For any historical event, there are usually several layers of explanation, interacting with one another. In the case of Brexit I wouldn’t like to claim that what I offer below is the only explanation, but it’s worth considering, among all the others. It may look like a ‘conspiracy theory’, but it isn’t really, because it doesn’t require a small group of people ‘breathing together’ (conspirare) in secret. Often people act in unison but independently of each other, and for their own reasons. And their beliefs and actions may not in themselves be the ultimate causes of the events they appear to be promoting, but may be affected and even formed by impersonal, and unperceived, forces beyond their control.
Our present political difficulties, I should like to suggest, come into this category. Here, the ‘unperceived force’ is the ‘crisis of capitalism’ that has been impatiently predicted for decades by Marxists, but seems only just to have arrived; after several false alarms that were defused in the past by, for example, imperialism, wars and welfare socialism, all of which acted to solve, temporarily, the inherent and inevitable self-destructive tendency of late-stage ultra-free-market capitalism. That’s the elephant in the Brexit room, looming over the deliberate or conscious motivations of the ‘Brexiteers’ themselves, including nationalism, racism, romanticism (Boris), self-aggrandisement, anti-élitism, and the host of littler resentments and prejudices that surround what is called ‘populism’ today.
Many of these motivations are inconsistent, even contradictory; but one major one in the case of the leaders of the Brexit movement shines through. That is the ambition to ‘free’ Britain from unwelcome economic and political restrictions, some of them emanating from Europe but not all, in order to return Britain to the condition that is supposed to have been hers in the glorious nineteenth century, before all those interfering socialists came along. Because the USA is seen as the true inheritor of that tradition in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the nation that is still holding the torch of ‘freedom’ proudly aloft, it is natural for the Brexiteers to wish to get closer to her, notwithstanding ‘chlorinated chicken’, the marketisation of the NHS, and all the rest. It also explains President Trump’s support for Brexit, and his closeness to Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. If Britain achieves Brexit along Boris’s lines, then it is almost certain that she (or rather, her government) will follow it by using her newly acquired ‘freedom’ to dismantle some of the domestic restrictions on enterprise represented by, for example, trade unions and legislation on ‘health and safety’. That will bring her closer both to the neo-liberals’ utopia, and to the USA.
Of course Brexit is ‘about’ Brexit for millions of those who voted for it; either that or – as I have argued before (https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/) – arising out of a general resentment against the Tory-Lib government, austerity and our flawed political system. For those who have seized the reins of the movement over the last three years, however, and have now taken over the old Conservative party (Keith Simpson’s) almost completely, like those extra-terrestial human-devouring aliens in the old science-fiction movies, it is about something else. It’s the culmination of the movement Margaret Thatcher set in train in the 1980s in what I’ve called elsewhere the ‘Great Reaction’ against the social democracy of Attlee’s and Wilson’s Labour Party, and has been growing in ascendency ever since, even through ‘New Labour’ times. We can tell it’s really that if we examine the social and financial situations of most of its rich and privately-educated leaders and propagandists; including, of course, the billionaire and tax-avoiding owners of 85% of the British Press. It’s also borne out by their quite unbalanced hatred of Jeremy Corbyn – who is reacting against the Great Reaction – which is what is mainly firing the Conservatives in the present election campaign. It is also suggested by the unprecedented political cheating and foreign meddling (American, Russian, Israeli) that have brought us to this situation. Lies and dissembling are more characteristic of capitalism, I would venture to claim, than of the Left. It’s something to do with advertising, commercial amorality, and ‘winning at all costs’. – But I’ll put some more thought into that.
The Right has been sitting waiting for this since the 1960s. Now Brexit has given it the perfect opportunity to achieve its long-term aims. The ‘anti-semitism’ row has been a further unexpected (because untrue) bonus. What a bit of luck (for the Right)! Whether or not this entirely or even mainly explains Brexit, it’s undeniable that the neo-Liberal Right has cleverly exploited whatever other reasons there may have been for it, to its own material advantage. And it may well win.
I’m off to Sweden soon, but will be back just before the election. The result of that may decide whether I move to Sweden permanently, to get away from a country I used to love but now hardly recognise any more. I’m not alone. 8,000 Brits have applied for and been granted Swedish citizenship over the last year. And the figures are probably higher for warmer countries.