Shadow Cabinet.
As for effects outside the UK, just look at what this is going to do to Ireland; and heaven knows, it is long past time that the British stopped doing wrong by Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was one of the finest and most remarkable achievements in the history of European diplomacy, as it finally brought about what, throughout the previous quarter of a century, had seemed impossible. It brought an end, more or less, to ‘The Troubles’. And ‘Brexit’ has endangered it. This is because the Republic of Ireland is still going to be in the EU, but Northern Ireland is not. The border between them, which has been little more than a formality for a generation, will have to be enforced again, especially to prevent it from becoming a ‘back door’ route into Britain for immigrants who have entered the Irish Republic. Tensions will be increased, especially for Catholics in the north who will be cut off once more from the south, but also along the border in general; it was always easily breached during The Troubles, even while it was patrolled by the British Army, and will have to be policed very strictly post-Brexit, which is sure to cause some unease among locals on both sides. The Good Friday Agreement included a specific protocol that the people of Ulster would always be able to be citizens of the UK or the Republic, or even both, at their own discretion; but Brexit would mean they are both members of the EU and not members of the EU, therefore subject to the EU’s laws and yet not subject to them, simultaneously. The fact that the people of England and Wales (I will not say ‘mainland British’ as that is unfair on the pro-Remain majority in Scotland) do not appear to have thought about this difficulty implies almost a colonial lack of consideration.
Add to that the reality that the majority in Northern Ireland, perhaps with the above issues in mind, have voted against leaving the EU, and the possibility is raised that it may have to leave the UK. Potentially it could be absorbed into the Republic, or to stand alone as an independent province, but either way, the question is destabilising, especially as it risks stirring up old arguments that the Good Friday Agreement seemed to have settled. While it would be an exaggeration to say that Northern Ireland has been a picture of harmony over the last 18 years, after decades of blood and grief, peace has at least been the dominant condition. Now the agreement that brought it about may have to be re-negotiated.
Scotland, too, voted against leaving. One of the arguments that arguably swung the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence was that staying in the UK would allow Scotland to remain in the EU without having to adopt the euro as its currency. But the result of Thursday’s referendum has proven that notion completely false, handing the Scottish National Party the ideal pretext for reviving the argument and holding a second Independence referendum. With the current price of oil so low, an independent Scotland’s current ability to function as a trading nation is in a measure of doubt, but the prize may still be seen as worth the price.
The United Kingdom itself is, in short, now in danger of breaking up, and whether you believe that is a good thing or a bad thing – speaking for myself I am quite okay with it – it will certainly not be the resurrection of Britain; it will be its undoubted termination.
Meanwhile, the UK is not the only union that Brexit has imperilled. It has also given huge ammunition to extreme Right groups across Europe, fighting to extract their countries from the European Union. Marine Le Pen of the French National Front, within hours of the referendum result coming through in the UK, was calling for a ‘Frexit’ referendum, while Dutch extremist Geert Wilders was pushing for a ‘Nexit.’. It seems quite certain that at least a few more withdrawals will follow, and with each passing withdrawal, another withdrawal becomes more likely.
Britain’s decision has potentially destabilised Europe. What do I care what they do in Europe once we’re out of it? you ask. Simple, history is what should make you care; if there is one lesson the last three thousand years of European history has taught us, it is that the last eventuality anyone on Earth can afford is a dis-unified, destabilised Europe. People tend to die in horribly large numbers when we have a Europe like that. The British may not want to be a part of that, but if they could hardly stay out of it in the 1940’s, they certainly have no way of avoiding it in the face of the military technology of today.
Further afield, old treaties that were settled with the EU are now going to need re-negotiating by the British, and again, some of them are going to re-open old wounds. Territorial issues overseas with other European countries in particular will now become harder to reconcile without the shared governance of the EU. For instance, if the UK leaves the union, Gibraltar leaves too, even though it voted very decisively to remain in the EU. This immediately scuppers fair access to ‘the Rock’ for Spain. So naturally Spain is now demanding a complete new settlement, including shared sovereignty with Britain, for Gibraltar.
Due to Britain’s imperial past, there are many such issues that will now have to be re-addressed. Long, slow, wearisome, complicated, and individualised. Possibly expensive too. And once again, destabilising.
Add to this the economic instability Brexit has caused. £200 billion was wiped off the stock market’s value in a few hours, during the deepest and most rapid run-on-the-pound in history as sterling becomes less internationally useful, and hence less desirable, and knock-on slowdowns across the rest of the continent and elsewhere. The country’s credit rating has been downgraded. The British have in fact dropped a lit match into a pool of oil.
All of this, and to make a move that has no follow-up plan in place, only the withdrawal move itself. Now call me presumptuous when I say this, but I am very doubtful indeed that the great majority of people who voted Leave really thought of any of this beforehand. I am perfectly prepared to admit that some of them never occurred to me, but I still thought of enough of them, and asked what the alternative future we were being offered would be – and realised that nobody knew – to say no.
I am not, I want to stress, one of the people arguing for the referendum to be re-run. I accept the verdict, no matter how profoundly I disagree with it, and it would be anti-democratic just to overturn the vote. Also, as I mentioned at the start, I have referendum-fatigue after seeing this whole ghastly process shine a light on Britain at its ugliest. Between the ugly post-victory triumphalism and anti-immigrant aggression of Leave voters, the anti-democratic elitism to emerge from people rejecting the result, and the truly evil murder of Jo Cox (without a shot being fired, Farage? An insult has yet to be invented that is strong enough for you), this whole exercise has shown us as a country at our intolerant and intolerable worst. Even growing up among all the unrest of the 1980’s, I have never known my country to be quite as divisive or hate-filled as it has been over the last few months. It has made me nauseous, unhappy, sometimes frightened, frequently horrified, and I have numerous friends who feel the same as I do. Frankly, the atmosphere has been so fraught that I honestly do not know if the British are capable of another referendum campaign on this subject without descending into civil war. On a more personal note, I also do not know if my own health could cope with it. I concede there is a genuine legal basis for re-running the referendum, as all the retracted pledges from the Leave Campaign can be seen as a violation of contract – under, irony of ironies, EU laws. But no, for better or worse, the decision is made, and as the host of a favourite TV programme of mine used to say, “Once embarked, the only way is onward; there is no turning back.”
What I am saying though, is that the country is going to learn a painful lesson in the most painful way it can; that lesson is to stop misusing certain democratic processes to express opinions on subjects that they are not there to discuss. Many Leave campaigners clearly thought this was anti-immigration matter, and it is now starting to become clear to them that it was not. But it should have been clear beforehand, simply because the question asked was whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union, not whether it should throw out foreigners. Some voted Leave while wanting to Remain, because they carelessly assumed Remain would win, and they were just desperate to demand ‘change’. But as there was no way a vote to decide whether to stay in the EU could offer an articulate description of that change, the only form the change could make is withdrawal from the EU. (And no, the votes will not be interpreted as a call for a change of policy at home, only as a demand to leave the EU.)
In 2011, there was a referendum on electoral reform. People plainly voted No in huge numbers to punish Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats for helping the Conservative Party put up tuition fees. But the referendum question was not asking about whether tuition fee increases were a good idea, it was asking about whether there should be a change to the electoral system. Tuition fees in the five years that followed have not gone down as a result of the electoral system staying the same, and an opportunity to make the electoral system (slightly) more representative was spurned for the sake of useless revenge.
I do appreciate that our MPs all-too-often ignore what the public are saying, and I do share the frustration of how difficult it can be to make our wishes articulate and known to those in power, especially when they just do not want to hear it. But misusing a referendum is not the answer to that, and what the country has set in motion in doing so is a machine that will be quite impossible to control. There had to be a clear and workable alternative future available for such a path to be chosen, and there was none. And do the people who did this imagine they got their message across?
So I ask one last time, was it really worth it?
*If you do not believe this, consider the way various Brexit leaders are suddenly insisting that there is ‘no rush‘ to get the wheels turning on withdrawal, while EU officials are saying, “If you’re really going, let’s get on with it.” If the £350 million really were just being wasted when it could be reassigned to the NHS – and if they really cared about the NHS in the way they want us to believe – they would surely want to get started straight away so they could stop making the payments at the earliest opportunity.
Strange, #Brexit leaders were saying it’s insane we’re paying £350m a week to the EU, now saying “No rush to leave”. £150m gone since Friday
— Martin Philip Odoni (@HavetStorm) June 26, 2016
Furthermore, it is all the evidence we need of my earlier point, that the Brexit leaders really do not have – have never had – any coherent or workable framework for what the country will do in the event of a Leave vote. They are now playing for time while they try and make up a policy platform as they go along, while hoping they do not look like they are making it up as they go along.