I hope that this will be my final post on the referendum – though not necessarily on its repercussions. Anyone bored by the subject, or by my droning on about it, can skip it. Make yourself a cup of tea, and prepare for the next exciting political events bearing down on us: the Chilcot Report on Wednesday, then the party leadership elections, a possible general election, all kinds of literal horrors going on abroad, thanks (partly) to Tony Blair, and who knows what more in the days and weeks to come? Personally I wish the times were less exciting. But what else can you expect with global capitalism in its death throes?!
On the referendum, I feel there’s one thing we should be clear about. Brexit wasn’t altogether their fault: ‘their’ of course referring to those who voted ‘Out’, or even their clownish and mendacious leaders. I’ve already indicated that Cameron was at least as much to blame, certainly tactically – agreeing to a 50-50 referendum on a single issue at a time when the electorate was feeling particularly bolshie about just about everything (see https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/); and then by the negative and scary way he conducted the ‘Remain’ side of the debate, even though much of the ‘scare’ stuff has turned out to be true. And then of course there’s our awful press. (That goes without saying.)
But the EU itself, or whoever runs it, is not altogether blameless. My own major gripes with it are, firstly, over the neo-liberalism that has taken it over in recent years, which of course is responsible for our immigration ‘problem’ (‘free movement’); and secondly its imperialistic propensities, which are also quite recent, and which I’ve written about before: (https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/eumperialism/). I have other problems with it too. The Euro is one – poor Greece! – but we’re not yet part of that. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for other considerations I might well have voted ‘Out’ on the 23rd. So I don’t blame anyone who did; or at least, without knowing what their particular motives were.
Nonetheless I admire some aspects of the European Union. On a personal, selfish level I like the way it enables me to travel unhindered between my two homes, in England and Sweden, and to enjoy Swedish healthcare, as Kajsa can enjoy the NHS. On a more airy-fairy level I like the friendship that it seems to have encouraged between peoples of different countries and cultures, and particularly among the young – who of course predominantly voted ‘In’. (Even if I’d not had my own views I think I would have deferred to theirs, on the grounds that the result of the vote will affect them for longer than us oldies.) I still think we could have built on that. I’m also very much in favour of Europe’s labour legislation, which I don’t think we would have adopted without it; and of the European Court of Human Rights, which has proved itself more liberal in general than our own courts. I’m quite happy being overruled by it. Lastly, I was aware that even if you don’t like a situation you’ve got yourself into, extricating yourself from it is not necessarily the answer. You can have become so entangled with it that the result is almost bound to be complex and painful: as it’s turning out to be. I don’t think the Brexiteers took enough account of that.
On top of that, however, there was a tactical reason why I opposed Brexit at this time, arising out of the political situation in Britain. The problem, as I saw it, was that the leading Brexiteers had totally different objections to the EU from mine, being – as they were – Tories, and so opposed on principle to both of the material aspects of the Union I most valued: labour legislation and human rights. Gove and Farage are both ‘small government’ men, as is probably Boris Johnson, if one can be sure about what he thinks at any one time. Like most other people during the campaign I assumed that if Brexit won, the outcome would be a new government headed by Boris and Gove, which had to be worse, I thought, for the causes I valued. In the event it hasn’t turned out like that; but Theresa May is not exactly a reassuring alternative, as the leading Conservative authoritarian. (See https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/the-snoopers-charter/.) Frying pans and fires came to mind. So the prospect was not an inviting one. Another reason I came to oppose Brexit even more strongly was the xenophobia and racism it seemed to be stirring up as the campaign went on; and the way it was obviously demeaning us, as a nation, in foreign eyes. In my last post I mentioned how humiliated I feel in Sweden. I imagine most ‘Out’ voters didn’t think of that; or if they did, like Nigel Farage, made a virtue of it.
Better than this, I thought, would be to stay inside the Union, and try to reform it from within. What I should like ideally, and what I always hoped for the EU, is that it could shelter us, in a way a weak national government could never do, from the anti-social effects of globalisation. It’s the latter which is the root cause of most of our present troubles, after all, not ‘Europe’, whose main fault has been the way it has played along with global capitalism. The idea of using the EU as a brake on the capitalist behemoth is of course much mocked by cynics, and I certainly wouldn’t put any money on it myself; but there are two prospective circumstances which might make it a possibility. One is the world-wide reaction against neo-liberalism that began after the last ‘Great Recession’, and shows little sign of waning yet, which might – just might – change the whole economic discourse over the next several years, which would surely make fundamental alternatives to the present economic status quo just possible. Another, related to this, is the rise of left-wing anti-austerity political parties within the European Union that a British Labour government – certainly under Corbyn, if he’s still there – could co-operate with in order to achieve a new order. That would be worth fighting for, if only to prevent the most likely alternative, which is presaged by the rise of Right-wing, neo-Fascist parties in Europe. Of course, the rest of Europe might achieve this – continental socialism – on its own. There are signs of deep unrest all over, much of it dredged up to the surface perhaps by our Brexit crisis, which could be channelled Leftwards rather than to the neo-Fascist and racist Right. If so, however, it would be sad if Britain could not be part of it.
Those were my thoughts during the campaign. I did waver at one moment, acknowledging the force of the anti-EU argument – I mentioned this in one of my posts – but as the campaign went on I was strengthened in my leaning to the ‘Remain’ side by the frankly silly personalities leading the opposition to it, and by the blatant lies they came out with; which a law professor recently castigated as so ‘criminal’ as possibly to nullify the result (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/brexit-eu-referendum-michael-dougan-leave-campaign-latest-a7115316.html). Then there was the hatred, xenophobia and – in one case, murder – which accompanied that awful debate, and the racist attacks that have followed it, for which Farage and the UKIP wing of Brexit must bear some of the responsibility; all of which confirmed my – by now – strong resolution to stick to the ‘Remain’ side. I’m sure now I was right, but can’t blame anyone who leant the other way, in view of the clear imperfections of the EU, and the propaganda that was fed to them. However, as I wrote last time, as a sporting nation we have to stick with the result. After all, it was only a game, wasn’t it, Boris?
I suppose a socialist Europe is unlikely in the near future. It reminds me – though this doesn’t have much relevance to our present situation – of a solution that George Bernard Shaw proposed a century ago to the great problem of Britain’s Empire – whether it should be formally dissolved, which the anti-imperialist Shaw thought would only leave its constituent parts more vulnerable to economic imperialism, or what today is called ‘globalisation’; or alternatively, as he thought, transformed into a truly socialist ‘commonwealth’. Quite frankly, if that had been practicable I think it might have been better for everyone, including the ex-colonies for whom ‘independence’ – or ‘Empexit’ – has not always been an undiluted boon. But of course it was highly unlikely, in the face of colonial nationalism; just as it may be in the case of today’s European Empire, with narrow-minded nationalists like Farage – and le Pen in France, and Åkesson in Sweden, and many others – around.
So, bye-bye Brexit. Wheel on Chilcot, and another kind of ‘imperialism’ – going then under the name of ‘liberal interventionism’ – which I probably know more about, and have written about in books.