UK Politics: Don’t despair. Don’t turn away. Progressives must prepare for the fight of a generation.
Whichever way we voted in the EU referendum, we must unite to stop Boris Johnson’s plans for a no-deal Brexit. No contribution to that fight is too small.
‘No-deal’ was never mentioned in the 2016 referendum campaign (whereas ‘a deal’ was, frequently). The British people have rejected a ‘no-deal’ Brexit in three elections since the referendum: a majority of the vote going to anti-no deal parties each time. Therefore, ‘no deal’ isn’t only an outcome which doesn’t have the consent of the British people. It is an outcome that goes directly against the Will of the British People.
It is now an open secret that Boris Johnson is trying to close parliament to stop MPs from thwarting his plans for a no-deal exit from the bloc. Despite being in the midst of a national crisis, Boris Johnson attempted to trigger the longest prorogation since 1945, shutting down all instruments of accountability and denying up to 19 days (not the 6 claimed by the government) of parliamentary sitting-time.
To Boris Johnson and his billionaire hedge-fund supporters, the short and medium-term damage that a no-deal Brexit would cause is just collateral. Boris Johnson doesn’t care too much about the threat of medicine shortages, hikes in the price of food or the destruction of our agricultural and food industries. He doesn’t care about the return of a hard border in Northern Ireland (something his cabinet colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg readily admits will happen) and the threat to peace in the region that would result. He doesn’t care about the destruction of UK manufacturing, or the ‘sacrifice’ of bankrupted small businesses and their recently unemployed staff.
‘Sacrifice’ doesn’t factor in the lives of Eton-educated Boris Johnson and his billionaire chums who he’ll ride into the sunset with once he’s delivered the Brexit they want. They don’t rely on food banks, or live in between the ‘peace-walls’ that still separate Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland twenty-one years after the Good Friday Agreement. They don’t run small businesses having to contend with the tariffs on goods they export, tariffs on components they import and the mountain of red tape required to trade beyond our borders. They have lived their lives shielded from the rest of us. They are members of the ‘born to rule’ elite for whom power is a parlour game and ‘the people’ are their pawns.
What Johnson and chums have their eye on are the long term effects of a no-deal Brexit. They will be generously rewarded for their capitulation to the shady U.S. neoliberal lobby groups that are connected to Johnson’s cabinet, his advisers and many MPs. From the ashes of what was left of UK manufacturing will rise a ‘gig-economy’ 2.0 for the sole benefit the one per-cent; low paid, insecure service jobs; a tax haven of reduced worker’s rights and environmental standards. And, contrary to what Johnson and Trump say, our NHS certainly will be ‘on the table’ in those trade talks.
It can be so easy to despair. It can be so hard to understand. Then there’s that odd feeling that only Brexit can engender: bored stiff, whilst simultaneously horrified. I regularly feel powerless. But this is part of Johnson’s plan. He is relying on us to stop caring, or to feel that there is nothing we can do.
The task of stopping a no-deal Brexit, fighting prorogation and finding a route to an election, is one we must leave to our parliamentarians. A letter to our MP, perhaps signed by more than one constituent, is the most we can do.
But when that election comes — for it is a question now of ‘when’ not ‘if’ — the progressive majority must be ready to fight. And here’s the important bit: no contribution is too small.
It is easy to think that getting involved in an election campaign requires a big commitment. The fear of conflict situations combined with uncertainty about who you’d actually support, can prompt anyone with an already-stressful life to switch off.
During the 2017 snap general election, a friend and I did one afternoon of leafleting for the Labour Party in Darlington, which was the Conservative’s number-three target seat in North East England. I am not a Labour member, and I was (and still am) sceptical of Jeremy Corbyn, but I was prompted to ‘do something’ when I learnt that the Conservative candidate had suggested that details of a women’s sexual past should be included in rape trials, and suggested that promiscuity could affect consent. One afternoon felt like such a meagre contribution, and I apologetically said as much to the organiser. His reply was interesting. It wasn’t ‘every little helps’, even though of course — it does. His reply was more like: “Our activists have been trudging the streets of Darlington day in day out for weeks. You have to understand how much of a morale-boost it is when a couple of people, one of them not even a Labour Party member, travel 30 miles to spend an afternoon trudging those streets alongside them.”
As it happens, Labour successfully held Darlington at the subsequent election.
The Labour Party have now officially swung behind a second referendum in all circumstances, with an option to ‘Remain’ on the ballot. The party’s plan, if and when it reaches government, to remain neutral when offering a choice between remaining in the EU or leaving with a deal will help to tackle the inevitable Brexiteer backlash that a second referendum is some kind of remainer ‘stitch-up’. It will provide (largely forgotten) pro-deal leave-supporters as well as remainers a mechanism to get their way. It gives Labour a fighting chance of reassembling the electoral coalition that led to their surprise success in 2017.
Even so, Labour will struggle to achieve an overall majority. But with a combination of tactical voting, the success of the Unite to Remain initiative, and Labour being persuaded to focus their attacks on Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage rather than fellow pro-referendum parties and initiatives, a progressive coalition should be the very least that can be achieved.
And your contribution, whether it’s delivering some leaflets, writing to your MP, persuading someone you know who doesn’t vote to do so or educating friends about tactical voting, will be worth it, not least because when added together with the small contributions of others, the combined impact will be more than the sum of its parts.
Amongst the cacophony of World War II air raid sirens opening ‘Brexit Party’ rallies, assertions that we’ve ‘beat the German’s twice before and we will again’, calling judges ‘enemies of the people’ and screams of ‘traitor’ even against their own, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and their hard-line supporters dare to call themselves patriots.
The true patriots are those who feel solidarity with others who live across these beautiful islands; who care about the impact that an unprecedented and chaotic exit from the EU would have on society’s most vulnerable people and communities.
So, we must do what we can. We must do it for our country, because our country needs us.
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