The news that celebrities and politicians were queuing up to fund coaches from UK provincial towns for Saturday’s march, for a so-called ‘people’s vote’ on Brexit, should be seen for what it was: a desperate act by the establishment to falsify the nation’s true feelings about leaving the EU.
It was at best an establishment PR stunt; at worst, an Astroturf campaign meant to deceive.
A people’s vote has already taken place! It happened on 23rdJune 2016, when enough of the UK’s disenchanted masses stirred to (directly or otherwise) remind the corporate and political elites what democracy is all about. Reasons for voting leave swung from far right to far left ideologies. And it is in this overlap, where views for wanting rid of the EU are so polarised, where the fight is going on to win the political arguments and the battle for the streets.
A common cause of concern for progressives who voted remain, has been the argument that goes, “during the referendum campaign, lies were told by politicians”. Politicians like Boris Johnson & Michael Gove. It seems to me that anyone who has watched UK politicians over the last 40 years really shouldn’t have expected anything but lies. They have built their careers on fabrications. They have supported a decade of cuts to the UK’s most important services like the NHS and the welfare state, on a pack of lies. They have voted in favour of sending young men and women of this nation to wars thousands of miles away, to kill thousands of innocents, on nothing but lies. Why would the EU referendum would be anything different?
Before every general election in the UK’s modern history, politicians have told us lies. Then, after the election, more lies usually follow. Lying has been one of the few cross-party policy that politicians have adhered to. Work your way back through our political history and you’ll find one lie after another, told to deceive and manipulate the public for the interests of the ruling class, almost always at the expense of the working class. This situation has intensified as corporate power’s grip on media, politics and advertising has bloomed under neoliberal cultivation.
A large part of what has invigorated British politics over the past 3 years has been the re-emergence of the Labour Party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, as a force deriving its power not from its corporate backers, but from its predominantly young and working-class voter base. This is significant for many reasons, not least because it has begun the process of returning Labour to a parliamentary voice that represents the working class; but also, because it signals an end of Labour’s corporate interwinding of the Blair, Brown and Miliband years.
Historically, European issues have split the Tory party down the centre, and the referendum of 2015 has been no exception. In this instance it has exposed the conflict at the heart of the modern Conservative Party, whose ideology is guided by nationalism and elitism. This naturally pulls them away from an overarching structure like the EU, whilst, at the same time, their corporate backers refuse to be decoupled from the City of London’s life-blood: the single market. The result is a critical impasse that no amount of Tory rhetoric can deny. Not that you would derive much of this from reading the British mainstream press, which, incidentally, is the most right-wing in Europe. Instead of informing the public about the real dichotomy that has been tearing the Tories apart all summer, they have instead spent that time focused intently on their ‘true enemy’.
Jeremy Corbyn, and the few true allies he has, represent the first major threat to corporate power in the UK for decades. Yes, because it challenges their media monopoly; yes, because it looks set to end the years of austerity, which has opened so many doors to privatisation; but the single greatest threat Corbyn poses to the status quo, is not his plans for domestic reform, but his lifelong opposition to the UK’s neo-imperialist foreign policy.
British capital is just as protective of war as it is of the single market. According to Campaign Against the Arms Trade’s stats, Britain has exported arms of almost £11 billion to EU countries alone in the last 10 years, exceeded only by exports to the Middle East & North Africa (almost entirely orders to Saudi Arabia). Being outside the EU would undoubtedly result in increased export tax to arms companies and import tariffs to nations, souring the sweet, single market deal.
The idea that the EU has preserved peace in Europe is not quite the full picture. It’s failed diplomacy with the former Yugoslavia led to the destruction of one of the most successful socialist experiments in modern history. During the 70s and 80s the federation was one of the most economically successful in Europe, therefore the world. All western capital interests, including the EU (then the EC), had deep concerns about this incredible socialist achievement. When conflict began, the EU’s diplomatic failure led to its armed, and more dangerous twin, Nato, to get involved. We all know the rest.
The west, through the EU and Nato, succeeded in reducing the region from being a rising competitor, offering an alternative path to capitalism, to a weakened set of smaller, impoverished nations, no longer competing, instead looking to join the EU as a way of ensuring their safety.
There is really something to learn here, particularly for the progressive left who see reforming the EU from within as a reason for voting to remain.A successful socialist nation in Europe will always be seen as a direct threat to the capitalist EU. This is where the crucial discussion now needs to take place. Because, as things stand, socialist programmes of nationalisation, investment, deficits and returns are not acceptable to EU rules and regulations.
So, the real question for progressives who are fighting to redo the referendum of 2015, is Do you want a socialist government in the UK, or do you want to remain in the EU?
History and EU regulation show you can’t have both.