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.
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.
It is significant that racism hardly enters into your discussion at all, an omission I find astonishing. The growth and legitimisation of racism during this referendum has been a deeply alarming reactionary development in British politics. A campaign during which an anti-racist and pro-remain MP was murdered in the street by a fascist. British politics has become a much more poisonous, hate filled place during the past few weeks. Just on this basis alone I would have opposed the leave campaign, even if there were not many many other solid reasons for progressives to want to stay in the EU. Especially for us here in Wales. No you are way off base here Andy.
I am not sure what you mean by ‘significant’ that I don’t dwell on racism, but it is quite deliberate on my part. I have been a committed anti-racist my entire adult life, but I also understand, through working with people that are susceptible, that a lot of it is scapegoating in the absence of a proper understanding of how things like the economy work. Dwelling on the racist issue gives oxygen to the racists. I prefer to focus on undermining scapegoating inclinations through education. Choosing Remain or Leave both have valid justifications, but choosing on the basis doing the opposite to what racists may do is not very smart and probably counter-productive. Stick to the other solid reasons for progressives to want to stay in the EU if you must, but few of them are actually progressive at all on closer examination, focussing on maintaining the neoliberal status quo because it is easier or safer. But hey, those arguments are done and dusted re the referendum and we need to focus on making the most of where we now find ourselves. And yes, that does mean mainatining firm and rigorous opposition to racism and fascism whenever and wherever it occurs. I’ll see you on the streets, perhaps!