Britain has voted to leave the European Union, and already theories are abounding as to why. As with most things that could conceivably happen in any situation whatsoever, the Labour Party are fully responsible, although not their “moderate, sensible” right wing, who are only responsible for everything bad ever when there aren’t people more left-wing than them around. For instance, when Ed Miliband was leader of the Labour Party he was widely perceived by those who shape our perceptions to be a nerdy socialist dweeb with all the masculinity of a frilly pink handkerchief with “this is an archetypally feminine item” written on it and all the Jewishness of someone who totally wasn’t like one of us and didn’t even know how to eat a bacon sandwich properly, the disgusting, shadowy outsider. Now that Labour is led by somebody to Miliband’s left, he has retroactively transformed into a Godlike colossus, the very epitome of what a “serious” politician could ever hope to be; a reminder of what we once had and what we lost – decency, civility, moderation, “controls on immigration” mugs.
In the case of the Remain camp’s loss of the EU referendum, the diagnoses state that the Labour Party are responsible for two particular reasons. Firstly, as the result broke it became clear that Jeremy Corbyn was the wrong leader for the referendum, just as he was the wrong leader when he was elected by a margin of 59.5% last September, and at all points since. Lifelong Eurosceptic Corbyn was insufficiently enthusiastic about the EU to excite a country that just voted to leave the EU, Labour MPs Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey argued in the motion of no confidence they submitted earlier today, backed up on TV by Peter Mandelson and Chris “voting against welfare cuts is for hard left loony left loons” Leslie. In case you thought the Parliamentary Labour Party would want to take advantage of the resignation of a deeply divisive Prime Minister, and a government thrown into disarray, you would be mistaken for underestimating the sheer self-immolating recklessness of the Labour Right. They do genuinely believe they should depose Corbyn (it’s nice that they believe in something) but nothing has changed. This result is merely the latest pretext for a coup predicated on ideological divisions, following in the footsteps of Labour’s hilariously petty (ahem) beef over donations from union-bashing shitwads McDonald’s, or the largely manufactured antisemitism scandal that incidentally blew up right before May’s local elections (hey, at least Britain’s still manufacturing something).
The second reason that it was Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour who lost Remain the referendum – rather than the Prime Minister who called the thing in the first place to preserve his own power in the short term, actively incited national and ethnic divisions in the form of concessions to UKIP and the Tory right, and eventually had to resign when it became clear he would be forced to implement a series of policies he profoundly disagreed with – was that they were too soft on immigration and, if only they were a bit more racist, everything would be okay. Corbyn’s closest rival in the 2015 leadership contest, Andy Burnham, Tweeted that Labour “must answer call for stronger control whilst keeping Britain a fair & welcoming country. Can’t let Tory Right & UKIP dictate terms of debate,” he said, whilst letting the Tory Right and UKIP dictate the terms of debate.
As the results were disseminated across the media, greying, besuited pundits blurred into a monotonous splotch of murk, their droning voices coagulating into one; Labour have lost the heartlands, they chanted mantraically. They didn’t listen to ordinary people’s concerns. Legitimate concerns. Concerns about immigration. Ommmmmmm. These appeals to nationalist feeling were dressed up in the language of racialised class struggle – of the “white working class” (never mind that ethnic minorities are statistically more likely to come from lower-income backgrounds) whose primary oppositional force appears not to be the ruling classes but, in fact, the non-white working class; an analysis so detached from any vague semblance of legitimate class consciousness that, as a sentence, it doesn’t remotely deserve to feature the word “class” so many times.
Somehow, an idea persists in Britain that you can’t talk about immigration without being branded a racist; that for decades those concerned about its effects have been shut out of polite discourse, ignored resolutely by the powerful. It’s fantastically untrue. As Gary Younge wrote in The Guardian,
It is a banal axiom to insist that “it’s not racist to talk about immigration”. It’s not racist to talk about black people, Jews or Muslims either. The issue is not whether you talk about them but how you talk about them and whether they ever get a chance to talk for themselves. When you dehumanise migrants, using vile imagery and language, scapegoating them for a nation’s ills and targeting them as job-stealing interlopers, you stoke prejudice and foment hatred.
Every other day, one of the tabloid papers publishes a front-page headline along the lines of “MIGRANTS: THERE ARE TOO MANY OF THEM” or “REFUGEES: JUST PRETENDING TO BE NEEDY ALL ALONG.” Most people are not Westminster insiders. Because the majority don’t have time to shift through reams and reams of online news coverage every day, and generally have a couple of consistent, mainstream sources through which they comprehend current events, many see immigrants being a bit shit as just the way it is. Consequently, politicians often end up dealing in the soft fascism of anti-immigrant rhetoric, mistaking the perspective of grotesquely wealthy media oligarchs for popular opinion. Many people are certainly anti-immigrant. But it’s not that people are gullible and stupid enough to believe any old shit; it’s that it’s a fundamentally idealistic view to think “popular opinion” emerges without the help, or coercion, of material forces.
Aptly, the first victory speech of the night was delivered by somebody who has done perhaps more than anyone else to sew divisions in our society – working tirelessly to legitimise misgivings against all kinds of “others,” from Muslims to Eastern Europeans to foreign HIV sufferers using our NHS – Nigel Farage. Farage, for all his “legitimate concerns” bluster, is on the far-right and should be treated as such; he has made a career out of petty, insular nationalism and the movement of which he is part fits within a trend of racist extremism sweeping Europe and the USA. When he was at school, Farage was described by teachers as an open fascist, and despite his booze-sallowed squeezed guppy face, the man must still be young at heart, evoking Nazi propaganda in an anti-refugee, anti-brown people poster he unveiled less than a week before the vote. His vomitously triumphalist speech, delivered in front of a crowd of smirking, pissed up white men shouting “huzzah!” was one of his most fascistic to date, as he hailed a “new dawn breaking,” presumably one of the Golden variety.
Farage’s speech also contained the unbelievably tasteless moment where he celebrated the way Leave had won the campaign “without a single bullet being fired,” except for the ones that literally were fired into one of his opponents. The Labour MP Jo Cox – a defender of migrants, refugees, and the European Union – was assassinated by a far-right gunman with links to Britain First on the same day Farage put out his poster; the kind of street violence that legitimate, moderate, sensible organised fascism may publicly reject, but tacitly encourages and thrives on. Where could Thomas Mair possibly have got the idea from that somebody with Cox’s beliefs constitutes a “traitor”? Before her death, Cox suggested that she would support an attempt to remove Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. But in the last few days, as he’s patiently responded in depth to each anti-immigrant question asked of him (such as almost every question tediously posed by Andrew Marr in the course their last interview), explaining how their presence quite categorically benefits our society, it’s been easy to get the sense that Corbyn’s the only thing preventing Labour from completely deserting migrants and refugees altogether; sculpting some new racist mugs, carving out a new 8ft stone tablet, broadcasting their antipathy for these sinister usurpers by all available means, especially the right-wing press. And the mantra would rumble on; not everyone who’s anti-immigration is anti-immigration for racist reasons, you know. People are anti-immigration for economic reasons, too. Economics that are wrong. Some ostensibly liberal broadsheet journalists will only ever mention “globalisation” as a euphemism for “immigration.” In any context that doesn’t involve pouring scorn on foreigners, it’s just another made-up lefty word like “neoliberalism.”
Whilst the cosmopolitan “legitimate concerns” variety of racist may have opted for Remain, there is no doubt that a large percentage of Britain’s sizeable population of racists will have welcomed the result. This doesn’t just extend to British racists, but to the worst of global bigotry and hate-stoking; France’s Marine Le Pen, the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, hell’s own Donald Trump. From these powerful demagogues to the old white man who heckled an Asian woman in a supermarket with “we’ve got our country back,” every narrow-minded shitbag who confuses patriotism with personal worth is going to be emboldened by the Leave victory. Openly disavowing those book-reading gimps known as “experts” (which is just as well, given that 9 out of 10 of them supported Remain), the Leave camp ran a dazzlingly effective (ie. they won) bullshit-laced campaign that eschewed reasonable economic arguments in favour of going to great lengths to plant the seeds of prejudice and distrust in the minds of members of the public. Sure, the experts said that almost half of our trade is with Europe, but didn’t Engels always say trade was just legalised fraud? Michael Gove was probably not thinking of Engels when he said British people “have had enough of experts,” but his campaign made scant attempt to engage with serious economic debate. This was probably a good strategy, because now we’ve left and the economy’s fucked.
I suppose I should dedicate some final words to the legacy of David Cameron. I don’t think he will be remembered well. On his watch, Scotland very nearly went independent and now, having voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union, wants another referendum on the matter, as do the Europhilic nationalists of Northern Ireland. Depending on how Britain’s exit goes, other countries could follow suit, and the whole EU could collapse. On his watch, the far-right managed to win what will presumably be our final set of European Elections. Whilst leaving the European Union was once a minority interest, he spent years building support for it by peddling half-hearted Euroscepticism and attacking migrants, contrary to his own liberal, cosmopolitan beliefs, as if when the time came to have the referendum he’d somehow be able to turn it back around and save it at the last minute with minimal effort. His economic legacy is one of inequality, growing poverty and inert recovery, whilst his foreign policy seemed indebted to the worst of Blair as he steamrolled through Libya, Syria and Iraq. Having spent five years pushing brutal, economically harmful austerity policies as the nominal winner of an election nobody won, he won the parliamentary majority his party had been dreaming of for years. And what did he reward the loyal Tories with? A litany of legislative failures crushed under the weight of resistance from the opposition, the Lords and his own backbenches, a savagely racist mayoral campaign, approved by the very top of the party, that they didn’t even win, and a couple of juicy scandals about dodging tax and fucking pigs.
Now he has gambled both his own career and the future of the country on his attempt to appease the right wing of his party. He gave the Brexiteers an opportunity to soar, and they took it with glee. By leading the Remain Campaign, Cameron gave these Bullingdon backstabbers ample opportunity to pit themselves against him as the scrappy underdog versus the establishment Goliath, an appearance that did Remain no favours and was not helped by several prominent Labour figures including Mandelson and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan crossing the metaphorical picket line in order to share platforms with Conservatives including Cameron, their arguments for remaining virtually identical. Tony Blair’s latest “intervention” was momentously unhelpful, and compounded the sense of the establishment closing ranks, with Remain’s standing in the polls incidentally dropping sharply in the following days. Not enough stress was put on the notion that Europe could be better. Now, gone are Corbyn’s hopes – not argued for forcefully enough by others in his party – of progressive reform of EU institutions, in collaboration with socialist and social democratic parties across Europe. Britain is on the outside, looking in.
Cameron will almost certainly be replaced by somebody worse, probably a Brexiteer, and at this point I refuse to speak the name of the most likely candidate – especially not on jolly, convivial first name terms (at least his surname is slang for a penis; think the nihilists in The Big Lebowski.) There will likely be a general election in the autumn, which Labour will struggle to win as they are essentially two or more parties at the moment. There will also likely be new austerity measures as George Osborne attempts to steady the parlous state of the economy. In a nutshell, everything looks pretty terrible. Things really have got so shit under David Cameron that even his resignation is totally demoralising. We can dissect the result as much as we want, but the future remains profoundly uncertain.