I had an email saying that the Leave campaign has shut up shop. Invites to weekend Brexit fireworks parties are in the in-box. The pessimistic Remain voices are rapidly fading away. What are the Remainers left with now?
* The fabled great petition for a second referendum, packed with millions of dodgy robo-votes from hardly-populated places such as the Vatican and Antarctica. It has been formally rejected by the government.
* Labour’s Parliamentary manoeuvres, which were easily sidestepped last week.
* Richard Branson, who tugs in vain at his beard in a perplexed manner. Then sadly boards the private jet back to his tropical island.
* There are said to be legal challenges, but these are set to go nowhere and will cost someone a small fortune.
* The odd SNP talking-head is still popping up on the media and fuming like a miniature volcano for five minutes. To little effect.
* The occasional lefty newspaper still carries a quixotic poll, suggesting that a 20%-or-so minority want a second referendum. As if we still trusted pollsters. And in the current climate, no-one in their right mind wants to even talk to a pollster, let alone to be honest with one.
* A few fuming Remainers still write to their local papers or gabble on radio phone-ins. Others form sobbing support-groups and have mutual-aid picnics in a damp London park. It’s hardly the stuff of a popular uprising: “What do we want?! Savory Twizzle-Sticks and More Dry Hankies, Comrade!!”
So the Remainers scratch their heads and wonder what happened. Perhaps the most pitiful I read was a leftist who penned a detailed 5,000-word Marx-flavoured statistical analysis of the vote, only for his final paragraph to call for the usual dog-eared half-dozen leftists demands: nationalise transport being but one of them. Seriously, comrade, the call to bring back British Rail is not going to cause the average voter in Stoke-on-Trent to embrace either the extreme-left or the EU superstate.
Few of the pro-Remain commentators I’ve read seem to grasp much about the very complex and slowly cumulative calculations in the minds of the voters, that eventually led to Leave. So much easier for them to assume the voters were stupid or racists or bamboozled by tricks. Even the political and educational commentators on my local newspaper have shown themselves to have almost no insight into the people of their city. But then it’s always been a very dismal newspaper, especially when it comes to opinion articles. Ironically, I’d say it’s actually the Indian conservative writer Swapan Dasgupta who understands more about the reasons for the Leave vote than just about everyone in the Remain side. And Swapan’s writing from India.
A few Remainers do get somewhere near the mark. Veteran think-tanker Charles Leadbeater got it a bit right in the New Statesman. Perhaps 15% right. Even then, he was furiously pandering to the New Statesman far-left types — twisting what he named “a vote for meaning … a sense of narrative” around, so that it might be re-framed by the left as “a rejection of the market”. His categories of voter are also antiquated and all over the place, and even distinctly class-bound on 1970s lines.
It’s also clear from the general commentary that the British left no longer really listens to or understands the ideas of the right, and no longer really wants to — preferring to conjure up a 1980s-style fantasy-right from its own fevered imagination. Annoying facts like “Staffordshire Police have not recorded a spike in hate crime” (3rd July) are airbrushed away, and a big red “Racist” sticker plastered over the bit of the map that’s labelled ‘Stoke-on-Trent’ (a 69.4% Leave vote).
Leadbeater’s article also laughably called for Labour to lead… “a forward-looking civic nationalism”. But Labour can barely seem to lead the youth to get out of bed. Only 36% of all 18-24 age voters, apparently still one of Labour’s main and ‘natural’ constituencies, could even be bothered to get out to vote. 27% of those that did vote, voted Leave. And now Leadbeater wants to add “nationalism” alongside Labour’s rampant anti-Semitism and rigid identity-politics? I think we all know where a mix of those three leads to, assuming the left can actually find a few teens willing to slip into the fair-trade leather jackboots. Perhaps Adorno’s old label of ‘left-fascist’ will have to be dusted down soon.
The real threat, to a secure and just Brexit, seems likely to come from within. And from two possible directions…
i) What Mrs Thatcher called ‘the Wets’. The foot-dragging and hand-wringing civil service, in a quiet alliance with snidely patrician elements of the Conservatives who found the EU rather to their liking. But thank goodness that some rather more dry Conservatives — like the magnificent Sajid Javid — have shown the courage and optimism to spread their wings and soar with the wind, rather than cower damply against it.
ii) The lack of a healing of divisions within the Conservatives, after the new PM is appointed, and a parallel lack of a vision that can shape a new one-nation inclusive national politics. Both of which are vital for a successful Brexit. Very reluctantly I think Theresa May is the one to be PM, but only if she surrounds herself with superb people who can deeply engage with ordinary people, revive the party’s deeply moribund grassroots, and devise real ways to forge long-term working-class/middle-class alliances. She obviously can’t do that herself, and will also have to be find ways to soften and manage her ‘Cruella De Vil’ media caricature.
One encouraging factor, in terms of healing the country 2016-2020, is that the far-right basically doesn’t exist now in the UK at an organisational level…
“Neither the facts, nor the evidence at hand, point to a rise in the organised far right [in the UK]. Its decline is bordering on terminal: it is smaller and more [organisationally] badly behaved than people would care to imagine.” — Hope not Hate’s research director Matthew Collins, in the left-wing online magazine Left Foot Forward, July 2016.
As far as I can tell from a quick survey of the Web, “smaller” in summer 2016 means: capable of sending out a tweet that puts about 250 thuggish types on the streets for a big Dover-style anti-left demo; gathering around 50 in a pub back-room in London for some kind of annual lecture meeting, and then there are the five nazis-in-a-cellar who appear to run Britain First (successor to the BNP, with apparently almost no membership). That’s it, basically, and the anti-fascist websites suggest that all the tiny grouplets mutually loathe each other. According to bits of a recent podcast interview with two of the UK’s leading extreme rightists talking about Brexit, it seems that even they agree amongst themselves that there’s nothing happening in the UK in terms of a group, let alone a movement. Of course, that won’t stop the Guardian-reading smirking class from trying to feverishly caricature a government of Theresa May / Boris Johnson as some kind of resurrection of Nazi-dom. It’s just what the left does, as an unthinking reflex knee-jerk reaction. One would have thought the left would have learned, by now, that it just doesn’t work.