Monthly Archives: June 2016

EU referendum postscript

And so it came to pass and, yet again, so many got it so badly wrong.

I am not talking about the 52% of voters who have decided to take us out of the EU. It would be an anti-democratic and conceited view to accuse 17.4 million people of being wrong, although it has to be said that 52% of a 72% turnout still means this seismic decision has been made by barely 37% of the electorate. However, in this country’s flawed democracy huge government majorities in Westminster are regularly achieved by even less of a mandate.

No, what I mean by so many getting it wrong is the supposed left. Left-wing politics is defined by Wikipedia thus:

“Left-wing politics supports social equality and egalitarianism, often in opposition to social hierarchy and social inequality. They typically involve concern for those in society whom they perceive as disadvantaged relative to others and a belief that there are unjustified inequalities that need to be reduced or abolished.”

The salient point here is the phrase “concern for those in society whom they perceive as disadvantaged relative to others”. Implicit in this is a prerogative to understand the perspective of those people and offer a programme that addresses their needs. The perspective of these people has been very clear for quite some time. They are sick of the establishment screwing them over. They are sick of politicians reneging on promises and and being self-serving hypocrites. They are sick of feeling detached from the decision-making process. Cardiff seems remote to many. Westminster has long been completely out-of-touch and Brussels is positively alien. This was an anti-establishment vote, first and foremost. The left should have recognised this and embraced it.

Immigration has been talked up as the central issue, but this is classic scapegoating in more than one sense. While I accept that racists were bound to find appeal in leaving the EU, I refuse to accept the characterisation of Leave voters as die-hard racists. When the disadvantaged are trying to make sense of their predicament, when they are offered credible scapegoats they will accept this, in the absence of coherent alternative explanations and solutions. This failure to communicate the true reasons for the predicament of the disadvantaged , and to offer credible socialist alternatives, is the big failing of the Left in this campaign, and has left what should be their core support open to being picked off by the right-wing scapegoat merchants.

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Straight talking and honest? Until this campaign!

A major part of the problem has been the fact that the traditionally left of centre party, Labour, is no longer remotely socialist. The grass-roots support for Corbyn should have been the wake up call they needed, but the PLP steadfastly refused to rally around him and shed their red-tory Blairism. This in turn led Corbyn to reluctantly falling into line, casting aside a lifetime of socialist opposition to the EU (alongside Tony Benn), and becoming a reluctant Remainer. That there is now a PLP revolt underway, accusing Corbyn of undermining the Remain campaign with his lack of enthusiasm, highlights just how completely out of touch these people have become. We now have a glorious opportunity to see a socialist Labour Party reborn under Corbyn, and be in the right place at the right time to finally dislodge the tory hegemony. But no. They look hell-bent on re-instigating internal warfare while Cameron retires gracefully and allows the Tories to potentially steady their ship. If they ditch Corbyn and anoint a Blairite successor they really will become utterly pointless and probably finished.

Things look little better for the other left-wing pretenders. Both Plaid Cymru and the Green Party emphatically backed the wrong horse. Jenny Jones is not looking quite to silly now. It will be fascinating to watch how Plaid Cymru attempt to spin their way out of yet another mess of their own making. Of course, their support for Remain was heavily influenced by the dream of opening up a schism with England (long perceived as the the most likely source of Leave votes) in pursuit of the independence holy grail. It was the same ploy for the SNP, but with important differences. Firstly, the SNP are an overtly neoliberal party that would always feel at home in the EU neoliberal club. Secondly, the close call ( and I still think, perhaps, the ‘manipulated’ outcome) of the Scottish Indy referendum, closely followed by the SNP landslide in the General Election, always made it likely that the Scottish electorate would trust the SNPs advice on how best to re-open the independence debate.

Plaid Cymru are in a very different position. They have pretensions to be an ecosocialist party and as such should have recognised the prevailing mood in their core vote, embraced the sound socialist arguments for Brexit, and put clear red water between themselves and Welsh Labour. They would still have had to contend with the other big difference with the SNP though. Namely, that relatively few of the electorate actually trust Plaid Cymru (20% in the WG vote and just 12% in the GE vote, compared to the SNP’s 47% SG vote and 50% GE vote). So now they find themselves between a rock and a hard place with nowhere obvious to turn.

As for the Greens, well they hardly merit a footnote. They are making very little progress anywhere, going backwards in Wales, and were just as split on this EU debate as other parties. And yet again, the leadership misjudged it badly. With much of the genuinely ecosocialist Green Left faction gone (at least several very prominent members to my knowledge), the Greens seem to be little more than a middle-class bunch of pseuds with no real passion for the genuine revolutions needed to actually achieve their environmental goals, let alone purported social goals. Just another party playing the election game, but losing nearly every time.

So what of the new dawn presented by this historic Brexit vote?

The left-wing Remainers have to look at themselves very hard. Remain never was a socialist vote. It was ‘a lesser of two evils’ vote. The greater evil they saw in Brexit will be self-fulfilling prophecy if they fail to re-assert themselves as left-wingers with genuine concern for the disadvantaged. I will be looking on with interest to see which party, if any is up for the challenge. It will start with eating some humble pie and admitting they got it wrong; that they had failed to understand their (potential) electorate and offer them a more positive Brexit alternative to the xenophobic scapegoating that was allowed to characterise the Leave campaign. With the egos involved, it is actually hard to imagine any of the parties managing this any time soon. Failure to do so, however, will simply re-enforce the tragedy of UKippers being seen to be more in touch with the disadvantaged.

“This will be a victory for the real people, for the ordinary people, and for the decent people. We fought against the multi-nationals, we fought against the big merchant banks, we fought against lies, corruption and deceit. Honesty, decency and belief in nation is going to win. And we will have done it without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired.”

This rousing left-wing rhetoric was uttered by none other than Nigel Farage as the dawn broke on the result. That he said it with his fingers crossed, in all probability, is not the point. It is what we should and could have heard from someone like Corbyn, and echoed by people like Leanne Wood. It is what the disadvantaged electorate wanted to hear and they got it from Farage. Note that he made no mention of immigration. It was the anti-establishment message he choose to drive home.

Whoever proves to be the first to learn the lessons will be well-placed to prosper and finally put Farage and company in their place. It will also be the signal for me to re-engage with politics. In the meantime, I feel pretty much disenfranchised but will enjoy a break from it all.

The EU referendum has brought me to the end of the road

A part of me thinks that what I am about to say and do is part of the neoliberal masterplan, in terms of me (and many others) giving up the fight, but I feel myself teetering on the abyss again and my sense of self-preservation is kicking in.

This blog and social media have chronicled how I have wrestled with this infernal EU debate over many months and leant one way and then the other several times over. I have seen others in a similar quandary. This alone has made it a unique phenomenon. It is indicative of the only obvious fact of the matter – that nobody really knows what the hell is going to happen either way.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 23.30.44A consequence of this fact is that people have to rely on their own assimilation of the (conflicting) information presented (from invariably biased sources). The sources have presented this information as factual when it can never be thus in any meaningful sense – there are no definite facts about the future. They are suppositions, predictions and speculations; inevitably distorted by the vantage points and inherent prejudices of the observers. They are opinions. This is as true of my proclamations on the issue as anyone else’s. This is the basis for having to respect diverse opinion. FFS, we even have to tolerate religion because we cannot prove it to be wrong. But the lack of respect and toleration flowing in all directions on this occasion has been staggering, even amongst supposed friends, allies and comrades.

Personally, I know I can be forthright and belligerent at times, but I always try to respect individuals, even when I don’t respect organisations to which some individuals belong. I know I singularly fail in this when it comes royalty (parasites), tories of all hues (arseholes), and religious fundamentalists (fuckwits). I am but human after all. But I hope I have never directed abuse at anyone I know, on any sort of personal level, simply because I felt they were wrong. I also hope I have managed to maintain friendships with people who I know hold fundamentally different views to me on many matters. I take pride in choosing not to be offended by things – it generally means the argument has been lost for a start – but some of the stuff directed at me recently has tested that resolve.

There has been a strong irony in this as well. Not so long ago I was in the ‘reluctant Remain’ camp along with many leftie associates. Because of my circle of contacts, I was not exposed to any direct right-wing abuse at all. Even the Tories I have contact with were respectful of my stance. Many shared it. I did enter into dialogue with leftie friends who had positioned themselves in the ‘Lexit’ camp and had some well-mannered dialogue with some of them. I slowly began to see their perspective and, swallowing hard, a while back, declared myself convinced of their perspective. This is where it all turns sour from my own personal perspective.

The bitter abuse and vitriol that began to come my way from supposed leftie comrades left me somewhat bewildered. You would have thought I had come out as a full-blown Nazi. All of a sudden I was undermining civilisation as we know it, a traitor to both past (my fathers) and future (my kids) generations, stooping low enough to associate with ‘cockroaches’ and ‘vermin’. This is the talk of the fundamentalist, the ideologue, the irrational. And the irony is, of course, that these people were in the grip of fear of the fundamentalists, the ideologues and the irrational people on the other side of the debate. Indeed, the whole thing has been rightly characterised as Project Fear, on both sides of the argument.

Enough is enough. In a debate on matters of opinion, where there is no respect from either side for the people holding differing (let alone opposing) views, there can be no winners. Everyone is bound to be a loser. There can be no respect for the outcome either. The verdict on Thursday is likely to mark the start, not the end, of ongoing power struggles and malcontent on all sides.

Thus, while I still believe Brexit to be the correct way to go for a genuine socialist, and recognise that fear of the extreme right makes Bremain by far the safer way to go, I no longer want to be associated with fundamentalists, ideologies and irrational fear-mongers on either side. So this is what my ballot paper will now look like this:Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 23.14.36And going forward? I can see no way forward for me or genuine ecosocialists. The game is up. It is patently clear that all the supposed leftie people I know, now push has come to shove, are not prepared to fight our corner. There is no socialist avenue to explore in remaining in the EU. That has largely been conceded. They have capitulated because they could not imagine taking on the likes of Farage, BoJo, IDS and Gove and winning. I find this, quite frankly, so depressingly defeatist. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t; still leaves you in bed with the devil.

So what if Brexit wins? The defeatists I have just lambasted will ensure it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is no stomach for a fight. And why not? I suspect that it is because most of the supposed lefties out there – and certainly the vast majority in the Green Party – actually have just a bit too much to lose from putting conviction before pragmatism.

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I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard them say ‘yes, the EU has to go, but the time is not right’. The time will never be right. Sniping from the sidelines is just fine, but taking revolution to the streets? Only if we can fit in before Jessica’s piano lesson.

So hence the feeling of being stuck between the devil (the extreme-right) and the deep blue sea (the neoliberal super-club that is the EU). There is nowhere for me to go. I am at the end of the road. I give up. This is not say I can’t be proven wrong. With a Remain verdict, maybe the socialists across Europe will rest the ethos of the EU from the neoliberal hegemons after all. With a Leave verdict, maybe the factions of the left will unite like never before to face up to and face down the far-right threat. Excuse me if I don’t hold my breath on either of these coming to pass, but if they do it’ll be fantastic and I will surely be there. However, I suspect we will carry on pretty much as before, slowly sleepwalking towards and beyond tipping points that will not be subject to any referendum, as depicted in the Age of Stupid; the way our generation is destined to be remembered.

So, for the time being at least, Bridgend’s Green Leftie is retiring – I am sure some will say crawling back under my stone. I am going to turn my attention to other priorities: mental well-being and becoming an evangelical humanist.

And finally, here’s evidence that reaching the end of the road and going into the wilderness is actually a pretty good place to be. Na zdrowie!

Cutting through the scaremongering to end up voting LEAVE

How can a simple closed question with just two answers to choose from be so bloody agonising?

The EU Referendum campaign has been the most distorted, contorted, and plain torted campaign I have ever witnessed. You only have to see the ragbag supporters from across the political spectrum on both sides the debate to realise that there was never going to be any chance of a sane, rational and, most significantly, truthful campaign from either side. The scaremongering, lies and hyperbole from both sides simply underline just how dogmatic, deceitful and, probably most significantly in most cases, plain scared of each other the protagonists have become.

What has become patently clear to me is that nobody has any clear idea what the consequences of the outcome will be however it comes out. It is boiling down to pure gut instincts on whether to go with the devil we know (and mostly hate) or take a huge gamble that is possibly more likely to go wrong than well. The very essence of being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 23.47.24The debate has regularly trawled the depths of absurdity, and because it is all founded on speculation and can’t be disproved, it has proven impossible to counter with rationalism and reality. There are prophets of mercy and snake-oil salesmen on both sides.

Listening to the debate has got me nowhere. Over the last few months alone, I have vacillated one way then the other repeatedly. With crunch time imminent and no reliable help at hand, I have to try and work it out for myself. Rationality can only take me so far. Gut feelings will have to take me the rest of the way.

First of all, let me try and cut through a lot of the nonsense about exactly what is at stake in this referendum. Not for the first time, people do not seem to have any sort of clear idea what areas of jurisdiction are involved. So just as we saw with the Welsh Assembly elections recently, too much of the debate is being taken up by things that are not directly relevant. For example:

  • You are not voting to leave the EEA or WTO, meaning most, if not all of the UK’s trade and benefit agreements will remain unchanged should we leave, until such a time that the UK decides to renegotiate them for any reason.
  • You are not voting to leave NATO, meaning our security agreements remain unchanged. Should we receive an act of hostility from a non-NATO member, then NATO countries are obliged to come to our assistance. This does not change. I would vote to leave NATO, but that is another issue entirely.
  • You are not voting to leave the UN, G8 or G20, meaning Britain will have much the same voice on the world (if not European) stage as it does today.
  • You are not voting to leave the continent of Europe!! The UK will still, geographically, be part of Europe. Non-political organisations of Europe will still extend membership to the UK (i.e. sports governing bodies, Eurovision etc.).
  • You are not voting to stop recognising Interpol or Europol and neither are you voting for our security services to stop dealing with other intelligence services in the fight against terrorism and global, organised crime. This would be in nobody’s interest.
  • You are not voting against being able to travel to Europe. The UK has always maintained stricter border and passport controls than many EU members. This will not change. You will still use a passport to go on holiday and you will still be allowed entry to countries in Europe. Indeed, rather than being held up more it is entirely possible that you may get the chance to skip queues by using the non-EU queues at the airport.
  • Medical and science research will not simply stop. Academia rarely recognises borders.
  • You are not voting against human rights. The EU Convention on, and European Court of Human Rights are not part of the EU. Until Parliament passes a new bill of rights for the UK, these will still apply, as will precedents already passed down to UK courts from Brussels. Conservatives intend to withdraw us from the ECHR irrespective of the referendum outcome. It will remain a battle to be fought, and won separate from this referendum campaign.
  • The UK is already outside of the Schengen zone and so migrant workers must enter the UK with a valid passport before and after June 23rd. That will not change.

So what ARE we actually voting about? What you are voting for is UK sovereignty. You are voting to stay in or leave a political union of leaders and representatives that you British people did not elect. You are voting against a commission of unelected, elite men that nobody at all voted for and yet they make many crucial decisions on our behalf.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 23.50.05Thus the focus has to be the anti-democratic and anti-political nature of the EU. On the one hand we have the technocracy of commissioners and central bankers, for whom neither monetary or fiscal policy are up for debate (just ask Greece?); while on the other hand, we have nationalists invoking ethnicity, language and territory as the basis of political identities, while disregarding the role these very factors have had in the very worst episodes of european history. This is the problem with a debate essentially based on issues of sovereignty. One side disregards it; the side abuses it. We are reduced to a ‘Remain’ campaign focused on economic scaremongering and a ‘Leave’ campaign focused on the myth of Britishness and fear of foreigners. Small-minded answers to very big questions.

Sovereignty is, off-course, a loaded term. It stems from sovereign, as in monarch and thus monarchy. It therefore can make people (especially on the left) bristle. We need clarity about what we mean by sovereignty. My understanding of sovereignty goes back to my ‘A’ Level Enlightenment studies and more specifically Rousseau’s Social Contract. He turned the traditional sovereignty of the ruler on its head. Sovereignty should belong to the ruled, not the ruler. In a democracy, consent to rule is always provisional – rulers are subjected to the will of the people.

We are simply voting to bring sovereignty back to Westminster, and that is all. If you worry about that because you don’t like the Conservative government, look at the reality. Their majority in parliament is very slim. They have been blocked on big decisions already. You are therefore not giving sovereignty to David Cameron, but to the UK House of elected representatives. And if that refuses to work for us, we have the option of taking to the streets and bending our institutions to our will. That is manageable and doable at a UK level (although admittedly a daunting prospect). It is utterly impossible in an EU of 28 countries spread across the length and breadth of the continent.

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Are we seriously saying we cannot beat this bunch?

I have found the Left’s unremitting pessimism nauseating at times through this campaign. Talk of voting ‘‘Remain’ through gritted teeth’ is rife on social media. It is giving up the fight. It is saying we know that the EU is a shite neoliberal stitch up, but that it is the lesser of two evils as we cannot manage the wherewithal to take on Tory gobshites like Boris, Gove and IDS.

Owen Jones recognised the Left’s pessimism about implementing social reform at home without the help of the EU in his Guardian column (14/07/15):

Let’s just be honest about our fears. We fear that we will inadvertently line up with the xenophobes and the immigrant-bashing nationalists, and a “no” result will be seen as their vindication, unleashing a carnival of Ukippery. Hostility to the EU is seen as the preserve of the hard right, and not the sort of thing progressives should entertain. And that is why – if indeed much of the left decides on Lexit – it must run its own separate campaign and try and win ownership of the issue.

This last point has not happened. After a lifetime of being anti-EU even Corbyn got badgered into line.

Even those that defend the EU concede that it faces a crisis of legitimacy. Any trace of the once vaunted European social model has been kicked into touch by the neoliberal hegemons with their unremitting regime of austerity, privatisation, competitiveness and erosion of fundamental rights. You vote ‘Remain’ to defend and perpetuate this system. You vote ‘Leave’ to oppose this and fight another day for something better.

It is against my natural instincts to pursue an optimistic vision. But what option is there, when push comes to shove for someone harbouring dreams of an ecosocialist future? Keeping dreams alive surely has to trump seeing dreams extinguished for another generation or more.

On this basis, I will VOTE LEAVE on 23rd June.

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I didn’t, in the end , vote ‘Leave’. I spoilt my ballot paper. To vote Leave at a time when the populism of Johnson and his far-right cronies were holding sway in the Tory party seemed too big a risk to take. I also baulked at voting ‘Remain’ as I still believed most of the arguments above, and also believed that Remain was comfortably ahead in any case.

That all our worst fears about a Tory-led Brexit have come to pass is a tragedy. It all went wrong when Labour MPs mutinied and scuppered Corbyn. A socialist Brexit would have been good news. The neoliberal Brexit we got was always going to be a disaster.