Back in Sweden, I’ve just completed my additional chapter for the sixth edition of The Lion’s Share. It’s called ‘Brexit and the Empire’. I thought of pre-posting it here, but it’s rather long. The publisher and I are hoping to get the book out at roughly the time that we leave the EU. If we don’t ever leave, which is still possible, I’ll need to adapt it a bit, but not by much. It’s about the Brexit movement, rather than Brexit itself.
Otherwise, and on the great issue of the day, I’m feeling a little more cheerful than when I left England. The polls seem to be improving for Labour. Boris, now exposed in an unfamiliar (i.e. serious) role, is getting universal condemnation and scorn for his waffly, ignorant and mendacious TV interviews. Jeremy is looking more statespersonlike by contrast. Or is this simply the stuff I’m getting through Facebook, automatically selected to fit my prejudices?
In the face of criticism by correspondents, I’m still enamoured of Corbyn’s approach to Brexit. Why should he come down on one ‘side’ or the other, when (a) he’s anyway a critical ‘European’ (like me); (b) there’s a compromise to be had, which (c) will be far more likely to ‘bring the country together’ than either of these two alternatives, and (d) is the most transparently ‘democratic’ of them all, simply because it gives the final say to an informed (this time) electorate?
“Why should he [Corbyn] come down on one ‘side’ or the other?” Because the UK has to make a decision vis a vis the EU; and it is the role of political leaders to inform the electorate of their policies on major issues, so that voters can make a reasoned choice when they enter the ballot box.
It also makes no sense at all for Corbyn to negotiate the best deal he can with the EU and then not support that deal in a referendum. He would be saying “This is the best deal for the UK as we leave the EU; however, I will not support it; I will not argue against those who support deals that are destructive of the UK or less worthy than mine.” Corbyn took that approach to the referendum and in doing so helped Leave to prevail.
We have already seen what happens in an actual referendum campaign. Democracy is manifest only in a ‘formal’ sense: the Farage-Johnson axis cynically dispenses with the norms of democratic debate. In the next referendum, as in the first, the very heavy artillery of the powers of darkness will – once again – be mobilised by the hard Brexit camp (the spectre of civil war has often been mentioned by you, Bernard). The campaign from the right will require a commensurate response from soft and anti-Brexiteers; reasoned argument will be pitted against lies, bigotry and threats. The weight of the Labour PM’s authority will be required in such a battle. Corbyn needs to be a serious combattant, not a conscientious objector.
I look forward to reading the chapter on Brexit and the Empire, Bernard. Although the hard Brexiters have used imperial mythology to advance their dream of a neo-liberal paradise for the hedge funds, the English taste for heroic failure has also been on display. This was always been tied up with imperial adventures and conflicts of one kind or another (a long list from Khartoum to Suez) and with an exceptionalist view of England and the English inculcated in the public schools, a myth that dies hard with the right wing ruling class. But some less heroic failure will be on full view in the post-Brexit years also, as we leave the most successful and largest single market in the world that is on the point of economic recovery. And then align with an America that is beginning to falter, and will expect due obeisance in a new trading relationship, the irony of the coloniser being colonised, but then all empires come back to haunt the perpetrators course.
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Right! I should have asked you to write the chapter!